When I was younger, I liked pretending to be busy. Without anyone teaching me, I understood that being unavailable meant you were needed. Important. Maybe even useful. And I loved being useful. I wrote to-do lists as long as my arm, pretending they meant success. I hated being lugged into other people’s plans, pretending I had better things to do.
I impulsively longed to be busy—and by extension, important. And it backfired on me. I lost hours, days, and weeks to idleness, becoming lazy, unmotivated, and passive.
This was my life for many years.
In 2013, the year of the go-getters and the passion projects, I simply did not relate. I didn’t have any goals or plans to chase and pursue. I didn’t have poetry to write, people to meet, awards to win. I just wanted to be productive, an empty motive. I wanted results without the work. I wanted to be powerful, effective, and useful.
That self-pressure bombed on me. It all knotted into a black hole of depression. I surrendered to the belief that I would simply be unproductive and unsuccessful forever, that I was a waste of time and space if I didn’t get things done. These thoughts kept me from doing anything. It was a mean cycle.
Things are different now that I’m getting better. I reconnected with my old dreams, created new ones, made goals and plans. I wrote to-do lists that aren’t as long as they used to be, but now they meant something. They were genuine and hopeful.
This was my war tactic on depression, but my enemy put up a good fight. It made it difficult to cross off my list, as well-planned as they were. I get bouts of little to no energy, no motivation. Sometimes it takes up all I have to get out of bed at all.
Now that I’ve been working full-time for over two years, there’s a different kind of accountability. I answer to my notebook of goals and dreams, but I also answer to my bosses and colleagues. I owe them a version of me that gets things done.
Getting involved with mental health advocacy groups introduces me to plenty of people in the same situation as me. Craving productivity whilst in the Sahara desert of depression. I don’t know how we manage, but some of us do, and it gives me hope that it’s possible.
With that, I’m starting a series featuring different people handling productivity while battling a mental health condition. Hopefully, you and I—mental condition or not—pick up tips and lessons to help us fight the stigma that depression means useless. Today, I’ll start with myself.
Tell us about yourself.
If you’re new to the blog, hello! My name is Apple, I’m 23 years old, and I’m a full-time advertising writer. I spent my tender years in a Middle Eastern country called Bahrain, and I migrated to Manila for college. I run Moongirl Blog, a thought diary on creativity, productivity and mental health.
Tell us about your condition.
I battled recurring depression for six years before finally getting professional help in late 2016. I was diagnosed with unipolar depression and am taking antidepressants and regular talk therapy, which is helping me loads!
A key effect of depression on me is my energy: I have low energy, motivation, and passion for things I am normally upbeat and excited for. I can’t bring myself to do anything, almost like a physical block comes upon me, and on the worst days, getting out of bed is an obstacle in itself.
What’s your backup plan for days like these?
Space and pacing. I give myself regular breaks, do my work slowly, and check for the nearest day I can take a mental health day. The latter gives me something to crawl towards.
There’s a disability theory called the spoons theory, which I’ve taken a liking to. It proposes that people with disabilities or chronic illness have a limited amount of energy per day, and spoons are the invented unit to measure energy. It’s up to the ill person to quantify how much a spoon means to them and how many spoons each activity takes up.
So, some days I wake up with only ten spoons: getting ready for work takes up two spoons and going to work takes up another two. I have to save up two spoons to get home at the end of the day, which leaves me with only four spoons of energy to expend on actual work. Knowing my number of spoons helps me pace myself properly and save up my energy for only important activities.
I’m also terribly lucky to have an amazing support system to back me up. My office-mates and I have gotten pretty close, which makes managing the pressure less complicated. My team understands mental illness well, and they help me through an episode or attack.
Does your workplace have a system in place to help people with mental illness?
We don’t currently have a mental health policy in the office, but I’m working on proposing one. In my head, every at-risk person should have both an emergency contact in the office who also functions as an accountability buddy. This person will help us manage our load at a healthy pace and, at worst, cover the load so that work doesn’t get affected.
What are your top 3 rules for getting things done while depressed?
1 | Know your symptoms and anticipate the consequences.
2 | Have a backup plan for your next episode and include your support system.
3 | Count your spoons.
No matter what you believe about mental health conditions, I encourage you to be kind in the comments. If this inspired you to be a mental health advocate, or if you’d like to be featured next, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can help each other out!