“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call that man ‘cold’ when he is only sad.” ―
It has been hard to write recently due to the pervasive sadness that has moved back into my world. I find it difficult to explain what happens, but let me try. My depression is like a quiet underlying existence in my life. It becomes a challenge to manage because it is predictably unpredictable. When I feel good, I know it will be short lived, for I know the cloud of depression will return– but when?– I do not know. And so, I try, like most people I guess, to enjoy my happier times and embrace the world and get shit done… but then suddenly the cloud returns and envelopes me. When the sadness is here, my ability to complete tasks, think more coherently and be a better person in the world– that shrinks, and I’m left this shell of my past self, putting on a smile, lifting on foot in front of the other to walk and force myself to go out, go shopping, get out of bed, or– WRITE.
The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM5) explains depression is a mood disorder whereby the individual experiences “either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure. Additionally, individuals suffer five or more of the following symptoms during the same 2-week period:
1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
3. Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
4. A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
5. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
6. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
7. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
8. Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.
To receive a diagnosis of depression, these symptoms must cause the individual clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. The symptoms must also not be a result of substance abuse or another medical condition”.
(Wow, that’s just depressing to read. Thanks DSM!!)
I could write a long lament here about things that suck about depression, but I think it’s kind of self-explanatory, especially after that DSM descriptor! What I will do here is give you some tips and ideas on “Getting Shit Done” when you’re depressed. May it’ll help you (or me?) today.
Tips to get shit done
1. AIM FOR COMPLETION, NOT PERFECTION
Ok, so you have something that needs to get done. It’s a high-priority task. You have work due, you want to pick up a creative activity, you need to buy toilet paper at the store, or perhaps you just need to eat something healthy today. Plan to complete the ONE task, and “just do it”. This is not about perfection; it’s about completion.
With depression, focus becomes harder. Decision-making becomes harder. And worst of all, your critical voice becomes louder. Accept that you may not perform to your best, but give yourself a little leeway. You’re depressed today, and that means completion is good enough.
- Aim to complete one task today, and give yourself permission to feel a tiny bit of pride over that.
I understand it’s hard to do that, because you feel all judgmental about yourself. I know that when you’re not depressed, you’re like a wildfire of activity– you get shit done! However, today you are depressed. Today is where you are right now. So just for now, let it be. Just for now, do one task to completion. Just for now, breathe and be okay with completions. Yaye, you did a task. That’s really great!
2. GIVE YOURSELF SOME STRUCTURE
While most of us autistics like structure and routine anyway, when we get depressed, all that structure can go out the window. Like, for example, I used to get up every morning between 8-9am and make myself breakfast, listen to music and dance in the kitchen, before attending to my day of tasks ahead. Now I’m in bed till 11, 12 or 1pm… sometimes 2pm and I often forget about breakfast, don’t listen to music or dance, start-and-not-finish tasks, or just find myself staring blankly at the wall for hours on end without noticing the time pass.
Now, I’m NOT saying that you must now get up at 8-9am to have breakfast and alike, because that’s my schedule. What I mean is that perhaps you should aim for getting up at the earliest end of your current wake-up cycle (for me, this would be 11am). Set your alarm clock, and put a plan into effect. Follow this plan, and substitute your own wake-up time and tasks, as indicated by the square ([…]) brackets.
- Today, I will get up [at 11am], make and eat breakfast, then complete my ONE task [write the blog]. After that, I will give myself permission to feel a tiny bit of pride because I completed the one task I really wanted to do today.
Losing structure creates additional problems in many autistics; our routine is in place because it reduces anxiety, acts as self-soothing, and having this plan helps us to be motivated and ‘get shit done’. When we know what to expect from the day, it is easier to manage our emotions associated with the upcoming activities.
3. MAKE NATURE A FOCUS
I know some of you hate the outdoors. I am not suggesting you go camping today, or sunbake. All I am suggesting is that you spend a little time in nature. Here are some ideas on how you might bring nature into focus today:
- Go for a short, 10-15 minute stroll, passing trees and shrubs. If you like, it can be a stroll to your local cafe, to buy a coffee/ tea. Perhaps touch the leaves as you pass, or smell a flower.
- Find a comfortable place outdoors and take 10 minutes to just watch the insects or birds. Look for ants or spiders or bees; magpies, crows, cockatoos, parrots– whichever you like and is around you. Watch them go about their day, think about them, what they might be thinking or doing, and reflect on how they behave.
- Take a 10 minutes to walk through your garden and pluck 3 weeds. Should you feel inspired to weed some more, or snip the hedge, do so. Allow yourself to be with your garden.
- If you have an indoor garden or plants, take 10 minutes with your plant. Look at it, explore its leaves, the colour, shape, and feeling of it. Consider if it needs any support (water; sunshine; bug sprays; harvesting; pruning). Take some time to give it what it needs…
- For winter or rainy parts of the world, take some time to sit on your balcony, or at an open window and watch the outside. Listen to the rain, look at the clouds, observe the trees in the wind, feel the coldness on your breath and skin. Take 5-10 minutes to look, listen and ‘be’ with nature.
It seems the breathing-in of fresh air, movement of the body, reflections of the ebb and flow of the seasons, on how nature and trees continue growing in spite of obstacles, and the experience of being in/ around natural environments is calming to the mind and balancing to mood.
There’s just 3 possible ideas to help you get better focused and motivated when you are experiencing a downward turn. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling quite positive having just finished writing this blog… and having reflected on those 3 tips. I’m now going to make another coffee and look at some of the other work I need to do. Maybe I can complete TWO things today? *hopeful*
Take care everyone.
As usual, comments are welcome. Much love.