One day, when I was deep in depression, I transferred a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer. Then I realized that I had to clean out the lint filter before I could start the machine. Now anyone who has cleaned out a dryer filter knows that it's a five-second job, but even facing such a miniscule task caused me to break into tears. I was so tired. During depression fatigue can be that overwhelming. In that state, getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, and getting dressed can seem impossible.
Fortunately, by that stage of my therapy, I had adopted a mantra: "One foot in front of the other." Despite the tears, I managed to force myself to complete that tiny task, and I was rewarded with an equally small sense of satisfaction. I knew that letting things go undone only added to my sense of being overwhelmed because there would be that much more I had to eventually get done. I had to fight, one step at a time. Completing tasks, no matter how small, gave me a sense of being in control.
A second thing I learned was to reward myself after making that effort. The thing to remember here is that the reward must be a positive, healthy one. I had to avoid binging on junk food, spending money on unnecessary items, or doing anything that I would regret later.
The third thing I learned was not to saddle myself with unrealistic expectations. Even if I woke up feeling more energetic than usual (which generally wasn't ever very energetic), if I decided I was going to accomplish an unrealistic number of tasks that day, I would only be setting myself up for disappointment and would end up feeling worse in the end. I had to learn to honor my weakness and realize that the energy I was feeling at the moment probably wouldn't last long, so I'd decide to do a few things. If I still felt good after doing them, I'd do an extra task or two and reward myself. In this way, I could keep a positive view of myself. I knew I was suffering from depression, but I could take pride in the fact that I was taking active steps to get better.
When you're down as low as I was, it takes time to get better, but I'm living proof it can be done!
I've been talking about setting and strengthening boundaries because a lack of or weak boundaries often put us in situations that lead to depression. Having healthy boundaries simply means feeling free to say "No," and knowing when it is appropriate to do so.
Imagine that a friend or a family member approaches you and asks to borrow money. Do you automatically feel compelled to do so, or do you consider the situation?
Does this person really need the money or just want it? If he or she claims need, is it because of something that happened that was beyond control, or did the person cause the problem? Does this person frequently cause such problems?
Does this person often ask you for money? If so, is it paid back in a timely manner? Is this a one-way relationship? Are you frequently "helping this person out" or doing other favors but getting little in return?
Will fulfilling this request inconvenience you or make you feel uncomfortable or resentful? Does this feel like a demand? What do you think will happen if you say, "No?"
I have a friend whose mother once called her and said, "I'm coming to visit you and the family early in June. I'm staying until early September. Send me the money for my plane tickets."
My friend came to me in tears. "My husband and I just bought a trailer. We were planning to take the boys camping a lot this summer. Now we'll have to cancel our plans. Mom hates camping!"
I suggested she tell her mother they'd already made plans for much of the summer. Perhaps Mom's visit could be limited to a shorter period so that the family could still do quite a bit of camping. "I can't do that! She'll be angry!" my friend replied. It was clear that she felt obliged to keep her mother happy at all costs. Not surprisingly, my friend began having anxiety and panic attacks and had to go into therapy to deal with her relationship with her mother.
Things to remember:
You are not responsible for anyone else's feelings if you are not harming anyone. Some people feel they are entitled to everything they want. FEELINGS ARE NOT FACTS! Unless the person tends to violence, the world will not end when you say, "No!" If the person does tend to violence, you need to get professional help.
Barring situations where someone is suffering, you always have the right to say, "No!" Your emotional health depends on it.
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.