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!
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.