Little things that people say that totally shift your perspective.

When you’re depressed, stuff piles up. Mail goes unopened. Paperwork goes un-handled. Clean laundry lives in piles. Dirty laundry lives in different piles. The piles begin to….merge. You just don’t have the energy to deal with any of it.

Then the meds start to kick in, or therapy starts to work, or for whatever reason you get a little better, and you get some energy back. Good!

Except between you and being okay is the giant shitpile of things you didn’t do for so long that all need to be done now. So instead of momentum, healthy new habits, great leaps forward….it’s hunting down old paperwork, cleaning science experiments out of the fridge, calling the student loan people, and 6 month’s worth of unpleasant chores and administrative tasks. It’s all way harder and more fucked up and more expensive than it would have been if you’d just done it when you were supposed to, so even though you are theoretically doing better everything sucks proportionally more.

Which cues a giant shame spiral. Because you have no one to blame but yourself, and those blamey voices are well-rehearsed and have been waiting in the wings, ready to go back onstage at any moment.

If this shame spiral is indulged/not checked, it will lead straight back to depressionland and rob you of all momentum. This is my life right now. I’m “halfway out of the dark.” I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel but I believe it’s there and remember what it felt like to feel it on my face. But there’s a lot of tunnel still between me and it.

I shared this with some friends, and one said something that slapped me in the face with its obviousness and perfection:

Over the last couple years I’ve developed a strategy for dealing with exactly that: Make the Job Smaller. Have the energy to do a little bit of something productive, but the tasks facing you are huge? Don’t even try to finish a whole task. Instead, consider that your assignment is simply Making the Job Smaller. Folding one item of clean laundry out of the pile and putting it away = success. Answering one email you’ve been putting off = success. And so forth. If I try to tackle the entire pile of whatever, it’s overwhelming and I feel like a failure. But Making the Job Smaller is not so hard! I can do that! And then I get to feel better about myself for accomplishing something, however tiny, plus now the job facing me is slightly less huge and scary.

This is possibly the most useful method I’ve ever come up with for managing my own crazy.


Make. the. job. smaller.

What is something simple and beautiful and obvious that changed your perspective or made you finally understand something? Links to other blogs/Poems/Stories of great teachers and wise grandmas welcome.

BRB need to put away a single folded piece of laundry and declare victory for the day.


303 thoughts on “Little things that people say that totally shift your perspective.

  1. (No need to actually let this out of moderation…)

    That Big Lebowski GIF appears to have malware coming along with it — it is making my AV software light up like a Christmas tree. Might want to remove it.

  2. *staring at laundry mound in middle of living room* Holy crap. I’m gonna go fold all the socks, and just the socks. Because SOCKS.

    1. The world always seems more manageable when your feet are encased in clean, dry fabric.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this. When I work with clients who have depression, we collaborate on this. Too depressed to go to the gym and work out for 2 hours? Put your gym shoes on and celebrate the achievement. Sometimes a person will find they wanted to do more after that, but sometimes I encourage them to specifically NOT to anything more than the smallest step. It’s a real rebuff to the very loud shame that comes with depression, that torments you for not doing more and seduces you into thinking you should be feeling great and out doing things. Not doing more refuses to feed and engage the shame. It definitely helps when I’m in an uncomfortable place myself.

    1. Oh this is fantastic, thank you. I have been struggling with exactly this for about three weeks now, I will be doing this now.

    2. I brought this method to perfection when I was suffering from severe depression, and a walk of 15 steps and back outside the house was a major task. Part of my condition was caused by me wanting too much and a bad dynamic between doing more than I could followed by physical breakdown, doing nothing and feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff I thought I should do.

      So each morning I chose the one thing that was the most important to get done and focused all my energy of the day on getting that one thing done. Apart from this one thing and a (usually very short) walk, I was prohibited to do anything else, and I would have to spend the rest of the day resting.

      This gave me a lot of energy, because I stopped feeling so overwhelmed, and I stopped using every grain of newly won energy to overdo it and get myself back to square one. After a few months, I slightly increased the amount of stuff on the day’s list, and at some point started writing my master’s thesis following the same basic principle: I was only allowed to work a maximum of n hours per day/week and then I had to stop. As my energy level increased, I gradually increased the number of hours.

      So basically, for me the trick was: instead of trying to get more done, I focused on getting less done so that every day I got the reward that I had managed to do all the items on my todo list, and because forbade myself to do more, I couldn’t run into the danger of subconsciously setting higher goals (which happened before I introduced that restriction)

      1. I know this principle (overdoing it, get burnt out etc.) and that I should do less, but I’ve never seen the solution applied as thoroughly as in your example. Setting a maximum amount of tasks/time consequently and slooowly increasing it sounds really good.

      2. Ohmygosh, thank you so much for this, Captain and mooocow. I’m about a week into my first ever use of an anti-depressant and about half a year into the most depressed time of my life and I definitely feel the “everything is overwhelming” thing. Forbidding myself from doing more than the VERY TINY to-do list is the best advice ever and I’m going to start doing this.

      3. Just moved house after a very stressful final seven weeks in my old place. Feeling totally physically burned out (went to get cold, instantly-edible grocieries for dinner on shaking legs yesterday evening). Still have a flat full of boxes to unpack, and absolutely zero energy. Wondering how the hell I’m going to manage it.

        Solution: no more than ten minutes of unpacking per weekday. No more than twenty per day at weekends.

        It actually doesn’t NEED to be unpacked quickly. I can take a month over it, and that’s totally okay. I never thought about it that way before. I was all, ERMAGHERD, THE THINGS, THEY NEED DOING AND I CANNOT RELAX OR BE HAPPY UNTIL THEY ARE DONE.

        No. Back in your box, jerkbrain. I’m going to unpack for ten minutes, and then sit down with a scotch egg and the latest Temeraire book. Yah boo sucks to you.

        Very timely post; thank you Captain and everybody. ^_^

      4. That is brilliant. I am stealing it to tackle the piles of stuff that depression has made all over my house. One pile a day, no more.

      5. Struggling with post-natal depression here and I get you with the overwhelmed. I think I’m going to take this, and run with one day a week, I’m allowed to do nothing but tend to the child and ensure I eat and get dressed. I hope it will help, thanks for giving me the confidence to try 🙂

        1. In the first three months showering is a victory. Babies are the biggest time sink ever.

          *Hugs* for the PND.

        2. My mother had a nasty bout of PPD after my little sister was born, and my grandmother told her, “If, at midnight, you have kept both your children alive, you’re done for the day.” Which is tautological, now that I think about it, but the point stands: is the kid alive? awesome. is the house a mess? who cares, the kid’s alive. did you eat three balanced meals with less than 30% doritos? fuck off, the kid’s alive.

    3. This past winter, when I was just barely starting to climb out of being super depressed, there were a lot of days I was like “I should go to the gym, I know I’d feel better,” but I just couldn’t. And then one day I was like “I probs won’t go, but eh” and I packed a bag anyway. And I left it at work. And I felt shitty about it, cause I had failed to go to the gym. But then, on another day, when I definitely would not have been able to pack an extra bag, I felt inspired later in the afternoon to pop over to the rec center and sweat on the elliptical for half an hour. And then I did feel awesome.

      And then I decided that any day when I packed a gym back and managed to get it to work so I could use it when I felt up to it was a success, counted as a victory. It helped me go a lot more. Because I was almost never up to both packing an extra bag in the morning and making the extra effort in the evening, but some days I could do one of those things.

  4. A (sadly now ex-) friend of mine told me once, years ago, that having an emotion about something doesn’t necessarily mean there is a “something” there.

    I am bipolar, which means that my emotional response to things is sometimes out of proportion to the stimulus (sometimes WAY out of proportion). Sometimes there is no stimulus at all outside my head. Most people, in my experience, think that emotion is cause->effect, something happens and it causes you to feel a thing, so if you feel a thing that must mean something happened. For them? It’s probably true. For me? Not so much. It was pretty damaging when I believed that if I was feeling something that meant there MUST be something out there causing me to have that feeling. I would get depressed and I would find things in my life that were “making” me depressed and blame those things (or people). I would get irritable and snap at people for irritating me (when, objectively, they were not being out of line and were understandably upset at being blamed that way). Not good behavior at all.

    What she said went something like this: Feelings are not always reasonable. If they were, we wouldn’t call them feelings, we’d call them reasoning. A feeling can be cause->effect, but reversing that arrow is not always a legit thing to do. Emotions are real things that can help or hurt you, but if you’re having one that doesn’t mean there HAS to be something in your life that caused it. Don’t search for a cause if the cause is not apparent; you don’t have to “pin” your emotions onto something. Maybe you’re just having an emotion and there is no external cause. Respect it for what it is when that’s the case.

    Medication has mainly resolved my bipolar symptoms, but I still think that it is helpful to me to take a momentary time-out whenever I have a strong emotional response to something, and ask myself: is it reasonable for me to feel this way about that? Is “that” actually what is making me feel this way? Even when the answer is “yes” just taking that extra second to ask myself those questions helps mediate my responses (note: I am not always able to take that extra second, but when I am it helps me).

    1. Ooh, yeah. Sometimes when I’m angry/sad/giddy/whatever it’s because I have a reason to be angry/sad/giddy/whatever. But sometimes when I’m angry it’s just because I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. (For me, it’s often not a mental illness thing–sometimes it is, but often not–it’s just a “mood fluctuates based on small changes in environment/hormones/situation/random chance” thing.) And it’s SO useful to be able to distinguish between “this feeling is reasonable” and “nope, this is coming out of the inside of my head.”

    2. This is an interesting and challenging (to me) idea. I tend to come from the completely opposite direction, frankly. I learned very on to police my emotions and shut down those which weren’t “reasonable”; and the therapy that has been most helpful to me has focused heavily on recognizing that my huge, out-of-proportion, unhelpful emotions all DO actually come from somewhere. It might not be somewhere reasonable. It might not be somewhere that would evoke the same devastating emotions in other people. But my emotions don’t exist in a vacuum.

      I think it sort of boils down to, what’s the most helpful way of framing it for you?

      1. Your experience sounds different from mine – I can sit quietly at my job, which involves numbers and typing and nothing emotional at all and no interaction with others unless I want it, and be angry for literally no reason. It’s a real emotion and it has real power over me, but there was a time when I would invent reasons for those feelings because everyone else around me operates on the assumption that an emotional always has a cause, and I absorbed that. It was pretty shitty of me to unload that anger on the last person I talked to, and my inner world and outer world both improved when I came to the realization that sometimes a reason doesn’t exist and I shouldn’t look for one.

        This isn’t going to be something generalizable to everyone.

        1. It does sound quite different–thanks for sharing and expanding. I don’t think I made this clear in my original comment, but I don’t mean to be attacking what works for you at all (all caps, underline). I was really interested to hear from someone who deals with experiences that seem quite similar to mine in some ways (powerful emotions that show up out of nowhere and are hard to deal with) but who’s learned to approach them in a way that’s totally different from what would work for me. Brains are complicated! And thus awesome!

          It also, I guess, presents a challenge to my approach of “figure out what’s causing the weird feelings”: am I just making up reasons rather than figuring out the *actual* reasons? And if I am, does it matter? (My tentative answers are “quite possibly” and “no.”)

          1. I didn’t think you were attacking me or my method of dealing with my brain’s malfunctions. And I’m definitely not attacking yours, because I think many who have emotional issues have the opposite problem from me, which of course is denying that there is something there when something is actually there (I think that’s what you were saying?) I run into this problem myself, sometimes, when I get upset about something, and it’s actually about something, and people say, “Oh, it’s Dante being bipolar again!” as though that explains it all.

            When a cause exists it’s definitely not good to deny that it exists. It’s just, for me, sometimes no cause exists outside my own head, not even a trivial one to which I am overreacting. And I really have my (sadly now ex-) friend to thank for this, because no therapist ever told me that sometimes there is no reason.

          2. And, I should have added, sometimes there is no reason, but THAT DOESN’T MAKE THE EMOTION LESS IMPORTANT. I don’t need reasons to be angry – I just am – and as long as I don’t take it out on others who don’t deserve it, it’s okay to be angry for no reason.

          3. I have spent a lot of time working on this issue, basically coming from both sides – repressing emotions that were clearly there, because they weren’t “reasonable”, and having emotions all over people who really hadn’t done anything wrong.

            For me the puzzle was resolved in this way: ALL emotions that I have are “reasonable” in their own way, because eventually emotions are condensed experience, learnt reactions based on what happened at some point in my life. Chemistry may come in, in the sense that my emotional system is much more sensitive than other’s, i.e. there is a smaller threshold to reach before something triggers an emotion and I will never be real mellow. But eventually, each single emotion that I experience has some cause and some good reason to be there based on past experience. The trigger may be external (someone saying or doing something) or it may be internal (some memory bubbling up inside me), and often it is a combination of both.

            But: Even if the TRIGGER is external, that does not mean that the person who did or said something that triggered me actually did anything wrong – for example, my SO spends a lot of time out of town due to work reasons. Everytime he leaves, I get (very) angry at him, because this triggers my fear of being abandoned which leads to a learnt reaction of aggression from my side. And I know that at some point in my life this was a useful reaction to things that were going on, but now it’s just a (huge) pain in the backside. I know that, my SO knows that, we both know he did nothing wrong, still I get to be a bit angry AT him and usually we can both laugh at it and it’s ok.

            So in my case: external trigger + internal learnt responses = always reasonable within the life-historical context, usually not so helpful right now. But understanding that I’m not (like I learnt in my family) some unreasonable overreacting crazy-woman, but there are actual real reasons for every emotion, even if they don’t make too much sense anymore in the context of my present life = very helpful.

            Particularly this: Each emotion that is bothering me now with it’s supposed unreasonableness was at some point in my life a really important mechanism to protect me from things much worse. These feelings of mine are trying to help me! They just haven’t quite caught up with the times!

          4. @mooocow: Your emotional landscape sounds similar to mine, and I really like how you address it. I’ve found that it really helps me validate the emotion when I break down the process that led to it.

            My biggest no-longer-useful reaction is backpedaling/defensiveness when I feel attacked. I just have to keep telling myself “it’s OK! Your friends are no longer shitty people who enjoy belittling you! This questioning/snark/disagreement is not a personal attack.” Those defensive reactions are getting less and less frequent, and it’s feels nice to have my emotional landscape reflect my reality

          5. one sub-idea of this–for me, i’ve learned that *certain classes* of emotions tend to be more chemical than situational (for me those are the anxious, fearful, self-loathing emotions). so like, when i get angry, it is often at something that actually exists outside of myself and that tends to be confirmed by events. on the other hand, when i am anxious (“has my boyfriend stopped breathing in the bed next to me? is this plane going to crash? DOES EVERYONE HATE ME?!”), that often turns out to be something that is arising not from some external cue but from some internal fluctuation. (and i didn’t fully understand this until i started anxiety medication and the volume on the fear was first turned wayyyyy up and then wayyyyy down by the chemical changes.) so, for me, i don’t treat all the emotions with suspicion, but i definitely interrogate the anxious ones, which helps ride them out.

      2. In my particular case, I have been told so often that I was overreacting, hormonal, unreasonable, or innumerable other ways emotions are dismissed as not actually being connected to a very real problem. After realizing this, I have been trying to teach myself that sometimes when I feel an emotion, it really was caused by something that really was a problem. (Or sometimes when it got close enough to a past problem to become a trigger, even if it isn’t a current problem.) And sometimes it’s brain weather and nothing specific happened, but that still doesn’t mean I’m unreasonable, it just means the dealing with it method doesn’t include addressing an external problem.

        1. i have had this same problem. it took me the longest time to realize that growing up i had always been told either how to feel or that what i did feel was wrong in some way. it was so subtle that it wasn’t until i moved out of my childhood home and away from my family that it became really clear to me. depression and anxiety have been a part of my life for as long as i can remember. having some feelings that didn’t make sense in connection with external stimuli and also having other feelings that i was told were wrong even if they made sense considering external stimuli, created in me a complete distrust of my own emotions. i started to rely solely on what i was being told i should feel because i’d learned that whatever it was that i was feeling on my own was not accurate or appropriate.

          since i’ve been on my own for a whole year now, it’s become more clear to me that some of my emotions really are not appropriate/accurate in conjuction with external stimuli. those are pretty easy for me to recognize because they usually accompany an old familiar pattern of negative or frightened thinking, along with certain physical responses (eg: muscle tension, loss of appetite, rapid heartbeat, etc).

          the ones that are more difficult to identify are the ones that do make sense in connection with external stimuli but get manipulated by learned self-doubt and become twisted into something else, which is somehow “rationalized” by a different thought process that was taught to me thru-out my life by the people around me. basically, that is just me imagining what someone else would tell me i should feel in that situation and then convincing myself that that *is* how i feel.

          learning to tell these two types of emotions apart has been ENORMOUS for me. it has given me more confidence to trust my own instincts and to rely on myself and has also taught me how to take care of myself better. the depressed and anxious feelings that sometimes come without stimuli or get exaggerated by external stimuli are the easier to deal with because i can focus more on my physical responses to get relief. like paying attention to my breathing or making sure i eat at reasonable intervals. the twisted/manipulated emotions are more difficult because i have to first figure out what it was that caused the emotion (which is not always easy) and why. then it takes some mental dissection to get to how i actually feel vs what i think i should feel and a little convincing that my initial reaction is acceptable. usually at that point, i then have to find a constructive way to cope with that emotion. some times this process takes days but the more i do it, the more i realize that those twisted emotions are all connected somehow and i’m breaking down more barriers each time. one brick at a time and eventually the whole wall comes down.

        2. I was told similar things when I was growing up – that I was being unreasonable, selfish, hormonal or, and this one was the worst, ‘silly’. That last one was particularly bad because it was completely dismissive and didn’t even acknowledge my feelings… at least if I was selfish, my feelings were acknowledged for a moment, however brief.
          After spiralling into a sinkhole of self-hatred, I eventually started telling myself something very simple – ‘If I feel it, it is worth something.’ Even if I never do anything with it, even if it truly is unreasonable and silly, it is worth something, and my feelings are not worthless, and I am not worthless.
          I still struggle, but it helps. If I get caught back in that cycle of ‘But there’s no logical reason for this feeling and so I shouldn’t be feeling it and how worthless and silly it is and I am by extension’, I can stop and say, ‘Nope. There it is, and it might not be worth much, but it has a worth anyway. Here I am, still not worthless. Let’s take this worthy thing, put it in my souvenier case, and move on.’
          An extension of that is, like you said, acknowledging that there occasionally is a valid reason for whatever emotion I’m grappling with, so of course it’s not silly and unreasonable because the reason is RIGHT THERE.

          As an aside, ‘brain weather’ is the best term I’ve heard for those random feelings, and I hope you wouldn’t mind if I borrowed it!

          1. I hope you give yourself a lot of credit for having figured out a way to validate your own feelings. One of the problems with that kind of childhood is that it is like if your home’s water always tasted like formaldehyde, and the air always smelled like gas. You just think “that’s what air and water are like.” For a kid to have enough discernment to say “that doesn’t smell right” without a non-stinky frame of reference is actually pretty precocious.

      3. I can totally relate to both yours and Dante’s experiences! I’ve been around several really depressed people in my life who insisted that they felt bad because of things other people were doing, and often one of those people was me. And I bought into the notion that if someone is feeling unloved, it must be because I’m not loving enough. If someone is feeling jealous, then I must be doing something to provoke it. It was a hard but important lesson to learn that I don’t have to constantly second-guess all of my words and actions and apologize for things I didn’t know I had even done, particularly when those things would shift (so I’d do what the person said they wanted, only to have them unhappy with me for something else).

        I, however, tend to fall on the opposite end of things. Due to various experiences starting in childhood, I’ve never felt like I’m entitled to negative feelings. I sublimate them, logic them away, put myself down for being weak.

        I think the important lesson I’ve learned is that emotions are sometimes based on external causes, and sometimes not. Either way, they can be intense and painful and they are okay to have and it’s okay to want them respected, even when they aren’t logical. What differs is how you respond to them. If my husband is calling me names and it makes me feel bad about myself, then I ask him to stop calling me names. If I feel bad because my hormones are wonky, then I don’t ask my husband to change his behavior (or maybe say, “Hey, I’m feeling really bad tonight, can I get some extra attention?”) but maybe I work out, or meditate, or take myself to the bookstore for distraction.

        It can be really hard, though, when you’re feeling really awful, to figure out what’s really causing it. It can be easy to say, “Well you just started taking a night class and I feel lousy so clearly you being away at night is making me depressed” but it might be correlation, not causation. It’s not always an easy task to figure out if an emotion is externally or internally generated.

    3. Interesting way to look at that.

      I’ve had the problem that I can “reason/rationalize” why I shouldn’t feel a certain way, but that doesn’t necessarily help the feeling to go away. So then I’m stuck with being able to “objectively” look at a scenario while not feeling any differently about it, so I feel that much more unreasonable that I’m experiencing this emotion in the first place.

      1. I think it’s a YMMV thing. I’m okay with saying to myself, “I am having X Emotion for no reason and therefore it’s unreasonable, but I’m having it anyway and having it is fine.” It’s more a way to manage the way I impose (or not impose) those emotions on others, not a way to manage my having the emotions. I can’t help having them. I CAN help how I speak to, and behave around, other people, and understanding that these other people are NOT AT FAULT for the emotion I’m having helps me to not have my emotion all over them.

        1. Yes, this. Relating to both what you and Another Mary are saying above, I think this post ties them together quite nicely and shows that they really aren’t so different from each other. In my case I was repressing feelings because of childhood trauma AND then having emotions all over people because of feeling like I HAD to repress them. It’s about letting your feelings exist and not beating yourself up for having them. Whether you’re having a feeling because of repressed childhood trauma or brain chemistry, those feelings are valid and okay to have.
          Personally, I have been struggling recently with some stuff similar to what the captain is describing in this post and wondering how much of “I am inadequate and anxious about everything” comes from the childhood trauma and if there might also be a brain chemistry component. I’m in therapy but not on meds and my therapist, who is not a psychiatrist seems to support the former and thinks I can work through it in therapy, but I have been working so hard and it’s gotten better but I’m starting to wonder if some meds might be a good idea.

          1. I have a little experience with the search for a good and compatible psychiatrist. Would you be interested in a bit of advice about that?

          2. I’m not Pelusa, but Dante, I would love to hear your thoughts on finding a good psychiatrist. (Or anyone else who has experience in that area!)

            I’m currently seeing a great (non-psychiatrist type) therapist, who I love, and I have a really excellent family doctor, but I’m having issues with my ADHD and depression medications and I think I need to talk to a psychiatrist.

          3. Sorry for slow reply. Been having mad computer problems the past 2 weeks.

            Finding a good psychiatrist has a lot in common with finding a good therapist, but a psychiatrist has (in theory) the entire pharmacopeia available. Not all use this. You want one who does.

            So, after you’ve done your interview (in which you should test for the standard therapist characteristics that you look for in a therapist, even though you probably will not be getting therapy from this person you still want to feel comfortable) you will probably be handed a prescription for a drug. The drug will probably be one of the standards (prozac, wellbutrin, zoloft, etc.)

            BEFORE YOU LEAVE (this is the key part) ask the doctor, “If this doesn’t work, what other options will we try?” Make sure you leave enough time to make this a serious discussion, because you want to test if the doctor is really going to use the universe of available drugs if they become necessary. There are many classes of drugs, and different drugs in the same class may have different effects/side-effects. A good psychiatrist should be able to rattle off, easily, a whole spectrum of possible options, ranked from most-preferable to least-preferable, or at least tell you why you’re not a good candidate for some therapies.

            My first psychiatrist, before I knew this secret, treated me with Zoloft, which is an antidepressant. It didn’t work very well? because I’m not depressed, I’m bipolar. But every time I would complain about it not working very well, his answer was always more Zoloft. I was taking more than the manufacturer-recommended maximum dose at one point and it didn’t actually help, and he was mulling whether or not to give me more Zoloft. Zoloft turned me into a zombie, feeling nothing (no depression, but also no happiness, no caring for anything either positive or negative, taking no pleasure in anything) and his answer was yeah, more of that.

            My current psychiatrist and I started on what I think of as the medication adventure, in which we tried many many MANY different drugs and combinations of drugs, to find the therapy that would give me maximum benefit for minimal side-effects. It was in this way that we discovered I am bipolar, with a somewhat atypical presentation, because my symptoms responded to bipolar drugs. It was only because he was willing to try bipolar meds for an apparently depressed person that I am functional today. This is the kind of psychiatrist you want, so TEST the doctor by asking what options will be tried if the trusty old standby you are given at first doesn’t work.

        2. That’s so much like what my psychologist said about having panic attacks, Dante. Yes, it’s extremely unpleasant, but it’s not physically harmful (the ones I had weren’t anyway), it was something that would pass. That advice, plus the general CBT, got me from “Oh gods I’m going to be sick,” adding to the distress, to “Okay, stomach’s really churning, let’s go and throw up and it’ll settle down.”

    4. Oh, MAN, do I know that one! When I slip into depression, my brain immediately scrabbles around to figure out What’s Wrong, finds an as-yet-unresolved problem (because life is imperfect, so there is ALWAYS something in need of fixing) and then gnaws on it like a chew toy.

      1. I KNOW, RIGHT? There’s always something you can pin it on, there’s always something you can find, but is that helpful? It’s way unhelpful for me.

    5. This is how I deal with my emotions, I think? Or at least very similarly. I’ve got the ‘little black box’ metaphor. Input goes in! Emotion comes out! Sometimes the source doesn’t appear to match the result because you don’t know what goes on in a box you can’t see into. And sometimes the box spits out emotions based on ???????? and random universal noise. Those are my lease favorite. I do not like downcycle days were I just cry and feel anxious because the input into my emotional black box is ????? or just a pile of tiny crap events that add up to sadness and done with everything.

    6. That’s so true, Dante. Even with things much less major than bipolar, it’s so helpful to be able to step back. I’ve not long finished sessions with a psychologist, using cognitive behavioural therapy. Apologies if this is Not News to you, but the explanation of the flight/fight/freeze response, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and the adrenal glands’ reactions, and how we end up fearing the fear itself, was SO helpful for me to be able to distance myself from immediate stressors. I think that ties in with your ex-friend’s advice about the unreasonableness of feelings and how there may not be an immediate or outside cause.

    7. I, too am bipolar and I have come to the very same conclusion myself! The way I’ve been explaining it is: When I get the urge to cry, my mind seeks a reason to cry. The problem with that is, when the urge is gone, I’m still stuck with the reason I’ve manufactured. So if I acknowledge that the urge to cry doesn’t need a reason, find a good book or movie that will let me cry, then when the urge passes, I’ve no baggage left behind. You’re right that it doesn’t always work – sometimes that distorted thinking sneaks up so quietly that it seems perfectly reasonable to feel that way, but if someone makes you take a step back, and speak the thought out loud, you hear the falseness of it and counter it.

    8. @Dante

      This might not be seen since it’s so late but I did want to add that I also have bipolar disorder and have experienced the same thing. I have had to learn that I can’t trust my emotions. Unmedicated, I feel everything… amplified. Maybe this will work as an analogy… you know how they talk about teens, feeling all these new things for the first time, and it’s huge! and important! and OMG! it’s overwhelming! It’s like that, only all the time, for everything, and … well, while my teen experiences were certainly colored by being bipolar, I would say it is somewhat beyond that — but close enough that maybe others can relate.

      I didn’t get diagnosed until my late 20s, and I’m now having to re-learn … everything. The medications I’m on don’t get rid of my emotions, but they certainly dampen them. In talking at length with other friends, it sounds like what I am experiencing now is more towards normal… but when you’re used to feeling things in Extra Super HD Technicolor! … it feels strange, and I’m trying to find my balance. The more difficult area is romantic emotion, where I know I love someone, but it’s not this gut-churning, overcoming, dramatic, all-encompassing emotion that takes my mind off everything (think New Relationship Energy ALL THE TIME).

      It’s been a good thing, but certainly something to get used to.

  5. Kind of related to making tasks smaller, I use Kaban flow ( to make todo lists for myslef. To feel more productive I partition big tasks up into tons of little parts, and then I get to put all the little in the done column, and at the end of the day I’ve done like ten things, and then “I’m like look at self! Look at all the stuff I did today.” And I feel way more productive.

    1. I have a paper to-do list myself, and I’m trying to condition myself to remember that most things that aren’t crossed off today can be shifted to tomorrow’s list. So laundry (wash-dry/fold/put away) might be on lists for four days before I actually do it, but then I get to cross it off. And I include all kinds of stuff that I do even on my least productive days, like eat breakfast and make my bed (which, thanks to ufyh, is now a thing I do even on my worst days, wow) and check my e-mail. So even if I don’t hunt for a job or go to the grocery, I get to cross off “read book” and “play puzzle pirates” and by the end of the day, a lot of things are crossed off.

      1. Yeeeees, this is a useful technique. I’ve had weeks where I literally had to write “eat breakfast” and “eat lunch” on my to-do list or I simply forgot.

        A related technique I’ve used with some success is not putting much on the to-do list at the start of the day (or end of previous day) … just a couple items. Then, any time I do something else – add it to the list and cross it off because I already did it.

        For stuff like dishes or laundry, I just write it once, and for each step of it that I do, I put another checkmark. Put it in the washer? CHECK. Put it in the dryer? CHECK. Fold some of it? CHECK. Take it to the bedroom? CHECK.

        At the end of the day … BAMPF, funny how I did a lot of stuff, after all!

        1. Oh, the checkmarks idea might really work for me! I love crossing things off of lists, but I tend to avoid making them, because they get so long. And I haven’t broken myself of the idea that moving things to tomorrow’s list is a failure yet. But checkmarks for each piece might help a lot. Thank you!

          One thing I have struggled with for years is breaking thing down into smaller pieces. This is a skill, and it takes time to learn. Just realizing that this was not some kind of moral failing was ground-breaking for me. Just out of college, I would literally turn in circles in our tiny living room and have hysterics because I couldn’t figure out where to start cleaning. My beloved partner finally started breaking it down for me. “Shoes. You know where the shoes go. Put all the shoes away.”

          To this day, when it is time to clean, I just look for something I know where it goes and put it away. Then the next thing I know where it goes. Over time, the pile of “aaaaggghhh I don’t know where that goes!” has gotten smaller and smaller.

          1. Nice! Today I am cleaning the house, and I made a master to-do list (scary & long) but then broke it down for each hour. For this hour, I need to do two 20/10s (an UfYH thing where you work for 20 minutes and then take a 10-minute break) and focus on “KITCHEN” broadly – just keep hacking away at stuff in the kitchen for those discrete blocks of time without worrying about the list. I’ll do this hour by hour throughout the day, and I won’t look back at the big list until the very end of the day when it’s time to check things off, at which point I will be an off-checking FOOL.

          2. I just finished throwing old stuff away from my pantry. There were plenty of things 3-4 years too old that are now a blessed thing of the past. I’m feeling kind of squicked out, kind of proud of myself. Mostly awesome.

      2. I have ‘throw five things in the bin’ on every day’s list. Because I can always find five things – junk mail, a tissue that missed the bin when I threw it from my nice warm bed in the middle of the night, stuff from the fridge, a handful of old receipts – and over time, those five things really add up.

        1. Sometimes when I need to clean I’ll do the “put away 100 things” model. Each “thing” is just moving a thing. If I put a sock in the laundry hamper, that’s a thing. Move a fork from the dishwasher to the drawer, that’s a thing. It’s surprising how quickly it adds up to 100, especially if laundry or dishes are involved. And it’s scaleable down or up. If I’m really blergy that day, I put away 5 or 10 things. If I want Epic Apartment-Cleaning, I see if I can put away 1000 things over a weekend in batches of 50-100.

          It also has the entertaining effect that I find myself automatically counting every time I move something for the next few hours.

          1. That counting thing is a really clever idea. It’s really attractive to me, in a way…but I could see that being too close to skirting the edges of OCD for me, which is something I do every day anyways.

            Fortunately for me, while I’m busy creeping around the edges of OCD, I get most things put away. It’s the bigger projects that get pushed farther and farther back. I’ve been painting my bedroom for nearly 4 years now.

  6. I know that shamey voice. That voice is rude.

    I’m in the same place – crawling now out of the second-worst depression of my life. It’s taken a year. And hoo boy, did shit pile up. Little bits. It’s the only way.

    And shame is toxic, and should be banished forever.

  7. My undergrad institution had a pervasive culture of “my life is so hard and I have so much work and I’m so overwhelmed.” Complaining about how overworked you were was one of the primary conversation openers at parties. No joke. And there was the inevitable competitiveness that went along with this–if you weren’t miserable, you weren’t working hard enough; and if you weren’t more miserable than the next person, you didn’t deserve sympathy or attention.

    I can’t remember which of my brilliant friends came up with this, but someone eventually said, “You know what? We’re not in the Suffering Olympics.”

    The term “Olympics of Suffering” has been invaluable to me since then. It helps me bow out of/defuse these sorts of competitive misery dumps; it’s helped me take my own mental health issues seriously when oh my gosh, people are starving/homeless/have cancer/have REAL problems; and it’s helped me re-establish balance with friends after a recent period of Really Bad Shit when most of my friends felt something along the lines of “I want to tell you about my hard day, but I can’t because what you’ve been dealing with is so much worse.” There’s no Olympics of Suffering. Everyone suffers, and none of us get a medal for it. Everyone’s suffering is real and important.

    1. I like that a lot too.

      It can be really helpful because sometimes it turns into a method for manipulation. Like, I’ve had situations where I was like, “I have to quit being responsible for X because I’m too busy” (where it was a volunteer job, or a role in my social group–like The One Who Organizes Saturday Night Movie Outings, or whatever) and the response was, “Jim can do it, and he’s working three jobs and raising a teenager. Sally can do it, and she has cancer.” The implication: your being “busy” or “tired” is not good enough, because you have been one-upped. If they can do it, you can do it, and if you can do it, you have to do it.

      But the truth is: if Jim can do it and do his three jobs, I’m happy for him. If Sally can do it while undergoing chemo, I’m delighted for her. But I can’t. It’s not a competition, and it’s not a who-matters-more scale. It’s a simple question: can I/do I want to do X right now? And if the answer is no, then it doesn’t matter who else could do X. I can’t/won’t.

      1. And who knows? Maybe Jim and Sally only do it because that person also guilted them. “Well Badger Rose is doing it…”

    2. That was known as “misery poker” at my college, and yes, there is no point in trying to win at Misery Poker.

  8. OMG. This. This. This.

    I have been struggling with my master’s thesis for years. I’m going on to year 7 actually. I feel like a huge failure. I always have to remind myself that in the middle of it I dealt with a huge downward spiral due to my depression and the shit life threw at me.

    Before my spiral I was on top of my game. I graduated college with good grades, I had a job, and got into Grad school. After my spiral I have struggled with “getting back on the wagon”. 5 years of it… !! It has been a slow process.

    One of the problems I have had was not putting too much pressure on myself. Going from not being able to make it out of my bed to finishing a master’s thesis is a BIG jump. Along with getting married, losing my support system and my family, I needed to learn to cut myself slack and give myself more credit for what I have done.

    One of the best tips my therapist told me was that my to do list was TOO long. I broke it up now so that I have no more than 5 (preferably) 3 things on that list per day. It has made my life so much easier. And once I got myself into certain routines, it didn’t need to be on my to do list anymore, it became part of my life. But before I got to that point, I had to see a short to do list. And if that made it so that I couldn’t work on my thesis everyday, so be it.

  9. When someone suggests you’re “too” [something], mentally add the words: “…for you.”

    I’ve been told that my problem is that I’m “too smart and too sensitive” for the world. By a person that, shock of all shocks, I eventually realized was kind of dull and insensitive. You know, for me. Whenever you think you’re Too Something, it implies that there’s a Something Else that’s an agreed-upon standard. But… since we’re all just making this shit up as we go along (seriously, do YOU have a clue? No? Then why should anyone else?), instead of bending over backward trying to morph ourselves into this phantom “just right” that only exists inside someone else’s brain, maybe instead seek out other people who are NOT too dull and insensitive and for whom you, in turn, are not too smart and sensitive.

    Seriously, the world is chock full of folk. We don’t agree on lots of stuff. Seek out the ones you like. This shouldn’t be that hard, but for some reason it wasn’t until a friend told me in exasperation that no, I’m not too sensitive and smart. I’m just too much so for THAT particular dude. Turned out she was right. And that it applies to all sorts of stuff! This was hugely liberating.

    1. “When someone suggests you’re “too” [something], mentally add the words: “…for you.”

      I’ve been told that my problem is that I’m “too smart and too sensitive” for the world. By a person that, shock of all shocks, I eventually realized was kind of dull and insensitive. You know, for me.”

      Little things that people say.

      A while ago, I started copying and pasting stuff into a text file when it makes me stop and read it over, when it gives me that kick of recognition.

      And I just added another one. Thank you, Michelle.

    2. Oh, thanks! So needed this the past few days! Interestingly it was my mom who told me this exact phrase to “comfort” me from the teasing and verbal bullying I regularly faced as an (admittedly precocious and sensitive) kid. Now she’s the throwing the “you’re too sensitive” at me as a guilt trip because I’m setting boundaries with the family members who are basically abusive…and not participating in her illusion of a family based on layers and layers of contradictory denials.

  10. Someone asked me years ago, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer is “One bite at a time”. I’ve often had to decide that one bite fills me up. So it’s the same theory as make the task smaller. I can’t always embrace that theory without the spiral, but during the tough times, it’s what I strive for.

    1. Hi Stacey,
      My son’s school counsellor said of his depression. “How do you move a pallet of bricks? … One brick at a time”. A process that initially seems so overwhelming gets done in the end because it’s tackled in small manageable steps that you hardly notice doing. Same metaphor as the elephant. Mentally moving bricks works for me. Eating an elephant less so! 🙂

  11. Martial arts has been a huge, positive influence on my life but I’ve often struggled with the focussed aggression and ‘getting-punched-in-the-face’ aspect of sparring. It’s partly an ego thing, partly to do with touch sensitivity and partly to do with History.

    Getting hit is part of sparring – it’s not possible to be a real life Bruce Lee and not get hit – so I had to find a way to deal with it. My instructor’s advice? ‘If you’re putting a mouth guard in, you’re going to get punched in the face. Don’t want to get punched? Don’t put a mouth guard in.’ It reduced the whole anxiety-causing mess of it down to a simple act. If I felt I couldn’t get through it, I wouldn’t put the mouth guard in. But if I did put it in, then I wasn’t allowed to get annoyed/agitated if (when) someone punched me in the face.

    Sparring’s never going to be my favourite thing in the world but I continue to say that phrase and the security of the mouthguard helps me gut through it!

  12. For me, it was when a friend told me that it was okay to be happy about small things, or routine things, or even small and routine things.

    Because like a lot of you, I was an overachiever when I was a kid. The kind of overachiever where a B+ is a failure but an A+ is just expected. And that set me up for a life of feeling like any small achievement was basically a nothing–that it wasn’t enough to take out the trash, that I had to super-excel, take out the trash AND wipe down the counters AND clear out the fridge. And then when I’d done all three of those things, the jerkbrain would sneer, “So you cleaned the kitchen? Great job, you have now hit the bare baseline for competent adulthood. Call me when you’ve done something actually impressive.”

    Or, alternately, the jerkbrain would get sarcastic: “You wrote a page on your novel today? That’s great, three hundred whole words! You’ll finish it in about ten years at this rate.”

    Or, alternately, the jerkbrain would act like all the world’s ills were my responsibility: “You volunteered for a day at the food bank. Fan-freaking-tastic. Fifty people out of two hundred thousand food-insecure are having a better day because of you–but that’s enough, right?”

    It was revelatory to have a friend say, hey, it’s okay to feel good about small things. It’s okay to be happy that the trash went out, even if you didn’t clean the entire house top to bottom. It’s fine to be thrilled that you wrote a page, even though you’ll need to write more to finish the book. It’s totally normal to feel a warm fuzzy feeling when you get off your food bank shift, even though you haven’t solved the problem of all hungry people in the city. You don’t have to super-duper-excel-at-everything to feel a sense of accomplishment. You just have to do something. That’s enough.

    1. This is eerie, I could have written most of this word for word. Our jerkbrains are definitely reading from the same script, where accomplishments are the bare minimum we should be doing but anything less than perfection is failure.

      1. Yup this seems to be my feeling about my life as well.

        One thing that has really stuck with me was something that my therapist has been saying to me. Any time I start going into the spiral of everything I should be doing and how much all my friends who are worse off than me (whatever that means) are accomplishing compared to me, my therapist interrupts that thought process and asks, “What can you live with?” What I choose to do in the coming day/week/month/year doesn’t have to be amazing and perfect; it doesn’t even have to be good. It just has to be something I can live with. That’s taken a lot of pressure off of me.

      2. “Our jerkbrains are definitely reading from the same script, where accomplishments are the bare minimum we should be doing but anything less than perfection is failure. ” — I have this problem as well. Stupid jerkbrains.

    2. Holy crap, this post is like… right out of my own internal narrative, especially the bit about grades. I was definitely that kid who got side-eyes if I didn’t get all A’s. Interestingly, in high school I spent a year (10th grade) in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language, and had to put up with failing everything for 6 months because I literally could not comprehend, read, or speak the language. The fallout of that experience has been more that I got comfortable with literally accomplishing NOTHING and now I fluctuate between the extremes instead of finding something in the middle.

      *sigh* This has been enlightening. >.>

      THOUGH the laundry, as the Captain mentioned in her post, is one place I’ve found a way to do it, particularly with folding: when I have a basket of clean clothes, I sort them into piles of like, then fold them, rather than taking them out of the basket one by one and folding. So all the t-shirts get chucked in a pile, all the socks, all the underwear, etc, and then I go through the small piles and fold them and put them away. I find this especially helpful for socks, because I used to find one sock and then paw through the whole basket looking for its mate, which takes approximately forever to do.

      1. I try to fold laundry as I take it out of the dryer, because otherwise I just…don’t bother, and then my clothes sit in the basket for days and get horribly wrinkled and I used to not care but these days I kind of do. *sigh* So I pull things out of the dryer one at a time and fold them, and pile socks on top to sort later (sometimes much later, because like I said, if I don’t do it immediately…).

        1. I don’t have a dryer, but I fold them as I take them off the line – and I take them off the line in groups so they go in the basket pre-sorted (I also hang them on the line as much pre-sorted as I can – undies go on THIS bit, socks on THIS bit, undershirts on THIS bit – which means that there are sometimes inexplicable blanks in the spacing, but I can live with that). All the t-shirts. All the trousers. All the socks. And when the basket is full, I call that done, even if there are more clothes to take off the line.

          1. I have a kind of drying hanger, basically eight arms with two clothespins on each arm, connected to a central hanger with a hook. It’s fantastic for drying socks, and I’ve learned to pair the socks on the drying hanger when hanging them on it, so I never have to go looking for the other sock once they’re dry. And yes, sometimes one sock got lost on the way so there’s an empty space on the hanger, and that totally doesn’t matter – because at least I won’t be wasting time looking for that one sock that didn’t even get taken from the hamper in the first place.

      2. I was an exchange student, too! (Year Program, Latvia) I was a pretty keyed-up kid, and my year chilled me out a fair bit, too. I have to agree wholeheartedly that learning how to just really suck at a lot of things was probably good for me- my jerkbrain couldn’t harass me, because even *it* knew there were good reasons I was incapable of tings like finding a bathroom, or buying bread.
        Even better- I knew I could do these things, just not in Latvian. (Though of course I learned.) So I could always fall back on saying to myself, “Well, in America I can order a cheeseburger with no problem, and also I’m allowed to drive a car and my friends here aren’t.”
        And then I’d go get lost using the bus and have to be rescued by the driver and his booty call, and I’d remember that taking life easy is an acceptable solution. It was a game changer.

        (Also, this really happened with the bus driver, and it is one heck of a story.)

        1. Oh man that bus story sounds like a doozy! I know for certain I don’t have any stories that good, haha. I lived in Paris, so it was probably quite a bit easier in the sense that there’s a lot of overlap in French and English words, so even if I couldn’t construct a sentence in school I could at least buy things okay in shops. I did constantly get asked for directions, though, literally starting with the day I moved there. That was terrifying for 15-year-old me. Why did people always pick me?! Did I look like I knew where I was going?! I couldn’t even read the signs! I dunno, man. It never happened back home in the US, but I guess I looked really approachable in Paris.

        2. I think of that as “Well, you can’t teach a bloody biology class!”

          When I was a teenager, me and my mum sang in a choir together, and there was a rather annoying lady who was a semi-professional musician and a music teacher who would always correct you if you were stood next to her and made a mistake. I just shrugged it off because hey, I was a teenager and adults (especially teachers!) knowing better than me was a thing that happened. But my mum used to get really, really narked about it, and question her place in the choir and whether she should be there at all and all that sort of thing.

          And then one day she had a revelation: Somewhat Snotty Lady said, “That should have been a B. You sang a C.” And Mum thought, “You know what? You can’t teach GCSE Biology! Or conduct a careers interview!” (Both things my mum was qualified to do.) And it remained my mum’s way of reminding herself that she was qualified to do some things and other people were qualified to do other things, and nobody was good at and qualified to do everything and THAT WAS OK!

      3. On laundry – I gave up ironing/folding years ago and bought small baskets/boxes. I have a basket for t-shirts, a basket for socks, a basket for nice shirts – you get the idea. Hang up the things that will eventually need an iron (this way, they don’t end up a crinkled mess). Sort and throw them into the basket – they slot into the cupboard.

        1. I saw a tip for expediting ironing somewhere ages ago (which is good because I loathe ironing). Hang your shirt (or whatever needs to be ironed) up in the bathroom while you take a hot, steamy shower. The steam relaxes the fabric and takes out most of the wrinkles. It’s not as precise as ironing but it’ll do, and then you don’t have to do as much ironing!

          1. There is also dewrinkling spray. It is amazing. You literally spray it on and tug on the fabric and the wrinkle goes away (although you have to be a little careful because you can introduce wrinkles).

            It works on just about anything that you can pull out of the dryer and wear. It is not as great for stuff that actually needs an iron, like poplin or something. But it is nothing short of a miracle in my life! Works way better than hanging in the bathroom during a shower.

    3. OMG yes. Quite a few of my friends and I suffer from this. If you fail to do even basic things you feel that much worse. If you are productive for the whole day, ‘Woohoo, you’ve accomplished the absolute bare minimum.”

    4. Oh bloody hell yes, this.

      I remember panicking and feeling so ashamed when I got my exam results because I got a B for one of them. And feeling like a shit for feeling disappointed because some of my friends were proud to have, after really working for it, got a C.

      I’m stuck in a really unpleasant spiral where I crave validation for stuff I do, but am also desperately afraid of any attention or praise when I succeed at something because the sudden feeling of having expectations thrust upon me makes me want to crawl into a hole and never come out. So I’ll do something, start getting a tiny, teeny little bit successful at it, share it with loved ones, receive sudden overwhelming enthusiasm and support and questions about what I’m doing with that every time I talk to them and…. quietly drop that thing entirely from my life and feel guilty and filled with failure.

      One of my parents passed away when I was an infant. My other parent was wonderful and loving and so, so kind. But sometimes, on lonely nights, they would tell me not to be sad my other parent died. Because it must have happened because their only reason was to make me. The implication being that because I was a “gifted child” I was obviously going to do something “special” or “important” with my life.

      1. “I’m stuck in a really unpleasant spiral where I crave validation for stuff I do, but am also desperately afraid of any attention or praise when I succeed at something because the sudden feeling of having expectations thrust upon me makes me want to crawl into a hole and never come out.”

        I do that too. And then I tend to either a) do exactly what you describe (seek validation and then flip out because OMG EXPECTATIONS), or b) force myself not to seek validation, especially for things where I can say “hey it wasn’t that big a deal”, and then sit there simmering in resentment because I’m not getting the recognition I could be.

      2. Ohhhhh, yes. Gifted Child Guilt. I’ve spent years and years learning that it’s okay to be a regular person with a regular job and regular life, and that I’m not some huge disappointment and horrible failure because I’m not out there setting the world on fire. And as you touched upon, it was often the most well-meaning and caring people who (unintentionally, of course) made me feel the worst about “not living up to my potential.”

        1. Yes, this! It’s terrible, because I am so incredibly fortunate to have a family that are so supportive and encouraging at anything I decide to turn my hand to. Because I should be grateful, and I AM grateful, and yet a huge part of me kind of wishes they could just be like “oh that’s nice” and leave it at that.

          A year or so ago I told my family I was getting back into writing and had a short story published, and for MONTHS afterwards they would always ask me how my writing was going, send me links to articles about e-publshing and self-publishing, and mention me to their friends as “My daughter/niece/grandkid Bunny, the writer” and ask if I’d had anything else published or had I sold any more of my writing an when can they read my novel and ooooooh gods did it ever not help!

          Also, am I the only one who HATES the phrase “gifted child”? It was used to describe the Summer courses and stuff I used to get sent on “gifted children’s Summer writing course” or “Gifted children’s science seminar” and it’s just such a bullshit phrase. Because my friend who never succeeded academically, who needed extra help to pass their exams… was NO LESS gifted than me. He was just gifted at other stuff. Like drumming, singing, having social skills, making people smile, being a competent adult…

          1. OMG, THIS!!!

            Look mom, this is why I’m reluctant to tell you things. Because then it hangs over my head forever as you keep bringing it up. I know it is because you care and are interested in my life, but it just feels like I’m constantly being beaten by the Stick of Expectations.

        2. I call “potential” the “p-word”, because I too have Gifted Child Guilt, bigtime. ‘Potential’ is like a swearword, used to cut: “Oh, you work at [place]? … oh. You had so much *potential*.”

      3. I’m stuck in a really unpleasant spiral where I crave validation for stuff I do, but am also desperately afraid of any attention or praise when I succeed at something because the sudden feeling of having expectations thrust upon me makes me want to crawl into a hole and never come out.

        Oh I know this one. I’m less bad with other people’s responses these days, but I can easily do it to myself. Start something new (say going to the gym, or starting a new hobby), all seems to be going well, get to the point of making a committment (e.g. buying a tool, or deciding to do it once a week), and suddenly I’ve made my own expectations which I want to hide from. So frustrating, not least because usually I’ve just turned something I was enjoying into something I’m avoiding.

    5. “Great job, you have now hit the bare baseline for competent adulthood. Call me when you’ve done something actually impressive.”

      I just broke up with someone whose mode of interacting with the world was basically this, but towards all the people in his life (including me :/). As one small example, I came up with an idea for a dorky award for a work thing, and he was all “you shouldn’t reward people for just doing their jobs” which, uh, no, it was for the person who did their job in this instance /the best/.

      I am still working through the profound sadness at what kind of childhood he must have had to have ended up with that take on the world, but also figuring out what parts of my own life lead me to want to be with someone who has such an uncaring and unkind way of dealing with people.

      1. Oh, WOW. I am really happy for you that you’ve stepped away from your ex. He sounds…not fun.

    6. “So you cleaned the kitchen? Great job, you have now hit the bare baseline for competent adulthood. Call me when you’ve done something actually impressive.”

      I…I have just had a vision of my own jerkbrain. Wow. I berate myself a lot with the “baseline of competent adulthood” thing. Hmm. There’s some reflecting to be done on this, I think…

    7. Rothfuss spent seven years writing the Name of the Wind (while taking nine to complete a BA). It is a fabulous novel; when I read that I felt a little thrill. Sometimes shit takes time (and sometimes it will take you more time – others less… point is, it takes as long as it takes).
      I’ve enrolled to undertake a masters while working four days a week. One of my colleagues managed to do three subjects while working five days. I’ve decided after much umming and ahhing (and with a little truth talk from my partner) that I will attempt to do one subject for the first semester and see how it goes. It took a fair amount of working through guilt and jerk-brain comparisons (but she did three subjects – you will take forever and be stuck on four days a week and reduced salary for much longer), but hey – I need to be sane – not stressed and angry and then need to take a two-month holiday.

      1. I have a friend who has an ungodly amount of things going on in her life. She has so many things to do and people to meet that we as here oldest friends don’t see much of her. But we try to be accepting because … this is really not healthy for her? And she doesn’t need another stressor.
        The point is: she gets done a shit ton of stuff for the price of never having the time to unwind and, lately, even sleep enough (!!). She went from 4 – 6 hours a night to, in one instance, none. So always when I feel that she gets so much more done, I think of what it would do to me to work like her and the consequence would be: depressed as hell in approximately two days. So no, not gonna happen. It doesn’t look like she’s more relaxed or happy than me and so I apply the same principal like you do: I need to be sane, not measure up to someone whose life would make me REALLY miserable.

    8. Or, alternately, the jerkbrain would get sarcastic: “You wrote a page on your novel today? That’s great, three hundred whole words! You’ll finish it in about ten years at this rate.”

      If it helps, your jerkbrain was not only being horrible, it was also mathematically incorrect. 300 words is a decent amount of writing. If you did that every day, you’d finish your novel in less than a year, not in ten years. And if it did take you ten years? You’d still have a novel at the end of it!

    9. Saw this quote somewhere and can’t remember the exact wording or the source, but it was something along the lines of “Just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything.” Poorly rendered, but a great help particularly when thinking about helping other people. (And 50 people is huge.)

    10. Can’t help but think of this ‘Hyperbole and a Half’ comic that – along with it’s followup – is one of the best depictions of depression and sneering jerkbrain I’ve ever seen.

      Her follow up post – over a year later is, well, also exactly where I’ve been:

      Though of course individual experiences vary, I seriously want to bring these out in brochure form and give them to everyone who knows someone who’s depressed or thinks their brain is the only one working in such a fucked up manner.

      1. Ok, I love this. It is just so perfect… the sad thing is that I didn’t even know I was depressed. Until last night. And then I was talking and it just *boom* hit me. Depression didn’t mean I spent all day in bed. I could function and be depressed. I was/am a high-functioning depressed person! That ‘no emotion’ thing? Had that. Craved that. Still working my way out of that. Crying for no reason? Yep. Thanks for the illustration. It really does help to see it like that.

    11. I also had the overachieving thing but coupled with the parental demand for it as well, so my mantra became “if I’m not going to be perfect/succeed/win approval, why even bother trying? Why even start?” A side effect of which has led me to expert level procrastination. Like, I buy craft projects that I want to do, but I’m afraid to start them because they’ll turn out imperfect. So long as they’re unbegun, the potential for perfection remains absolute.

      I have only recently begun allowing myself to fail, fail hard, fail better. And to take the small victories and be proud of them, because they do stack up. Anyway just wanted to say that. Also I ripped open one of those craft things this weekend, made a total mess, and enjoyed the hell out of it despite myself. So, yay.

      1. Oh wow, yes, re: craft supplies. I make bead and wire jewelry, and the biggest problem I have is that my immediate instinct is, “I shouldn’t use up that bead and wire because I suck at this now, I should save it for when I’m better and can make a *good* earring out if it.” The obvious problem with that is that I will never actually get better if I don’t use some bead and wire making things now….

        1. I think I read a book or short story sometime when a mother saves something really special for later, always later because she’s not good enough now. Then her daughter discovers the special something stuck in a closet after her mother’s death. The mother never thought she was good enough now. The daughter realizes if you always think later, later may never come. Now is important.

          Similar idea to yours.

          1. Yeah, exactly. As a teenager, I used to “save” story ideas–I’d fall in love with an idea for a short story or novel, but I’d think, “That idea is so great, I’d better save it for when I’m a better writer and can do it justice.” In addition to the problem you mention (it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re never “better” enough), there’s the simple fact that the ideas that made me starry-eyed at fifteen no longer make me starry-eyed at thirty-odd. I might have written a clumsy story then, but I would have written it with love in a way that I can’t now simply because my tastes have changed somewhat, and the shiny new exciting edges have worn off the ideas over the years.

            The thing that finally convinced me that I could stop “saving” the “good” ideas was, oddly enough, the fantasy novelist Robin McKinley. Her first book, BEAUTY, was a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. And her seventh book, something like twenty years later, ROSE DAUGHTER, was… a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and similar in a lot of ways. That convinced me, finally, that using an idea didn’t have to mean using it *up*.

      2. Recently I took up quilting – hardcore style.

        I found a lot of really cool ideas on Pinterest and pinned until my eyes could only see log cabins and star blocks. Full of inspiration I skipped into a sewing machine store and purchased a relatively expensive sewing machine. Then I hoarded a gazillion different types of fabric, and even some supplies like a rolling cutter, cutting mat and rulers.

        Then, when I actually needed to start making these ideas of mine reality, I froze.

        “Maybe I will ruin this expensive fabric! I should only use it when I know I won’t fail. Luckily I bought some of this cheaper fabric instead! Though I don’t like how it looks like, but I’m sure I can use it for something!”

        Guess what? I still haven’t made a single quilt. I did make a bag, and some stuffed animals, but they were always … disappointing somehow. Not up to my standards. Not worthy of using or being looked at.

        So the plushie turtles I made still lay in a corner somewhere. I was meaning to give them as gifts, but I didn’t dare. They were ugly and lumpy, and the colors were off.

        It’s awesome to see that I am not alone in this. I think my boyfriend is dubious about me wanting to spend money on anything ever again… 🙂

  13. All of the sympathy, love, and encouragement. All of it. To you. You’re amazing and awesome and I am so grateful that you share pieces of yourself with strangers on the Internet.

    The depressed->busy cleaning up Depression Mess->feeling a like a fraud because I actually seem to have a handle on my shit for five minutes/lost and don’t know what to do because I’m not frenetically busy cleaning up Depression Mess->depressed cycle has defined my life for many, many years. In the last few years I’ve begun to break out of it by teaching myself to do exactly what your friend talked about. Incremental motion. Forward movement. Small successes.

    There’s a REASON all the wildly popular personal productivity systems break down into, basically, 1.) Divide goals into projects and projects into tasks and tasks into individual movements and 2.) Do individual movements, not in the order in which they appear, but in an order that is matched to your energy, available time, and accessible resources at this particular moment. 3.) Give yourself the time and space to process. Writing a to-do list IS a task on the list. Deciding what’s important for today IS a thing that you’ve achieved today. Documenting what you just learned IS learning.

    Lately, the mantra that has been hugely helpful to me* has been “the only way out is through.” The emotional setup, at the beginning of a difficult and daunting thing, for the sense of relief and release when the thing is done, is the mental equivalent of taking a deep breath before the dive, just the tiny extra kick of energy necessary to start.

    *Like “it is what it is,” this is something to say to ONESELF if one finds it helpful, it is something to say to a GOOD CLOSE TRUSTED FRIEND if the friend has specifically indicated that 1.) you get zir troubles in a meaningful way and 2.) it’s welcome and helpful to hear; said to anyone else whatsoever ever, it’s condescending and dismissive and no no STFU.

    1. I was reading a book recently (“Your Brain At Work,” David Rock), which said that prioritizing is one of the hardest tasks for the human brain. This is part of why the todo list is such hard work and should totally get its line item, because its really hard for us to make decisions like, “yes, laundry today, because otherwise I will be going naked to grandma’s tomorrow. Cleaning bathroom to removing possibly-sentient mold can happen tomorrow. If it hasn’t killed me yet, one more day will probably not do it. And the hole in the basement wall can wait until I have more energy, because it will be hard to fix, and any water damage to be done down there has been DONE.” Especially when you KNOW there are 49472 things on your list, and every one of them is now making your skin crawl whenever you think about it.

  14. Not much to do with cleaning up, but my father said something to me recently, about my senior project:

    “It’s tempting to try to do everything yourself, because, of course you can do it faster and better than anyone on your team. But you can’t do it faster and better than all of them.”


    1. In another life, I’ve held offices at various levels of a certain organization, and this comes up a whooooooole lot. People learn a bunch, get the hang of an office, and then start saying things like this … “I *have* to keep doing this because I can do it best/most efficiently/whatever” or “You can’t let X take this office instead of me! They don’t already have the years of experience I do!”

      It’s frustrating, but I just keep pointing out a couple of things:

      – Nobody’s going to die if the next person isn’t perfect at it/doesn’t have X years of experience.
      – If you don’t let newer/less-experienced people take on offices, eventually you’re going to die and *then* we’ll all be hosed. The only way to really hone the skills is to use them.

      That said – the artifiical “team” experience in college generally made me want to smack people … unlike good work environments, there are basically no consequences to the people who slack. Or, more to the point, academic environments have even fewer possible consequences for even the most blatant slacking. [insert personal anecdote here] 😦

      1. I’m in the midst of training my predecessor after moving to a new position in my company and it’s sooo hard not to fall into the trap of doing both my old duties and new. I have a really bad habit of going “oh, I’ll just do this thing.. It’ll take five minutes to do it, but 15 to walk her through it.

        A few times now she’s come in and caught me doing quotes (which are her job now) and chastised me by reminding me that she’s supposed to be learning and i have my own stuff to do… And it’s true because otherwise I end up doing a double workload an getting stressed about it!

  15. One day at a time.

    When I get depressed and overwhelmed, I spiral into a worry whirlpool and think too much about the future, and stuff I need to do, and stuff that might happen, and etc. So, I decided to take things one day at a time: today I will concentrate on getting through work, and replying to that e-mail, and making dinner. I will worry about my student loans tomorrow. I will worry about that conversation I need to have with roomies tomorrow, when we’re all home. I won’t tell myself a story about how these things will go and make myself feel shitty, when all I need to do RIGHT NOW is do my job so I can pay rent.

    Also, tricking yourself into thinking you’re in a good mood does wonders!

  16. Focus on the little things. When they start to slide, everything starts to slide. It is so tempting to just go, “oh, for fuck’s sake, what does it really matter if I miss a meal?”. That is when I know my jerkbrain is talking to me, loud and clear. I know very well that eating badly is a big trigger for me, both because it means I’m already depressed, and eating badly means less fuel, which will result in a big emotional crash.

    In the long term it is less effort for me to carefully coach myself through making a meal–“come on, you can do it, it’s a big thing and you’ll be so much better off for it, you’re being really brave”–than it is to skip the meal and have the resulting crash. I talk to myself as I would a friend I loved, even if I don’t feel that way (and sometimes I do feel a little silly). I do my best to remember that my brain is sick. It doesn’t need patronising, it doesn’t need a Get A Hold Of Yourself Man Slap moment of revelation; it needs care. In amidst the jerkbrain feelings making me worry that I’m useless, a voice countering that horrible wordless fear to say, “you are being so brave and doing so well” has given me good things.

    1. This really resonates with me. One of the hardest things in coping with depression was getting from the condescending jerk-brain self-talk to this more friendly voice (and I still often oscillate between the two). And I also often use the perspective change – how would I talk to a close friend in this situation? – to shut up the jerk-brain and let friendly-brain take over.

  17. I discovered Unfuck Your Habitat on tumblr and the blog owner wrote a few things on cleaning while chronically ill and answered a few asks and their responses basically boiled down to Do Something. Whether it was cutting a 20/10 down to a 5/15 or clearing one surface or picking up one piece of garbage, Do Something.

    Cleaning in my family was always this big huge marathon thing that was a huge exhausting hassle and always frightened me and after reading all these things it dawned on me that I don’t have to do everything at once and that I can take small steps because they’re still steps and worth celebrating. And then I brought it up to my psychologist and she was thrilled and reminded me I can apply this in other areas of my life and I was thunderstruck. It changed my entire life. It helps dramatically with my anxiety disorder and my depression.

    1. I love Unfuck Your Habitat! I have some serious unfucking that needs to be done now, and not so much energy for it, but one of my goals is getting spaces cleaned so I can post pics to the ufyh tag.

    2. Thank you so much for posting UYH!! I had never seen this tumblr before and it is truly helpful and inspiring.

  18. YES, THIS. Something I do when one of my various mental health acronyms gets very bad is to make myself task lists. This sounds awful, but is instead awesome. What you do is make each task as tiny as possible. Like breaking down “make a fist” into

    1. hold open your palm
    2. curl your fingers in to the first joint
    3. curl your thumb in towards your palm

    So my daily task list will look like:

    1. Sit up in bed.
    2. Decide whether or not to get out of bed.
    3. Locate pants.
    4. Put pants on legs.
    5. Zip up fly.

    And so on, and the magic is that you get to cross off each thing! As you go! So basically no matter what, every day you’ve accomplished at least some of a to-do list, and thus feel like a far more functional member of society.

    1. I love lists. Generally they are a super-helpful part of my day. But sometimes I can’t figure out how to write the list and just leave it alone as a helpful tool instead of using it as another weapon against myself if I feel overwhelmed by the number of things on it, or if one item on the list just feels like way more than I can handle on a particular day.

      I don’t know if you ever have those feelings, or have a way to deal with them if you do, but if so, I’d love to talk about it.

      1. My response to overwhelm is more, smaller lists. If there are too many things on it, I always bludgeon myself too. Actually, and this is ~hilarious (not actually hilarious): if I have 10 things on my list & do 9, I feel miserable & overwhelmed. If I have 9 on my list & do 9, I feel amazing. BUT I AM IN CONTROL OF THE LIST.

        I have had to really really be thoughtful about what can be done in a day. I still over-estimate, very very frequently, and start to beat myself up when I do. But in reality, it is better for my mental health & my ability to do anything ever, if I can be as accurate (& accepting of the uncontrollable) as possible, because, again: Doing the 9 things is a wonderful thing. It’s not negated by the presence of a 10th thing left undone that was not ever possible to get done that day in the first place.

        Also, I also feel the “THIS item, ugh, I cannot do.” There are multiple ways I approach that, depending on the task.

        * Put it off for another day, and REALLY MOVE IT off today’s list, so it’s not hanging there making me feel like crap. You need to actually make the choice that you are not doing it, and you need to not leave it on the list “just in case.” Make a decision, yes or no.

        * The task is not broken down enough, and it needs to be split into smaller parts. This has been MASSIVELY helpful for complicated paperwork tasks that I need to do regularly. I wrote a to-do checklist, so I don’t have to re-write the darned thing every time, but, what used to be on my list as “Do the paperwork” is now about 38 concrete steps, only one or two of which have residual emotional baggage, and by the time I get to them, I have already completed a whole string of subtasks, so I feel like I can handle it.

        * If I can’t figure out why it’s such a mind-block, I talk to someone out loud about the task, and then usually I get some insight. Like, yesterday, I thought I had to deal with 18 different things that day because they were precursors to a different Important Task. BUT it wasn’t, it turned out. I could do Important Task without getting through the 18 things. Task-related insights vary all the time, but something about the thoughts seeing the light of day flushes out some of the unhelpful jerkbrain logic & mindblocks.

        * Pomodoro-style breaks can help me get started with a task that seems just impossible. I usually do 25 minutes working, 5 minutes break. You have to take the break. This works, because I could honestly freak out for an entire day, so it is easy for me to see that 25 minutes, even if that’s ALL I do, will be better than 0 minutes. And then usually I can keep going for multiple cycles. (Be sure to take the break.)

        (Ugh, my jerkbrain thinks this all sounds so obvious written out. I think that given the nature of your comment, you may understand. I hope this was helpful & not more about me-specific list behavior than you ever wished to know.)

      2. Oh! I know this one! I used to do that, too. Lists were a tool, yeah, to help me remember what needed doing. But they were also awesome flays for use in self-flagellation. “Look at all the stuff you yourself have identified as stuff that needs doing, that you in your laziness never do even when you have time. You sure do suck, don’t you?” It’s like my perfectionist self was testifying against my real self. (A.k.a., ganging up with Jerkbrain).

        I started breaking lists into zones. One is the really, truly, must do within the next couple of days stuff. One is for errands when next I go to the Big City (ok, so we’re talking Burlington VT; that’s an hour away’ so I wait until I’ve got several things or until one of those things is urgent). One is for stuff that truly needs doing in the next week or month. And one is for “if I were a perfect person/perfect homeowner.”

        This last one is the key to keeping your lists from being used against you by Jerkbrain. I mean, seriously. I used to have stuff on my everyday to-do list that, as a practical matter, I was NEVER going to get to. Because while a perfect person/homeowner might get right on them, I am not that perfect person/homeowner and realistically speaking I was ALWAYS going to put them off until something happened to make them urgent. But looking at them every day as if I might reasonably be expected to clear that whole list anytime soon? Brutal.

        Now I only allow a limited few things on my short-term to do lists. Things that actually MUST happen, and soon. I still write down all the things I would do if I were a perfect person/homeowner, because paying homage in that fashion seems to help me let them go. “Yes, it would be good if you took the covers off the baseboard radiators and sanded them down and repainted them. You know that needs doing, and you have put it on a list, so you can stop thinking about it for now.” I don’t even really look at that list day-to-day, and things do not get bumped up from the perfect person list unless I have a concrete plan to tackle them within the next month. Like those baseboard radiators, which were not going to happen in winter, because I prefer to do that kind of thing in the garage. And can’t happen now, because everything is too humid; lousy painting weather. And maybe won’t even happen this fall, because omg, fall in Vermont is just too gorgeous to spend it sanding radiator covers. So they don’t get to get on a short term to do list. Someday, I imagine I’ll get sick enough of looking at their rusty-crustiness to decide I care enough to work them into the next couple of weeks, and THEN they can move to my every day list. But until then, they are not allowed there.

        1. I love lists, too. I feel like I’m the only one here, though, who deliberately uses too-long lists. I feel better once everything is written down — my memory is terrible, so it feels safer that way — and I use too-long lists to remind myself that yes, it IS overwhelming, and it’s OKAY if I don’t get everything done.

          Everything crossed off is a victory.

          I use Workflowy (if you add a dot-com to the end, you can find it) to organize long lists, but still haven’t really given up the habit of paper ones. I have just relaxed into the idea that anything not done transfers automatically to tomorrow’s list.

          I used to — okay, I still do, but I am teaching myself not to — beat myself up regularly for not doing more. I had the same jerkbrain which was never satisfied. I call it The Void. And nothing I do will ever be enough to convince it that I’m a worthy human being (A’s in school? Why not A+? Why not more awards? Why not valedictorian?).

          The long list which never gets done and which I have to live with is slowly convincing me that it’s okay to just get something done. To do things in the now. To not be valedictorian. (Not that the latter would even have an impact on me, in my time of life.)

          Eventually the article (or the novel or the blog post) gets written. The socks get sorted, the kitchen is cleaned, errands get run. Other things on the list include “tea” “breakfast” “email” “exercise” and other things I might forget in the press of all the things which Must Get Done.

          The too-long list teaches me to organize. And teaches me that even organizing will not trump the Surprise, which sometimes sets the list aside.

          Everything crossed off is a victory. And if things don’t get crossed off?

          Those are tomorrow’s victories. It’s important to leave some for tomorrow.

          1. I do long lists too! (Although I usually separate them from the short daily lists–so there’s a Master List of Stuff That Needs Doing, and a more ‘reasonable’ daily to-do.) The main reason they work for me is that one thing that can kick off my anxiety is feeling like I’m forgetting something important and I’ll only remember it when it’s too late. So having one central place to put everything means that I can reassure myself: no, you aren’t forgetting something important, because it would be on the Master List.

          2. I do long lists, too! For me it is more energizing to have a gigantic long list with everything from soup to nuts on it (shower, get gas, eat lunch, draft multimillion dollar deal), then to have a short list. And I’m fortunate in that things that don’t get done don’t feel like failure to me–they just get carried over.

            I operate on the principle “if I write it down, I don’t have to remember it” and that leaves my brain free to think about things I want to do, instead of things I have to do. The things I “have” to do are on the list.

          3. I do long lists too, as a way of getting everything out of my head and into one place so I can stop taking up brain-space with remembering it all. I subdivide it – there are sections for things that are urgent or organisational, and sections for craft stuff I’d like to do, or ideas to research. So it works for me as a source of inspiration and pleasant ideas as well as a list of tasks I need to do. I find it makes it much easier to fit creative things into my life; gives them validity as things to spend my time on, if you like. Otherwise they risk being pushed out of the way by the mundane things I need to get round to.

      3. Answers below are great! Another thing I do: write the list after the fact. Like today is my only day off this week, and I wanted to do Grown Up Things with my day, but I didn’t really, but I can make a list and feel not so bad about it because today’s list would be:

        1. Get out of bed
        2. Take a shower
        3. Walk the dog
        4. Eat breakfast
        5. Put load of laundry in the washer
        6. Bring the fan downstairs
        7. Watch that one movie in your queue
        8. Reply to an email
        9. Xfer laundry to dryer
        10. Answer the phone once

        Actually, wow, I already feel kinda better about today after writing that out, because otherwise I’d define this day as “the day I sat on the couch and napped a lot”. So yeah, I guess my whole reason for listing and for crossing things out on them is to make sure I don’t discount the validity of what I can and do accomplish, no matter how small those things may be or seem.

        1. Ohhhh hey, that’s a good idea. I will remember that.

          This is actually a pretty helpful thing my partner will do for me sometimes, where I’ll say “I didn’t do ANYTHING today” and they’ll tell me “no way, you sent some emails, you got work done, and you did some meal planning for this week, that’s great.” If all I can see is that one thing I didn’t do, I tend to let that eclipse the smaller things I did manage to do.

    2. Lists lists lists. I function twelve million percent better with lists.

      Some days I will not do ANYTHING all day. And then at some point I will realize that it is because I do not have a list. Or, if I do have a list, it is way too impossibly long for any 24-hour period, and/or nothing is numbered/prioritized. The numbering is required, because then I can just do the first thing.

      I also have worked through some shame about the fact that I am so reliant on lists, because “shouldn’t” I not need them? That’s the jerkbrain basically trying to convince me that even when I’m a “success”, I’m a “failure”. F*** that noise — it’s totally unhelpful thinking. If a tool works for me, it works for me, and I get to use it.

  19. I use a combination of make the job smaller and reward yourself. Like right now I’m facing a mountain of complicated paperwork for trip insurance that I really, really don’t want to deal with. Every time I look at it I feel overwhelmed, and everyday I don’t make progress I feel guilty.

    So I cut the job down into the smallest little parts…like step 1 is write my name at the top. Not only do I get the satisfaction of crossing that off the list, I get a reward for doing it! That might be an hour playing video games or a nice walk or just not thinking about the project for the rest of the day.

    And I always make the first thing on my list ‘making a list of the steps.’ So I have something I get to cross off and feel good about accomplishing right away.

    I also use the site Challenge Accepted…it’s like Chore Wars and allows you to make quests and tasks that you can check off. It awards you experience points, so you can also assign an award to give yourself when you reach a certain level. Self-bribery is fun!

    And, as always, the simplest most important thing that it took forever to learn…it is okay to say ‘no, I can’t handle x task…I’ve got too much on my plate.” Really! A good friend or relationship will understand and not demand more information or try and convince you to squeeze x task in.

    1. Since “challenge accepted” is such a widely used term … do you mean getyedone dot com? It seemed the most likely link I found.

      1. Yep, sorry…it shows up in my bookmarks as Challenge Accepted. It’s basically the same as Chore Wars, just a different layout that I find easier to create ‘quests’ with. I keep a list of things I can ‘reward’ myself with when I hit a new level (usually something like ‘buy a new fish for the big tank’ or ‘finally watch the first episode of Games of Thrones’)

  20. Learning how to do just one small thing is a valuable life skill, I think. It helped me get through a couple rough care taking patches, and is helping me deal with the cancer treatment as well.
    There are times for planning the stuff down the road, and time to focus in on just setting out the bills and the letter opener, and the checkbook, and a sack for the envelope trash. Pay the bills later. For now, just set it up. Then, usually, since I have it all set up, I might as well just pay a couple.
    I make lists of things that I have done, sometimes, rather than to-do lists.
    I also have been reading Unfuck Your Habitat, and I think it is awesome as well. Sometimes a before picture( of the one flat space that you are cleaning), and then an after picture can help you realize that you are making progress. Look how much better that one spot looks!
    Not everyone is like me, but, I liked getting a room clean. One room, to start, exactly the way I wanted it(done in pieces, but, done). Then it could be a refuge and a peaceful place for me where I wasn’t staring at stuff that I needed to do. I worked my way out from there. I started with the bedroom, and then the kitchen, and then the living room.

  21. This poem. It’s called Desiderata and it’s fairly well known. Especially the lines: “Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

    Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

    As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

    If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

    Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

    Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

    Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

    Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

    With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

    Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

  22. Yes! Relatedly, possibly the most useful thing I learnt from school was a piece of advice from a particularly wise teacher: if you have a problem, or a deadline, or whatever, it’s always better to be doing something about it than to be doing nothing. With the corollary that if you find the whole task too scary, just start, and do something, and think about that bit rather than the whole thing.

    I have days when it’s hard to get going; I try to save really easy, simple tasks for those days, because once I’ve achieved something I have momentum, and I often find the will to achieve more things appearing. I keep done lists as someone mentions above, and sometimes looking at those provides enough momentum to get going.

  23. This is how I felt when I first started reading Unfuck Your Habitat and started doing “just a couple of minutes” of cleaning. Or “just this small area”. Or “you don’t even have to worry about the dirty dishes, just put the clean ones away”.
    Bad day, really tired? Five minutes. That’s barely two songs.

    And then on a normal day it’s 20 minutes. And then maybe one weekend I have lots of energy and can Clean All The Things and Do All The Stuff, and I get to feel good about that. But I also get to feel good about the five minutes when I’ve been on my feet all day.

  24. Thanks for this.

    In high school I was a straight A student. In college, I failed one project, then a class, then two. Tt all went downhill, I have regular panic attacks and shame spirals. I doubted everything about myself.

    I felt awful, because ‘good student’ had always been a big part of my identity and when I lost that, I got depressed, anxious and insecure. My father struggled with the same thing, and he really helped me out.

    He told me that good grades were helpful, but in 5, 6 years wouldn’t matter. What would matter was the work I put in and what I learned. I went from acidemic probation, a gpa of 1.1 to graduate with a gpa of 2.9 in two years. It still may not be good enough for grad school.

    I should have gone to counseling a lot sooner, it took a lot to get over the shame enough to even leave my dorm room.

    But I still learned a lot, and my professors all respect me and have said that they would be willing to support me and speak/write letters on my behalf.

    I have been volunteering, doing what I love, and interviews for good jobs have been happening more and more. I want to be a field biologist or park ranger.

    Volunteered helped me show myself that yes, I can do this.

    Maybe in a few years I will be able to try going to grad school. Maybe I won’t need it.

    I can’t change my transcript, but I can forgive myself and keep going.

    Today I sent out three emails that I have been avoiding.

    You’re in good company Captain.

  25. All of this. I have a 6 year shitpile right now, which is less laundry and mail, and more prolonged unemployment and neglected relationships. I’m glad to be feeling like a person again but there is *so much* to fix.

  26. During course of therapy dealing with PTSD issues I discovered that I *really* had internalized my mother telling me I was lazy. It is the number one thing I shamed myself with. I have embraced lazy, I have decided that yes, I am lazy. And you know what? The greatest inventions were created by lazy people. Lazy people find the easiest, fastest, innovative way to get shit done than anyone else. We minimize tasks down to their essentials and go efficient on their ass. And even then sometimes it’s easier to put off a chore and instead watch the hummingbirds and smile, this is not a bad thing. Hell, it can be a very good thing. When I’m dying I really don’t think I’m going to regret that I sometimes didn’t vacuum for 3 or 4 weeks or left my clothes in the dryer for a week. I might remember how cool it was to see that Peregrine falcon make a strike right in front of me when I decided to sit on the porch instead. Lazy is awesome.

    Besides embracing that about myself and coming up with ways to do things easier or faster, the thing that helps me most is to focus on the result because I really like the result, AND recognize that it’s not that I HAVE to do the thing (see lazy above), instead I recognize that I WANT to do the thing because I really like the result. I focus on the satisfaction of walking barefoot without stepping on crap and how nice the carpet will look without piles of cat hair. All my glasses will be clean and I am having a wonderful drink out of a clean glass when I finish.

    Laundry, now that one is harder than any others, seriously, I can run the dryer again if I don’t get to it (see lazy above). But even there I make sure to take the time to feel the satisfaction of finishing the task. I check my clock and see how long it takes me, then the next time I try to beat my time. Ultimately, it’s all hanging there neatly and ready to be worn so I don’t have to run the damn dryer before I go out, or on bad days wear the totally wrinkled up clothes.

    Timing the task actually helps me with a lot of things, set the oven timer for 15 minutes and go do the thing, surprisingly often it’s done in that time.

    1. “Besides embracing that about myself and coming up with ways to do things easier or faster, the thing that helps me most is to focus on the result because I really like the result, AND recognize that it’s not that I HAVE to do the thing, instead I recognize that I WANT to do the thing because I really like the result.”

      Sometimes, when I’m feeling really down, I abstract this a little bit and do a chore as if I’m doing it for a beloved friend. Because I’m the type of person who might not wash my own dishes for weeks, but if a friend in a bad place came to me for help, I’d clean her entire house and not think twice about it.

      Sometimes I literally tell myself, “Hey, I know you’re having trouble taking care of yourself right now, so I’m going to help take care of you, because you deserve [a clean glass to drink out of, or whatever],” and that’s the thing that helps me be able to do a chore that I otherwise wouldn’t have the motivation to slog through.

      I guess it’s kind of like hijacking my own caring-for-others drive, and applying it to myself in a roundabout way? YMMV though, as always.

      1. I actually think that’s a very beautiful and kind mental strategy. As one who also has a well-developed caring-for-others drive, I think it might be helpful for me to try that out.

      2. Er. Er. Er.

        That’s effing brilliant. I, too, am one of those who has an overdeveloped sense of “must halp everyone else” and is sometimes crapcakes at halping myself instead. This might be a useful mental judo.

      3. This is so great! I’m a caretaker person who can be very not good about the self-care bit. I will definitely be trying this.

      4. That’s a great way to think about it. I always push myself for others but not for me… Now I just have to think of myself the same way.

      5. Hey, that’s really cool. I always feel weird about the fact that it’s easier to do things for other people than it is for myself, but I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has this mental split.

    2. This is a beautiful philosophy and I think I needed to hear it today; thank you.

    3. I don’t know if there is an equivalent expression in English, but in Dutch we have the expression “I’d rather be lazy than tired”, which is a positive expression used to denote the getting-things-done-with-minimum-effort mentality you described. I love that expression!

  27. From the annals of Still Working on Hacking My Own Brain, I bring two things.

    From my therapist, when I was recounting my patterns of procrastination and the inevitable moment that would arrive when I asked myself in anguish, “But why didn’t I start this earlier?”

    He suggested, “What if you just answered, ‘Because I didn’t?'”

    He asked me if I’d ever figured out an answer to that question, and if figuring out an answer would change or help anything with my procrastination. “I keep feeling like if I figure out the reason for it, then I’ll know how to stop it.” Has that ever actually worked? “Well, no.” So my new line of thought is: perhaps I should have started earlier, but any advice involving the use of a time machine can be safely disregarded, so:

    Why didn’t I start earlier? Well, because I didn’t. Moving on. What now?

    I’m still struggling with my procrastination, but using that answer to the question has made the process so much less agonizing, I cannot even. It helps interrupt the spiral where you beat yourself up over not starting earlier and then feel even less capable of accomplishing the task (and therefore more like avoiding it than ever). Which helps me to actually do the thing. I would not have expected such a small phrase to have such power, but for me it really does.

    People here have talked about several ways of dealing with to-do lists; I’d like to add my own.

    I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, having One Big Important Thing That Has To Be Done is for sure the best way to make sure that nothing actually gets done. Because I can’t do anything else, because I need to be working on The One Big Important Thing! But I don’t want to work on The One Big Important Thing because what if I do it wrong, I’m not sure if I’m ready yet, procrastination, avoidance, etc. So I wind up not doing either The One Big Important Thing or anything else, either.

    On the other end of things, if I make a list of all the Things I Need To Do floating around in my head–and it does help to get that list external–and then try to figure out which of the 27 things is the most important thing I need to be working on right now, or the optimal order in which to do the 27 things, or feeling like I need to do ALL the things!–well, none of that is any good, either.

    What has helped me with both of these is:

    I use the random number generator to tell me which item on my to-do list I’m doing next, and then I do it. Just, whatever comes up. No worrying about all the rest of the items or what’s optimal or best or most important. I never know what I’m doing next, so I don’t have the opportunity to build that task up in my mind to some big unachievable thing. It’s just the next thing I’m doing.

    When there really is One Big Important Thing I really do need to work on sooner than the others, I still don’t assign it One Big Important Thing status. I’ll make a shortlist from my to-do list, with the One Big Important Thing on it, and continue using the random number generator to work my way down the shortlist. Or the virtual dice roller. Or the virtual coin flip. If I put three items on a list, then even if the One Big Important thing comes up last, I’ll still be starting it after a delay of no more than the length of the other two tasks–as opposed to the effectively infinite delay I can achieve with my procrastination methods.

    It has really helped me in recent months to route around my perfectionism/procrastination. The occasions on which it’s failed have been when I’ve thought I could work outside it–“Oh, but I can clearly identify the one thing I need to be doing right now, so I will just do it!”–and fell back into the same old pattern of procrastination, building it up, avoidance, reluctance, fear, distraction, argh.

    1. Oh, I really like the random number thing. I’ve been getting into a bind recently where there’s nothing I *need* to be doing, so I’d like to do something creative, but there are so many possibilities I end up doing none of them. I feel this could be a really useful tool here.

    2. Yes, random numbers! I thought I was the only one! My favorite is because you can get as many numbers as you want in whatever range you want. I have used it to pick cookbook pages in order to decide what to bring to a potluck. (One of my mental quirks is that I have trouble making inconsequential decisions.)

      1. Ooh! Another random number website! Thank you for the link and recommendation!

    3. I regularly use a d6 as a decision making tool. It’s to the point that my best friend is contemplating putting a stash of dice in the space set aside for my stuff in her house, because then when I stay over, I will have decision making tools readily available… 😛

    4. The thing your therapist told you reminds me of something my therapist said to me once. I was talking about how I feel bad about not doing something so I’ll tell myself that I will OMG DEFINITELY DO THAT TODAY AND THEN START BEING SUPER GOOD ABOUT DOING IT REGULARLY FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE and then inevitably I won’t do it and I’ll feel terrible about myself. And she told me “well why don’t you stop telling yourself you’re going to do it then?” She said to do it when I felt like it that moment, but to stop lying to myself out of this perception that I had to be perfect. When I start to think “Oh, I should do that,” I remind myself that I am choosing not to do it because there are other things I want and need to prioritize over that thing.

      1. Yes, I do that too! I procrastinate on doing things, because jerkbrain will expect me to keep doing something and feel bad if I don’t, rather than just feeling good that I did it today.

    5. “What if your answer is ‘Because I didn’t?'” just totally unblocked me and motivated me to clean my bathtub/shower. ;o) In a month I am moving to a new city out of an apartment I’ve lived in for 11 years, so there’s extra stress for me around cleaning beyond everyday “why can’t I have nice things?” anxiety. Prospective new tenants are gonna be tramping in and out of my apartment over the next month – gah! “Because I didn’t” and “Make smaller tasks” was really helpful for me to read today.

    6. I once asked my mother in exasperation why she had done something, and she retorted, “The only answer to that question is ‘Because I’m an asshole.'”

      “Why did/didn’t you do that” is a rude question, and should be treated as one. It’s very rare that the asker genuinely wants to know how you made your choices, and much more likely that it’s a sneaky way of saying “I think you should/shouldn’t have done that”.

      Done is done. I’ve found that being kind to yourself about the choices you’ve made makes it much easier to move on to thinking about how to interact with the world that’s been shaped by your choices.

  28. A friend of mine writes Things Without Arms and Without Legs, which she describes as “a comic about creatures who are kind,” and I find it incredibly sweet and soothing to read. This particular comic made me cry the day she posted it, and again when I went back to find it recently, and honestly I’m tearing up a little bit now after looking at it again.

    I work at home, which means all of my Piled Up Shit to Deal With surrounds me most of the time, and I can’t really escape it easily. I do try to do a little every day, and make to-do lists with a mix of larger important things and smaller, easier items, but there are definitely times when I just don’t feel like I can handle any of it beyond my actual job/volunteer work. Maybe I need to focus more on ensmallening my tasks.

    One thing I have been trying to learn is at what point it’s worse to let something go than to Just. Fucking. Do it. My old cat needs some expensive tests to see if she has cancer or IBD and I had to call the vet office to schedule it and talk to the vet a few times last week, and I felt like I was putting it off more than I really wanted to, since I knew it was important to figure out the testing relatively soon. And at some point I was able to say to myself “ok, calling is stressful, but being upset that you haven’t called yet is WORSE, just take care of it.” It was hard but I was then glad that I had recognized this.

    1. ❤ ❤ ❤

      I wish I had more words. Don't be surprised if the surprise of seeing this comic inspires a comic sometime in the future.

      Thankyou, hugs and love.

  29. 1) Tiny little thing: I was venting to my neighbor about my family’s utter inability to take off a piece of clothing without turning it inside out, so when I was doing laundry I would have to turn the entire week’s laundry right side out again, grumbling and resenting the whole time. She said, “I don’t. I just give it back to them the way they give it to me!” And you know, she’s right! Nobody has died of having to turn their own T-shirts right side out when they get dressed. When you’re only doing it one at a time, it’s no big deal.I also started buying each person a whole mess of the same kind of socks at once, so I don’t have to pair their socks, either. They can pluck out two matching socks from their sock drawer easily enough.

    2) My best friend and her husband are perfectionists about appearances. Their home typically looks perfect, including the yard/garden. It always made me feel like a slob and a slacker about the fact that we barely keep our grass reasonably mowed, much less whacked and mulched and all the other stuff people do. One time I was visiting their house and made appreciative noises about how nice their yard looked and how hard they worked, and he beamed and said something a bit priggish about how A Man’s Home is His Castle. And I thought something about how my husband’s and my house is our castle, too, but that doesn’t mean either of us wants to be the damned gardener! Perversely, it made me feel much better about the fact that a beautiful day is more likely to make me think of my kayak or a book on the back deck than a visit to the local garden center. My house exists for me; I don’t exist for my house.

    3) Everybody always says “just do your best!” as if that is cutting you slack. But that’s actually an unreasonably high standard. None of us can do our best work all the time. Somewhere along the line, I realized that there are some areas of life where you really do need to do your absolute best all the time. But in other areas, “good enough” really is good enough. You need to pick the stuff you’re going to be perfectionist about and the stuff you’re going to be forgiving of yourself about, and forget the “always do your best” crap.

    1. Re “just do your best”:

      I wrestle with that a lot, because I grew up with that sort of advice, and for one thing I never know if I really am doing my best, and for another it doesn’t allow for energy management. You can be an expert at one or two things at the expense of others, or you can be good/ok at lots of things, but it is not humanly possible to be expert at everything.

      Which doesn’t stop my brain from saying I should. Or that if I just tried harder…

      1. it doesn’t allow for energy management

        Exactly! Doing your best = “giving it your all” = you have no right to hold anything back for your own health, sanity, and happiness. Even doing your best to do your best is still a really high, nigh-to-unattainable standard; it means you should feel guilty every single time you know, deep in your self-hating heart, that this is not your best work.

        And yet… the Pursuit of Happiness was listed in the Declaration of Independence as one of the inalienable rights, along with Life and Liberty.

        1. Exactly. I try to stay at 70% “my best” so I have energy left over at the end of the day. I don’t know why, but having a percent to that helps me! 🙂

    2. My house exists for me; I don’t exist for my house.

      *points and flails* This! THIS!!

      EVERY TIME I talk to my mother, the primary topic of discussion is housework: she’s washing the windows or the duvets or cleaning out the fridge. And, I learned this week, trash-talking the division of chores and performance of same at my home to anyone within earshot. (Some new boundaries have been established, and we’re currently on a break.)

      I have a nice house. And it’s home to two middle-aged geeks who’d rather go on a hike or close out the pub with a bunch of our friends than edge the lawn or remodel the basement, so we’re getting it ready to sell. We want to move to the coast, park our computers and cats in a well-maintained apartment building and go do the stuff we couldn’t do while we were raising a kid.

    3. My parents dealt with the family laundry by making each of us responsible for our own laundry as soon as we were big enough to use the washing machine without falling in. That way, if someone else did our washing, it was a favour they were doing us. I don’t necessarily recommend this as a thing, but as an example of how things can be further outsourced if you don’t feel like doing them that favour any more.

      No one in my family wears anything that has to be ironed, if they can help it, by the way. We all had to do our own…

    4. “Perversely, it made me feel much better about the fact that a beautiful day is more likely to make me think of my kayak or a book on the back deck than a visit to the local garden center. My house exists for me; I don’t exist for my house.”

      So much this! A phrase I often use in relation to housework: “I’m not lazy, I just have different priorities!” For me, the two main priorities are: my job in academia which I love and put (way too) much effort into, and being outdoors in my kayak, on the bicycle, on skates, in the garden, etc. Cleaning the kitchen is just not all that interesting, not that important (as long as it looks ok), and therefore very low down on the list of priorities.

      Once I realized that I am perfectly willing and capable to put lots of hard work into things that I care for (a day of kayaking is also strenuous, just in a more fun way than kitchen cleaning, and academic work is also work – doesn’t make it less work-like just because I enjoy it), I also understood that the reason for my lack of effort in housework is not lazyness, it’s different priorities. It really isn’t that important to me to have a perfectly clean house, so why should I spend too much time on it? As long as the kitchen has enough space to do some cooking, and I still have one pair of socks in the box, it’s enough for my personal need. Everything else is just internalized expectations about what a “well-kept” house should look like, not my own needs.

    5. “My house exists for me; I don’t exist for my house.”



      This is possibly the most liberating and reassuring thing I have ever read.

  30. This is very tiny, but I’ve just started using an app called “Good Habits”. It’s very straightforward – you enter the things you want to do every day (they can be as small as you want – mine include “floss” and “get dressed to shoes”) and then you check them off every day. It keeps track of your current streak and your longest streak.

    I’ve only been using it a week, so who knows if I’ll keep this up, but I think I’m on my longest flossing streak maybe ever. So far so good.

  31. This is an excellent lesson. It’s one that I was lucky enough to learn a few years ago, but this may be the best phrasing of it I’ve ever encountered.

  32. This feels like a revelation, though it seems so simple. I don’t suffer from depression, but I have my own anxiety/avoidance issues and frequently fall into a state a close friend and I used to refer to as “timelock,” in which you have so much to do and so little time to do it in that you end up just completely paralyzed, unable to accomplish anything at all. I’ve found ways over the years to try to pull myself out of that place, do one thing at a time or whatever, but even that is sometimes too big. But THIS. This here is just… genius. Thank you so much for sharing!

  33. I’ve been working on a short film for sometime that is honestly kind of weird and off-the-wall and about zombies oh my god how boring is that. ZOMBIES. (Zombie roadkill portrayed by puppets, actually.)

    You might be able to see where this is going. I judge myself and my work because it’s not awesome enough/funny enough/original enough/serious enough/enough enough, and that makes the work slow down considerably. And then I judge myself for not getting it done quickly enough. It’s a damn irritating cycle, I can tell you.

    One thing that helped me get through this little spiral of doom was actually a quote from one of the Gnostic Gospels: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

    And then I kept working. I think that quote helped me to honor my own ideas for my own good, rather than focusing on some nebulous and paralyzing concept of “enough.” To be honest, I have to look at it pretty frequently. But it does help.

  34. Connected to the coin toss/random number generator idea for to-do lists, if I can’t choose between two or three vaguely similar things, it’s often because none of them is actually a bad answer. Not sure what to drink with dinner? Whichever choice is handiest will do. Once I’ve decided to wear a long-sleeved shirt, I don’t have to fret about white versus light blue versus purple, just grab one. (If I know I want the white shirt, I’ll wear it; this is to save energy on decisions.) I may have four pairs of earrings with me on a trip, but nobody is going to mind if I wear the same pair every day.

  35. So I realise this is a first world answer, and I fully realise it is not possible for most people, but… If you can at all afford it, get a cleaner. And by afford it I mean if you have the choice between getting a cleaner or eating out a couple of times a week, get a cleaner. The psychological boost of walking into a clean home, even if it is once every two weeks, is not to be underestimated. And while it is not going to help with everything you have to deal with when you get your mojo back, at least scrubbing the bathtub is not going to be on that list.

    I hope it doesn’t come across as stupidly privileged, I am only mentioning it because I never considered it as an option until a friend mentioned it to me because it is just not part of my social environment I guess. So it qualified as a little thing that changed my perspective. It was not as expensive as i would have guessed and it did not ruin my social values. Given a choice hire an individual rather than a company because then it is easy to occasionally pay extra for tasks that are normally part of the service because you just can’t manage it. A person who is already in your house cleaning it will do your laundry for an extra few bucks if you ask.

    1. I want to second this. It’s not an option for everyone, but when I tell people that I go to a massage therapist and have a house cleaner in as my form of therapy? It’s…actually pretty true. (And with how lousy the insurance was about paying for therapy, having a cleaning team in every two weeks, and a massage once or twice a month, comes out as less expensive than weekly therapy was.)

      It was my therapist who recommended it, actually. I would go into these whole shame spiral/rants about how I hated the filth of the house, but I hated doing chores just as much. And she said, well, why not hire someone to clean? (…and once there’s someone coming in on schedule to clean, I have more incentive to keep things a little tidier in small ways, because that lets the cleaning folks get things even shinier than if it’s cluttered.)

      Anyway. It’s not an option for everyone. But it’s something to consider if you have the resources for it and find dealing with cleaning really stressful. Even if my house is filthy six days after the team’s come through, it’s reassuring to know that the Intimidating Filth can only get so bad before they’ll be in again and fix it for me.

    2. This is pretty much why I got a robot vacuum cleaner. OK, it doesn’t do the edges. But it gets done, and I don’t have to remember to do it or exhaust myself doing it or deal with the household backlash because it never gets done because it wasn’t my job in the first place.

      The rest of this comment has been redacted, because it devolved into a rant about the other members of my household…

    3. Yes! I want to nth to the possibility of getting a cleaner. Or any assisted help on household things that you can use your monthly change jar accumulations on (I dump any and all change into a spaghetti jar on top of my fridge. When its full, that’s what I indulge paying for – usually its wash and fold laundry delivery service. Its not super duper regular, and YMMV, but gotdamn, suddenly my Jerkbrain has nothing to say, because shit got done. And what a relief from Jerkbrain who likes to berate me for not having cleaned the tub or done my laundry for that month. Plus it keeps me on point to keep in the habit of trying to stay as clutter-free as possible.

    4. YES. Having been raised pretty poor (and now ended up middle class), I had this perception that cleaners were really expensive, really indulgent, and for people who couldn’t take care of themselves. But in my (very expensive) city, they’re actually quite reasonably priced. My roommate and I realized a bit ago that we both would have liked a cleaner, but both had the same mental blocks of being lazyfailureswhocan’ttakecareoftheirshit about it. And then decided FUCK SOCIETY and got one anyway. Best decision ever.

    5. I.. we… tried a cleaner for several months, until we realized she wasn’t actually getting the place as clean as we would have liked to have it (and we are not perfectionists, mind you, but if I still see dust bunnies running around after a cleaner came by I’m wasting my money!), and was scratching our stainless steel appliances to boot.

      Yeah. Think I need to give that one another try. Having a stranger come to your home and needing to make sure there are no random flower pots or laundry on the floor are a good incentive to stay mostly organized and to actually put the dishes away.

    6. You can also get a cleaner occasionally! I am in fact currently at home with the fantastic lady who is handling my filth. We are content with our own efforts most of the time, but every once in a while I am like “ARGH” or something else happens (in this case, it is ants) that mean a Cleaning is In Order. Sometimes I am up for doing said Cleaning but when I am not, I pay for it if I can. And I FEEL THE LOVE.

  36. So much of the advice on One of the nicest things is just knowing that other people are faking being a grown-up too.

    One that really worked for me is if you look at something and think “I’ll do that in the morning / later” – DO IT NOW. At least with stuff that realistically won’t take you very long. Whenever I have the first thought now it triggers the second one. This has made me do all kinds of things like fill in forms to get a joint medicare card with my partner (which I could have done at any time in, oh, the last five years or so), call my bank to change my statements from paper to email (which has been available for about a year), do my filing, pack washed clothes away and do the dishes, all stuff that takes a few minutes and is done.

    1. I went to and got… not the intended results. For other readers who don’t want to stumble upon an eyeball-hurting porn site, it’s!

      1. Thanks, Muse142. I ended up at the eyeball-hurting porn site, too, and then temporarily failed Googleology and couldn’t find the intended site. (I like imagining the puzzlement of the adulting site administrators if it had been a link-out rather than just the address: “Woo! Someone at Captain Awkward likes our porn! Oh, wait, no.”) And thanks Cranky Hermit for the original suggestion!

        Inspired by Shapely Prose’s “Fantasy of Being Thin”, I’m trying to discard the “Fantasy of Being an Adult” as well as the “Fantasy of Being Normal” right now. I wish to be done with putting life on hold to reach an unrealistic, imaginary standard that, really, probably isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway.


    For the last… two or three months? I’ve been slowly clawing back some bits of my life and it’s almost entirely thanks to having had this same new thing explode my brain.

    I’ve always been a bit of a frantic cleaner. I’ll suddenly get the urge and the energy to tackle something, like the complete lack of floor in the bedroom or the horrific state of the kitchen, and go at it like a whirlwind, determined to make it all better that day or that weekend.

    One of two things happens – the task turns out to be just small enough that I can 95% finish it in the time I wanted, but I’m left exhausted and burned out, and downtrodden by how quickly mess starts to accumulate again, and go straight back into a months-long funk that leaves me right where I started. Or, I get just far enough into the job that by the time I realise it’s bigger than I thought and kind of overwhelming, I’m at that stage of frantic cleaning where things are temporarily WORSE than they were before, because now the bed is being used to house interim piles of stuff as I’m sorting it, and I end up just burning out, shoving the interim piles onto the floor that night so I can sleep, and never finishing the job.

    I’ve made a point now of, every day I feel able to, giving myself one small task to do and rewarding myself – even if the reward is just telling myself I did well – when it’s done. It’s taking a lot to force myself out of my old mindset. I still have the odd day where I try to do much and then feel like I can’t do anything for a while afterwards. And far too many days where I don’t feel like I can tackle anything, but feel so guilty about not doing something productive that I can’t enjoy doing anything nice like playing games or crafting, so spend the day in a funk clicking on gifs from cat videos because the videos take too much patience right now.

    But I’m getting there. And gradually, I feel like I’m actually making more meaningful progress than I have in a long time.

    1. I don’t know what your boundaries on cursing are like, but if you don’t have a problem with foul language, then UnFuck Your Habitat might be for you. One of the central premises is “NO MARATHONS”, and with the idea that you’re trying to build something sustainable. So you do 20 minutes here and 20 minutes there, and before you know it, your house is clean and you have to do a lot less to maintain it.

  38. I have a lot (a LOT) of issues about only seeing myself as having any worth if it’s attached to some sort of externally validatable achievement. Without that, I am obv. completely worthless and may as well just hide in a cave until everyone forgets me.

    BUT. One of my best friends, when I mentioned this to her, said to me: “even if you did nothing at all for the rest of your life except sat in a dark room smelling of peanuts, you would still be worthwhile.” This was such a revolutionary idea to me – and, honestly, still is – that although I can’t actually emotionally understand this, I try and remind myself of it as much as I can. And the friend who said this to me: I will love her FOREVER for saying something that truly challenged everything I knew (emotionally, erroneously) to be true.

    (The ‘smelling of peanuts’ thing continues to make me laugh in its utter randomness.)

  39. I’m going to throw out a strange one and mention Andy from Parks and Recreation. There’s a bit where he reaches the minimum fitness standard for the police force and while everyone’s going, “OK, it’s just the minimum, there’s lots more to be done”, he throws up his arms and yells “MINIMUM CHAMPIOOOOON!!!” with a ridiculous amount of pride. That is now what I do when I go for a run and only end up doing my usual round rather than pushing myself. I get back home and go, “minimum champion!!!” So the moral is, don’t get down on yourself for not reaching your goals all the time – sometimes it’s enough (indeed, it’s awesome) to be a minimum champion.

  40. When I was in the depths of a massive depression my sister gave me advice very similar to that of the Captains and that of the rest of the comments, only she called it Little Wins. When all you think you can manage is to lie in bed and stare at the wall, anything extra can be counted as a Win. Showering became a Win. Cooking something, even if it was microwave noodles, was a Win. Answering emails, getting dressed, brushing your teeth, putting laundry away, anything which wasn’t just lying in bed watching crappy TV was a Win. It is the strategy which pulled me out of my depression singly handedly and there are still days now when I have to sit and remind myself of the Little Wins I have achieved but it makes it so much easier because as long as you have one Win then you’re up on what you would’ve spent the day doing.

  41. I am so, so grateful to you for posting this. I am coming out of the darkest week of my life. I was admitted to the psych ward of our local hospital because I was suicidal last week. It was horrible, and I felt so ashamed that I had fallen so far, and basically everything that I was supposed to be doing was shunted to others. I’m thrilled to be out, but I hate myself so much for needing to go in there. The things that couldn’t be passed to others are still waiting for me to take care of them. I’m not much better off than I was when I went in.

    But this? This is so, so needed. I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed by everything that’s happened lately. I filled one trash bag full of garbage today (I’ve been in a depression spiral so long my house is probably hazardous to my health). Now, instead of hating myself for only managing one bag, I feel accomplished and wonderful. I did one whole bag! That’s one less bag to do tomorrow!

    1. Mental illness is not a character defect. Frankly, when you consider how the human mind works, with all the biochemistry and neurons and electrical impulses and DNA and environmental influences that somehow add up and interact to create thoughts and emotions and personality, the miracle is that it works at all, not that it goes glitchy sometimes. Nor is it something you deserve, some punishment for your imperfections. It is just plain unfair that some people have to deal with systems that go wonky while other people seem to sail blithely through life. Just like it’s unfair that some people have yachts and six houses and all that stuff, while some people struggle to put food on the table and keep the lights on, or don’t even have a table and lights. And some people get awesome, nurturing parents, while other people get fucked up, abusive ones. So go easy on the self-blame, ok? You were not dealt an easy hand, and you’re trying, and that’s all anyone has a right to ask of you.

      So go ahead — be proud that you’re still fighting the good fight, and for the garbage bag of crap you have managed to eliminate. One bag at a time… We’re pulling for you.

    2. What alphakitty said, Lani, and internet hugs if you want them.

      Plus – any other bit of the body that isn’t working right gets hospital treatment, whether it’s a broken leg or an appendix or a heart needing bypass surgery. No shame there, and no shame for getting help you urgently needed for a different part of your body/mind. Depression’s a physical ailment too.

    3. I think it’s really brave of you to get the help you needed. Best of luck to you, and all the hugs.

    4. Jedi hugs to you. I wish I could help assemble a team of people to come clean your house for you. One of the kindest things I remember anyone doing for me was when one of my roommates went through my stuff and asked me, patiently, piece by piece, what to do with each thing. It was a big investment of time but it made everything less overwhelming.

      In the last thread, staranise recommended I Thought I Was the Only One by Brene Brown to me, and it has a lot about coping with overwhelming feelings of shame and sort of — trimming down your expectations of yourself to what is reasonable and what you can cope with.

      I also felt really awful when, about a month ago, a few people in my lab went to my professor because they were worried I was going to kill myself. I ended up taking a couple weeks of medical leave, upping my dosage of antidepressants, and going to my therapist twice a week instead of once, and things are slowly getting better. I sincerely hope you have people in your real-world life who are telling you how brave and strong you are for continuing to struggle with this, and affirming that the fact that you are struggling does not mean you are a bad person. You are good and lovely and worthwhile and you deserve good and lovely and worthwhile things, and the depression doesn’t change that. Everyone is different, of course, but I’m starting to see color and purpose again, even though I have a long ways to go, and hopefully things will get easier and joy will become easier to touch soon for you, too.

  42. Actually, it was reading your blog that was a little shift for me, especially the phrase “They’re not doing [x] AT you.” Which really really helped me with my resentment issues and helped me be a more pleasant person to be around, generally. So thank you!

  43. The last good boss I had said once: “If this doesn’t happen today, will anyone die? Will anyone lose a house? Will anyone lose their job? No? Then it’s not worth panicking over.”

    It might still be worth DOING, but there’s no sense in stressing out over something that is ultimately unimportant. Did loads for my stress levels.

  44. This is a great bit of advice. Someone once told me when I was trying to get fit that sprint intervals are a great tool. Their exact words were, “I figure I can do *anything* for just one minute.” I say that to myself a lot. Even if something feels like it’s killing me, if I only have to do it for a short time I know I can do it. Also, when I’m depressed, forcing myself to do useful but mindless tasks (dusting, wiping off counters, etc.) for a short period of time makes me feel like I’m not completely incompetent. I tell myself, “You’re going to feel crappy anyway so you might as well feel crappy with clean countertops.” Managing to accomplish something–even just one chore–helps mitigate that horrible depressive spiral of feeling like a failure.

  45. I’m not sure if this counts as a small thing or not, but it is a perspective shift:

    Getting enough rest is self-care. That doesn’t just mean how many hours of sleep a night, it means sitting down to read or watch a movie or knit or play with the cat or stare into space. I don’t have to be doing something “useful” with all the available minutes. Nor does all my reading have to be deep or important, on any scale: I can wander through TVTropes for an hour or two after dinner, or reread old Dave Barry columns.

    1. I often put “rest” on my todo list. Especially when I have a lot to do. Usually, I put it there in large red letters with many exclamation marks to remind myself that, yes, this is really important.

    2. This has been a big lesson for me, too. Incidentally, where on the Internet can one find old Dave Barry columns?

  46. I grew up with a workaholic mindset – if you’re not doing something productive all the time, you should feel bad about yourself. On top of that, I have ADD and depression, and the workaholic pressure has contributed to problems I have with avoidance and procrastination – basically, the components for a massive shame/anxiety/depression spiral. At some point during this past winter, I crashed so hard that I finally stopped being able to hide how messed up my brain is and I had to ask for help. A lot of help. While I spent most of that time feeling ashamed of myself, it helped break me out of the mindset that I had to do everything on my own and mh problems are only mine and that no one else listens or cares.

    So that’s the first little piece of advice I’ve taken to heart: it is okay to ask for help.

    The other two things that have helped me over the past few months came from a professor of mine and my counselor. First, my professor told me something very similar to the Captain’s advice: to just finish something. Finish one thing. You’ll feel better and it’ll help to just focus on that one thing for the moment, even if all it is is drawing one panel or cleaning one dish.

    The second is from my counselor. I was complaining to her that I spent most of my weekends in pajamas, that I didn’t leave the apartment or shower or do anything. She asked, “Why is that a bad thing?” That made me sit up and think, and I realized: I am incredibly busy. I’m taking three full classes with a lot of homework, I’m socializing a lot more than I used to, I just started new medication, and I’m still working through a lot of crap. She helped me understand that it’s okay to need to relax, and sometimes that means staying in bed and resting and being by myself. Now obviously too much relaxation can cause problems and sometimes staying in bed happens because I’m too depressed to move, but I’m getting better and learning how to parse each situation and deal with it. Feeling guilt for not always being productive is bad. Relaxing and recharging when I need to is good.

    I’ve also had to keep telling myself: I’m sick. I have a handicap. Having an illness or problem that is mental doesn’t make it less real. I cannot handle the same things healthy people can right now. And that’s okay. It’s frustrating dealing with people who don’t acknowledge that, but it’s easier to handle when I’m not making myself feel worse along with them.

  47. One I heard a long time ago was “a decision is only final until you make a new one.” That gave me permission to change my mind. I could feel okay making a decision that was my best choice at the time. If I found out later that I should have chosen something different, well, then I could decide that then. It removed a lot of stress for me too. I didn’t have to get every decision correct this first time.

    Actually, I’ve forgotten this one a little bit lately. I should take my own advice a little more often.

    1. [Insert long and irrelevant story about my life here], so this is such a freeing thing for me to hear. Thank you. I know that what I’m doing/choosing right now is the right decision for me for now, but I’ve been stressing about possible repercussions it might have decades down the road. But by then I may have changed my mind and those repercussions won’t happen.

    2. This. But related to this “I’m sure you made the best decision you could with the information you had at the time.” It’s the kinder, non-cynical version of “Hindsight is 20-20”. It really helped me to stop beating myself up about bad decisions that couldn’t be changed, because actually, yes, if I had known that X thing would not go well because of REASONS then I would not have done it. I was not aware of the REASONS so it was a sensible decision to do it.

  48. Oh! When I figured out that it was actually not going to make the universe explode if I blocked off a few hours (or even a whole day) to be Not Doing Responsible Shit of Any Kind. Which included things like “meet really good friend at specific time for an activity.” I felt all this shame about “wasting” my time, so I would spend all of my actual free time procrastinating on the internet and having anxiety. I can’t remember who told me to try this, but then I took a highlighter to my calendar, blocked off a whole day during which I wasn’t going to pressure myself to do any of the tasks that I was anxious about. I slept in, I made breakfast and drank coffee, sat down with a book…and then decided that a walk and a bus ride sounded perfect, and accomplished an errand I had been meaning to do for a while without anxiety, without freaking out or dreading it. I felt so calm and peacefully, like I was really looking at the world and seeing it, instead of floating in a cloud of my anxieties and planning-thoughts. I’ve had other days blocked off where I literally did nothing more than eat food straight from the fridge and watch an entire season of a tv show – and I really enjoyed it. Whereas most of the time, I do that and feel AWFUL because I SHOULD be doing things!!!! So I can’t enjoy anything.

    I have not yet figured out how to make this system work for every day, but I can have at least one day every weekend where I don’t have to freak out about anything.

    1. Absolutely this.

      I’m currently working full-time while fitting in a part-time degree; up until recently I was doing 90 credits at once, and next year will be if anything worse. So I study, cook, wash up, hoover etc on weeknights and Sundays; and Saturday is my day of rest.

      Didn’t do anything at all on Saturday? Didn’t even get out of bed until midafternoon? Great, that’s what Saturday is FOR. Now I’ll be rested and able to do things on Sunday! Washed some clothes / read a few pages of textbook? AWESOME. One less thing to do on Sunday. Hope it didn’t interfere with resting…

      I basically changed Saturday from a day of laziness and shame (because I’m always too exhausted to do anything useful) into a day of accomplishment, because ‘rest’ is on my to-do list!

      1. “I felt all this shame about “wasting” my time, so I would spend all of my actual free time procrastinating on the internet and having anxiety.” welcome to my liiiiife! this is a big sticking point for me and i want to follow y’all’s example!

  49. I have had chronic depression and anxiety for many years in the past, and these are some of the things that have helped me:

    – A friend saying “stop catastrophising” / hearing the phrase “stop borrowing trouble”. Something about the idea of BORROWING TROUBLE – like, you would look forward to a future that doesn’t exist yet and BORROW TROUBLE from it like you’d borrow a cup of sugar from a neighbour – seems so absurd that the thought manages to arrest a lot of anxiety when I notice and apply it.

    – My boyfriend, on the subject of perfectionism: “Don’t make the ‘perfect’ the enemy of the ‘good’.” A great saying for when Type A-ness is giving me low-grade satisfaction with everyone and everything, including myself. Somehow, a really helpful phrase.

    – I’ve been going to the same hairdresser for years, a tiny Lebanese man who makes me tea with whisky and feeds me cookies and only ever charges me $20 for an hour-long haircut. He has a very plodding, steady, earnest attitude to life and his hairdressing business and he has said to me, “People in general these days expect too much. You have beauty, you have brains, you have health – what more is there to ask for.” Seeing his contentment and hearing his philosophy was followed up with a therapist’s appointment in which my therapist asked me, “Have you ever considered the idea that your expectations might be a bit high?” This prompted me to realise that yes, they were – in the same way that a Nice Guy’s *expectations* of love might be ruining his chances at it, in a way that a sincere belief in it and a hope for it and a belief that he is worthy of it in general terms would not. Differentiating *expectations* from desires, hopes and worthiness has helped me let go of how I think things SHOULD go and the accompanying disappointment and frustration when they DON’T go that way.

    I hope some of these ideas are helpful out of the context in which they originally occurred for me.

    Great thread, Captain! Best wishes with “making the problem smaller”.

  50. I get very stressed out about going to bed and falling asleep. I always want to stay up later than I should (for “getting enough sleep before work” values of “should”) and resenting that gets me all wound up and then it’s even harder for me to fall asleep. But as Vicki pointed out above, rest is self-care, and my mental health is really dependent on getting enough of it.

    My therapist suggested that I stop worrying about getting enough sleep and instead think about getting rest. “Just lie down and close your eyes,” she said. “You don’t need to go to sleep. If you don’t, that’s fine. You’re just taking care of yourself by getting some rest and enjoying a break from all the things you need to do.”

    This is totally playing mind games with myself, and I realize that, but it works! Whenever it’s bedtime but I feel too wound up to sleep, I close my eyes and rest. And then I fall asleep almost immediately.

    And one for the OCDish and synesthetic folks out there: I sometimes have trouble putting down a game or a book because I want to get to a score or level or page number that’s a good number. I don’t like odd or prime numbers; I like square numbers and multiples of four; etc. This is one of the things that tends to keep me awake. Finally I decided that I was going to find the good thing in whatever number I was on. (27? Power of three. 58? Two numerals in the Fibonacci sequence.) And once I’ve done that, I lose the compulsion to keep playing/reading and I can put the game/book down and go to bed.

    1. I love the number thing! It doesn’t tend to stop me from putting down a book (the book itself does that), but I do have opinions on the numbers I like. In my case, it’s odd primes and highly composite numbers that I like the best (i.e. I don’t much care for 15 because it only has four factors, but I love 24 because it has eight). /number derail

  51. Oh this is the coolest thing *ever* and not just for depression either. I have late stage lung cancer and I live my life with things like “I got dressed, Yay me! go me!”
    I will walk to the mailbox, maybe I will feel well enough to go a little farther but the mailbox is full of win”

    1. Hell yeah. The mailbox is an outcome that yields definite results.

      Sometimes reaching the mailbox, real or metaphorical, reminds you that results really are achievable. So when you go in already knowing that the mailbox is important, it kinda makes the whole process better.

  52. One thing I wish I could tell 20-year-old me? “Your mood plummets like a diving seabird when you’re tired’.

    Going to bed early would not have solved my depression. But I could at least have avoided all the 3am crises and aftermath…

    1. I’ve taught myself the food equivalent of this: eating something won’t fix my depression, but it sure as hell will stop the impending energy crash.

      Admittedly , the end result isn’t usually any more sophisticated than cheese and something from a toaster (I’m working on that part) but it does indeed forestall stuff that is worse.

      1. Cheese and something from a toaster: still calories that will keep you alive! One of my depression hallmarks is failure to feed myself, so this is my mantra. Calories! Keeping us alive! 🙂

      2. Tonight for dinner, I made myself freezer chicken soup. This involves taking stuff out of the freezer that I stored in there when I wasn’t as bad (chicken stock, roast chicken (that was marked for sandwiches, but hey, I wanted soup!), corn kernels, pre-chopped onion (because when you have to chop half of anything, you might as well chop the whole thing and have the other half in the freezer instead of going bad), sticking it in a pot with a whole bunch of crushed garlic and hot water and commercial chicken stock and heating it until it boils. Then eating. Unfortunately, this involves both having a ginormous freezer and being able to trick one’s brain into it being a Thing to store stuff in it… But my freezer is my lifeline. My I-can’t-think-to-eat-until-I’ve-eaten lifeline of leftover pasta sauce.

        1. That soup sounds lovely. I have a version that doesn’t even require me having done work at some previous point: can of chicken breast chunks, bag of steam-cook frozen mixed veg, box of chicken stock, frozen egg noodles, a few shakes of Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset. And yep, it is such a relief to have something that delicious waiting for me, as it makes several servings.

          1. My version is veggie stock plus a sheet of dried seaweed plus an egg cracked directly into the hot liquid so it cooks in the mug. It’s so soothing.

      3. I eat larabars. In fact, I just did. Did yesterday, too. One of my meds removes my appetite so I forget to eat and then the world collapses around me… So cheese and toast is like seriously awesome. It involves the kitchen. Possibly a knife. And a toaster! Go you!

        I fact, having Default Food has been essential to me, even though I am the kind of person who loves all kinds of foods and stuff. I need that thing that will always be appetizing enough to eat, easy enough to make, lasting enough to store… Larabars are not that, because they are Emergency Food and not Default Food, but sometimes it is too hard to even make default food and then it is super awesome to have a food pellet in the house.

  53. I can never be reminded of this too often.

    I have based my entire house-cleaning strategy around the idea that I will probably NEVER be able to clean my whole house at once. That is no longer a thing I expect of myself. But I have a list of the rooms in my house and whenever I feel up to it I just clean that one room. And sometimes all that is is a bit of a tidy and vacuum. And sometimes I sit in the shower and clean out the grout with a toothbrush. And however much or little I do cleaning SOME of the house is still a lot more than cleaning NONE of the house.

  54. “The best thing you can do is what you will do.” –Sarah Wenger

    My cousin said this when talking about her physical therapy practice. If you hate a particular form of exercise, you probably won’t make yourself do it for very long. Find an activity you do like, even if it doesn’t carry as much of a health benefit, and do that.

    I’m not sure this insight changed my behavior, because I hadn’t been trying to do things I didn’t want to do. It did, however, make me feel a little better about my imperfect-but-doable courses of action.

  55. I completly understand how you can benefit from making smaller task an gain happiness from fullfilling them. Unfortunately my drepression won’t even get me to accept making the tasks smaller.
    It keeps mocking me with things like “well great, you fold one shirt. But you also made a shirt dirty today. And you also have to wash your socks and underwear – and was+fold them somewhere in the near future. So, when the day ends, you didn’t make the pile any small, no, you even made it bigger!”
    How do you get rid of those interferences, when you use the “make the task tinier” method?

    1. Your depressionbrain is giving you faulty logics, I think … it’s counting relative to the yesterday’s absolute pile, rather than the “pile if I hadn’t done that making-it-smaller task”.

      Think of it this way:

      You were going to get today’s shirt+underwear+socks dirty and add them to the pile anyway, yes? So, this morning, the pile was size X and tomorrow it would be size X + a shirt + an underwear + a socks.

      That’s if you do nothing. But you washed/folded a shirt! So tomorrow the pile will be size X + a shirt + an underwear + a socks – a shirt ==> size X + an underwear + a socks.

      Compared to the ‘do nothing’ scenario, the pile will be smaller. That is, it may be a relative smaller, even if not an absolute smaller. That is, you are slowing the rate of pile growth.

      Sometimes, slowing the expansion of the task is all you can do at the moment. It’s *still* better than letting the task grow faster.

      1. Oh.. well, that sounds surprisingly plausible (well, and obvious, but I never seem to think that way)! Thank you very much, mintylime, I’m gonna try this!

      2. My best friend calls housework ‘reducing entropy’ for that reason. Entropy always increases. Your actions, however minor, are reversing that direction.

  56. Hey Captain – I’m really sorry things are tough for you. Thanks for writing this amazing blog – I am learning many, many good things.

    As a literary geek, I also love it when you use poems in your posts. If you have the energy, I’d love your suggestions as to where you find poems/where to expose myself to new stuff; if not, no worries.

    I also love the Theory of Make the Job Smaller; as a generally overworked person still dealing with some PTSD, it’s the only way I ever get anything done around the house or in my own writing. I’ll share my own somewhat random Words That Changed Everything. When I feel somewhat crappy about my body, I sing to myself part of the song from the Pixar short Boundin’:

    “You’ve still got a body, good legs and fine feet. Get your head in the right place, and hey, you’re complete!”

  57. I used to frequent a really helpful forum aimed at hoarders. I grew up in a hoarding home and continued many habits, which led to lots of piling up.

    The forum introduced me to the concept of making jobs smaller. There were threads you could post in to get encouragement when you’d completed a task — which could be anything from throwing away one piece of trash to cleaning a whole room completely.

    Thanks to this post, I think I’m going to reactivate my old account there. For anyone who is interested or might find this type of forum useful, it’s located at

  58. Not to hijack the post, but I’d like to point is also very good advice for people with ADHD. Those who have it tend to get overwhelmed by the big picture and all of its myriad details, so focusing on one specific part of it and accomplishing it one bit at a time is much easier than trying to tackle the whole thing.

    Something I’ve also found helps is to just designate a day to get everything done. That way you aren’t worrying about that pile of laundry Monday-Thursday because you already know you’re going to do it Friday because you’ve marked it on your calender. Part of ADHD that tends to get skimmed over is how utterly mentally exhausting a work day can be, so that when you get home, you don’t want to do anything but relax. I work in a hospital that’s seen some major budget cuts recently, and sometimes I literally do not have the energy or focus to do anything more than sit online and look at funny cat pictures. Putting aside a future date of completion keeps me from tumbling into a spiral of anxiety and self-abuse for Not Getting Shit Done.

    1. word, this is still something i’m struggling with SO HARD, but sort of the opposite direction–planning time to take breaks. i tend to do an over-the-top, unsuccessful version of what you’re describing by planning to be accomplishing something every second, which causes me to rebel and procrastinate because Self-Protective Me is afraid i will never be able to rest and decompress if i don’t forcibly take time away from The Overwhelming Schedule of Doom. 2013 has so far been the year of figuring out this is what’s happening, but i haven’t managed to stop the overexpecting-rebelling-guilt cycle yet…

  59. This strategy is just what I do for my cleaning customers. I’ve worked with folks with depression and OCD, often hired by family, to help them “find a beginning” to unwinding the clutter and neglected tasks. As a friend, I also find that simply having someone with you helps with the focus. Don’t try to clean the whole house, or even a whole room, pick instead one corner.

  60. This post came on my birthday, and it is exactly a thing I struggle with every day. Apt and timely and a great birthday present! Yay!

    One of my best tricks for getting through the depression someone mentioned above – if I am going to be completely miserable for the foreseeable future, I might as well do the thing. I can do a lot while crying hysterically, you know? That is less applicable now that I am on the vast upswing, because most of the time I am feeling better, and so I do wait to do things until I have stopped crying hysterically. This is overall a win but now that feeling bad means I don’t do things, and I have a lot of assorted badfeels from assorted problems, I have to figure out anew when I can be a lump on the couch and when I might as well put the things away. Will the migraine get worse if I empty the dishwasher? Maybe?

    The plaintive cry of my soul is that this is haaaaaaaaaaard why is it so haaaaaaaaaaaaard and also other people seem to do it just fine I must be broken, but even if I am, it means everything is so fucking haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaard. It is not fair. Possibly I am five years old inside. But there is this blog,, who ought to be all kinds of annoying because she is a recovered/recovering addict and bulimic who changed because she got pregnant and found Jesus and got married and has a blog and a national book tour and isn’t that precious….. But she writes about how actually daily life is incredibly hard sometimes. And how the world is beautiful and brutal. So she calls it brutiful, and then she wonders how exactly are people supposed to manage to have children and beautiful houses at the same time, or, like, make breakfast. She says, “we can do hard things.”

    And she means changing the kitty litter. Or eating every day, like, multiple times a day, what is up with that.

    Acknowledging that yes, doing this utterly mundane thing is in fact hard, has been very important for me. And then I can decide if I am up to doing the hard thing. But when I do, look at me go. I can do hard things.

  61. my mom broke her back falling out of bed. so every day that she gets out of bed without breaking her back? she says, “well, i did that right!” i do that, too. today? i got out of bed. VICTORY!

  62. I often tell myself “Your feelings are valid and make sense – but they’re not necessarily anyone else’s responsibility.” That really helped me feel safe and sane in social situations.

    I tend to get hurt and mad and overreact when people are flaky or unreliable. This is legitimate, and perhaps speaking to the person about the exact thing they did might be helpful. Throwing a bunch of other crap at them, railing at them about how they remind me of bitchy girls I went to junior high with or whatever, is unfair. The feelings are valid, but the person in question is only responsible for their actions, not everything swimming in my head.

    I’d get really anxious and socially avoidant because I was so afraid of not being able to control my emotions and saying the wrong thing and alienating people. I hated myself and beat myself up for having “the wrong feelings” rather than learning how to deal with them. I was cheating myself of social opportunities, satisfying relationships, and the right to voice my feelings and sort out disagreements when they arose. It was kind of throwing out the baby with the bath water. And it’s exactly that kind of avoidance that causes resentments to build up and explode.

    Anyway, the “big shift” thing was just to give myself a break. “Feelings just are,” so I don’t beat myself up for having them. I might want to explore what’s causing them, but I’m not an asshole just for *having* feelings! It’s the actions you take on behalf of them that determines your character. It’s fine to need some time and space to sort out your feelings, but don’t dump all that “homework” on someone else.

    Another thing someone else said recently that I found helpful was, “Claiming responsibility for your actions/your own role in your life is claiming power.” For example, rather than railing about what an asshole your last ex- was, ask yourself, “Why do I keep choosing assholes to date? How can I break this pattern?” The point is not to excuse anyone’s asshole behavior, but to focus on things you have power over and can change for a better outcome, rather than feeling like a victim just tossed about by the angry seas of life. (I mean, a little venting about a terrible ex- is probably healthy, but you need to let go and move on at a certain point).

  63. I haven’t read the comments, but I had such a moment, or a series of moments, when I discovered FlyLady. I have since stopped needing the support of the FlyLady network, but she basically said much the same thing, to do a little bit at a time and don’t look at the hugeness of it all or you’ll get overwhelmed. She gave me ‘outside’ permission, from a non-interested party, to not guilt over the piles, which can be paralyzing, and to not aim for perfection so much as simple improvement. Her ‘permission’ changed my whole world, much as your friend’s words did for you.

  64. For my brain I actually have to insist I’m not doing the big scary thing. This is how I got my driver’s license – by insisting that I wasn’t trying to get it, I was just getting this one lesson (because yay, learning). Or when I took my exam I told my brain that I wasn’t taking the exam, I was just taking a train to the place where coincidentally the exam was held. The weird thing is that it kept the anxiety down, which had previously stopped me from doing things. I was fine with doing the tiny things one after another, but I couldn’t face the giant task, which was comprised of the tiny things. So yes. Make the job smaller! Break up any task you have to tiny bits!

    A friend also told me a thing about important phonecalls, which has served me well. If the estimated call is under two minutes, make that call at once, don’t put it off. It’s surprising how many calls fall under that limit. (And even my brain can survive two minutes of whatever talk it is.)

    I only wish I’d known both things sooner. (:

    1. I had a driving instructor — one on one, not a class situation, because I needed someone familiar with hand controls — who was Very Sneaky about the driving test. He scheduled one for me but did not tell me that it was happening, so I wouldn’t psych myself out in advance by e.g. spending the night before worrying. I literally did not suspect anything, just another driving practice session, even when we pulled in to the dmv parking lot for a “break”, until he said “Go inside and tell them you’re here for the 3:30 appointment”, and I just went “… … …” at him.

      It was sneaky but effective; I didn’t worry myself into a frenzy worrying about it.

      A little harder when *you’re* the one that schedules the appointment etc, because you at least know, but tricking your brain is sometimes possible…

  65. This did it for me…

    She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.

    She let go of the fear. She let go of the judgments. She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head. She let go of the committee of indecision within her. She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.

    She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go. She didn’t search the scriptures. She just let go. She let go of all of the memories that held her back. She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward. She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.

    She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go.

    She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter. She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.

    No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

    There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was, and it is just that.

    In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.
    -Rev. Safire Rose

  66. It seems like nothing looking back, but at the time, one sentence that a friend spoke to me gave me the internal stones to finally change my situation.
    I was seeing this guy, and eventually we moved in together. As soon as we started unpacking, it became apparent that this was probably not so much a good idea. It was more and more evident by the week. The problem was that at roughly the same time, I also declared bankruptcy, which meant moving out would be nigh on impossible due to you know, credit and so on. Two more years passed living with him, miserable, slowly building my credit back, slowly eroding my self-esteem and energy. It’s expensive to live here, so how could I pay rent on my own especially with a bankruptcy on my record?
    My friend Ramona, eating lunch with me one day and patiently listening to me repeat the exact same litany of unhappiness I have recited almost since I met him, including the financial obstacles, said, “but can you afford NOT to move out?” Afford in the emotional way, afford in the spiritual and ego and self-preservationist way. It just never occurred to me that there were costs other than dollar costs until she said that simple sentence. Of course it took a little more time to get my ducks in a row, but there was a light and I chased it. That move-out/break-up was the best day of my life to that point.

  67. The only things you really need, in the short-term, are sugar and water. And, relatedly, the concept that things like calories are potentially more important than vitamins, especially if I’ll eat the things with calories and not the things with the most vitamins. (From Also relatedly, that food/health has no intrinsic moral value.

    I’ve never had an ED, but I’ve always been a super picky eater + anxiety about wasting money/energy/food on trying something I don’t like + guilt about eating like a stereotypical five year old. Accepting that I don’t actually like a lot of foods, and that there’s nothing -wrong- with that, has actually helped me broaden my palate. Because I’m doing it because I want to, not because I should, there’s way less anxiety built up around it. I’m still trying to work around feeling like a failure for spending X dollars/units of time making something that I can’t/won’t eat and ordering a pizza instead, but… baby steps. And when I was sick for a few months and couldn’t more than a couple of bites of food at a time generally, and the only thing that wasn’t making me violently throw up was pizza, it helped me be okay with the fact that I was eating pizza five days a week. It wasn’t healthier than if I’d been eating a bigger variety of things, but since that wasn’t even an option, pizza was glorious. Eating pizza five days a week was way better than eating three bites of something else and then throwing it up and being miserable.

  68. I didn’t mention this since I thought it was the type of common-sense advice that everyone has already heard. And hell sometimes doing one can build momentum. You wind up realizing you can fold more laundry or maybe even wash a small load. Stuff like that.

  69. The “Getting Things Done” system has been hugely helpful to me. It incorporates a lot of pyschology and jobflow stuff and basically points out that people work better when looking at tasks broken into little, non-linear next step objectives and not giant overarching goals and deadlines.

    Click to access GTD-cognition.pdf

    1. I bought the book _Getting Things Done_. I still haven’t gotten through much of it. It’s supposed to break stuff down to make every task small and manageable, but it involves sorting and procedures that — at least at first glance — seem to make everything bigger and more complicated. Exactly the sort of thing my slow brain has trouble with. Is there a way for people like me to digest this information without getting lost?

      1. For what it’s worth, my experience of GTD is that whether it will decrease your stress level or increase it is often a personality thing.

        It works for me partly because one of my big anxiety/depression triggers is my fear of dropping the ball and forgetting important things. So the “collect” step where you write down every possible thing you might need to do/know/remember is reassuring and calming, because I can tell myself, “You know everything you need to do because you write it all down, always.” The complex flowchart for handling each item is reassuring and calming because I can figure out very quickly whether something is my job/urgent/not my job/not urgent, which again soothes the part of me that goes “everything is your responsibility and must be done now and you’re totally going to forget something and that will be TERRIBLE.”

        But for people who find a giant list and a complex flowchart overwhelming rather than reassuring–which is also a completely valid perspective–it can be a bit “OMG this is actually making things harder, and also more stressful.”

        If you are still interested in doing it, my suggestion would be to take one “step” of his process per month and implement just that step. So like, collect: you could implement ways to keep track of necessary tasks in month one (whether it’s a to-do list, email folders for important tasks/information, a calendar, whatever works), and then do nothing else. Just get comfortable with that, and only that, in month one. Then in month two, keep collecting and add processing–figure out a way to mark things as ‘this needs to be done,’ ‘this doesn’t require an action but might be useful to keep,’ ‘this can be got rid of,’ and JUST do that marking. And then in month three, add the prioritization/delegation. And so on and so on. Basically: bite off one step of the concept at a time and do only that one concept for quite a while–a month or more–until you’re comfortable.

        The other alternative, of course, is to say, “This works for people whose brains are wired a little differently, but not for me, so I’m chucking it.” Which is perfectly valid.

      2. the part of it i found really useful is the “combat overwhelm by, instead of writing down a task like, ‘throw birthday party for X,’ put that big multi-step outcome on a ‘project’ list and put the first CONCRETE step, e.g., ‘compare online balloon prices,’ on your task list” part. if one thing that’s freaking you out is not knowing where to start, that habit can be a helpful one to develop.

        1. Yes! I don’t follow the GTD system, but I’m trying to get in the habit of making sure that everything on my to do list is a concrete action that I can take without having to do anything else first. It’s also really helpful for my anxiety, because there’s less freaking out over having no idea how to do something/being convinced I have no idea how to do something even if I do. Any big projects (big meaning anything with more than two steps that I haven’t done before, tbh) get their own separate lists that I figure out in advance when I feel able, so I can feed that right into my actual lists.

  70. This post is *wonderful.* I have a variety of shitpiles around the house, and a limit to my energy. Lots of great ideas here that I needed to read. I have been using Unfuck Your Habitat, though sometimes my 20/10 work/rest periods are more like 5/15 at times.

    I had a houseguest for the past 5 days, and struggled mightily to have the house perfect before she came, but in the final few days before her arrival, I thought, “Well, you can do a few more things, or you can let it go and have energy to have fun with her when she comes.” So I let it go. There were messes here and there, but we drove all over the countryside looking for thrift shops and amateur art installations, and we watched a whole lot of “Arrested Development” and it was a great time.

    And one more cool thing I discovered: Adam Gnade’s zine, “The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad.”

    Thanks again for this topic and all these great comments.

    1. Hi, I redacted part of your comment – this is a no diet talk/weightloss talk space. I like your thoughtful contributions and hope you’ll stick around, but that’s a firm boundary. Thank you.

      1. Hey, no worries! I normally don’t like to do that myself, but thought of the tool I mentioned as a good metaphor for the issue in general. Sorry for the slip-up. (And it’s a delight to be in a space where that’s not in the culture.)

  71. This is pretty much the point where I am now. Getting out of bed is no longer a momentous achievement but doing all of my laundry on one hit is a bit like mucking out the Augean Stables. So rather than doing the 3-4 loads in one day which honestly, just makes me feel exhausted thinking about it, I might do one and hang it out slowly throughout the day. My clothes horse is in my living room so to hang out a shirt or a pair of socks as I walk past is way less of a big deal.

    Yes, every surface of my house has STUFF on it that needs to be tidied but, if I can clean a quarter of my desk or just my bedside table, that’s good enough for me.

  72. For me it was when I finally plucked up the courage to go to the doctor about my depsression, and she was reading off a checklist of symptoms to see what my treatment should be.
    “Eating too much or too little?”
    “Erm… kinda both sometimes?”
    “Sleeping too much or too little?”
    “Definitely both.”
    “Having a little voice in the back of your brain whispering that you are worthless and a burden and everyone who knows you secretly wishes you would die but are too nice to say anything?”
    As I sat gaping at her, wondering how this arcane sorceress was reading my mind, she gave me a knowing little smile.
    “I bet you thought it was just you,” she said. “Well, you’re not alone.”

    My depression has been in remission for nearly a year now, and although I’m not happy about being a veteran of the Brotherhood of the Chronically Sad, I know that should it ever happen again, I will not be alone. Millions of people across the world will know what I am going through and will be standing right beside me.

  73. It goes the other way too. I am very deeply in a ‘can’t get out of bed’ stage right now, and getting worse. Yesterday my mother told me that of course I’m feeling bad, since I can’t even be bothered to do the laundry or keep my room clean, and when people say “do what you can manage” they didn’t mean to THIS degree, they just meant, on top of normal chores that I should DEFINITELY be able to manage.

    Little words that change the way you look at things indeed.

    1. Another entry in the “most counterproductive thing to say to a depressed person” contest!

      “I am depressed.and it makes getting everyday things done feel as daunting as climbing a mountain.”

      “Oh, then let me belittle you! Surely if I can find a way to make you feel even worse about yourself, you will jog right up that mountain with bounce in your step!””

      “Um, no. Were you listening at all?”

      1. Seriously, do you not see how dead these fish are?! (HAAH depression FTW!)

        Ugh, I’m sorry. your mum’s comments were terrible!

  74. I have 3 sentences that have been said to me, that have changed the way I think; they’ve been incredibly valuable to me. Hope they work for someone else.

    1. You are not perfect. Neither is anyone else.

    2. Don’t judge your insides against anyone else’s outsides.

    3. Assume good intent.

  75. I’m also a big fan of the classic: “Never ascribe to malice that which can be more accurately ascribed to incompetence.”

  76. This is great advice – I get easily overwhelmed with the Perpetual Mess that is my room, so instead of trying to clean All The Things, I just do something like “clean the top of that one nightstand” or “just put the books away and ignore everything else.” My room will always looked lived-in, but at least this way I can keep stuff under control.

    Part of my mental disorder is struggling mightily with constant negative thoughts, from the mildly negative to the downright homicidal/suicidal, so I spend a lot of time being alternately horrible and appalled at how horrible my thoughts are. I’m focusing on just stopping – like physically stopping – closing my eyes, breathing, and letting the thought come and then just move through me.

  77. I haven’t gone through this whole thread yet, but I will at home. I just want to say as a lurker that the tips and tricks everyone gives, the support, compassion and care that is available in the comment threads has been wonderful for me, even as a lurker.

    I’m at the midway point in my tunnel as well, I’ve gone back to the office after a period of not being able to get out of bed, or do more than sit on the couch. Thanks to earlier comment threads I knew I could call a helpline, which was great ’cause I didn’t have to leave the house to do that! win! and the helpline helped me get to the hospital, and the hospital helped me get the care I needed.

    I am going to go home this evening and feel better about things, because yes, my bedroom is a total nightmare of clothes on the floor, but maybe if I start by making a clean space around the dresser that will be enough for today. And my jerk-brain can shut up about it!

    So ya, thanks to everyone who contributes to this community and to the good Captain for setting it up and posting personal struggles like this one that people can commisserate over and comfort themselves with.


    1. *that I appreciate the tips and tricks… my brain knows it’s the end of the work-day!

  78. Does anyone else get sticky?

    I mean, I get stuck in whatever I’m doing. I don’t want to get up, but I didn’t want to go to bed. I don’t want to take a shower but once in, I have a hard time getting out. Shit or get off the pot actually means more like read a book for an hour. I don’t want to go to work but then I forget to come home. I certainly do not want to go to bed, even though I have just fallen asleep upright in my desk chair, I have to finish this game that is so meaningless, it is not even part of the quest plot part of the stupid video game, it is *randomly generated*.

    Of course, I rarely get stuck in actual work for my actual job, so then my jerkbrain gets to go to town on me.

    But I’ve noticed that how sticky I am changes with how much background anxiety or depression I’ve got going. I haven’t been able to handle this. Sometimes being interrupted helps (Fizzy, are you stuck?) but sometimes it doesn’t. The possibility of negative consequences only increases anxiety and stickiness.

    But I’ve never heard anyone else talk about this. I mean, I’ve heard people talk about lists and hating yourself and all that, and I appreciate that, but… I mean… I can’t do the list because I forgot to come home from work because I got stuck reading the internet, that’s not covered by that stuff. It’s kind of like procrastination but it’s not just that. I can procrastinate like the Queen of Tomorrowland, and it feels different. I get stuck doing something annoying that I am not enjoying when the next thing to do is something fun and easy!

    Please, someone, anyone, anyone else have this?

    1. Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or mental health specialist of any variety.

      That said, this sounds like it could be something related to either OCD (stickiness = compulsion) or ADHD (stickiness = hyperfocus). It’s definitely something to see a mental health professional about, since a) it fluctuates with your anxiety and depression and b) it interferes significantly with your quality of life.

      1. Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or mental health specialist of any variety.

        If you have to start your comment this way, it’s a fair bet you’re going to be in violation of Site Policy against internet diagnosing.

      2. I have great mental health care and we are working on it! I’m not interested in a diagnosis, I’m pathologized enough, though I appreciate the caring behind your comment.

        I’m looking for that “OMG that’s me” kind of thing, you know? kinship? I feel alone with this problem and it’s super difficult to handle.

        1. You are not alone! I have the same problem and it is challenging – though for me it has (in the past, not at all right now) also applied to work, and not taking breaks. I just perseverate at things and I find it very hard to shift out of what I’m doing. Sometimes I am able to shift tasks by a very specific need (usually a bathroom visit, though I often delay those too). I wish I had suggestions around how to change this, but I don’t! I can say you’re not alone though.

    2. Oh yeah, I have that in spades. I call it the Inertia Problem.

      Sitting on the couch? It feels like an epic task to get up and go to bed. In the shower? It’s impossible to get out–but it’s also impossible to get in when I’m sitting in a desk chair thinking about the shower. Downstairs? It is unbelievably difficult to get up and go upstairs… or vice versa. In the house? It feels impossible to get up and go out. At the coffee shop? It feels impossible to get up and go home. Or even: surfing the Internet? It’s hard to launch Civ 5. Playing Civ 5? It’s hard to stop and go check email. Like that.

      It does seem to get worse when depression/anxiety get worse, too, as you say. I don’t think it’s tied to other mental illnesses, for me; it seems to be an “ordinary” part of my bog standard depression/anxiety.

      My method for dealing with it is silly, but: I say, out loud (and it’s important that it’s out loud and not in my head), “Okay, one, two, three, GET UP.” The countdown is important. “One, two, three, SHUT OFF THE SHOWER.” Like that. Counting down out loud makes it feel real, and that feels like enough to overcome the inertia.

      1. (And when I was concerned about getting sucked into something without realizing it, I have in the past set my phone to ping me every half-hour so I could go, “Oh hey, I have been doing [thing] for half an hour/an hour/two hours, now is the time for a one-two-three-GET UP.” The half-hour ping means that I’m less likely to fall down the Lost Time Vortex.)

    3. In a word, yes. All the time. I especially hate when the intertia strikes, trapping me in something totally stupid that I am not even particularly enjoying, when I actually do enjoy the thing I am supposed to be doing. And yet yes, it happens quite frequently.

      The worst: I can’t seem to stop reading books even when the writing is terrible and I am not invested in either the characters or the plotline.

      1. The book thing totally applies to me! It feels like such a waste of time, but I can not stop reading.

        1. “This book sucks!”
          “So why are you reading it?”
          “I don’t knoooooooow! Help meeeee! Take it away from me and put it in the car!!!!!”

          1. My partner has been instructed to NEVER let me bring a certain book into the house again, because my life just stopped, for days (and I’m a very fast reader! It’s an extremely long book!), because I had to read through to the end. On a book I’d already read.

    4. Haha The Queen of Tomorrowland sounds so awesome though!

      YES I do get stuck, even doing crap that is not fun instead of crap that IS fun. It is so weird. Why do we do this? (I think it’s related to wanting to self-care, by doing numbing activities designed to ~help with anxiety or depression, except that numbing activities don’t ACTUALLY help me.) Or sometimes knowing why is interesting but not directly helpful – How can we stop?

      It is not just procrastination, or hating yourself, it is something different, I know. Because it’s not necessarily task-related, where Pomodoro-style stuff can work. I mean, who’s going to Pomodoro “drive home” or “call someone I love talking with” or “read this awesome book instead of checking social media AGAIN”.

      Some things that sometimes work & are worth trying:
      * Outside prompting: I am okay at being prompted, like you say, when I’m not already too bad. When I am utterly losing it, then I kind of helplessly look at the prompter, who is helplessly looking at me, but I am unable to actually act on getting up, or switching tasks, or whatever. Actually sometimes at this stage, if the prompter asks me to take a breath, and then waits until I literally do take a deep breath, that can get through, slightly, which is a start to breaking free.

      * Trying mindfulness stuff: My life is a giant practice at learning to notice what I’m doing, and trying to ascertain if it’s what I want to be doing or not, and then making a choice to do it or not. They say that with practice, things become more ingrained, and I am banking on this being the case. Also, practicing stuff means I have my own example of how things worked or didn’t. So, then, next time I’m stuck, it’s at least more compelling to try to convince myself to do the things that are known to work, and not the things that are known to not-work. Also, trying stuff for a week, or a day, or an hour, is wildly easier than “I shall never get stuck, again, forever until the end of time,” which sounds impossible and not worth starting.

      * Thinking about the thing you could do right NOW: If I can move, to do anything, that helps. So I try to think of things I can do, and then I’ll hit upon something that seems like (for whatever reason), I can actually do that. Go to the bathroom, drink a glass of water, make a cup of tea, go check the mail, start a load of laundry – anything that will get me out of the chair. My philosophy is that doing any of those things is better than sitting there, stuck, even if it’s not what I am “supposed” to be doing.

      * Actual external controls: I use controls like Google Nanny to avoid things that are really sticky for me, such as to prevent me from doing web time-wasters during the day, etc. I am going to start turning my computer off in the evening — ideally I will choose to do this before the stuckness of not-even-fun internet browsing.

    5. *sympathies* My partner has this. LIKE WHOA. “I certainly do not want to go to bed, even though I have just fallen asleep upright in my desk chair” – totally. (Like, on a nearly nightly basis.) Take the dogs out=sitting in the backyard reading for an hour. Just gonna finish coffee and check headlines first thing in the morning=suddenly it’s fifteen minutes before he has to leave for work and he’s tearing around freaking out.

      Sometimes if I can – I hate HATE describing it this way, because it sounds like I’m “wife-ing at him,” but let me be clear, this is what he has specifically and repeatedly asked me to do – if I can “trick” him into just STARTING anything, he follows through really well. “Can you put dishes away?”=a spotless kitchen forty-five minutes later. “Hey, we just have time to do this one small step in this project, if we work together, before I have to run to the office for the afternoon”=still working on it, and three steps further along, when I come home.

      It’s like aproperjoke’s strategy, upthread, of convincing oneself that one is actually tackling a Small and Easy Step in the Big Daunting Thing, but it’s an outside voice. The trick is to be completely nonjudgmental, and completely elide how the small thing I ask for fits into the larger context of the thing he has stated he actually wants to achieve.

      It’s absolutely worse when he’s in active depression. He also has little memory/sense of the passage of time when he gets “sticky” – he often INSISTS that it’s been ten or fifteen minutes and it’s really been an hour or two. Timeable units of media help – music helps, because he can look back and say, “yeah, that was eight songs, not two;” TV helps, because he can say, “I’m going to watch X number of episodes and then get up and do Z Other Thing.” (Damn Netflix and its “next episode starts automatically” feature!)

      I don’t know what causes it or how it ties in to specific mental health stuff, but he has both ADHD and episodic major depression diagnoses, for whatever that’s worth. *sympathies*

    6. This feels very familiar to me, though it’s not really something I’ve ever thought about.

      Okay, like… really really really REALLY familiar. o_O I… what? I… huh. I apparently have an elaborate system of workarounds to deal with this and still function.

      Like – the main time I get ‘sticky’ is when I’m at my computer before I go to bed. I know that I’m sleepy/exhausted/whatever, but doing the next thing means that the next thing has to happen. My… stickyness-induced insomnia gets 10x worse when I’m anxious about something coming up, because if you sleep then time just zips by and then I have to wake up and deal with shit. I dealt with stress when I was younger by reading well past when I could keep my eyes open. Didn’t matter what I was reading, as long as I could still concentrate on the words then the worries over nothing I could control couldn’t catch me. I still do it, because, well, it’s kind of a coping mechanism, albeit one that leaves me exhausted and a little loopy the next day and is not the best in terms of alertness for the aforementioned anticipated event. At least now I know it as a sign that I’m anxious, not just that the book is good. Knowing that I’m doing my ‘staying up stupid late ’cause I’m anxious’ thing kind of lessons its hold on me.

      *thinks* Actually, so, I’ve been late to stuff my entire life. (My 5th grade teacher who didn’t like me told me I’d be late to my own wedding.) Part of that is… not moving forward when I need to. Not doing anything important to waste the minutes, but wasting them still the same. I’ve kind of accepted that it’s going to happen and have built mine and other’s expectations around me just needing a 15m cushion for most arbitrary events.

      Anticipation makes me *super* anxious. Like, I stress if people tell me they have a gift for me and don’t tell me what it is. I do poorly with surprises, and it takes me time to switch contexts when starting up a new task or project. I can’t make same-day plans a lot of the time because it takes me about three hours between, “Hey, want to go to a movie tonight?” to my “Why yes, I believe my schedule is clear and I would love to.”

      *thinks* The only time I can get the feeling to go away is if I don’t set a start time, only an end time. The rest of… life, really, since life seems to run on schedules, I just give myself huge pre-thing buffer so when I inevitably get stuck (Always 10m past when I told myself I would get in the car. Always.) it’s not going to mess with anyone else’s schedules.

      Oh. OH. I also routine everything. Certain activities get blocked for certain amounts of time, so that I can mentally prepare days in advance. (Company on Mondays (depending on social reserves), on Thursdays I attempt to do mini-Writing-Group, set aside Wednesday evening for dinner with bestie, if applicable.) So there’s not really a chance to get ‘stuck’ because I already MADE the decision to move to the next thing way in advance. I trust my past self to have made good, anxiety-free decisions, and my future self is capable enough to deal with any wonkiness that might arise so that I can feel confident in setting non-optional plans for myself. (A little bit like Momento? Except my past self isn’t an asshole to my future self. I don’t remember much of that movie.) Routines just sort of eliminate most of my anxiety when it comes to moving onto the next thing, because I’ve already moved on to the next thing previously and I’m probably going to be moving on to the next thing later.

      Another thing I do is that whole evenings will be blocked for one simple task, so even if it takes a bit for me to actually get started, it’s not… overwhelming for me to get done. I do it for everything. Errands. Video games. Dinner with a friend. Blocking out time to write. Cleaning (… which happens more rarely than it might, tbh, because of a different clusterfutz of issues).

      This is weird for me to write out, because it makes me sound like I’m a ball of stress and anxiety all the time. I just… I’m not? I swear I’m not. I have issues with habitat maintenance (issues, man, issues), but the rest of my little sphere kind of ticks along. I’ve set these systems in place and everyone I interact with knows 1) I’m weird and 2) dealing with the weird is the price of admission, but the systems function. I think they mostly just minimize my exposure to stuff I know will cause a flare and leave me spinning my wheels.

      1. Anticipation makes me *super* anxious. Like, I stress if people tell me they have a gift for me and don’t tell me what it is. I do poorly with surprises, and it takes me time to switch contexts when starting up a new task or project. I can’t make same-day plans a lot of the time because it takes me about three hours between, “Hey, want to go to a movie tonight?” to my “Why yes, I believe my schedule is clear and I would love to.”

        That sounds like me. I wish I was more spontaneous, but I’m not and that’s something I have to accept. I’m especially bad at making minor decisions – where to get lunch, for example – in a time crunch; my brain just freezes and even though I know it shouldn’t be this hard, it always is. I’ve worked around that one by (a) planning ahead as much as possible (like a day in advance, if I can) and (b) setting defaults. My default lunch location isn’t my husband’s favorite place, but he knows that if he waits until I’m in the car to ask where I want to eat, that’s what I’m going to say. If he wants an actual, thought-out decision, we need to talk about it before there’s an imminent time limit, or I’ll panic.

        It’s causing a problem, though, with sexytiemz in particular, since he’s way more spontaneous with it (and everything) than I am. I’ve tried explaining that my first, immediate answer is almost always going to be “no”, because I need a few minutes to process the task-switching, but he has a hard time giving me the space I need to make the decision/not taking it as a hard rejection instead of the pause button I’m trying to use.

    7. A bit. For me it’s more like “too tired to make the change” than fully stuck. Going home from work means standing up and washing my tea mug and collecting my gear and putting on my warm coat and walking out to the carpark and all that. Going to bed means actually getting up off the couch and walking down the hall and cleaning my teeth and taking off my clothes and urgh, I’m too tired for all that.

      I find that alarms are useful in adding the kick. I have a “go to bed now” alarm on my computer. One technique that you might look into is the pomodoro – google it, there’s a kajillion apps. Basically it’s a timer: 20 mins on, 5 mins rest, repeat up to 4 times then have a longer rest. It’s based on a kitchen timer (tomato-shaped, hence the name) so you probably have the tools already. Free apps abound; they are mostly fixed times but I found a 99c one that lets you customise the time periods.

    8. Add me to the list of sticky people.

      It sounds like there are many different reasons people get stuck. A big one for me is momentum. It can be very difficult for me to gain momentum in what I’m doing. I’ll spend forever, say, trying to deal with a work-related task, but distracting myself with e-mail, Facebook, anything I can find. When I finally get going, I don’t want to stop for anything. I use those timer programs others have mentioned to remind me to do things, but they often end up just pissing me off.

      Dread of the next task or just plain tiredness is another factor. I’ll be ready to stop what I’m doing to go to bed, but I have dishes that can’t wait until tomorrow, and I so don’t want to do them …

    9. *raises hand*

      That would be me. If I don’t have any time to keep after work, I’ll potter around for ages – not necessarily doing work, just not getting away from there…

      I’ve solved the “can’t make up my mind to stop reading to get into the shower” by managing to place my Kindle so that I can read while *in* the shower. I just need to keep a towel close enough to dry my hand to turn the page every now and then… And that makes it easier to get out of the shower, because I’m not stopping *reading*, I’m just keeping reading but not while showering.

    10. Whoa, thank you all. I feel better knowing I’m not alone. It’s so hard to deal with!

      Mr. Wit is annoyed by it too, but it’s part of the package. I do not always accept interruptions well, but he has great patience.

      I guess it would be more awesome if I could turn this to useful, like getting stuck cleaning things or getting work done, but that only happens sometimes. It defeats many of my attempts to improve routines — like getting up earlier, which requires going to bed earlier, although I’m doing better there than ever before in my adult life — or to create new routines by design. Like going to the gym.

      Shit is damn hard.

  79. One of my favorite bloggers ever said, “To love takes courage, so be of good courage.” That really helped me keep showing up at the hospital while my sister was dying of surprise non-smoker’s lung cancer, when I really just wanted to stay home where I didn’t have to see the terrible process.

    Loving her meant that it was better to be there with her rather than not be there with her, as painful as it was, and it was helpful to acknowledge that it took courage to keep doing it. It may well have taken more courage than I had, but that’s where the other quote that helped me came into play- “You can because you must.”

  80. Thanks, both for describing as for sharing that gem of wisdom. I hope you’re going better.

    As someone who’s been stuck in the shame spiral for… months on end now, while I’m otherwise doing a lot better, the fact that this is A Thing that Other People Experience Too, and not just my personal disfunction vs my personal flogger to wear out, is an eye opener. Blog posts that people make that totally shift your perspective.

  81. Here’s one from me: Retrain your jerkbrain to say that you’re “not as awesome as you want to be”.

    Might not work for everyone, but if you can pull that off, this wording has two major advantages over most jerkbrain jerkitude: It doesn’t erase the awesome that’s already there, and it acknowledges that the high standard you’re trying to meet is your standard, not an objective standard that you’re required to meet… and since it’s your standard, you can reevaluate it any time, in any number of different ways. (Alternately, perhaps it’s someone else’s standard, but if you’re not as awesome as someone else wants you to be, or awesome in the ways they want you to be… well, so? It’s your life; they don’t get to dictate that, especially when it’s so common for peoples’ ideas of what other people should do to count as ‘awesome’ are so often unrealistic or downright abusive in practice.)

  82. Ooh! I have another one. If you share a space with someone, don’t assume that just because you hate a job means they hate it too. It doesn’t always work out this nicely, but if you talk about e.g. what housework you like/hate doing, you might find that both of you get to avoid the job you really really hate because the other person doesn’t mind it that much.

  83. You have no idea how timely that advice is right now.

    Also I love that gif and want to take it home and love it and pet it and squeeze it and call it George.

  84. I usually avoid doing interesting-but-scary things, particularly on my own, which usually boils down to an overzealous case of the but-what-ifs.

    See, I *would* go and do , but-what-if a Bad Thing™ happens? Hmm, scary. Best not.

    The most useful advice I’ve heard to combat the but-what-ifs comes from — surrounded by a lot of “buy our 10-step programme blah blah blah”, so here’s the important bit:

    So the way we overcome the screaming voice of practicality is:

    ##Putting Yourself on Auto-Response

    Putting yourself on auto-response means silencing your practical mind, in the face of the seemingly unpractical and ridiculous ideas. Faced with liberating your life, instead of thinking “I don’t know where to start,” your auto-response becomes “I’ll figure it out.”

    The phrasing of this is important: “I’ll figure it out” — not “It’ll be OK”, but “*I*’ll figure it out”. Me.

    If a Bad Thing™ happens, *I* will figure something out and *I* will make it as OK as it can be. It won’t just magically be OK, but *I* will make it so by doing a thing, which I will figure out.

    Also, this is an *auto*-response — it is *always* a correct answer to a but-what-if question. (After all, I’ve already identified the hypothetical problem, so I won’t be surprised — head start.)

    I remember my mum saying when I was a kid (I think we were going out without raincoats) “If it rains? We’ll get wet.”


    Another tactic I have to outfox worrying (which I think was my own insight rather than somthing someone said) is this: I used to think my problem was overthinking things, but it turns out that I wasn’t overthinking enough.

    If I take the worst case scenario and follow it logically to its conclusion, what happens? Nothing. I’m pretty much inconsequential.

    So, rationally I can identify with Hyperbole and a Half’s Jumanji-disappointment–induced invincibility (, but I still find it difficult to act on this and leave my comfort zone.

  85. Recently, it’s been Audre Lorde’s “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Because that reframes it. I am not eating ice cream for dinner, I am BUCKING THE PATRIARCHY. I am not faffing about on the internet, I am being a woman in technology! And so on.

    And a few years back, when my depression first started getting its teeth into me, I held really really tightly to a quotation from Theodore Roosevelt’s diary: “It is not having been in the dark house, but having left it, that counts.” Being depressed? Says nothing about me. Having worked really fucking hard to climb out of the depression? Says everything. I can imagine this would feel like pressure to someone else, but oh my god it meant so much to me.

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