Hello friends! It’s Elodie Under Glass here with a guest post on Low Moods.
I particularly want to thank Quisty, Kellis Amberlee and TheOtherAlice for their kindly help in reading and editing this piece. It would not have existed without their care, support, compassion, and wonderful editorial abilities. They are truly remarkable humans! (edited: And thanks to the radiant and patient NessieMonster, who let me come to her city and follow her around, burbling insensibly about this post, for far longer than most people would have.)
So recently, I went on a Stress and Mood Management course, and I thought that you all might enjoy sharing what I’ve learned.
This post is something of a correction/update to Adulthood is a Scary Horse, a post for the Captain which I was never quite satisfied with. It really crystallized for me on this course, in our discussion of the Low Mood Cycle. It’s a concept described in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and I thought it would be useful to share.
I am not a mental health professional (more caveats on that at the end). But I felt that if these resources had been usefully presented for free on the Internet – especially during times where taking a train and a bus and a taxi to get to a day-long course seemed like organizing a picnic on Venus – it could have helped me that little bit sooner. Maybe it will help others.
What is this Low Mood?
Moods are curious things. We instinctively know what they are (“I’m in a bad mood! I’m in a good mood!”) and how they affect our behavior (“I should never respond to Internet comments unless I’m in a good mood.”) We recognize that we really don’t like to be in Bad Moods or Sad Moods, while much of our free time is spent in pursuing Good Moods. We know intuitively that odd things seem to affect our mood, sometimes apparently out of all proportion – “A bus driver was mean to me, and while I know that it’s not really significant, it’s ruined my whole day.”
We can spend weeks or months or years in a poor mood, which doesn’t seem quite bad enough for us to call it a mental health problem, or a reason to seek professional help. It’s a funny thing – we don’t really trust our moods as valid emotional states – and really, something as transient and odd as a “mood” doesn’t seem like something that can be treated or cured.
But remember how terrible you feel when you’re in a Low Mood? If we’re creative people, we may explain away the apparent drought in our creativity by saying “I’m just not in the mood to write/paint/draw,” while secretly panicking because what if we’ve lost our creativity? If we’re performative people – people who work in food service, retail, performance art, or another field where you need to project happiness and serenity to do your job – then expressing a Happy Mood when you’re in a Low Mood can feel like operating the most exhausting puppet show ever. It’s really hard to “just do you” when you just don’t feel like it.
Everyone feels like this – it is a natural thing, with underlying logic to it. Here is a diagram of a Mood Cycle, a self-perpetuating hamster wheel which literally every human deals with:
Thoughts influence behavior, which influences outcome, which in turn feeds back into your thoughts.
If you’re in a bad place, this is one way that the cycle of badness continues to percolate in your head. And we’ve all been there – we’ve all seen how Low Mood affects your health, productivity, relationships, creative output, and mental outlook. Which is to say: A good deal of your life.
or if you’re me, it’s a bit more like
If you’re in situations that encourage the Low Mood Cycle – certain types of relationships, jobs and living situations are basically designed to put you into this Cycle and keep you there – it becomes almost impossible to see beyond your current mood. It becomes hard to remember those times where you were really bright and motivated and funny, and you wanted to see your friends and go places and do new things, and you were completing all kinds of projects and doing good exercise and engaging with your life. And remembering those times can be kind of worse, because you’re like “I was that person? How?”
Here’s how one facet of the creative process can look when it’s fed into the Low Mood Cycle:
Which is pretty familiar to everyone. Thought feeds into Behavior which feeds into Outcome, creating a pattern that strangles your creative attempts in the womb.
Much Behavior! Such Motivate!
So how do we stop the Low Mood Cycle? We push on any part of it we can, but it’s quite effective to push on Behavior. Specifically, it’s called “behavioral activation” – go forth and complete a task.
If you are stuck in a small and transient Low Mood Cycle and your dirty environment is feeding into that, you break the cycle by getting up and washing the dishes. Of course you don’t want to. Of course this is the last thing you want to do when you’re in a Low Mood. But completing a specific task breaks the cycle.
For extra points, you can break down the Stuff You Do into three categories:
- routine stuff (getting up, grooming, eating, taking anti-baby pills)
- necessary stuff (paying bills, doing chores, completing work tasks)
- pleasurable stuff.
If you aren’t doing enough of one behavioral category, completing tasks in another category will prove refreshing and motivating. If you’re so bogged down in work, stress and lethargy that you’ve neglected your beauty routine, then set yourself the task of cleaning up your eyebrows.
At this point in the course, the therapists who were teaching it looked at each other sadly and Mentioned The Housework. When you get home, and you’ve been drained and picked at and worked hard, and your mood is Low, and there is the Housework, the last fucking thing you want to do on this earth is the Housework, because obviously the thing you need to pick you up is Pudding. And it is not Housework Time: it is time to eat pudding. But – the therapists stressed this carefully, aware that they were blowing our minds – if you do the Housework first, then you can still eat the pudding. And it will be the Pudding of Getting Shit Done. And you’ll feel better! They promised this, while the entire room of people looked at them with deep suspicion.
“Motivation comes after action,” the course leaders said a few times, so that we really got it. The idea is to get yourself into a nice cycle of self-esteem and self-reinforcement, starting with small things:
Many people find that doing things for others cheers them up – giving a flower to a strange child, complimenting someone in the market, or making people laugh give them those good, accomplished, connected feelings.
Many people find that they already do too much stuff for others. These people may get more benefit from doing stuff for themselves – breaking a low mood induced by spending all their energy on others by practicing self-care.
Some activation tasks, which may or may not work for you:
- Unfuck a very small portion of your habitat
- Write the email to the loved one
- Make the to-do list and admire it
- SEND the email to the loved one
- pick out the new shoes you need online and buy them
- wash out the bowls that the pets eat from or live in
- wash out the bowls that you eat from or live in?!
- wash the thing you’ve been meaning to wash
- take everything out of your Sock Collection and give all the lonely socks some sock friends and fold them up together like “heck yeah, I’m shipping these two socks. NOW KISS”
- open the envelope that doesn’t look like a good envelope
- argh ARGH it’s a bill why is mail
- pAY THE BILL YES GOOD JOB
Then a nice thing to do might be to head over to the Friends of Captain Awkward Forum, go to the forum marked “Success Stories,” and share your winningness with the community. If you don’t want to make a whole post, the generous Rose Fox started a thread called “How Were You Awesome Today?” that would greatly benefit from your contributions! Because you are great and the things you do are great.
Do Only Doable Things
For 100% best effects, it’s recommended that you pick small, realistic things to do, with a starting point and an ending point, that don’t cost much money or sustained physical effort. If you decide to break out of the Low Mood Cycle with some vague and worthy goal – like “Today I will no longer be sad! I will write a novel and run five miles!” then that’s probably not going to happen, and then you’ll be more sad. If you are a person whose resting energy levels are quite low, then don’t say “I will cheer myself up by CLEANING THE WHOLE HOUSE FOREVER.” It just trips a switch back into feeling bad:
Here is how the brilliant, lovely and eternally helpful Quisty put it:
A useful exercise to employ can be to ask yourself, “on a scale from 1-10 where 1 is impossible and 10 is ‘it’s more automatic than breathing’ how sure am I can do this thing? Once you hit on something that scores you 8 or higher, do that.
How useful this is depends on how amenable you are to scales. Also don’t be afraid to adjust your scale if it turns out that your Low Mood has yours all fucked up. They need calibrating sometimes.
Don’t write a novel. Write 500 words of crap in your journal. Don’t renovate the house. Do a nice thing for the fish.
The clever and compassionate Kellis also reminded me that many of us, particularly those socialized as ladyfolk, feel pressure to take on Huge Projects while pretending that it’s No Big Thing. Kellis reminds us:
when in doubt, pick a smaller thing.
Say No to People Who Contribute Fruit Flies
What if you’re pretty confident in your own self, but you find that there are certain people in your life who slap down or minimize your achievements?
If you’re in a situation where people deliberately foster and perpetuate the Low Mood Cycle on you, the solution is:
- get the hell out
- get the hell out
- get the hell out of there
And if you can’t do that because of REASONS (and of course there are REASONS, I recognize that):
- think of some solutions
- there are definitely some solutions
- get the hell out of there
Because that is a thing that abusive people do for REASONS of their own: shutting off the part of your brain that deals in motivations, solutions, action plans and goals is a great way to keep you dependent on them. The Low Mood Cycle basically flicks that reward-switch off, making you a smaller person. It’s hard to program yourself out of it. But it’s even harder if you’re trying to round up and trap and defeat and kill all of those little fruit-fly voices in your head, while your partner or your mother or your boss is moving placidly around the kitchen of your brain, planting rotten bananas.
I’m Basically Okay, It’s Just That There’s So Many Assholes
THIS IS A COMMON PROBLEM.
What about when small things – like the mean bus driver, or the microaggressions, or even a friend on the street who appears to not acknowledge you – affect your mood? Obviously there are Reasons for you to be affected by this; nobody is denying the Reasons. But how are we going to feel about that? Note, of course, that you can feel whatever feelings you like, however you want to feel them.
A good way to regain your place at the center of your personal universe is to acknowledge why this is affecting your mood, and to reason with yourself about it.
In the case of the friend apparently cutting you dead – it is a very reasonable thing in my book to assume that this is because they have always secretly hated you. This could bring you down a lot, making you irritable and occupying your thoughts for the rest of the day. It could even affect your relationship with that friend, as you begin to resent them for not noticing you. But stop. Think about it. What are some more practical reasons why your friend might not see you on the street?
- They didn’t see you.
- They had headphones/sunglasses on and didn’t notice you.
- They didn’t recognize you.
- Their thoughts were occupied with something else.
- You know them from a specific circumstance that they don’t want acknowledged in public.
- They are trying to avoid someone you were with.
- They had a migraine and were trying to avoid everything.
- It wasn’t your friend at all, just someone who resembled them.
These are much better thoughts to work with than immediately jumping to the conclusion that you are no longer friends. What are some things you could do to feel even better about it?
- Stop and call out the name of the friend, seeing if they respond.
- Call or text the friend – ask them if they’re all right.
- Decide to move on.
Re-aligning your Thoughts is an important part of fixing your Mood. It’s smaller than Behavior, but sometimes harder. Your negative, self-hating, gloomily triumphant thoughts are really invested in being in your head – like weeds or viruses. To fulfill their evolutionary prerogative, they want to breed and infect most of your mental landscape. But they generally aren’t correct, and don’t come from a complete picture of reality.
The key thing to remember here is that you, yourself, are indeed Basically Okay. It’s just these uncontrollable other assholes that are the problem.
If you find yourself particularly affected by anxiety about other people’s perceptions of you, one thing that may help is keeping a Folder of Excellence. Keep nice things that other people have said about you there. Keep photos of yourself that you like. Keep your love letters, and records of texts you’ve gotten from cuties, and nice things people have said about your work, and silly birthday cards from your best-beloved ones. I am frequently totally convinced that I am unlikeable, untalented, useless, and hated by all who know me; nothing silences my panic spirals like Evidence Against Them.
And if you’d like a few more nice things said about you to add to your Folder, we can arrange that too.
But I Can’t Because of Thing
At this point in the course, the other attendees were getting restless and needed to Explain. They had some problems with all of this and wanted to be excused. As we were quite a diverse group, there was a great diversity of Reasons, as predictable as if they had been reading from a script. Women in real jewelry shrilled and men with dirty shirts snarled, and the woman who’d said she led a Christian choir rang out like a great bell. “I can’t do this because I’m in a wheelchair.” “I can’t do this because I have no time.” “I can’t do this because I’m too tired.” “I can’t because I’m too poor.” “And my father won’t let me leave the house.”
“Okay,” the ladies teaching the course said peaceably.
Everyone waited expectantly for the Magic Solution, for the acknowledgement of the justifications, for the big Doctor’s Note excusing them from this assignment. The ladies looked serene and wrote all the Reasons on their big flip pad.
“I mean,” said the beautiful brown lady in the sharp suit who was writing the Reasons down. “It’s not like we’re assigning you homework.”
“It’s not like you’re supposed to impress us,” said the beautiful fat white lady in the vintage tea dress, who was flipping the pages. “Or anybody else.”
“You said that we could break the Low Mood Cycle by getting a haircut!” said the lady with no hair in a tone of great betrayal. “I have no hair!”
“Okay,” said the lady in the suit, as if she had stepped down from a stained glass window.
“Don’t get a haircut,” said the lady in the tea dress kindly.
The lady with no hair said “But what should I do?” She dropped her question like a stone, like a trump card, like a heavy weight, a challenge: who dared to pick her burden up again? Her need was alarming. Everyone thought Oh goodness, what am I doing here, when this lady is here who has no hair? Is it because she is dying? If she is dying, what good will any of this do? How can I come here wanting help, with my little anxieties and crying jags, and sit next to the Lady Who Has No Hair? Her pure, raw need sucked all of the noise from the little room, and people stilled and stared at one another, until the young woman whose hot-pink nails matched her hot-pink hijab and hot-pink Converse rolled her eyes and called across the room “Do your nails.”
“Oh!” said the lady with no hair, and looked at her nails with some surprise. Then she looked at the young woman’s hot pink nails, which appeared to glow, with the gleam of growing greed.
“You could play games on your computer,” said the woman with a voice like a bell.
“Oh?” said the lady with no hair doubtfully.
“They’re not like they used to be, with all that shootin, tellin boys to steal cars,” said the woman with a voice like a bell. “There are nice games now – gardenin games.”
The ladies who ran the course wrote this down too. They wrote everything down, and then stared at it lovingly, so that we stared at it too, as if it had suddenly been transmuted into truth because it was written down.
Because breaking the Low Mood Cycle? Here’s what it’s NOT about:
- making money
- being a good role model
- impressing others
- “improving” yourself (where the benchmarks for “improvement” are placed by society to make 99% of people feel bad)
- acquiring skills or moods to function better in a capitalist environment
- doing stuff to appeal to others
- making yourself easier to be around for others
Here’s what it’s supposed to be about:
- doing you
- getting good at doing you
- remembering what it feels like to be good at doing you
- reclaiming yourself and the things that you love
- feeling proud of yourself, not disappointed by yourself
- recovering your mood
- getting rid of a hollow feeling
- recovering that lost-feeling Thing that you need and love about yourself
I’m not an expert. Captain Awkwarddotcom generally recommends professional therapy. This is not a cure for deep depression, or indeed for anything at all – this is just some diagrams and metaphors that explain the Low Mood Cycle, how it can sap your creativity and motivation, and how to go about ending it.
Think Yourself Happy/Cook Yourself Happy/Unfuck Your Habitat for Emotional Fulfillment suggestions are just not going to fucking cut it in a lot of situations, and that’s okay too! We’re just talking about that state that we all get into of wanting to be the Life of the Party but having only enough energy to be the Housepet of the Party.
And Then The Lights Like Stars
So long story short: none of this helped with my current habit of ragefainting during driving lessons, which was what I had originally gone to the doctor for. Knowing about the Low Mood Cycle and battling your fruit-fly thoughts can only take you so far. But here’s where it took me.
The lights shone in my face and the invisible audience behind the glare were clapping and laughing and sending back these golden sparks of we like you, we think you are a funny lady. And there was the high, that high of being imperfect, but doing okay stuff, putting it out there, seeing it well-received.
Sometimes when you do you, people like it. And you’re like yes, wait a minute, that’s true – that’s who I am. I’m not a particularly sad person. I just have sad parts.
That’s worth breaking out of any Low Mood Cycle for.
We are all grey sometimes, but under the lights, we are really bright and great – and we are inherently, wonderfully worthy.
Go forth, Awkward Army, and know that you have inherently beautiful souls that other people like an awful lot.
232 thoughts on “Guest Post: Breaking The Low Mood Cycle”
Reblogged this on syrens and commented:
You Guys! “The Pudding of Getting Shit Done” is SO TRUE! Go read! 😀
NO YOU ARE
And you know what? Because of this blog post I took my kiddo to the library even though rawr migraine I DO NOT FEEL LIKE GOING OUT TODAY rawr. And then I gave myself the pudding of a nap afterwards.
YES YOU BOTH ARE 🙂
This post is amazing and I laughed so many times, especially at the pictures. Thank you Elodie, you are a superhero.
NO, YOU’RE A SUPERHERO
U BOTH SUPERHEROS
Look Muse, you know that I need to respond to every one of your comments now, right? But you also know how I feel about you, right? So basically I should just
This is wonderful, and made me laugh lots! Thank you for writing this (and for illustrating it, the pictures are seriously so great).
YOU’RE SUCH A NICE PERSON
Running into this justifies spending the last hour mooching about on the internet! This is exactly what I needed, I am going to break out of the dressing gown of vague apathy. I will put some clothes on. Or possibly I won’t. But with style and deliberate intent.
YOU’RE SO GOOD AT GETTING DRESSED!
I wish I could jump in the time machine and go back seven years and take this post with me. BUT given that dwelling on the past is a classic Low Mood Cycle sustainer, I will not persist in this wish. Instead I will be happy thinking that someone who is where I was seven years ago might read this today, or tomorrow, or in a week or a month or a year, and it will be one of the things they really really needed to help them figure out how to banish the fruit flies and find their inner awesome.
Also, hell, who am I kidding, I might need it myself again someday. Thank you, Elodie!!
Thank you! Because you are generous and wonderful and I like you!
Standing ovation!!!!! That was so great !
A round of applause back at you!! Because you’re worth it!
I initially read that as “Standing ovulation!!!” Which, I suppose, is a totally legitimate response as well!
(I enthusiastically second the standing ovation and the greatness though!)
Oh, Elodie. You’re lovely. This is so helpful!
Also, your description of the whole haircut/do your nails interaction made me laugh until I cried.
You are lovely and helpful, too. Thank you for making me feel happy and proud to write a thing for you!
I love this! And now I have The Farmer In The Dell stuck in my head
I AGGRESSIVELY SUPPORT YOUR MENTAL SOUNDTRACK CHOICES
Just what I needed, Thank You 😀
YOU ARE A GOOD PERSON
This wins the Internet for the month. Possibly for the year. Thank you so much for sharing this, Elodie- you are brilliant and hilarious and amazing!
No, it is YOU who is brilliant and hilarious and amazing, and I HOPE YOU KNOW IT
Yes you are BOTH BRILLIANT AND HILARIOUS AND AMAZING
We are awesome, y’all. 🙂
I love your mediation style, Muse142 🙂
Oh my gosh, this is so well-written — hilarious and also just plain eloquent, my favourite combination. ALSO, your drawings, PRECIOUS ❤
YOU ARE INFINITELY PRECIOUS DON’T FORGET IT
Thank you for writing this, Elodie. This describes my current situation very well. I graduated from university a couple months ago and I’ve been applying (and being rejected) for different jobs since then. It’s -really- easy to end up spending a bunch of time in sitting in my room alone being depressed and the longer this goes on the more I feel like I’ll never be successful. There have been a couple times recently where I felt like I had been successful and then other very difficult but unrelated goals suddenly started feeling more achievable without me knowing the reason. I hadn’t made the connection with all this.
Another part of what happens with me is that this gets mixed in inertia problems related to autism. I don’t know if it works this way for other people, but if I’m very “at rest” sometimes I can’t do what I want to do. This can literally be to the point where I’m laying on the\ floor and can’t figure out how to stand up again, but it can also work out so that I want to do a high energy activity and I find myself triggered into doing a mid energy activity instead (like if I want to go out the apartment and do a bunch of things but I end up doing chores inside my apartment instead). Sometimes this also works out that I’m doing an activity and can’t figure out how to stop, so I end up continuing to do something long after I stopped enjoying it or finding it useful.
None of this is actually has anything to do with my mood, but it’s very easy for me to start going “Wow, I must really suck since I can’t even go outside/get dressed/get off the floor”. Then that makes me depressed, which makes me spend more time at low energy levels, which makes the inertia of not doing things build up. It’s like there’s a cycle within a cycle where the cycles cycle.
I have never heard this inertia thing described before by another person! It’s the weirdest thing to try to describe to other people, who can’t seem to fathom not being able to navigate basic daily activities.
You definitely don’t suck! You sound absolutely lovely and I am absolutely sure that you are navigating the world as best as you’re able to at the time. Brains are the weirdest and just because they won’t get their act together does not make you a lesser person.
all the jedi hugs to you, should you desire them!
Yes! Especially this: “This can literally be to the point where I’m laying on the floor and can’t figure out how to stand up again”
YOU SAID THE THING IN WORDS! I tend to refer to my floor-time as “gravity,” like “welp looks like gravity’s caught me”… but I also have a lot of the other related tendencies that you describe. It feels really good to place the individual quirks into a pattern. Thank you!
You are also absolutely lovely, Olives, and completely correct.
“Brains are the weirdest and just because they won’t get their act together does not make you a lesser person.”
Yes! Inertia! I totally apply Newton’s first law of motion to my life. Once I get going I can be very productive (but like you, i have trouble stopping and can grind myself into pain and exhaustion). And so… I am worn out, need to rest, and can’t get going again. Or I get a case of the blahs that just lingers like a bad cold, and I do nothing, even tho I’ve worked through worse.
I am the same, and I BELIEVE IN YOU.
I have the inertia thing too. My sister and I say we have high activation energy. I don’t have a good solution for getting up and going but I do try to plan around it sometimes, like if I need to go shopping I try to do it after work on a weekday instead of expecting myself to do it on sunday and then beating myself up when I don’t
“My sister and I say we have high activation energy. ”
SUCH A GOOD METAPHOR!
Someone somewhere commented once explaining the inertia thing. For her, it was like trying to turn a car on when the battery is dead/starter is borked/it doesn’t want to for some reason. You just keep turning the key and hoping and it goes clickclickclick but you just can’t get it turned on.
Eventually you might get lucky, but in the meantime you can get stuck.
It isn’t an autism thing for me but I get The Inertia of Abject Fear. When my anxiety is bad I don’t do things. I don’t do things because I KNOW in my jerkbrain that either 1. I will mess the thing up and everyone will know I fail at life, or 2. I will try to do the thing but something bad will happen and I will be too afraid to continue, and everyone will know I fail at life. (The other lovely gift anxiety gives me is the gift of “everything that goes wrong is A HUGE HORRIBLE DISASTER and your life is RUINED because you wrote a confusing sentence in this work document/the dog piddled on the carpet/you forgot your phone/whatever tiny crap”.)
In this way I have spent entire weeks sitting in my apartment knitting and watching TV on the internet.
Yesssss, this thing. I think for me part of the problem is getting attached to the idea of A Solution—that is, I get stuck trying to figure out what the best thing to do is (like, I could do dishes or sew or go for a walk to the library or or or…) and I forget that everything would Not Actually Be Ruined if I didn’t do things in the perfect most optimal way. I get decision paralysis. And then if I get to the point where I have picked one sometimes I’ve used up so much brain energy that trying to figure out how to actually do the thing is SO HARD.
It doesn’t help that I have to break everything into steps anyway and on a good day that’s not so hard because my brain is working quickly, but when I’m already in a Low Mood or tired or something instructing myself in how to make a sandwich can be very overwhelming.
Fellow optimizer, reporting for procrastination.
Decision paralysis, high five.
On an embarrassing number of occasions I have spent so long deciding between ordering a pizza and getting Chinese food that both places closed, and ended up either miserably eating a peanut butter sandwich or not having dinner at all.
OMG YES THIS DECISION PARALYSIS UGH
I THINK YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL AND WONDERFUL.
Wow – random connection made:
I read a thing today by a neurologist who described, among other things, the existence of an idle brain state in which areas of the brain that relate things to oneself actually make the parts that you need to accomplish tasks shut off/not activate.
( I may be misstating, I can’t link it but I’ll see if they’ll comment here.)
I’ve personally done a lot of behavioral therapy, and it has saved my life. Better yet, it made my life WORTH saving, as I was quite the jerk.
And it was HARD. It took – and takes – practice! You can think your way out (and often medication helps break the circuit, don’t make it harder on principle!) but no one mentions that it’s a deceptively simple description of a lot of hard work.
Was it the default mode network? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Default_mode_network
Oh wow so many replies. I’ll just reply to myself and try to condense it into one response, but thanks everyone. You all are wonderful too.
I appreciate that you all think I don’t suck; that’s always reassuring. It’s hard not to feel that way though since I’ve been taught (sometimes aggressively) for most of my life that if I couldn’t do something it was because I was either lazy or didn’t really care about it. I’m convinced that most of the people who told me this were sincere in what they thought but the impact this has on disabled people is very similar to gaslighting in that it gets hard to believe in your own experiences and feelings but it gets very easy to believe in those other ideas I mentioned.
I didn’t come up with “autistic inertia” (I think the first place I saw it used was here: http://archive.autistics.org/library/inertia.html) but I’m happy it’s resonating with so many people. Like that article talks about, the main way people talk about actions is that you have various choices and then whichever one you go with is the one you want the most out of your available choices. People are so invested in that idea that it’s interesting that that the model doesn’t work for so many commenters here, whether or not it’s failed for the same reasons. I’m also pretty sure that it’s possible for a nonautistic person to have the inertia bit in the same way I do because there’s so many kinds of neurological issues that sometimes overlap with what autistic people experience, although I’m still talking about something that most people don’t seem to experience. There’s some very good descriptions of parts of it in the replies to me here though, like monologue’s and Hlyssande’s.
LAUGHTER AND TEARS BOTH HAPPENED, ELODIE I LOVE YOU. No but seriously this is awesome. And the illustrations reminded me of Hyperbole And a Half. This is really really rad.
Laughter and tears did indeed happen.
Every single thing I’ve been berating myself to spend my time doing lately is on the “what it is not about” list, and I’ve been tearing my hair out trying to figure out why I’m still so tired. “What it is supposed to be about” is what I needed to hear.
I LOVE YOU A LOT AND THINK YOU ARE GREAT.
I think you are so awesome and wonderful that I will pretend that the comparison to Hyperbole NEVER HAPPENED
First time commenter, here to say this is phenomenal. It is actually basically what I’ve been working on anyway, just explained in words with a lot more detail. Thinking sad thoughts? GO DO SOMETHING. Look, I did a thing! I use getyedone.com to give me points when I Do Things.
I have a question, though—did anyone talk about maintaining a high mood when you get there and not getting sucked down again? Oh wait, I might be able to answer that myself. You have to do the SAME THINGS! Lots of motivation doesn’t necessarily mean your abilities have skyrocketed, and it won’t change time. So make sure you give yourself tasks you can be successful at. You know, this is exactly what my education teachers told me to do for my students. They’ve been so helpful for *myself* too. Anyway, did I answer my own question?
OH MY GOODNESS YOU ARE SO GOOD AT THIS!!! Gold star, please come write my blog for me, I will pay you in CAKE
Look at this comment with maximum GOOD ADVICE
“Lots of motivation doesn’t necessarily mean your abilities have skyrocketed” << Wow does my sense of time need to hear that one!
Pretty sure you answered your own question and other peoples' questions to boot!
[quote]make sure you give yourself tasks you can be successful at[/quote]
Yes, yes, yes, and *so* happy that this is being taught to teachers. Awesome! There is great power in staying inside your comfort zone – reach for the upper end, but do something you can do. And then do it again, or a bit better, or make it slightly harder, but looking at a task and thinking ‘I can do that’ is ever so powerful. And suddenly you realise that you have done All These Things and that your comfortable tackling problems that are much harder than those six months ago, *and you always felt comfortable with your challenges*.
(This blog is awesome. And so are the commenters.)
Ahhhhh. The description of the hair/nails interaction also made me happy. Also your description of the people running the workshop was A+
This was total candy to the mental health nerd in me today. I usually like more act or dbt techniques bc they’re harder for my perfectionistic jerkbrain to co op. So I love your point about what the techniques aren’t for.
SHUT UP SO I CAN SMOOSH YOUR FACE WITH AGGRESSIVE AMOUNTS OF LOVE
Hey, hey Gallantqueer! Wanna tell us about these magical techniques that won’t get caught by the perfectionistic jerkbrain?
I’m thinking that by DBT techniques, Gallantqueer was talking about the sort of stuff you can read about here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectical_behavior_therapy
I will second that DBT-style techniques are useful for circumventing perfectionistic-flavored self abuse, but I’m struggling to find a good resource that explains it in a way that resonates with me, and I’m not having much luck articulating things clearly myself today.
Of course, kanel. I’m not a therapist and your mileage may vary. It took me about a year and a half of my therapist explaining to me how I was being perfectionistic and us brainstorming other ways to be.
Act stands for acceptance and commitment therapy, while dbt stands for dialectical behavior therapy, is the short answer.
Long answer: ACT and DBT both have strong mindfulness components, which helped me work with my thoughts instead of trying to change them.
ACT for me has been alot about learning to live while having mental illness instead of focusing on “curing” myself by doing everything right. ACT does focus on the idea of reaching goals, and commited action, which I shy away from bc its triggering for me. DBT I’m just starting to learn about, but alot of it is “crisis” management tools that are fairly gentle.
The biggest things that helped w/ perfectionism for me, which are non orientation specific, was learning self compassion, stopping blaming myself for my depression, and learning to rest. As far as the last I found Jennifer Louden’s work especially “The Woman’s Book of Confort” and “Life Planning” helpful. She explains self care in a way that helped me stop being so hard on myself about resting too much/not enough.
I started reading this and I didn’t think I needed it.
And then I needed it.
Thank you. 🙂 Really.
Oh, Elodie, you are the very very best.
Just wanted to add that I didn’t start the “How were you awesome today?” thread out of pure-minded generosity; I did a very small thing that I felt awesome about (remembering to bring dishwashing gloves to the office) and I wanted a place to squee about it and be cheered on in a proportionate way, and I figured other people might also want a place like that, so I made one. It’s at 1154 posts and counting. 😀 So if anyone here ever feels demotivated by “Well, I’d just be doing this selfishly for myself, so I shouldn’t do it”, remember that the stuff you do for yourself can ALSO be really useful and beneficial for other people. The “for me/for others” dichotomy is totally false.
“The “for me/for others” dichotomy is totally false.”
Oooh… This is a thing I needed to hear! I totally do the “I’m being selfish I’m so horrible!” thing ALL THE TIME and I always ignore any benefits other people get too… even if the benefits other people get completely outweigh the benefits I’m getting. I gotta stop that shit.
“The “for me/for others” dichotomy is totally false.”
I’d also like to thank you for this. I have this tendency with my writing to think “blah, why would anyone care about my navel-gazing bullshit, I’m just wasting everybody’s time by being a self-obsessed little twat”… and then I write out how I’ve been thinking/feeling about something and people write me to say “thank you for writing this, I feel this way too and you made me feel less alone.” Or I’ll be thinking “no one cares about my opinion on [thing], my insights are nothing special”… and then someone will write and say “I couldn’t find this specific thing anywhere else, thank you!”.
And anyhow, why should I feel I need to apologize for taking up space on the internet/in people’s feeds with writing that may or may not help other people, but definitely helps ME figure myself out and be a better human? If it’s really so worthless, I’m not forcing anyone to read it!
Also, your illustrations are utterly brilliant. May I make a few of them into LiveJournal/Dreamwidth icons, with appropriate credit?
YOU can do whatever you want with them because YOU are an excellent human and I want you to have nice things.
really, everyone can do what they like with the pictures, but also, Rose is particularly special and I want them to feel special.
Best. article. ever. Thank you so much!
Thank YOU for being such an excellent PERSON
Thank you so much for this! You are made of awesome!
GUESS WHAT *YOU’RE* MADE OF
Here’s a hint, it rhymes with “blossom”
This is a wonderful, wonderful post. I’ve been working on a lot of the same things lately, but this really encourages me to keep trying, and to have hope for good outcomes!! In fact, I am going to go Get Something Done right now (and give myself credit for it on habitrpg)!
EYEBROW PLUCKING GHOST IS THE BESTEST! You win an internet.
No YOU are the neatest and YOU win the Internet and I am extremely grateful for your help, support, comments, privilege-checking and Glasses of Sensibility.
You are named after the virus from the Newsflesh universe, and I think I love you.
I LOVE YOU AND YOU ARE FAB AND BRILL. But no really I need this. I need this printed out and taped to my bathroom mirror. I need to remember how to break the cycle, how to write again, how to not be afraid of my brain any more. Thank you for writing this. <33333
OH MY GOD KATIE THOUGH.
HERE ARE SOME FACTS ABOUT KATRINCHEN.
– 95% titanium
– gets Russian
– eats pain for breakfast
– red lipstick
– met my mother, still my friend!!!!
– so pretty
– 65% of my creative life is basically this silent, slightly creepy bid to impress my abstract mental version of her
– TOP FIVE FAVORITE PERSON FOR 12 years RUNNING
– in my eyes, perfect
*BLUSHING SO HARD*
OH MY GOD DARLING YOU ARE PERFECT TO ME TOO.
And there is nothing creepy about your creative drive to impress me, all my attempts at creativity are AT LEAST 65% if not more, we are mutual creeps. <3333
This was badly needed today. Eldoie- I am also in Bristol! I learned you are in Bristol from your blog I am pleased by the idea that you are in the same city as me.
I am going back to work tomorrow after anxiety!quitting my job and having two weeks mental health leave. Med changes are making me slightly jittery, but I am going to go DO THINGS that will help morning Salamander get safely into work with breakfast and her keys.
Thanks for the inspiration.
YOU ARE LOVELY, GO FORTH AND BE NICE TO YOUR MORNING SELF.
Come to a Bristol meetup sometime. Sometimes there are hats.
I love this so much!!! Thank you for this post!!!! Thank you thank you thank you!
NO, THANK YOU for being you, you are great.
Elodie, that is awesome! And I am so going to go and ship my socks. 😀
I SUPPORT YOU AND YOUR CHOICES AND I SUPPORT YOUR SHIPS
I love this term and I’m stealing it. Brb, shipping my spices.
Dang it, where is my like button. 😀
I too came to the comments to say BRB SHIPPIN MAH SOCKS!
Thanks so much for this post Elodie. ❤
“BRB SHIPPIN MAH SOCKS!”
Really need that ^^^ on a t-shirt. Maybe with a cat.
this is GOLD! am currently in a mood rut for over 2 years which stops me from moving on but at the same time is not bad enough to be counted as a depression and get me extenuating circumstances and special considerations. Will definately use this.
Don’t ask and ye shall receive! Such a wise post, and relates to the Captain’s wisdom about how you don’t necessarily need to ask your own question because it might get answered here anyway! Sorry for my terribleness with embedded links [wait no! not sorry! doing my own cool thing in my own cool way :)], but anyway I had been toying with a question structured around a movie scene (Frances McDormand in _Friends with Money_ where her character flips out over two people cutting in front of her at Old Navy):
& basically my question was, how do I stop being that person? like that person whose sense of justice and fairness gets constantly outraged in situations where it is, erm, really counterproductive. I am not sure what Elodie meant about rage fainting during driving lessons, but this comes out a LOT for me in driving. To the point where my daughter yells at me from the back seat about my language. About a month ago I got into an argument with two teenage girls in a parking lot about taking up two spaces when parking which… I mean, of course, it’s inconsiderate. But why am I the middle aged curmudgeon yelling at them about it? I’m pretty sure the one fondly shaking her head over their as yet inept parking skills goes home happier and feeling less ridiculous and out of sorts.
I don’t really get “low mood”, that’s not really my mode of jerk brain… Mine is the person who wipes down counters in public bathrooms (muttering about the rudeness to janitorial staff of leaving them messy, those awful other customers) and is super responsible and feels angry a lot about others’ rule breaking and irresponsibility and inconsiderateness and ARGLE BARGLE. I mean, it’s “accurate” in the same way that certain kinds of depressive jerk brain are “accurate” (you have accomplished nothing today!) (some people, they are rude! and they do not follow ALL OF THE RULES!) but similarly poisonous in terms of how it affects my ability to have a joyful life and interact joyfully with others. It is also *terrifying*. I mean if the fear of “low mood” is “eventually I will become a shut-in” the fear of “cranky mood” is “eventually I will be muttering imprecations all day long and randomly lurching at strangers to yell at them”.
Anyway, the parts about NOT attributing a whole series of causes and consequences to others’ actions, to picking more benign attributions (maybe they are having a bad day! maybe they don’t see well! maybe they have limited mobility!) in order to crank down the volume on the jerk brain is SO HELPFUL. Though (secret gambit here, ha ha I can break the rules too!) if anyone else has dealt with this kind of jerk brain successfully and has strategies, boy am I interested).
Well, for me it is a kind of irritability, which my pshrink assures me is a common depression symptom, so I think the self-care ideas still apply. Plus a lot of rest and more alone time than I think I need.
Right there with you; my low moods always come with a HEAPING side of irritability. I think it’s both a nature and nurture thing. My extended family’s model that I’ve been presented with since childhood is that the way to react to things not going your way, or, heck, even things GOING your way, is to GET MAD. But my guess is we also have some of those tendencies hardwired into us and no one ever really gave it much thought — that’s just how they all operate. I think Elodie’s ideas here are great. I’ve tried to play around with some mindfulness techniques to rein in the angry jerkbrain, but it does seem to be especially hard work, I think because anger is such an impulsive response.
My vote goes for ‘hardwired’. It’s a tendency I have, and I did not learn it from my Mum.
What peregrin8 said, but also, the last time when it was REALLY bad for me: I went outside and concentrated hard on my environment because I didn’t want to listen to the stream of hateful thoughts in my head anymore and then I felt, there was an “unfinished” feeling in me. Turned out when I started to let that feeling be, which took a while and several tries, the hateful thoughts also went away.
To be more general: In my case, depression and accompanying symptoms often have to do with feelings being supressed. Naturally it’s hard to get to those feelings. So I need to find a way to get to them, which I have some methods for, other people may have others (often something about relaxation, repetetive movements and or light exercise, possibly mindfulness) and then be that despairing angry sad little ball of anxiety or whatever other emotion. When I’m through with the emotions, the compulsive hate goes away.
As always disclaimer: This is my way of going about it and as it’s a lot about intuition and feeling my way through the mess, it will probably not work for a lot of people.
All of this is so helpful — thanks peregrin8 & gmg & Erin. perergin8: irritability as a sign of depression, hmm, maybe this is why this post so double-resonated with me though I don’t really recognize myself in the “classic” symptoms. gmg I think our families have pretty similar go-to interactional styles 🙂 and it’s hard to unlearn but boy something I so do not want to replicate into another generation! Erin I loved this line “When I’m through with the emotions, the compulsive hate goes away” and am going to think about it A LOT. A lot. Thank you.
Delurking for the very first time to weigh in, hi beautiful people! ❤ I have had problems before with obsessing and disproportionate anger about people Not Doing The Right Thing. This is going to be mildly endless so if you're interested in reading it you may want to go pee first. Also these are my own jerkbrain thoughts and motivations and I wouldn't presume to ascribe them to you, so: YMMV.
There was this article I read a couple years back, by some dude whose name I can't remember and who I don't think was particularly well-known, so I don't even know how to go about googling him. In it, this dude said something like: "I've realized that when I get angry at people for doing inconsiderate things, I frame it as being about rightness and justice, but most of the time it is actually more about the fact that I, personally, am being inconvenienced." When I read that I was like (lightbulb) oh yes, I see. That is definitely me. In other words, people do stuff wrong/unfairly/inconsiderately ALL THE TIME, but it is when it affects ME directly that I get all ragey. It's the inconvenience to ME that triggers the litany of "NO ONE HAS MANNERS EVERYONE'S AN AMORAL ASSHOLE". So clearly there was some stuff to explore there about my own personal feelings of victimhood/entitlement, my reactions when things don't go my way, my thoughts about what politeness and fairness mean and my unrealistic idea of how much fairness has to do with actual real life. (When I really considered it, it turned out that my own standards of behavior, for myself and for other people, were kind of unrealistic and arbitrary, even though I thought they were super logical! And when I thought about it, that wasn't on me, because when I was a kid my parents had all these arcane, shifting rules about Rudeness that, strangely enough, could never be fully satisfied!)
I'm sure you know about fundamental attribution error – we give ourselves a break for things because we know our own internal landscapes and mitigating circumstances, and that's harder to do when we look at other people because it's not easy to see what's happening inside them. But for me, this was additionally complicated because I constantly felt like I was failing to live up to my (parents') own set of rules; it's not like I never did things that were not Perfect Etiquette, in fact I violated Perfect Etiquette Law a lot, but I was convinced that the problem was me fucking up all the time, not that the rules themselves didn't really hold water practically speaking, not to mention being weirdly, unnecessarily harsh. So it was even harder for me to give other people a break, because I never, ever gave myself a break – even if I did so in the moment, just to get by, later it would become fodder for the ongoing vine fruit Is The Worst Person On Earth inquisition.
In working through this stuff, eventually I began to realize that my own circumstances and needs were actually important and relevant, and that it wasn't necessary to beat myself up about every little misstep (if they were even missteps). As it turns out, it's not bad to give myself a break for little inconsideratenesses, unless I'm, like, running over puppies because it's too much of a pain to obey stop signs! I am fundamentally a good person, so if I do something like walking through the door first when there's someone I maybe should have yielded to, it's not because I'm a jerk, it's because I have a lot on my mind and wasn't thinking, or because I were just so tired or unhappy on this particular occasion that I wanted to get home even a second earlier, and those things are both normal and understandable and fine, under better circumstances I wouldn't have done that and it doesn't define me as a person. Things like this may irritate other people a little, but in the end their lives will not be significantly negatively affected (unless they're like me and obsess over this kind of thing. but I have no control over that and it's mostly impossible to take care of other people's neuroses).
Like, I take the bus every day during rush hour in Los Angeles. The bus is kind of a perfect place to make you come to grips with the I Am Mad On Principle!!!! feeling. It's a long trip and there's just no goddamn room, everyone is jostling each other, not everyone is courteous about it, you may want a seat and not get a seat, you may almost get a seat and someone who you think was just a little too far away to be entitled to that seat happens to get to the seat before you. So many defensive feelings come up! And I've been really used to taking the anger and fear that come up when people disregard my needs and reframing them in a more palatable, "logical" way (having and expressing feelings as-is was also not a thing that was okay in Childhood Casa de vine fruit): People Are Doing Things Wrong. And things happen all the time out in the real world, and especially on the bus at rush hour in Los Angeles, that trigger those defensive feelings, so I would get mad at everybody a million times a day for being assholes, and I would end up exhausted and pissed off, and feeling like the world was a total shithole full of people who couldn't even handle these very simple seven thousand Laws of Proper Behavior. No one ever cared enough to uphold them and be nice. To me. When I worked so hard all the time to beat myself into being nice to them.
My philosophy has changed a lot since I decided I don't want to carry the Big Angry Codex of House vine fruit's Angry Laws around with me anymore. I'm not Wiccan, but one half of my current beliefs resembles the Rede: "An it harm none, do as ye will." The other half is the only rule-ish-looking thing I've decided to keep around: "There is no rule that applies all the time." It's okay for me to adjust to situations and to realistically assess what the net…I don't know, karmic effect…of my actions is – whether anything I do actually creates a significant harm. Say I accidentally shoulder someone out of the way getting on the bus because there are a lot of people trying to get on but also I am rushing to get ahead a little because I am really tired and worried about finding a seat. Am I a bad person? No! Have I irritated the person who I've pushed aside? Probably! (Sorry, person!) Are they gonna be okay? Almost definitely!
Likewise, if someone pushes me out of the way, I'm probably going to be surprised and maybe a little scared, and then angry. If I say to myself, "Hey, it's okay to feel that way! It's normal to be a little freaked out when there's sudden physical contact of that kind, and it's also normal to feel mad once that starts to fade! You're not a loser just because you had Feelings!" then it's a lot easier for me to calm down. Because if I don't feel guilty about the feelings, I don't need to deflect and make my feelings-guilt-spiral into a crusade against Evil Person Who Pushed Me, Cosmic Wrongdoer. For me, the "inconvenience" in these situations (to tie things back into that unknown dude's insight) is sometimes practical (hey! she cut in the post office line, and now I'm going to be late getting back to work!), but more often the actual inconvenience is: that person's actions brought up some feelings for me, and I'm not allowed to feel feelings, so I'm going to make a big fuss about how terrible that person is so I can explain my own anger in a "logical" way ("They broke the RULES").
Looking back now this post is super disorganized and I don't think I have it in me right now to refine it, but TL:DR; I find that when I get mad at people about relatively minor stuff that Breaks The Rules, it's a way of not dealing with the feelings brought up by whatever it was they did, because I feel like it's not okay to have feelings and reactions to things. There are a few things I've gotten into the habit of doing to short-circuit this cycle of unhappiness:
1) Examine the Rules. Do I really believe in all of them? Do I really think society breaks down if people don't get in line properly? Is there actual evidence showing that society breaks down if people don't get in line properly? (No. People do annoying shit like cut in line all the time, and society is still around.)
2) Trust that I am a good person and will follow the big, important rules even without bludgeoning. The big rules are things like: Don't hurt people.
3) When something happens and I am working up a big old angry huff about it, think: is this really THAT big of an issue? Is this really going to ruin my life, or do I mostly want to stick it to someone for breaking a rule? Am I actually angry about something else instead, like a practical inconvenience or the fact that the incident brought up unpleasant feelings for me?
4) When someone does something inconsiderate, think: have I done something like that? The answer is just about always yes, I have, and it was because I was tired/unhappy/honestly didn't notice. I'm not a bad person for having done something like that, and I will continue to do things like that throughout my life, because it's not about not being vigilant enough, it's about being human. It is not possible to beat human fallibility out of myself, so I'll say sorry when I can and move on, and I will try to give this same compassion to others when I can.
5) Give myself permission to have my own emotions and reactions. If something happens to make me unhappy, I try to soothe myself the way I wish my parents would have when I was a child: Oh, darling, I see you're having a feeling, that's normal! I'm sorry that happened and that you're having that unpleasant feeling! It's okay! Go ahead and have it, it's normal! I'll be here to listen without judgment! (Also, one of those feelings that's totally okay is: "That was an asshole move on that person's part just now! I am pissed, what a jerk that person is!" Feeling that feeling is different from condemning the person to Rulebreaker Hell.)
Having a nice CBT therapist who I like has helped a lot with all of this, especially the "but do the rules even make any sense? where is the evidence for the rules??" stuff. I am not perfect at any of it, but getting to this point has made me pretty okay with not being good at it 100% of the time.
I hope you have enjoyed this FEELSNOVEL.
I have thoroughly enjoyed your FEELSNOVEL. The idea that the unreasonable reaction is a deflection from MUST. NOT. FEEL. strikes on home in myself and my close relationship.
I really like what you’ve said here and read it with great interest. You have done a lot of good work and you are really good at articulating all of this stuff that you have discovered, wine fruit. Thank you for writing about it and sharing with us!
*vine fruit — so sorry!
This was so good to read. Thank you so much. And thank you also for the caveat about it not fixing everything, because it doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.
The illustrations make this post 1000% more effective! ❤
This is really helpful; I finally re-started antidepressants and those have been a huge help, but I still find myself flailing around in despair sometimes. I work from home and feel like there is SO MUCH I should be doing around the house that I get paralyzed by it all. I'm going to refer to this post to try to make things less intimidating.
I started doing my nails a couple of years back and now nail polish is both one of the most important parts of my gender presentation/expression AND one of my favorite ways to be nice to myself, by occasionally buying some or sharing favorite colors with friends or just sitting down to put a lovely new color on.
I’ve found this to be true. Often when I get far enough into the low mood cycle I forget how to break it for a while, which sucks. My most recent one, last month, finally started to break when I took a suggestion to go to a park and take a picture for every colour of the rainbow. (It took more than that one thing, but that’s what made the initial crack in the cycle.)
It can be anything. Thinking of the thing is sometimes really hard, so I’m glad both for getting the suggestion, and that when I recognized that it was Jerkbrain pushing back and saying the suggestion wouldn’t make a difference so I shouldn’t bother, I grabbed my camera and went to a park, because screw you, Jerkbrain.
Here’s a thing: if you’re not getting anything useful done (however you define useful) and you refuse to let yourself to do enjoyable things because the useful things aren’t done yet, and your time is instead filled with procrastination of type neither useful nor fun … then if Jerkbrain says nope, can’t do enjoyable thing because there’s no time, obviously, look at all these useful things that aren’t getting done with the number of hours in the day …
Go do the enjoyable thing.
Because if you’re not doing useful things with your time, you *should* do enjoyable things with it.
I mean really, what’s the point of doing something that you don’t enjoy *and* isn’t useful?
I’m already in therapy for depression, but this was still a wonderful read. And I also have a lot of love for the illustrations. Thank you, Elodie.
Oh my god I needed this! I read this, and the a friend called and was like, “Let’s bike for like 12 miles!” and I was like, “Heck, okay!”
And then I did it.
And then I applied to a job I’d like to have.
This was honestly day (and life!) changing for me, so, you know. Thank you for thi!
This is deeply awesome, six fathoms deep of awesome, especially the pictures. I may have to print some of this out and keep it in my cube at work.
Also, my socks are squeeing quietly in their drawer (I can hear them) at the thought of having an OTP.
I work for a domestic violence shelter, and so many of my clients (and co-workers) can use this. Thank you so much for sharing it!
This is really lovely.
I often have sort of a paralysis of anxiety about PICKING THE THING TO DO, and sometimes I go for EASY THING instead of IMPORTANT THING (1. my room is dirty 2. this fluffy cat needs to be in a painting 3. THESIS WORK O HOLY SHIT.) because the guilt, stress, and shame associated with IMPORTANT THING freeze up the brain area dedicated to that task into an insurmountable GLOB OF STUFF that all must be addressed at once. . .
Forgive me if this has already been mentioned, but I think (oddly) one of the most difficult aspects of breaking the mood cycle is recognizing the mood as an emotion to begin with. rather than taking the emotion’s negative interpretations on events as literal fact. It has taken me a very long time simply to distinguish times when I am FEELING badly vs. times when things (events, other people’s reactions) are really GOING badly.
This semester I am generally always in a terrible mood on Thursdays, because I have a meeting in the building where I had an emotional breakdown. Every single Thursday, I have to remind myself: this place makes you feel bad, but you are okay. Just because this place reminds you of a different time when bad things were really happening does not mean bad things are happening now.
One thing that helped me in grad school was knowing about “Benchley’s Law” – “Anyone can do any amount of work provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at the moment.” -Robert Benchley
Sometimes I could create a pyramid scheme of procrastination, where I would trick myself into writing by deciding I was going to do household stuff, and vice versa, and at the end of 3-4 days everything would be done but the secret feeling of “I am rebelling against all the shoulds” would keep me hooked and motivated.
Also, go you for talking yourself through your Thursdays. That is smart!
I want to print this post out and frame it.
Also, I read this post, and then I did a thing! And then I goofed off on the internet for a bit, and then I did another thing! I succeed at doing things!
I used to do this thing where every day I started a text document and wrote down everything I accomplished in the day. You know, like “got up” “ate something” (up to *gasp* “cooked lunch”!!!) “took a shower” –and when I managed something more, I put that in, too “folded laundry” “worked on thesis”. I saved them by date in a folder called “achievements”, which I archived at the start of each month. Looking at a list at the end of each day of things I had done really helped me through the phase of horrible pain and fatigue where I felt like I literally couldn’t do a damn thing.
Today, I finished setting up our new (old) gardening/food blog! And did some cleaning and spinning and went to the garden to pick chives and helped my husband cook dinner. Things have improved enough that I can do the slightly larger things more regularly, but they don’t mean any more to me than “cooked lunch” meant to me during that phase, I swear.
I don’t know you but you apparently know me. I laughed I cried and then I did some stuff. Thank you from the bottom of my pudding heart!
This was a great read – and wonderful illustrations:D I loved your descriptions of what happened at the course; I could see it all clear as day.
The cycle of “I never get things done –> don’t do the thing –> I didn’t do the thing! –> I never get things done” is one of my personal nemeses, and it can beat me over the head and grind me into small bits of gravel if I’m not careful. When I’m at work, I get stuff done, but at home, I fall down onto the sofa and never get up. Which is fine on work days, because I can point to work and say – I got stuff done! On vacation, however, it’s not so easy. I often get stressed and/or depressed when I have weeks off, because I blame myself for everything I should have done (spend time in the sun! write a novel! clean the flat from top to bottom! something useful! shower!). It’s a week since the summer vacation started, and after three days of not showering and only eating bread, I decided that if I’m going to survive the summer, I have to have goals for each day. So far, the goals have mainly been “shower” + one more thing, but maybe I’ll get to the novel in a while.
Setting small goals seems to work for me. I get to pat myself on the back instead of adding to the blame and shame that I’m so good at creating. When I need an extra boost, I use the app Task Hammer (I think I had it recommended on here once, actually). It gives you xp when you finish a task, and you level up both abilities (Intelligence, Charisma, etc.) and your character. Some days I get xp for emptying the dish washer; others for marking tons of term tests. And I deserve both:)
This is so sweet, thank you!
This works and is so true!
I have discovered that some household jobs take the same amount of time as boiling the kettle. So when everything feels too much I will go and make myself a warm cup of tea. While the kettle boils I will… wash the previous day’s dishes. Or sweep the kitchen floor. Or change the bin. Or the cat litter. Or wipe down the kitchen sides and cooker. And then the cup of tea becomes the Reward Cuppa, that I can drink while feeling awesome about having Done a Thing.
I have been having a lot of fun discovering how many things I can get done in the time it takes to boil a kettle.
This is a lovely idea! I’m going to try it. Getting to the kettle accomplishes the “getting off the couch/out of bed” part, which is sometimes the hardest. Thank you.
A thing that has sometimes worked for me is watching tv. Like actual tv, with commercials (this is key). Then, I am allowed to watch, but I have to do dishes/vacuum/spin a web/rotate crops during the commercial breaks. It’s a good deal, because commercial time is way shorter than show time. Sometimes I sit through some commercial breaks. Sometimes I end up finishing the task even though the show is over (but I have to insist that this outcome is only bonus, and NOT the secret goal all along – only do it if momentum allows, no forcing it or the technique will be ruined for future use).
Also, thank you Elodie for the original post.
This is GENIUS like you have no idea how many lightbulbs this comment has just set off.
Elodie, this is great.
What I always struggle to remember is that when I’m in a low mood place, I will never “be in the mood” to launder or clean or grade essays or send paper mail or do other household tasks. “I’ll do that later, when I’m in the mood’ is a LIE that I am telling myself. Doing The Thing may create the mood to keep doing the thing. I should Do The Thing whether or not I’m in the mood to Do The Thing.
Elodie, thank you. I always get excited when I get to spend time with you through reading your writing, and this was particularly delightful and soothing.
I love spending time with you, too. Because you are great. And really good company.
Elodie, this speaks to all the happiest parts of my heart and brain and mind and et cetera. I love how in this you (and your excellent sources, too!) completely skipped past the “should appease others” thing as even a thing that’s important – if I could just remember that as the way out of all my Low Mood Cycles, I’d have many better days to come.
I enjoyed reading this, but I’m blind and can’t see the images, and they don’t have meaningful alt text. Could you please rectify this?
What a great point. You are so good at promoting accessibility! Thank you for sharing your voice! I like and respect you a lot.
I will have alt texts as soon as possible, and will always do so going forward. I will really try to make them good, but I’m not particularly good at alt texts, and will welcome feedback.
Alt texts up! I hope they make some sense.
OMG. you got those angsty faces & their words from my inside my head.
thank you Elodie-o-di-o-di-o for being an awesome mirror. Smooch.
I dunno if it’ll help ppl, but I have trouble doing the thing for myself cuz of Weird Shame Spiral. But I am very happy to do things for other people! Even if it is actually benefiting me! So like I’ll tell someone I need help doing A Thing and ask them to tell me to do it. And maybe even hang out with me while I do it.Having external reminders like a phone alarm or HabitRPG helps too? Is almost as good as someone telling me to do it. Even if someone can’t remind me, just telling someone I plan to do something makes me feel more motivated. As long as it is reasonable. Otherwise it i Weird Shame Spiral time. Dun overcommit.
Ah! Thank you thank you! I feel like that last image, so much of this was so relevant to me and I kept laughing and disturbing people but it was so worth it. ❤
I'm going to share this with my friends :3
This is a fantastic post! You kind of covered this by talking about professional therapy, but I thought it might be helpful to briefly share that for me, being in this kind of mood rut repeatedly is often a sign that I’m swinging into a depressive phase of my dysthymia (chronic mild to moderate depression). If there are other readers out there who feel like they are in a years-long mood rut, it is possible that you have something bigger going on that looks a lot like repeated bad moods, and might find professional help, well, helpful. Dysthymia is a tricky beast to recognize since it can look so much like just being in a chronic bad mood or just feeling like something’s not quite right or you can’t quite connect to any good things happening in your life.
I totally use strategies exactly like this to manage “not being in the mood” when I’m in a downswing, so it’s great to see them described so clearly.
Folder of Excellence is REAL – I need to read through mine more often, because even though I have one (and it is full of great things) I sometimes forget that it exists when Low Mood grabs me. Thank you, Elodie! I will ship this last email and find that Folder!
This is very timely for me, and I love the illustrations. ❤
I've been having an especially rough time for the last 3 months. Sometimes the things I need to do are too big and scary, and I've been finding that it really does help my mood if I do something smaller instead of just watching Netflix and playing 2048 because I'm failing to make myself do the big thing.
Oh wow! Oh how much fun it will be to show my glorious golden self with all my sad parts to the happy silver grey world!
Thank you Elodie for the reminders of how to recapture our shine and glow and depth of happy!
Oh, sending you the biggest thank you ever as I wipe tears while belly laughing! Thanks to this and all the fabulous comments I feel less alone. I put this on my desktop for easy reference and printed it out so I can actually touch the words. All the pudding in the world to you and to everyone who reads this.
This is extraordinarily helpful! I have been applying these ideas for the last few weeks with some success, but your discussion of “doing only doable things” helped me see the source of problems I’d never understood before. I knew the motivating power of a small success, but I used to get it by writing the first few pages of a novel or a game design or an essay. In the moment the accomplishment worked great, but the next day I was left with a partial story that became a new obligation to feel bad about avoiding. I’m going to try writing poetry and flash fiction, or anything I else I can actually finish in one sitting.
Thank you for your gray and blobby wisdom!
Thank you so much Elodie. I’ve been doing a weird online CBT course which has just made me feel stupid and/or patronised the whole time I have been working through it but it is a condition of me getting some IRL therapy. You have genuinely taken 8 weeks of feeling confused and stupid and explained everything in a way that makes perfect sense to me. I may not be able to put it all into practice straight away because I am only one human but I feel so much closer than I did before. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
And your illustrations are the bestest things ever and around half of them are going on my phone in the ‘stuff to motivate me and make me feel better’ folder (it has kittens, I love that folder)
I apologize if I’m being nosy by asking, but I’m curious – is the online CBT program MoodGYM, by any chance? I heard some positive things about it so I signed up a few days ago, and although I’m not very far into it, my feelings are mixed, and I don’t know if I feel like continuing it. But they stress the importance of completing the course, so I dunno. Feeling conflicted.
I’m sorry the online program you were taking turned out to be a bust. I wish you the best in pursuing CBT offline! I was able to do it a few years ago and I found it beneficial, which is why I wanted to check out the online course. And great posts like this definitely help and make feel like I’m getting a little bit closer, too!
I can’t speak for knittykitty, but I have tried MoodGYM and found it unhelpful. That is possibly because I was already too depressed to benefit from it by the time I tried it; I’m not sure. So here is a warning for MoodGYM (and possibly for similar programs?): if there is any possibility you are depressed, keep that in mind while doing the exercises. I tried it a couple of years ago, so I don’t know whether they’ve changed anything very recently, but I found the descriptions of the fictional people with one of them *obviously* thinking Right because he Had His Shit Together facile, and when I had to do an exercise where I was supposed to list an equal number of things I thought were good about me and things I thought were bad about me, I couldn’t apply the advice at all. I ended up with lists of, like, one good thing and twelve bad things. Opposite of helpful, to say the least; I became more depressed.
If you are doing an online therapy program, and it is making you feel worse instead of better, please try to remember that you’re not irreparably broken, it’s just the wrong tool for you. I offer jedi hugs to anyone who has felt this particular pain.
I love this article. It really helped me. What Breaking the Low Mood Cycle IS and NOT about is so helpful. I love the drawings…very inspiring.
I love this article. It really helped me. What Breaking the Low Mood Cycle IS and NOT about is so helpful. I love the drawings…very inspiring.
Can I ask how one tells when the low mood cycle has crossed the line into the depression (obviously I don’t expect a definite answer…I guess I’m asking more for people’s experiences of how they realized they were depressed vs. just in a temporary downswing)? This is something I’ve been thinking about more and more lately. I’ve always had this picture of what depression ‘is’, based mostly off reading things online…and from those readings I got the impression that a major part of depression is feelings of self-hate or doubt. Even in the illustrations for the low mood cycle, there’s a lot of “I didn’t do the thing, and I’m a bad person for not doing the thing.”
I have a great deal of trouble doing the things, but I really don’t ever feel bad about it. It’s more like “I didn’t do the thing because all of my energy has been sucked out and I probably won’t do the thing tomorrow either, but eh…does it matter if I play video games instead of doing the thing anyway?” I don’t feel self-hate, and there’s no little voice telling me I’m worthless for not doing the thing. Still, I struggle greatly even when the thing is something I would enjoy, to the point where just going out to a movie is an ordeal. Like, man, you mean I have to put on clothes for that? This is bullshit!
I’ve gone to a doctor for ‘low energy’ before and I have some tentative diagnosis like low vitamin D and low DHA levels, but the treatments never really made me feel better. When the doctor asked me if I was depressed, I always said no because again I had that specific picture of what depression looks like. But now I’m kind of wondering if that’s not what depression looks like for everyone. It seems like the tips would be very helpful to someone with depression in any case, but how does one tell when they need help to even get started with breaking the cycle?
Generally speaking, if you’ve got a problem and you’ve tried things to fix it and they’re not working and you don’t know what else to try, that’s a good sign that it’s time to consult someone who specializes in helping with the type of problem you’re facing. Regardless of whether this is “Real Depression” or some other mental health issue, it IS a mental health issue and that means it’s probably a good idea to pursue some sort of mental health care.
You don’t need to diagnose yourself before you go back to the doctor; diagnosis is their job. You are totally allowed to say, “You asked if I was depressed and I said no, but I’m starting to think I might actually be depressed. At the very least I’ve got some brain stuff going on that I’m not happy about. Here are the problems I’m having. What can I do to treat them and feel better?”
Depression can absolutely include apathy without ego-bruises. I have a super healthy ego and love myself a whole lot; I really don’t do the guilt or self-doubt thing. I also sometimes get depressed and apathetic and glum and fussy and irritable (another thing that very few people identify as a symptom of depression, but it is).
Also, you definitely are not alone in maybe belatedly realizing you’ve been depressed for a long time. The last time I had a bad bout of depression, I reached the stage of sobbing openly while walking down the street before I figured out I might be having a mental health problem. I just thought life was kind of difficult and I was sad about it and stressed out by it. After the sobbing-while-walking thing I hunted down a good therapist and started taking antidepressants, and both of those things helped me a lot.
Best of luck getting the help you need to get out of that rut!
Happened to me, too. In hindsight I was probably muddling along with low-level depression for several years, but it took getting to the sobbing-while-walking stage (and the, um, chronic irregularity stage — yep, those random physical symptoms you’re having for no reason? There’s a reason) to do something about it.
I’ve been diagnosed with dysthymia, which is basically a constant, low-level depression. I’ve never been suicidal, and haven’t been stay-up-all-night-in-the-dark-staring-at-nothing in quite a while, but my baseline default is kind of at the low-mood end of the scale.
Anyway, I just wanted to say that it’s alright to ask someone. I started going to a therapist for an eating disorder and came out with a diagnosis of mild depression. It may be what you think it is. It may not be what you think it is. But you can always ask a professional for their opinion.
Me, too. Finding out about dysthymic depression was a revelation – I had always felt crappy, but every time I read descriptions of “classic” depression (major depressive disorder) I would get confused and kind of pissed off because it didn’t sound at all like me. It was validating to hear that what I was noticing was a real thing that I could treat beyond “suck it up and deal”.
Oh yeah. I’ve likened it to not the pit of despair, but lots of holes in the surface of feeling normal. Sometimes I fall in them. Sometimes I catch my balance before falling. Sometimes I skirt around them safely. Sometimes I’m safely away from the edge. And when I do fall in, sometimes they’re shallow and with a bit of effort (such as reminding myself to go for a run, or at minimum a walk) I can climb out, but sometimes they’re deeper and I need a ladder (the first rung of which might be something like that suggestion I mentioned in my previous post, that I should go to a park and take a picture for every colour of the rainbow) to get out.
I’m not always in the holes, but the holes are always there, and I need to watch out for them.
(No diagnosis, but reading about dysthymia cued recognition in ways reading about depression didn’t.)
“Lots of holes in the surface of feeling normal”
Thank you so much for that marvelous articulation.
For me, depression was Not Being Able To Do The Thing, like really, and feeling terrible – but not about myself, but the world in general. Also the symptoms vary. What’s constant for me is the Things Are Really Hard, the accompanying emotions change. And they are mostly not what depression is described at. So go forth and consult a professional, you’re problems are real and valid.
You know, you don’t necessarily need a diagnosis of depression or another particular mental pathology to see a counselor (or a psychologist or therapist or an LCSW). I went through PPD after I had my daughter, and I was on medication and in counseling with a therapist I liked for a number of months afterwards, and then things were better, life was good, yay me!
Some years later I had a phase where I was tired, irritable, and just…more down than I ought to have been. I didn’t think I was actually clinically depressed — I knew what that felt like — but I didn’t feel great, and I’d tried all the tricks I knew of to try to make things better on my own. I’d tried getting more exercise, eating lots of fish to get more Omega-3s, making sure I scheduled time to see people I liked, etc., etc., but it didn’t seem to be helping.
So I called Therapist-I-Liked and I said, “Hey, I don’t think I’m Depressed-Depressed, but I’m pretty sure something’s Not Right.” And I started seeing her again and it was incredibly helpful. Long story short, I’d been really thinking through some things before I got back into therapy that were much more important to my sense of who I was than I would’ve guessed on my own. I would NEVER have guessed that this particular issue was draining me so much but looking back, it seems like that was the biggest problem. Talking through these things in therapy, doing the homework she gave me, and reading the books she recommended clarified a lot of things for me. I saw her a few times a month for maybe two or three months, then monthly for a few more months, by which time things were much better in all the areas that had brought me back into therapy. I had more energy, less irritability, and a better mood on the whole.
My story is partly a plug for therapy as potentially helpful even if you’re not Depressed-Depressed. And also, I wanted to point out that a good therapist/counselor will, as part of their job, try to determine whether what’s going on with you is something that could also benefit from the services of another medical professional. They’ll want to know that you’ve seen your GP to rule out physical problems. If you might be someone who could be Depressed-Depressed, they’ll try to figure that out — they’ll ask you questions, probably at your first visit, or maybe give you a little test of some kind — and perhaps suggest you talk to a psychiatrist if that’s appropriate. You as a non-professional do not have to figure out with 100% accuracy whether you need help in order to ask for help!
Unfortunately if you’re in the U.S. getting access to such a person can sometimes be really difficult. If you’re lucky your health insurance will have robust mental health coverage, but many people’s don’t. So here are some ways you (or someone else who’s reading this) can find a person who can help you (NB: I am not a professional in this area! I have had a little formal training — I volunteer for a helpline in my city and have had some training through them — but this is basically what I know from finding help for myself, helping friends find help, and helping folks in my community get help).
* If you’re employed, your employer might offer an Employee Assistance Program. They might have a list of referrals and might offer some free short-term counseling.
* If you’re a student, definitely check with student health. There are probably also some agencies that offer sliding-scale counseling near your school.
* You can ask your doctor for referrals; they should have them. If there’s a free clinic in your area, they probably also have referrals.
* If you’re religious, your church may offer counseling or may know of places in your area that do. (This can range from excellent to horrendous, since denominations vary widely in how much formal training their personnel receive in counseling. But it is an option.)
* Many larger communities offer nonprofit and/or public mental health services; good Google-fu will help you find them, or you can call your friendly neighborhood helpline and see what they know. At least in my area I’ve heard good things about the quality of services but they are difficult to get into because there’s a lot more demand than supply.
* And then there are private psychologists/counselors/therapists/etc. Some of these do not accept insurance of any kind. Some are great; some are less great. Some are great but not great for you. You might look here for more info: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-ethical-therapist/201005/i-m-shopping-psychotherapist-what-should-i-look
Anyhow, sorry for the super-long comment but I do hope this is helpful.
A fixed picture of ‘what depression looks like’ is one of the most unhelpful things you can have – the question isn’t ‘do you fit into this template’ but ‘are you struggling with your mood/energy levels/attitude and want to change but can’t’?
This was brilliant and my oh my am I caught in the creative low mood cycle right now. I tried to get out of it by wriing a blog I’m proud of but my jerk brain does ted to swoop in and sneer “it’s just distracting you from REAL writing!” To shit on my accomplishments. But I can deal with him seperately and I at least feel like I’m working on something. It helps 🙂
This is all really comforting l, basically and I love the illustrations! Good work
Would it be possible to describe the graphics/pictures you made?
Eg: on this graphic is a sad gray blob that says: _______
So reading programs could ‘read’ out the picturedescription for people who cannot see (well) so that barrier could be lowered.
You are so good at promoting accessibility! Thank you for your voice!
I’ll be adding alt texts with image descriptions tomorrow, but – I admit this readily – it’s something I really struggle with, so please feel free to comment further.
This site has good ideas how to help improve acessability for people with different kinds of seeing impairment.
ALT s are helpful for search engines too.
Another good idea might be to give users the possibility to change the size of the texts-so that people which mifght have problems reading with glasses can see/read it better.
This is so brilliant and so helpful for me right now. I’ve had a terrible few months and had a huge breakdown at my shrink’s last week. Full on “but I’m so uuuuuuuseless and I need to doooooo things and I don’t do aaaaaanything and it’s all JUST TOO MUCH!!” What my shrink said (and I’m paraphrasing here cos he didn’t do swearing) was:
Do a little thing.
Fuck the other things. Forget about them. You did a thing. Be proud of it.
I’m currently keeping note of my little things. Yes, there is still a huge list of stuff to do, but I’ve crossed something off and that’s better than before, when all I could do was look at the list and panic and hate myself because it existed.
Thank you Elodie! I’ve been in a low mood for a while now and this post has such perfect timing for me.
This is a great and wonderful post, Elodie. The most helpful bit for me was thinking about getting motivation from doing tasks which are good for you to do, not which would get approval from others as Worthwhile Things. I had only been seeing the latter as valid tasks to get motivation from.
Earlier I was putting off the idea of lunch. Although I had got up and done some work and exercise, I was in a lot of pain due to having gone out yesterday, and my levels of work and exercise were low. I felt that a Normal Person would consider my morning’s achievements poor, especially as I had brought my pain upon myself. Therefore, no lunch for me until I could do something more worthwhile. And if I must eat, I wouldn’t get Nice Things, because I had already lost a morning’s productivity. But after reading your post, I made myself a lunch of pate, crackers, and cherries. This was on the basis that not only am I allowed food as a human being (something I am not always too sure about), it would no doubt give me more of a mood boost to have a delicious lunch (rather than the bits in the fridge which have just started to turn). And it did.
It’s not particularly useful for me to think that all this is coming from my Jerkbrain, because there isn’t an awful lot of non-Jerk brain left. Instead, I have amended your very helpful closing list to say, ‘doing you (if you were another person that you liked); getting good at doing you (assuming you didn’t blame yourself for being sick and disabled)’ and so on. I am going to share your post with several others also.
Also on the pro side of eating your food, no matter what: Your body needs fuel, and especially so when things have been taxing. Go you.
Oh my god, this: “not only am I allowed food as a human being (something I am not always too sure about)”
I struggle with this all. the. time. I am not certain when I started thinking that food was something I should only get when I am being productive or making money. Probably about the time I became self-employed full-time (and not at all coincidentally had to start relying on Partner to buy me food). I thought it was only me who felt that way.
This post was awesome with awesome-sauce, and I need to post it on my fridge or something. Maybe I’ll just cut out some of the pictures. 🙂
It reminded me of a couple of posts I read a while back about procrastination and how to beat it.
I need to cut out some of those pictures, too.
This is an awesome post.
I really enjoyed reading this, but I think I enjoyed the comments more. You guys are ALL really awesome and seriously bring the happy. I will go to work tomorrow and feel good about myself and all the small things I am good at, like rearranging my wine stacks. I own that shit.
Awesome post! And love the drawings!!
One of my tricks to get myself to do some task I don’t want to do right at the moment is to commit to just doing a small piece of it. Frequently, once I get going, I end up feeling good and doing a lot more than just that small piece, and make a lot of progress. This works especially well for large writing projects, like grant applications and research manuscripts.
Reblogged this on Eating Monsters and commented:
A fantastic post from the crew at Captain Awkward.
Elodie, this was so. damn. funny. Seriously, awesomely funny. I’ve seen all this stuff before, but never presented in a format that made me care in any way. Your take was so good I was calling my husband over to the screen to laugh at your diagrams. And it made me think in a way those dry textbook diagrams never did. Superhero stuff indeed. 🙂
This is amazing!!
I really need a “Housepet of the Party” (with illustration and caption) T-shirt, STAT!!!
I love this! I shall think of myself as an adorable blob monster now 🙂 Two things that help me with jerkbrain:
* On my daily to do list, I have “clean a thing”. Just one thing. That pencil on the desk that you’re not using right now? Pick it up and put it in the pencil cup/drawer/whatever (it doesn’t have a real home and this is stressful? Pass it by and pick up that sock on the couch instead.). You have now cleaned a thing! At least half the time that will give my mood the jump-start it needs to go do other useful stuff, but even if I’m still cranky something is put away that wouldn’t have been otherwise, which is useful ammunition when jerkbrain says I never do anything useful.
* One particularly insidious little thing my brain will do, which I’m curious if it’s at all common for depression, is that I will put off doing things because doing things once feels like a commitment to do them all the time, and that thought is overwhelming. Reminding myself that I am only doing this *today* is extremely useful.
One particularly insidious little thing my brain will do, which I’m curious if it’s at all common for depression, is that I will put off doing things because doing things once feels like a commitment to do them all the time, and that thought is overwhelming.
Ohhhh my godddddd this. Wow, I have literally never thought of it that way and it is so true for me. I do have a history of depression, BTW, though correlation/causation etc.
Me too, almost. Except mine is “if I get up for five minutes and do a thing, I will be obligated to keep going until thing is done even if it takes the next ten hours and I can’t possibly do that so I won’t get up at all.”
Oh, man, I never thought about your second point that way, but it explains something about my depression: Sometimes I will have a good day where I Did The Things and Succeeded, and the next day the high will have worn off and I’m exhausted. It never felt like it was because I’d overexerted myself, so I couldn’t figure out how success could be exhausting. Maybe it’s this phenomenon you describe! If I have Done Things, I feel like now I have no excuse to Not Do Things. I will try using mindfulness and doing things for today and see if it helps!
1) This is a fucking fantastic piece of writing!
2) After a lot of thinking over the last few months, “but all my friends and house mates are lovely, there *aren’t* any assholes in my life”, I realised that it’s *me* who is the asshole.
Not to others (when I’m thinking clearly, I’m reasonably sure I’m mostly great to be around), but to myself: always telling myself that the thing I’ve just done would have been done better by someone else; if something goes wrong, I should have planned so that it didn’t. Just picking apart and critiquing *everything*. For example, “a competent person wouldn’t have dropped a sock on the way to the washing machine, what a hopeless bellend you are”, or, “that conversation had some confusion in it for a moment, why can’t you just SPEAK CLEARLY YOU INSENSITIVE GIT”.
I’d never talk to anyone else like this; if I did I would be the worst kind of bully. So I shouldn’t talk to myself like this – I’m my friend too! So lately, I’ve been trying really hard to be pleased when I do things. And happy that I’ve noticed improvements that can be made *next time* (time permitting). And remind myself why I’m great, and why my friends like me.
So, love yourself as you love your neighbour!
3) The grey blob mocking its past pink self is brilliant!
I have found the Monstertalk lady invaluable with this kind of thing (monstertalk.co.uk). It’s nice when the voices in your head stop screaming at you.
This is wonderful and you are wonderful, Elodie Under Glass. I mean, obviously, everyone said that, but it needs to keep being said. I will be linking to this a lot!
I am trying out HabitRPG as a result of this comment thread, and I wonder if there are enough Awkwardeers using it that it would be cool to have a Captain Awkward/Awkwardeer guild? I dunno if that would be useful and welcome but…anyone interested?
@Felicity: I use Habit RBG! I would love a guild of awkwardeers!
Awesome Eloide, just awesome. I didn’t know how much I needed to read this, until I read it and the comments and then read it again..
so now I am going to do two things..
1-set a fruit fly trap for the actual non-metaphoric ones in my kitchen..
2-unfuck a little of my habitat…the christmas decorations, which made is as far as the room upstairs, are about to get shipped, so too are the medieval re-enactment garb…shipped all the way…
This fascinates me. I don’t know how well I can do it, but I need to try. Like the clean laundry needs folding and put away instead of living in the basket. And the cat boxes probably need scooping. No, the cat boxes definitely need scooping, and then maybe after the folding and the scooping, I can do the pudding thing. Although I’ll wash my hands first.
I think what I keep running into is that thing that says “but even after I do the things, there are still so many other things to do, and they never stop, because life doesn’t stop, and wah.” It frequently feels like I’m on a hamster wheel, since all of the things I need to accomplish are things that need to happen over and over again anyway, and I have no things to accomplish that can stay accomplished. It sounds really whiney and stupid writing it out, and it feels like all the other people do these repeating things naturally without anxiety (even though I know that’s not true, it’s just my jerkbrain talking). So doing the things. Yes. I will try this, and stop rambling on a blog comments section.
I struggle with these feelings too! And I love it that you put them into words and I don´t think this is whiney and stupid, I think this is honest and that it is really hard to do all the things over and over again all the time.
I have a way of tricking myself into doing things that works (for me) when I´m stuck in the spiral of impossibility. I say to myself: Self, you can write/read/clean dishes/fold laundry for ten minutes. After that you can enjoy the pudding of getting shit done. You can do anything for ten minutes!
This often kickstarts me into doing more writing/reading/grading/housework/whatever and if not, that´s ok! Then I have the pudding (which in my case is knitting or reading trashy feel-good books) and try again with the ten minute plan later.
If I´m in a particularly low mood I make it a rule to do one thing every time I get up. I take something to the trash, fold five towels, put the glass I was drinking out of away, just one tiny thing every time I get up.
I loved your comment and offer you jedi hugs should you want them and the fact that some days the bar I set for myself as a functional adult is: Clean my teeth twice.
“why won’t it stay clean?” / “it’s just going to get dirty again in a few hours” was one of the things that often stopped me from keeping my kitchen clean enough to use without washing dishes before making dinner, until I got stressed enough about the mess that I made a big production out of cleaning it, which took way more energy than necessary because it came along with self-flagellation for letting it get that dirty in the first place.
What finally (seems to have) gotten me past that was the bite-size cleaning method http://bitesizedcleaning.dreamwidth.org/
The core parts of it that worked for me were:
* imagine a professional cleaner has been through and your place is sparkling. What do you need to do every day to keep it that way? Do just that; don’t worry that it isn’t perfectly sparkling either before or after. It will get cleaner over time. (This has turned out to be a remarkably short list, and mine typically takes me less than 5 minutes a day. More like 2 or 3 minutes.)
* I don’t have to do it all at once. If something hasn’t been cleaned today, that’s ok and doesn’t make me a bad person.
* I don’t have to do it perfectly every time. A quick swipe with a damp cloth is good enough, I don’t have to move everything on the counters every day to consider them “wiped”.
My backbrain found the Sims incredibly helpful for this. It’s not that great a game, particularly in its current incarnation, but if you can borrow it for a day, it might do the trick: yes, your Sims have to eat and go to the bathroom and sleep. If they don’t, they lead really miserable lives. And it clicked for me in a way that real life didn’t: yes, all these things take time and energy, but they’re necessary, and you can only put them off for so long. (Some of them you can farm out to batch cooking and cleaners. Sleeping and showering you need to do yourself.)
I’m finding it much, much easier to do stuff around the house now that I live with a considerate partner: *I* might not mind papers all over the floor, but I don’t want _them_ to live in chaos; I want to keep our home nice: the dishes done, the surfaces wiped, the rubbish taken out in time. And I wish I’d realised sooner that doing that one extra thing around the house was an act of _being nice to myself_ and that I, too, totally deserve to not face a mountain of dirty dishes.
Delurking so I can be the nth person to tell you how completely amazing and wonderfully written and illustrated this post is!
And, I wanted to say something about realigning your thoughts. I had a period of depression as a teenager where I was very convinced that the whole concept of reframing the way I thought about something was complete bullshit. I thought I’d just be deluding myself, and I’d end up that girl who thinks she has friends when in fact everyone is making it very clear that they don’t like her, or who thinks she’s good at something when in fact all the signs are there that she’s terrible at it, and so on. And in fairness, sometimes people’s suggestions in this area really are unrealistic, like when a boy rejects you outright and your mom’s all, “Maybe he’s just really intimidated by how beautiful and awesome you are!” But, luckily I did eventually figure out that:
1) Just because some suggestions for reframing your thoughts are dumb or unrealistic does not mean they all are. For any scenario that you’ve interpreted negatively, if you take a second to think about it there are pretty much always many other possible interpretations that are not as terrible and are still perfectly plausible.
2) If you make the effort to be just as critical of your jerkbrain’s interpretations as you are of putting an overly positive spin on things, you’ll find that your jerkbrain’s interpretations are just as unrealistic if not more so.
3) If you find it hard to accept a more positive interpretation of something that’s upset you, another approach can be to remind yourself of how completely uncertain your jerkbrain’s interpretation is. It’s just one of many possibilities and you don’t actually know that it’s right. (This is more relevant in scenarios where it’s not possible to use your words to figure out what actually is going on, like an interaction with a stranger that’s long over but still bothering you.)
Yes – thank you for saying this. It can be so hard to contradict your jerkbrain sometimes because OF COURSE that person blew you off because they loathe and despise you, period flat, end of discussion. What’s helped me in therapy, and on the flip side, as a therapist working with clients feeling down, is to challenge the notion that I am a mindreader and automatically know someone else’s thoughts. And then having someone ask “What else could it possibly be?” And just having space to think of the other possibilities. They were sick, or just didn’t feel like hanging out because maybe they were down too, hey I get that way sometimes and I’d want someone else to understand, etc etc. Considering other possibilities is a great way to send our jerkbrain into the corner to think about what it’s done.
This is an amazing post, and one that I needed so badly right now. I’m sorry to hear that so many others are going through this, because it sucks, but it’s also comforting to know that I’m not alone.
I’ve been struggling with periods of creative low moods for the past 6 years. I always loved to draw as a kid and I was always encouraged by my parents and teachers, but when I began art school, I developed such an intense fear of failure and judgment that it overrode any desire to create anything. I got stuck in a vicious cycle that would last weeks or months at a time: I’d avoid drawing because it made me anxious, I’d stagnate and get rusty from lack of practice, and then I’d lose my confidence and avoid picking up a pencil for as long as I could. The stress and self-loathing I felt was compounded further by the fact that I was surrounded by people (in real life and in artist communities online) who were amazingly productive and dedicated, whose passion was stronger than any self-doubts they may have had. It made me feel defective, weak, lazy, and ashamed of myself.
I’ve been attempting to break out of my most recent cycle, which has lasted almost a year. I’m so afraid that these past 6 years of inconsistency have sealed my fate, that I’ve already screwed myself over and that I’ll never be able to bounce back and become a successful, happy, professional creative person. It can be so overwhelming. I’ve just been accomplishing little things, one at a time, trying to regain my confidence and start having fun again, letting things be imperfect and trying to be okay with that.
I wish I could go back in time and read this post, instead of internalizing all the crummy, unhelpful non-advice I got in school (“Just work harder! Just be more disciplined! If you were really meant to be an artist, you wouldn’t let yourself get so discouraged! If you’re not practicing for 12 hours a day then why even bother?”) but I can’t. I don’t know why I ended up with a self-sabotaging jerkbrain but it’s reassuring to know that I can fight it, and that I’m not the only person who has felt this way.
THE PICTURES, I AM PEEING MY PANTS.
Thank you for this post, Elodie! Your use of metaphor is spot-on, as always.
The post has come at a good time for me; I’m slogging through a lot of Life Stuff at the moment and just getting started wrt projects et al has been so difficult for me. Thank you, again and again!
A wonderful post! I wanted to make sure that people know that Unfuck Your Habitat is a thing – which is to say it’s:
1. a tumblr, http://unfuckyourhabitat.tumblr.com/ where people post their own stories with before/after pix, and the blogger posts challenges and lists and thoughts, etc);
2. and it’s a webpage, http://www.unfuckyourhabitat.com/ where you can search for tips and fundamentals,
and it’s even
3. an app (unfilth your habitat because the app folks don’t like cursing in the names of things)!
4. The UnFYH person has also written specifically about depression also: http://www.unfuckyourhabitat.com/2013/04/13/the-depressionmessy-house-cycle/
In short, it’s a lovely set of platforms and info complementing Elodie’s fabulous work here.
UFYH also has a ‘no excuses’ credo, which I find very helpful because it helps me remember that I Am A Grownup Now and I can define/figure out for myself if something holding me back is a genuine Reason or just an Excuse. The lady with no hair receiving the suggestion “paint your nails” reminded me of that, actually. My house is still messy as fuck, but I like the idea that there are internet strangers who would be proud of me for putting away five things, so I follow UFYH.
Wow! You know all of my things as well as I do! That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.
I need a Folder of Excellence! I like to look at nice things people have said about me or my writing–but mostly they are hidden in my massive files of people saying ordinary/practical/less nice things about me or my writing. So if I am convinced that I suck and my writing is bad it is very hard to remember This Was the Thing I Did Well and go find the nice thing someone said. Five decades on this green earth and it honestly had never occurred to me until now that I can collect these things and put them in one place so that I can look at them ANY TIME I WANT.
Housepet of the party = SO VERY ME. Fortunately, the parties at my place tend to get a few other housepets, and we all tend to gravitate to the back room for YouTube and snuggles while all the extroverts are busy with the happy rowdy beer pong thing.
Thank you SO much for this post. I… don’t really know where to start in explaining why it’s relevant to me right now, but I wanted you to know that it is exactly what I needed to read right now.
YOU ARE A GOOD PERSON THANK YOU FOR COMMENTING AND SHARING YOUR LIGHT WITH US
I really needed this post, especially today. Thank you so much.
YOU ARE OKAY AND I LIKE YOU A LOT
Reblogged this on paper by the ton and commented:
Absolutely, 100 percent this.
NOW KISS! I am so going to make my socks kiss tonight
Tomorrow, I SHALL GO FORTH AND ALL THE PUDDING! (Actually, just a little, for starters.) Thank you for sharing this.
I have responded to this post and reading through the comments full of people encouraging each other by pulling up my metaphorical socks and emailing the florist the confirmation I’d been putting off. The wedding is in three weeks, but my fiancee and I have both been scared of actually committing to spending money, which is a bit rubbish of us. Yesterday I sent the email to the kilt-hire place and wrote letters to my aunts (with a dip pen! and ink!), and today I emailed the florist.
I find communicating with people terrifying, particularly when I am asking them to do something (even ‘come to my wedding?’, which they presumably *want* to be asked to do!), so this is scary and hard. But every thing that I do (on Sunday I delegated a hard thing to trustworthy people!) makes me feel more capable of dealing with more of the things that have felt impossible.
Go you!! Weddings are hard, no joke. You’re doing great!
Thanks for writing this. I needed this today. It helped.
This post wins at all the things. Thank you for taking the time to write up and share what you learned OH AND ILLUSTRATE IT WITH PIZAZZ AND AWESOME. So, so helpful.
Sometimes the Pudding of Getting Shit Done is Not Enough Pudding. This creates a dilemma: get shit done anyway and suffer with a pudding deficit that gets worse and worse as time moves on? Or blow shit off and suffer from an ever-greater pile of shit you are behind on?
One of two things needs to change–either you need Better Pudding or Less Shit.
For me, gaming is great pudding when I have lots of free time. But gaming is most fun when it is immersive. So if I have lots of Shit to get Done, gaming can be dissatisfying, because I can game for an hour and feel like I was just getting started and haven’t had any fun yet. If I am busy, gaming has to be set aside, and I have to eat a different flavor of pudding. Another hazardous pudding flavor is fun-but-fatiguing activities (music festivals, for example) when I am already tired.
Less Shit can involve all sorts of adjustments. Of course most people have Mandatory Shit. But sometimes we miss opportunities. Most of us also make Shit-Reduction moves which we just take for granted. But the ones we use are invisible and ordinary to us, while the ones we never thought of can come as a revelation. I’ve seen people be stunned and relieved to hear that it is okay to put the cat food on a paper plate. My own favorite Shit Reduction method is that I buy primarily clothes that do not require any special laundering (mostly all-cotton stuff). The few things that require special treatment, I wear only on special occasions. Obviously for some people that would be a sacrifice. For me it’s not. But many people who wouldn’t want to go as far as I did could still buy some no-fuss clothes as a backup for when complicated laundry is Too Complicated. Reducing our library was also a Shit Reduction move that my husband and I made. Trust me, we both love books and would love to own All The Books. But at some point they became a burden. Now we use a combination of the local library and e-readers to keep things sane.
I loved this post and it was very helpful!
On the topic of microaggressions-that-I-hope-won’t-ruin-my-day, though, could you please not refer to contraceptives as ‘anti-baby pills’? Because babies are awesome, and getting to decide whether babies will show up in you being small and needy through absolutely no fault of their own is also awesome! And no one should be anti-baby because being against another human being because of their age or lack of ability or state of dependency is an adultist microagression, and I’d appreciate it if you’d avoid it.
And I totally understand if you ‘didn’t mean it that way’ but it would still be cool if you didn’t use that kind of language.
*Big freaking lightbulb*
So… doing some basic minimum of decluttering and dish-washing is self-care for Present!Me, because it makes me feel like I’m getting stuff done, and self-care for Future!Me, because I get to come home to a clean place at the end of the day?
And not just something that I have to do to pacify the internal parental voice which can never be pacified?
I hear “Lightbulb” in Gru’s voice. Liiiiightbuuuuulb!
Reblogged this on Being a Beautiful Mess and commented:
This is fantastic! ☺
This post is filled with awesome and genius and reading it has made my soul more beautiful.
Tomorrow, I shall clean out the post-roadtrip car, unpack my bag, paint my toenails, and do my eyebrows, so that my world and I will also be more beautiful, as that will set my beautiful soul off more beautifully.
Also, I am quite good at writing alt tags and captions and will happily help with them if pinged.
So I love this post and I think it makes a lot of sense. But my problem is that this is TOO true. I know that getting stuff done makes me feel better, so I have slowly morphed into a person who cannot leave any task undone. I can’t relax as long as there’s a dish in the sink or my tub needs to be scrubbed. It started off as feeling a little better when I got something done, and turned into needing to have everything done to feel ok.
Anyone else? Thoughts on this?
It sounds as if you’re not getting enough Pudding. Or expecting your internal state to be all the Pudding you need. Sometimes you have to remember that the pudding is also an Important Thing To Do.
Maybe try scheduling time when you’re not allowed to do anything you don’t enjoy? And then plan for it, look forward to it, do things you really like *no matter what* (except floods, fire and blood) needs attending to when that time comes around.
Once you’ve been doing that for a few weeks and it’s going well, maybe think about establishing Minimum Standards Of Getting Stuff Done (e.g. “I need clean clothes for tomorrow, acceptable food for tomorrow, a kitchen fit to prepare it in, a comfy bed to sleep in, and a clean body”) and give yourself permission to stop after you hit your MSOGSD for the day, if you want or need to?
If these things don’t sound like they’ll help, that’s fine. If they do sound food, and you want to try them, and then it’s really hard, this next bit is for that:
If trying to do these things causes you so much distress you have to stop trying, or you realise that you decided to try these things a week ago but you keep putting it off, it may be time to ask for help: from a friend or family member who can remind and praise you when you do these things, or, if that doesn’t help, from your doctor or a counsellor.
Not only is this post wonderful, but all the comments are wonderful and positive. This may be the most beautiful part of the internet right now. It is full of wonderful, amazing people saying and doing wonderful, amazing things. Sharing their flaws and fears and assuring one another that their flaws and fears don’t make them any less awesome. I almost cried, seriously.
I didn’t get to the comments until now, many many hours later, because I got halfway through this article and got up to Do Some Stuff. Yesterday and today have been horrible, rage-filled days with lots of anxiety and anger. I was seething when I sat down at my computer, feeling like I wanted to throw things, anything, all the things. I do not usually get quite that angry, but there’s been a bunch of change in my life lately and some external circumstances are ganging up on me and BOY WAS I IN A LOW MOOD. It felt like all the things were going wrong and the whole world was awful and I was awful and shame shame spiral shame awful spiral spiral awful awful shame awful anger shame rage spiral anger shame *flops on floor and lies there forever*
So anyway, the internet is usually a horrible place to be when in the shamerageawfulanger place, but LO, I began reading this. I kinda looked over my shoulder. Who is that, spying on me and writing about me? Is my alarm system not armed? What is this?!
At some point into the article I basically stood up and internally yelled YEAHHHHHHHHHHH (and also, “BABIES EVERYWHERE!!!!” – Nutrigrain ‘I feel great’ ad, yo) and started throwing 5-year-old socks away. YEAHHHHH FUCK YOU SOCKS I AM THROWING YOU AWAY I HAVE NOT WORN YOU IN HALF A DECADE. YEAHHHHHH. And then found the mountain of prescription paper printouts the drugstore insists on giving me that have all my info on them that I need to shred but do not and then kind of pile them up and hide them and feel guilty. I RIPPED THOSE MOTHERFUCKERS UP. AND THREW THEM IN THE RECYCLING BIN! YEAAAAAHHHHHHH! And then hubby got home and he too had had a bad day just like yesterday so we cuddled and talked and then took the bathroom door off the hinges and shower rod down (part of reason for bad mood: goddamn bird will not fly to his perch to poop, he keeps landing on bathroom door or rod and sending poop showers everywhere) and I cleaned up the bird room and got rid of nesty-inspiring stuff that is making bird misbehave. YEAHHHHH.
AND I ATE A BURGER AND FRIES OF GETTING SHIT DONE. And took a shower of getting shit done. And then sat down at the computer and did some reading of getting shit done.
And now I am making a comment of getting shit done.
THANK YOU FOR ALL OF THIS. I will keep coming back here for all the positivity and the reminders. Because today went from … I HATE THE ENTIRE WORLD AND EVERYTHING IN IT to holy shit wow some things kinda stopped sucking a little and maybe tomorrow is gonna be a lot better! If nothing else, the bird room is cleaner and I personally am sparkly clean!
Much love and thanks!!
Wooooo! Elodie, I love you and your writing! Also, your pictures are the bestest. I love the housepet caption the msot. 🙂
Also, thank you for explaining the low mood cycle and disruption tricks in a way that makes so much more sense than the uni counselling workshops did. The fruit-flies thoughts analogy was great too.
Right now, I am going to go do several things: 1/ brush hair, 2/ brush teeth 3/ make tea 4/ start a bit of thesis writing.
I am also considering a Poster of Daily Excellence above my desk.
Much love, as always, to our awesome selves
What a positive wonderful place you have all created here. Thank you. And now I will go do something : )
Reblogged this on Laughter: Carbonated Grace and commented:
Loved this, cause “Been there; done that.” It sounds simplistic, but actually is a good tool to break habitual cycles. Also, something a teen-ager can relate to well enough to use it. When I used to get trapped in a bad cycle of “I hate my boring life and I hate my selfish boring self,” I put slips of paper in three glasses. One glass labeled, Boring Necessary Tasks. The second labeled, Kindnesses to Others. And the third named, Attempts at Creativity or Totally Worthless Fun. I had two sets of these: Level One involved only a tiny bit of energy and time for each suggestion. Level Two took a larger investment of both.
On struggling through mud swamp days, I started with Level One and then moved on to Level Two. (Or not.)
This was wonderful. You’re all wonderful.
Oh my goodness. No, YOU. You are wonderful. You help TOO MANY people.
This post is made of awesome and you are awesome and everyone who is commenting is awesome. This hit me right where I’ve been stuck lately. There was a Thing that I was putting off because it was uncomfortable and potentially bad news for a very dear person and I had been putting it off for so long that it had built itself up into a Big Scary Thing of Scariness and Also Shame and Anxiety Rawrr and I was frozen. By golly, I did the Thing (the Thing was an email I had been neither writing nor sending) and suddenly all that energy that had been locked up was unblocked and I have been Getting Shit Done like you wouldn’t believe, y’all. And I felt that way from the second I hit send, even before the dear person let me know that everything was cool and we were cool, and now I feel it even more, and today has also been a day of Getting Shit Done. elodieunderglass, you are an amazing human and you rock at being you!
YOU DID IT! YOU SENT THE EMAIL!
Look at this incredible human being here. LOOK AT THIS.
This is well-written and fun and I’m sure it will help a lot of people.
It’s not helpful for me, and I wanted to leave a comment about that, in case other people read this and feel bad because this advice doesn’t work for them.
There are a lot of neurotransmitters involved in depression. It’s not just about serotonin, the one usually targeted by antidepressants. There are others, and none of them are understood all that well, but it seems as if there are specific chemicals associated with the feeling of “Yay! I did the thing!” or “I won!” and if you’re low on those chemicals, you could climb a mountain and win the lottery and you wouldn’t feel much about it.
I used to hate myself because I never exercised. With the help of therapy and antidepressants, I managed to exercise more, until I was exercising at least 40 minutes, 3-4 days a week, or more, keeping it up for 6 months. Throughout, I was using an app to monitor my moods, which stayed at the same low level the whole time.. And I got no sense of accomplishment out of it. It was hard, and afterward I’d tell myself, hey, I did that hard thing, that’s good, right? But I never felt any sense of reward. I’d tell my therapist and friends that I worked out for 30, 40, 60 minutes, but even when they congratulated me, I couldn’t feel satisfied or proud about it.
I hated myself because I was overweight, so my doctor and I adjusted my meds and came up with a few eating habit changes, and I lost 30 lbs. I told everyone I knew and got a lot of compliments. I kept expecting to feel proud or happy about it, but I didn’t.
I hated myself because I was long-term unemployed, because people would ask what I’d been up to and I’d just have to say, “Nothing.” Then I was offered a job, I interviewed, I got it and started working. At last, when people asked me what I’d been up to, I could say “I got a job” and “I’m doing XYZ at my job.” Guess how I felt about it? Not satisfied or proud. It was good not to dread work questions anymore, but all I registered was the absence of embarrassment. Nothing positive. Achievements at work only give me a little sense of relief that the task is over, no happiness or pleasure, and my feelings about myself are as rock-bottom as they were when I was 30 lbs heavier and unfit and unemployed.
Whatever that “yay” thing or chemical is in the brain, I lack it, so attempts to break the low mood cycle just send me into a downward spiral instead. I work hard to accomplish things that are supposed to make me feel better about myself, but they don’t. So instead of hating myself for all the previous reasons, I hate myself because my brain is broken, and after all, it’s so easy– it just takes a tiny behavioral activation to start making a difference and breaking the cycle, right?
Not always. Not for everyone.
I feel you so hard! I’ve been there, and it sucks so much. I’m fortunate in that a cocktail of drugs has given me my “yay thing” back in my brain. I assume you are trying all the things and have explored lots of drug avenues but in case this is helpful: for me none of the SSRIs did much of anything, but SNRIs, that work on norepinephrine (and to a small extent dopamine) more than serotonin, have given me (some of) my life back.
It sounds like you are in a low mood that is actually much lower than the low moods talked about here (not your fault! Can’t force your brain to be different just by wishing!). Been there, somehow got out of it, but it was very fucking hard and I felt really bad. Again, I don’t think there is any blame to be put on you. You do what you need to do and hopefully, in your future there lies something that your brain will react to (in my case, I had to change where I was living because it wasn’t good for me + therapy). I wish you good luck with finding it.
This is exactly what I’ve been needing to hear lately. Thank you. I am printing this out and putting it on the pudding in my cabinet.
So I have spent the day so far being in bad, must write an e-mail but too anxious to do it mood. I was just there wandering around the Internet and feeling anxious, when I remembered this and said to me “so Elodie says that if I do the dishes, I will feel better”. It seemed totally foolish and I did not give it a try before 2 hours. And then I said to me, well why not ? the current startegy does not work, anyway.
I did the dishes while crying a little, then had enough energy to take a shower, and then to dress, put some make-up and put a load on. I don’t know if I feel much better now, I mean I still have to send the e-mail to my boyfriend which I find incredibly anxiety-provoking because my brain is like “what? you are about to love someone ? Remember it can lead to 3 events a)the person you love force you into being another person than the one you are out of fear that she will not love you anymore, b) she abandons you, c) she dies. Alarm bell ! Alarm bell ! Alarm bell !”, and also, I am afraid I might despise him because he is not an intellectual person and I am ? and then I despise me for maybe despising him ?
but at least, you know, I am dressed up an my teeths are brushed.
Thank you so much for writing this! The first time I read it, I was all, nah, that doesn’t apply to *my* very special problems. But then I think it percolated in the background, because the day before yesterday, I suddenly found the gumption to do a cardio workout! This is a big deal because I have a lot of shame tied up in my lack of cardio fitness, where the fact that I’m out of shape isn’t just a fact, it’s the big shining neon sign flashing my fatness and unworthiness to the world. But alone in my basement, I got on the stationary bike and pedaled that fucker at a speed I could manage, and when I was done I felt proud and good! And then I did it again last night! And Elodie, you’re right, I don’t have to solve all my problems at once, I can just get on the bike and ride for a bit and that alone is an accomplishment. Go me!
HOLY SHIT THANK YOU for this. wow. shit. I think I’ve been dealing with Low Mood Cycle for, like, over a year and didn’t realize that’s what it was? I’ve just been so terrified, constantly, that Good Me The One I Like is gone forever and I’ve ruined everything (read: my ambitions, my friendships, my grades, my life) by being Not Right for so long. I was afraid it was much worse but apparently this is a thing that happens? and it’s not life-ruining? THANK GOD.
now I just have to figure out how to apply this advice. ha. (no but really, thank you)
Gods, I really hope it’s not life-ruining. I have been Not Right for two and a half, and lost two sets of roommates and two best friends. I am completely functional — job full-time that I like and grad school and clean house and happy cat. And pills that work some and a wonderful therapist who’s been really amazing. And through it all I have been Not Right and think I might have ruined all my friendships. I keep reading the posts about don’t go out and make friends, go out and talk to people and look! Talking to people happened and it was a thing and yay! And I go out and talk to people when I can find time between classes, and then I go talk to more people, and no one calls and no one emails and no one reaches out. I honestly think if I told work I was going on vacation for two weeks, no one else would notice. I’m a shy extrovert and so I need people and I can’t talk to people, and the people I used to talk to didn’t want to deal with the Not Right (and I was really awful to some of them because of the Not Right). And once I got the Not Right down to manageable and quiet levels, I used my words and told new people that “I want to be better friends”. And none of it works and I am Not Right and I have no close friends and I am so terrified that jerk-brain is right and none of it is ever going to change.
Gods, please don’t make it life-ruining.
My counselor and I love this piece. Lots of stuff I’m working on, and your humor and PICTURES are just so fucking amazing that I did the thing, and then another.
Reblogged this on Sara.Stark.Writes and commented:
I have a difficult time dealing with motivation, especially with my writing. This is a long article, but well worth the read. The author does a nice job of making what could be a bunch of boring facts into a fun read. I love the “unfuck a very small portion of your habitat”. I plan on keeping that in mind and employing the sentiment as much as possible.
“Motivation comes after action,” the course leaders said a few times, so that we really got it. The idea is to get yourself into a nice cycle of self-esteem and self-reinforcement, starting with small things.”
This is so close to the truth of how I feel. I am so in the low mood cycle. But comforting to know there is someone out there who can put this into words and make sense of it all! Thank you.
I shall forever after attack my sock drawer with the intent of shipping socks. Thanks for this.
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