Half read books. Cans of half consumed Diet Coke. Half finished notebooks with half finished ideas scribbled on pages. Half completed projects I meant to start but got distracted or bored or overwhelmed by the amount of energy it would take for me to get to the end result.
Over the last couple of months, I have noticed a trend in my habits. That’s both the curse and the blessing of dealing with a mental illness–you become almost too aware of emotions and physical feeling in the body. At first, I thought hypersensitivity was an amazing gift to inherit from my depression, a silver lining in all the darkness. I quickly found my energy draining, my body aching and my appetite losing its familiar longing to create and accomplish. But lately, my attention has been directed toward my work environment. Getting out of bed Monday through Friday was growing increasingly difficult. I was setting more than the usual number of alarms. I even tried motivating myself with early morning yoga sessions or short runs outside. Maybe the extra exercise would lend me a boost out of this “funk”. Then, I started observing myself at work. Once a to-do task master, I was now becoming irritable and overwhelmed by all the things I could be doing but didn’t have the energy to actually start. I would begin one thing, find it irritating and immediately go on to the next item on the agenda which usually proved to be as equally irritating.
After evaluating my daily routine, I started to research. My creative bursts of energy happened less and less. These were the times I usually barreled through projects with senses of pride and enthusiasm. My extreme highs were met with even lower lows and I gave Bipolar Disorder some consideration. Maybe I had been misdiagnosed. Could I be suffering from ADHD? How did I evolve into this creature of complacency? How did I get like this? And like any depressive, my self-loathing and criticizing flared up.
On Saturday, I paid a visit to my psychiatrist. I cannot tell you enough how brilliant he is. That’s uncommon in the world of mental health, to get a good psychiatrist on the first try. I walked into his office not nearly as bad as I was when I initially started seeing him, but I didn’t want to risk of going down that horrific spiral again. So we sat across from each other, me sharing my observations about my habits and him half smiling, half studying my fidgety behavior. Nobody likes to show vulnerability but it’s the only way I know how to get the appropriate help necessary for me to thrive as a human. I recounted my feelings to him and we decided it would be a good idea to test me for ADHD.
“You’re normal on the scale. No ADHD is present. It is my professional opinion that you are just suffering from a case of adulthood. Everyone has tasks they hate doing. Procrastination is normal. And as for focusing on all the things you didn’t do, try shifting your mindset to focus on all the accomplishments you’ve made so far. Successful people always look at what they didn’t do well versus what they’ve actually achieved.”
Oh, well, that makes sense. So now what?
Well, here’s my action plan (and I think I stole some of these from around the Interwebs):
- Start small. I’m breaking down larger projects into smaller ones. I tend to look at the big picture and then immediately feel overwhelmed because it often feels “too much” for me to handle.
- Set breaks/rewards. My supervisor actually suggested this in a team meeting. For every task you completed, treat yourself to a short walk around the office, a coffee, a BuzzFeed article–whatever! I’m telling myself, “Okay, if I get X things done I’ll walk to Starbucks for a Peppermint Mocha.” It’s often just the right amount of motivation I need to get my ass in gear.
- Know your “peak performance” hours. I tend to work better in the morning but on days when I’m feeling really stressed, I work through as much as I can and do some work in the evening. I’m one of those people that thoroughly enjoys sitting in a coffee shop on a Sunday morning and working on my laptop. Something about being out of the office and wearing an oversize sweater…
- Priorities, people. Ugh, I actually hate this one because I tend to feel like everything or nothing is of the utmost importance. But now, I’m looking at tasks that have earlier deadlines and really are important.
- Finally, don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s true–depressives and anyone else dealing with mental illness work a bit differently than others with a “normal” work ethic. It’s not discrediting us as crappy employees because we are some of the most passionate, creative, hard-working people. We just have to find a way that works for us in order to get things done. Don’t be down on yourself because you feel like you aren’t as awesome as you thought you were. You’re perfectly competent and smart and amazing.
Oh, and Happy Monday!