Everything’s Hard When You Hate Yourself: Productivity while Depressed

hate yourself

I have a chronic form of depression called dysthymia. It’s described as a long-term, milder form of depression (as opposed to a “Major depression” which is intense and can last from 4 months to 2 years). However, tell someone with dysthymia that their condition is “mild” and you’re likely to get a hearty “FUCK YOU.” The difference between chronic and major depression is the difference between having a hole shot through your hand with a gun, or slowly bored through you with a rusty spoon. Yes. It’s so much milder.

Dysthymia cannot be cured. You learn to treat it, to manage it, but you don’t have hope of someday getting back to “normal.” A dull, low-grade ache of depression is my normal, and accepting that is a big part of learning to live with it.

So, when it comes to approaching things like productivity, writing, starting a business, etc. most of the helpful blogs and books are very discouraging. “Just do it! Just get your butt in the chair and work hard!” seems to be a recurring theme. “Plan your goals, schedule your time, and put forth effort.”

So what do I do when there are days – sometimes even weeks – when I cannot “just work hard,” when getting out of bed and feeding myself is about the most I’m going to get done that day, when that looming schedule of things I Have to Do causes so much guilt, shame, fear, and self-hatred that it does more harm than good?

I ranted about this on twitter recently and was recommended two good articles (here and here) which were a great starting point for me, but it took a lot more introspection and planning before I found something that worked for me. And I’m going to share with you in case someone might also benefit from this.

There’s 7 main parts to this: accept the situation, set (flexible) goals, try things out, keep detailed records, get to know yourself, forgive your failures, revise your plans, and celebrate your successes.

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Goal Planning and Time Management

I did some serious soul-searching this week regarding my writing and what direction I wanted it to take. For months it’s seemed like I’m barely keeping up with my projects, let alone able to write regularly. I’ve known for years that I have terrible time management skills, but recently I’ve been taking on a lot and the lack of those skills was starting to seriously stress me out. So I did some research into how I could fix this.

Some of the suggestions were obvious things that I’m just not doing, and a lot of them were just “buckle down and actually do the work.” Something I definitely have trouble with. 😉 But basically, the articles I was reading (more or less everything on the first 2 pages of a google search for “time management skills”) said to think hard about what you want out of life, especially life in the next couple of years. Make a list of measurable goals  then break those down into smaller and smaller (measurable) pieces. So for example, if you want to get out of debt, your long-term measurable goal might be “pay off both credit cards.” Your smaller pieces might be “Pay off $500, $1k, $2k.” Each month, create a list of goals that you want to accomplish that will further your greater goals, and every week, craft a to-do list that directly affects those goals. Anything that doesn’t 100% support and further those goals… they are 2ndclass priorities. You have to get your goal-oriented work done before you can work on the 2nd class priorities (if you have time!).

So for my debt example, your monthly goal might be “find a budget that works” and “do 6 hours of overtime at work.” Your weekly goals, then, might be “Do 2 hours of overtime this week,” or “Research how to refinancing works.”

You then make daily to-do lists that are based on your goals. For me, I’m breaking them into “lunch at work” and “at home” and planning one task for each. Work tasks are simple busy work (such as researching refinancing, for example!) and at home tasks are more intensive.

I’m also making sure to schedule lots of relaxation time, since I know my own capabilities and being overwhelmed by stressed or feeling trapped by a to-do list can cause me to cycle into depression and get set back by weeks. With this in mind, I make sure my “at home” tasks are manageable (saving larger tasks for weekends) and that there are least 2 nights a week dedicated solely to laying around and doing nothing.

As part of this goal process, I’ve decided to stop the Bradbury challenge. My intention is to write and publish novels. Short stories are great fun and awesome practice, but writing one a week involves a lot of writing time that I could spend working on my main long-term projects.

Hopefully some of this goal-planning advice is helpful to someone! J