In addition to knowing your symptoms, you need to identify now what strategies work for you. So, what do you need when you get depressed? Is it faith, is it family, is it friends, is it exercise, is it reading, is it listening to music? Identify these strategies now so that when you see your symptoms, you can spring into action.
The other day, my niece gave me a pleasant surprise visit, and I was really happy to see her. When she hugged me, she said: ‘Tita Jessica, did you know you have toothpaste in your hair?’ And so I’ve learned that toothpaste in hair equals depression. For me, anyway. Know yourself, plan now, don’t wait, be proactive. The best defense is a good offence. In addition to being proactive, we need to understand the concept of urgency.
Urgency is about drowning out wild noise and focusing on what’s the most important. So, let me give you an example of what not to do. In college I had this class called ‘The sociology of crime’. And once in a while, the professor would show us clips from classic mafia movies, like ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Goodfellas’. And so I had this brilliant plan for the midterm. I mean, I thought it was a great plan. And I was going to finish reading the whole textbook, I was going to review all the lecture notes, and I was going to watch all of those mafia movies.
So, the test was on a Tuesday. I reserved Sunday for watching all those mafia movies: ‘Godfather’, ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Casino’ And Sunday came and went, watched all those movies, I reserved Monday for reading the textbook. Monday came, and I woke up depressed. And then I stayed depressed.
So, Tuesday morning came, and I hadn’t read a thing. I went into the exam, and for every question on the test, I kid you not, my answers were: ‘Well, in Goodfellas, Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, he did this,’ or, ‘Lorraine Bracco did that,’ or, ‘According to Vito Corleone’ Wouldn’t it be great if my professor rewarded me for temerity of my answers? He didn’t.
He said while it was great that I had mastered mafia cinema, he would appreciate it if I read the textbook next time. So, obviously, if I had to do it all over again, studying the textbook was a 100, no, maybe a million times more important than watching ‘The Godfather’. Urgency is about being able to understand what is most important and what is most pressing. So, I keep a daily to-do list. If something’s due today, it gets 4 stars, if it’s due tomorrow, 3 stars, sometime this week, 2 stars, next week, 1 star.
And when I’m depressed, I ignore anything that has less than 3 stars. Urgency is also about being able to say no to non-essential tasks. So, meeting your work deadline is essential. The church bake sale is non-essential. When we say yes to everything, we amplify our stress.
One of my friends’ mom, a pastor, says: ‘If you can’t say no, then your yeses mean nothing.’
Third and finally, getting stuff done when you’re depressed is about understanding difficulty. So, when I’m depressed, I label all tasks as a 1, 2 or a 3. If it’s an easy task, it’s a 1. Examples include eating breakfast or taking a shower.
If it’s a moderately difficult task, it’s a 2, and a 3 is reserved for difficult tasks. For example, finishing a paper in college or scheduling an appointment with your child’s teacher, or meeting a difficult work deadline. And when I’m depressed, I focus on finishing all the 1 level tasks first. And every time I cross something off my list, even if it’s taking a shower, I feel empowered and I think: ‘Bipolar, watch out, I’m coming, I got this!’ And as I finish off all the 1 and 2 level tasks, I build the confidence to tackle the 3 level tasks. And you can also help yourself by turning a 3 level task into a 1 level task.
So, I remember a time when I was in my therapist’s office and I told her: You know, I want to exercise because experience has told me that when I exercise, I feel better about my bipolar disorder. But I’m just too depressed to do 30 mins of exercise right now. And she said to me: If you don’t have 30 minutes, can you just give me 10 minutes? That was life-changing advice. So now I aim for 10 minutes. And 10 becomes 20. And 20 minutes becomes 30 minutes.
Today we’ve talked about 3 themes in getting stuff done when you’re depressed. They’re proactiveness, urgency and difficulty. Almost always when I use these strategies, they work. But there are days when the bipolar disorder or the ovarian disease, or the Myasthenia Gravis, or all of the above win. And when that happens, I remind myself of something that I want to share with all of you. I want to share this with anyone listening, who fights depression, or who loves someone that does.
Yes, depression is real. But hope is real. Courage is real. Resilience is real.