I’m climbing out from under the rock of another depressive episode. I currently have about a dozen things on my plate, things I have to do, major things, not minor things. Projects. Ponies, book edits, covers, formatting for print. Things that will take days each. And that’s on top of stuff like keeping my bathroom from looking like the guest toilet in R’lyeh and not burying myself under disposable dinnerware in my bedroom. It’s a neverending cycle, and no matter how I fight, I can’t keep up.
That’s one of the worst things about depression — or, I suppose, any other debilitating condition — you’re not just dealing with your own cycle of broken or not broken, you’re dealing with the everyday outside world, too, and its rhythms, imposed on you with no regard for your level of ability to cope with it. It keeps running. It leaves you to catch up.
And that weight of catching up, the mountain that builds up and you suddenly have to climb, is a thing that can easily drag you back down. I’m doing well right now, I think. But the morass of stuff I have to do keeps piling up, higher and higher, faster than my ability to deal with it, even when I’m functional.
I need to take steps to address that, and I’m working as hard as I can at it — and being humiliated by the fact that sometimes that is not very hard — but the simple truth is that even though I’m doing better lately, I’m overloaded. Things are good now, but I know that they will get bad again, and I truly don’t think I’ll have enough time to clear this workload and deal with incoming work before that happens. I will have to do damage control and muddle along as best I can and pray that the people around me, including the people on whom my continued survival depends, are understanding.
Our concept of disability doesn’t really take these cycles into account. Just because a sick person can do things sometimes doesn’t mean that it’s all fine and dandy during those times. Those are often busy, difficult times, when we try to both clear the backlog of shit that needs to get done, and make some progress moving forward. They are times of normal functioning but not normal workload, and very few of us are equipped with support systems that clear all that work away for us so we can move forward, unimpeded.
That’s why things like laundry, or vacuuming, or lawn maintenance can pile up for me. And by the time I get to it, it’s a much bigger task than it would have been if I’d just been able to take care of it at the outset. The nature of many mental illnesses and other disabilities is that they can not only screw your ability to buckle down and get things done, they can screw up your ability to do just a little here and a little there. One of the signs that I’m doing better is that I’m cleaning up in five-minute spurts a few times a day. That’s an improvement. I’m now stuck with all the work of cleaning up after myself, clearing away the mess left over from all the days I couldn’t do anything. I stop, when I am depressed or ill, but the world goes on around me. And it’s the same for others who have to deal with this shit.
Another frustrating side effect for me is feeling guilty for doing anything fun, anything for myself. Anything that is not productive. Even at my very best, I feel like I don’t do enough. Now, I know that’s bullshit, that the idea that I have to earn my place is bullshit, but it’s an intellectual knowing, not a knowing-in-my-heart knowing. And I know that not being able to work consistently hurts me. It worsens my circumstances. It makes life harder. It makes my odds poorer. And because that scares me, doing things for myself gives me anxiety. Because mostly, all I have the energy to do is low-impact stuff. Stuff that makes me happy when I’m feeling well, but when I’m not, just provides background noise to cancel out the constant depressive roar. So I look like I’m doing bullshit and fucking off, when . . . really . . . that’s all I can do. So when I could choose to do something else and I choose to do what makes me feel good instead (because it’s finally actually making me feel good instead of just whiling away the time), I feel terrible.
I do my best to navigate the web of obligation, guilt, and survival, but it’s hard. I’m having more good days than bad lately, but even on the best of days it’s a lot of work. I’m not miserable today, but I have a hell of a stone to roll uphill, and it sucks that it’s never going away.
I want to be able to wrap this up in a pretty bow. I want to give an answer, or say something supportive.
All I can say is that for everyone like me, you aren’t alone, this is a normal part of the cycle. And to everyone else, this is what we have to deal with, so please try to understand where we’re coming from.