Little by Little

One of the single hardest things about living with depression is the way it completely saps your enthusiasm to do anything. Some days, I come home from work and all I can do is change out of my work clothes and crash for a two-hour nap. It’s frustrating. No, it’s beyond frustrating to a place of such deep, self-directed anger that I don’t even have words for it.

Well, you’re useless. Can’t do anything but sleep and go to work.

You’ve got dishes piled up from two weeks ago. You could at least put those in the dishwasher.

Get your lazy ass up and at least clean the litter boxes.

What’s wrong with you?

It doesn’t help, either, that when my parents come to see me, I get passive-aggressive comments from my mother about it. “You know, if you would just do X every day, Y would be a whole lot cleaner/neater/better.”

Yeah. I know. It’s not that I don’t know how to clean my own house or do basic chores. I had a reasonably normal childhood. I know how to wash a plate and vacuum and do laundry. The difference between me and a more factory-default person (I really don’t like the word neurotypical) is that sometimes I just can’t. I physically cannot.

It’s the most rage-inducing thing. It’s like there’s the real me, the “normal” me, and I can feel it, but it’s trapped by this… nebulous, seething shadow-monster called Depression. And it’s like I think “Oh, yeah, I need to do the dishes,” and the shadow-monster hisses and says No, you’re going to take a long nap instead. Then I do, and I wake up feeling no less tired and a thousand times more upset.

Part of it, too, is the comorbidity of ADD and depression. While depression makes me tired and saps my enthusiasm for doing literally anything, ADD sits in the passenger seat and panics because the task at hand seems too large and there’s too many steps and OH GOD NOW WE’RE OVERWHELMED BETTER DO NOTHING. (I’m not sure which one drives the car of my mental health struggles. I think they trade.) The struggle, as they say, is real.

But I’m not content to roll over and do nothing, to wallow in my funky brain wiring and say “I can’t.” I’m trying instead to say “I can’t right now.” Yesterday I tried to clean my room, but it was such a big, overwhelming mess that I knew I’d stop before I even started. So I took a deep breath, told myself it was okay, and promised myself that if I would just clean my nightstand, that would be enough for the day.

It took me only about five minutes to tidy up my nightstand, but I felt so incredibly productive by doing it–way better than the self-loathing that would’ve risen up had I not done anything at all. A little bit at a time has to be enough. I’m sitting here looking at the health points bar above the head of the shadow-monster. I can’t kill it in one swing, but I can stab at it lots of little times.

There’s a saying in French: Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid. “Little by little, the bird builds its nest.” The bird doesn’t put its nest together in a single moment. It’s lots of little moments gathering twigs and string and scraps, padding the inside with feathers, over and over and over until it’s done. And I’m slowly teaching myself that that’s the trick to living with–no, thriving with mental illness. I need to work with myself, not against myself. It’s not my fault I have these struggles. I can’t control what my brain wiring does. But I can control how I react to it and how I take care of myself.

And sometimes, that looks like standing in the middle of a messy room and knowing that tidying the nightstand will be enough for one day.

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