Or as I like to call it, depression is all about little steps. Remember: depression is not something you can just “overcome” or “handle” with a simple fix. It’s something you have to learn to live with and find ways to coexist with the demons in your head.
When it comes to depression, sometimes even the most basic tasks can feel exhausting and life constantly feels like too much. It’s especially tough when you’re dealing with apathy as a major aspect of your depression, or “depression apathy”, which can also lead to executive dysfunction.
What is apathy in depression?
Apathy is “a loss of interest in relation to social or emotional situations (a state of indifferent mood)”—or in English, having no interest, feeling or “any particular concern about a specific situation or life in general” (Shabir, 2019).
Feeling some level of apathy is fairly normal—think of when you had to do something and you thought, “I absolutely cannot be bothered to do that right now,” or when you push down a (typically negative) feeling so it isn’t outwardly expressed. But when it comes to certain mental disorders or conditions like depression, apathy is a whole other ballgame.
Apathy, especially in depression, looks like:
- The absence or suppression of emotion, feeling, concern or passion
- A lack of motivation to do or complete anything, even things you love or typically enjoy doing
- A lack of sense or purpose, feeling worthless and hopeless
- Sluggishness of movements, low energy levels and passiveness
- A feeling of detachment from one’s life as it moves on around them
In short, it feels like exactly how these posts describe it:
Sounds depressing, right? Yes, pun intended—because it is. Apathy is often a big part of depression for most who live with it, and it can make performing even basic tasks hard. And so we come to executive dysfunction.
What is executive dysfunction?
Executive dysfunction occurs when one has difficulty carrying out executive functions like paying attention, time management, switching task focus, and multitasking. It basically means you have some level of difficulty carrying out one or two (or all) executive functions. It can look like:
- Trouble with effective time management
- Constantly losing or misplacing various items
- Frequently losing concentration
- Ongoing procrastination or low motivation
- A lack of ability to monitor emotions and behavior, particularly in accordance with social norms
- Difficulty refocusing on a task after being distracted
Executive dysfunction is an aspect of depression, among other mental conditions like OCD, ADHD and more. One of the biggest stigmas about executive dysfunction + depression is that people with this are just lazy. However, there is a major difference between laziness and executive dysfunction, and this post perfectly explains the difference:
I cannot count how many times I’ve had things I need to do, or should do, or want to do, but I just cannot. It’s like there’s a disconnect between my mind and my body: my mind knows I should get up and do the thing, but it’s blocking its own signals to my body to get up and do the thing. This ranges from putting stuff in recycling, unpacking a box, calling my mechanic about a car thing, cleaning my room, continuing the book I’m reading…
Once more: People dealing with apathy depression and executive dysfunction are not lazy.
As someone who has spent the last few years in particular struggling with apathy and its occasional dip into executive dysfunction, I know how overwhelming this makes daily life and all its tasks feel.
These are a few little things I’ve found help me co-exist with my depression and make everything feel more manageable:
1. Fold your laundry when you take it out of the dryer.
Sometimes it feels like a lot to take laundry out of the dryer, bring it back to your room, fold everything and put it all away. There were so many times where I’d take laundry back to my room and it would just sit in my basket for days before I eventually had energy or a smidge of motivation to fold and put things away.
I recently tried folding each item before putting it into my laundry basket—and found it made the whole task of doing laundry much easier. Combining folding my laundry into the task of taking everything out took one more thing off the laundry checklist, relieved some of the internalized pressure to immediately put everything away to avoid wrinkling, and made putting everything away later (whenever that was) feel less energy-consuming and overwhelming.
2. Make your bed in the morning.
I’m aware how cliche this sounds, but hear me out. You don’t have to go the whole nine yards of making perfect hospital corners and fluffing each pillow—seriously, “making the bed” for me just means straightening out my blanket so it’s not flung around and twisted from my sleeping.
But it helps. For one, even just straightening out your blanket brings a teensy bit of organization and control into your life every day. Two, it’s much harder to crawl into bed when you see it’s nicely made. It’s basically a self-induced guilt trip to help you stay out of bed: you already spent the energy (no matter how big or small) to make your bed, why waste that energy by crawling right back in?
3. Swap your comforter for a fuzzy blanket.
If you do want to go back into bed—and I can’t blame you if your bed just feels like the only safe place to be sometimes—try not crawling under your heavy blanket or comforter. Instead, lay on top of your blanket and throw your favorite fuzzy blanket over you. I find there’s something relaxing about lying in your bed this way, like it relieves some of the pressure depression presses on you when you’re in bed. It feels like much less effort to get up if you need to when you have a lighter blanket on than the heavy one.
4. Put a comfy chair or a desk in your room.
This can be your alternative to staying in bed. Having a new space where you consciously go to chill that isn’t your bed can help you from slipping constantly into a negative mental mindset.
I got myself a desk and rotating desk chair for working from home. I found that sitting at my desk and keeping all my stuff for productivity—from my bullet journal and pens to my laptop—at my desk instead of by my bed helped a lot for establishing a space that wasn’t associated with feeling depressed (like my bed). Having a new space with no prior association to depression that instead was associated with productivity and being “in the zone” made it a bit easier to avoid backsliding into depression.
5. Eat something
Trust me, I know how depression and anxiety can mess with your stomach. There are many days, definitely more than is probably healthy, where I don’t end up eating lunch because I’m just not that hungry—I know I need to eat, that my body needs the fuel of food and not just coffee, but I just won’t be hungry for anything in my house, or I only want a certain food, or it feels like way too energy-expending to make something.
Sometimes you just have to admit that an actual meal isn’t going to happen, and settle for something else, like a snack or two. I usually do crackers and cheese. It’s not as filling, sure, and it’s not a great meal substitute (which my brain likes to constantly yell at me about) but you’re at least putting some sort of fuel into your body, and it might stimulate your stomach into feeling more hungry for something else.
6. Write it all out.
Yeah, another cliche recommendation, but there is some truth to this one, too. You can do it when you’re in the midst of a low or make it a daily thing to unload your brain onto the page (or screen, if you’d rather type than handwrite).
Writing out all 100+ trains of thought whirling through your mind is cathartic, since you’re dumping everything out of your head and putting it somewhere else. It’s like taking a major burden off your shoulders even if only for a little while, a cooling sense of relief that rushes through you.
Maybe most importantly, writing everything out helps put words to what you’re feeling, even if it’s just a page full of random words and sentence pieces. This doesn’t have to be a coherent essay—this is just for you and you alone, so you can unburden your mind and get a little break.
Comment below what are some things you do to co-exist with your depression. Be sure to share this and discuss with others so we can help one another and #EndtheStigma.
If you ever feel alone in your depression, I highly recommend following these accounts on Instagram. There’s something comforting about knowing there is a whole community of people who understand and are going through it, too.