How to keep moving forward, even when your brain hates you.

If you’ve been around here long, or if you know me in person, you probably know I have a slightly defective brain, which is to say that I have a history with clinical depression. Add on to that a(n un-)healthy dose of perfectionism, and you have an expert procrastinator. I can miserably waste a day (and yes, if you didn’t get anything useful done OR even enjoy yourself a little, that was a day wasted) with the best (worst?) of them.

But I’ve been at the depression game for 10+ years now, and the perfectionism for 20+ (I distinctly remember bawling over imperfect crayon drawings. Started young.), and I’ve had to somehow manage to get stuff done. I still struggle with low mood, low motivation, unreasonable levels of physical/mental/emotional exhaustion, etc. on a semi-regular basis, and I still struggle with the “Why bother? It will never be good enough/It won’t make any difference/you’ll be crushed if it fails so why risk it”-monster… every fucking day.

So ever so slowly, I’ve built myself a toolbox full of tricks to keep myself going, regardless of how I feel or what my jerkbrain is yammering on about at the moment. None of them are magic bullets–I still don’t always get as much done as I’d like, particularly when the brain chemicals are just really not cooperating–but they help.  Maintaining some sense of forward progress is one of the best ways to talk back to your jerkbrain… and everyone’s brains are mean to them every once in awhile.  So without further ado, a (probably incomplete) list of my anti-procrastination/anti-negativity tricks.

Let hard things be hard.

Be kind to yourself. Stop telling yourself that whatever you are struggling with “should” be easy. If something is hard for you, it is hard for you. There are probably Reasons, though those may just be how you are wired. Acknowledge these things. When you finish something hard, be proud! Celebrate a little.

And really, just stop saying “should” to yourself about your thoughts and feelings in any context. You feel how you feel. The things in your head are the things in your head. You can’t change either directly through sheer force of will. You can only change what you do. Stop beating yourself up for who and what you are right now–it isn’t productive. Focus on moving forward.

Quote from previous paragraph as a pretty, sharable image.

Believe in the power of ritual.

When I was 20 years old and seeing my first therapist, I was a bit of a brat. I maintained for quite a long time that many of my very-depression-influenced views of myself were completely logical dammnit.  In fact, I distinctly remember multiple fights in which I tried to convince her that I was, in fact, a terrible person and underserving in her help.  To be fair, at the time I was so overwhelmed with how awful I felt all the time that it seemed hard to believe that just changing my perspective on things could make a difference, and that was the view she represented. Still though… brat.

So you can imagine when this put-together sweet young woman suggested I come up with a ritual to help me when I felt particularly anxious, something I could do and tell myself “this is a thing I do that helps me calm down. If I do this thing I will feel better”… I wasn’t too keen on the idea. Really, I’m going to drink a cup of tea or take a bath and magically my heart is going to stop beating out of my chest? Um, fuck you lady.

But like many things that year, the power of ritual is something I was very wrong about. Frankly, this raised-catholic girl should have known better. Rituals are really just habits that we perform for reasons more symbolic than practical, but they are enormously comforting. Religions have used ritual to create community and a sense of familiarity and well-being for… however long religion has been around.  Why not take control of this tool ourselves, hack our own psychology?

So I have my rituals.  I do, in fact, make myself a cup of tea when I need to relax. When I start a big research/writing project, particularly one that is really stressing me out, I work on nice crisp yellow legal pads with my favorite pens, and I make a big deal out of setting up my workspace. When I’m trying to give my anxious brain permission to relax after a long day, I light some candles and take a bath. Silly little things… but they make a difference.

Go somewhere.

Brains get in ruts. Changes in scenery can help break you out of them. You do, of course, have to avoid using this to just procrastinate longer: I have been known to spend the afternoon looking for the perfect coffee shop to write in rather than just writing. But used wisely, this is an amazing tool. If you can’t physically go somewhere else, go somewhere else mentally–a long-ish piece of fiction works well for this. Abruptly change what you’re experiencing in order to force your brain to think something different.

Help someone else.

Specifically, lend someone your skill in something you are good at.  Yes, you will feel warm and fuzzy for your good deed, and maybe that warm and fuzzy will quiet the SAD! part of your brain down. But more than that, this is about reminding yourself that you are capable and useful. Often our own tasks take on so much importance that they just seem impossible, and you can almost convince yourself that your brain just doesn’t work anymore.  Putting your mind to work on a problem with low stakes for you–someone else’s problem–will show you it still functions. And then it will seem silly not to start that paper you’ve been avoiding.

My secret: This is a large part of why I tutor. It’s hard to tell myself I’m stupid and worthless when I spend a few hours a week turning kids who were terrified of and failing high school chemistry into kids who get Bs in high school chemistry. That’s not nothing.

Check SOMETHING off your list, no matter how small.

A classic anti-procrastination technique. I find it is particularly effective to do this with small tasks that I have nonetheless been dreading. Just this morning I called to cancel a subscription service (NatureBox) that was taking up more space in my budget than it was worth. I hate making those calls. They always try and talk you out of it, sell you a cheaper product instead… it’s just exhausting. But it didn’t take much brainpower, I was done in 5 minutes… and there goes something that’s been sitting on my to-do list poking at my anxiety for a month. After that, I totally feel up for doing something more substantial.

When all else fails, bake brownies.

Ok, so this one is pretty specific to me. You may not bake, or may not have a place you can bake, or you may even not like brownies. The actual point of this one is… when you are just damn stuck, and you can’t bring yourself to get anything really productive done… instead, do something simple and satisfying that you are good at. Preferably something that produces a physical end product. Because the goal here is to do the thing, and then look back and say “Hey, I actually can do stuff.” It’s a last ditch effort when everything seems impossible and you just want to pull the blankets over your head at 6pm.  It’s surprisingly effective, in that I usually do go on to do something useful afterwards… and in my case, it’s also quite tasty.

Call in the professionals.

Getting help from a therapist or counselor is a really good idea when you’re feeling stuck or spending a lot of time fending off your jerkbrain… regardless of whether you actually qualify for a medical diagnosis. Some things are just hard. Even some things that we think “shouldn’t” be hard, are hard for us. Therapy doesn’t have to be a years-long process of talking about your childhood and how you view yourself and completely transforming your life. It can be, of course, and if you need that I can heartily recommend it… but you can also just say “hey, I’m having trouble with this Thing That Is Hard. Can you talk it through with me and help me feel better about it?”  And they’ll say yes, because that is their JOB.

No excuses on this one either. I’ve heard them all–I don’t have time, I don’t have money, there’s nothing wrong with me, I should be able to deal with this on my own. Do it anyway, you’re worth it. Here is some information on how to do it while short on money.

——–

So yep, that’s my list, at least all the major things I can think of at the moment. As you can see, it’s more about how to think about doing hard things than the actual mechanics of getting them done. That’s what’s hardest for me–fighting my own resistance and negativity–so that’s what I focus on.

In terms of managing your time and to-do lists, there are so many systems and productivity gurus out there… find what works for you. But I would recommend keeping it as simple as possible. If you’re spending hours a day organizing your calendars and to-do lists…. you’re just procrastinating.  Also, take breaks when you’re working hard on a big project. Schedule them if that helps you.

Also, before I go, a final semi-related aside:

To my friends in grad school:

Grad school is absolutely, undeniably, a Hard Thing. I’m sure you’ve all developed or are developing your own list of ways to cope with that, and that’s awesome.

But might I humbly suggest… making therapy one of the tools in your toolbox. Grad school is not a healthy environment. It’s set up to make you feel stupid, all the time! That’s important for learning, but it can wear on even the most enthusiastic scientist. There are also many powerful forces in grad school pushing you to work at 110% AT ALL TIMES. That’s literally impossible. It’s an environment built to make even the most resilient person a little bit crazy.

You should have reasonably easy access to mental health care through your school… use it. Maybe not all the time–maybe just when you’re extra stressed because of exams or orals or TAing or your PI being an asshole.  Maybe check in once or twice a quarter. You don’t have to be at the point of complete collapse to go… it can just be a tune up. Do whatever works for you, but please… at least make it an option in your head.  Grad school is an INSANE place, and therapy is one good place to get reality checks.

140 thoughts on “How to keep moving forward, even when your brain hates you.

  1. So nice that i stumbled upon this on a day when my jerkbrain most definitely hates me. Also, my daughter’s name is Keely, so I’m considering all of this to be a sign. Of what, I do not know. Maybe just that, for today, I win and the brain loses.

  2. “I spend a few hours a week turning kids who were terrified of and failing high school chemistry into kids who get Bs in high school chemistry. That’s not nothing.” Are you kidding? That’s a stinkin’ miracle in my world! Where were you when I was trying to learn chemistry from 80 year old Sr. Ignatia?

    That aside, thanks for the great post. Lots of this applies to me.

    • Tracy, I’m sorry your chem teacher sucked! It seems to be a common problem. I’m more a biology person than chem person, but I’ve had so much practice tutoring chemistry. My first teacher was AWFUL so I taught myself from the book… and then taught all my friends so they wouldn’t fail! I attempted a poll of my facebook friends recently, and a good half-dozen of them swear they wouldn’t have passed without me. So yea.. guess I’ve had a lot of practice.

      That aside, glad you liked the post. Putting my writing out there is still a struggle, so I’m very grateful to have had such a positive response.

  3. Pingback: #449: I hate my job, I’m broke, my commute sucks, and I maybe want to be a writer. « CaptainAwkward.com

  4. I struggle with Anxiety/Panic Disorder, and this blog fell into my lap at a time when I’m struggling with college, parenting and life in general. To say that I needed to hear from someone who experiences the “JerkBrain” (I’m stealing this term, as super-fucked-up-defective-self was not doing anything for me!), was like someone throwing me a life-preserver in the form of understanding!
    Thank you for being brave enough to write about what you are going through… I can barely spit out the words “I have Panic Disorder” without crying. The stigma and lack of understanding is too much for me to bear, so I try to hide it (at the expense of myself and my sanity).
    Again, thank you for sharing! I feel like I can be just a little more brave in my own battle after reading this.
    Much love!
    Jen

    • PS: I should also mention that my field of study is one of Environmental Sciences– I’ve spent the last four years submerged in Analytical Chemistry, Biochemistry, Microbiology (my personal favorite!) and Water/Wastewater Chemistry, Analysis and Technology. It’s quite heartening to know that– contrary to popular opinion (or the census among my “airbrush dragon” T-shirt wearing, J-Pop listening, fantasy game-playing peers– and no that’s not a stereotype, I just described 80% of my classmates)– there are those of us who are relatively “normal”, mostly socially functional people who happen to have a mind for science! :)

    • Aww, Jen, thanks! Anxiety is a bitch… I have that too, actually. Panic attacks are the worst. Internet hugs!

      The brilliance of “jerkbrain” is not mine–I got that from CaptainAwkward, who also has lots of great posts relevant to depression/anxiety. Check it out, it’s a cool place.

      And as for dealing with stigma and being brave enough to talk about things… that took me time. It’s very, very hard sharing such a vulnerable part of yourself with people. I hid my depression from MY PARENTS for five years. I used to be a very private person, and 15-year-old me would be appalled at the things I say out loud, in public, all the time. But I’m a hell of a lot happier now than I was at 15.

      That said… being vulnerable with others can also be very rewarding. You’d be surprised how many fellow sufferers there are in your life hiding in plain sight. I started off just trying to tell more people than the closest friends who already knew… just telling people in my social circle that I knew to be pretty non-judgmental. Over time, I told more people and got more generally open about it… and while it’s led to awkward moments a few times, I don’t regret it at all. So many people have “come out” to me like you did here, and thanked me for being open. I’ve been a resource for tons of friends regarding therapy. And I don’t have to hide. I feel like my friends actually know me.

      I don’t assume that the path of being quite as open as I’ve been here is the best for everyone, but I’d encourage you to consider giving more people in your life a chance to surprise you by being awesome about it. Dealing with this shit sucks, and you need a Team You. And you deserve one.

      • That’s so helpful for me to read. I’ve had a hard time being open about my illness, and I know that isolation is the last thing I need. I’m finding little by little that most people understand or have even struggled with anxiety and depression too. It also takes some of the power out of the illness to talk about it. Thanks for adding your thoughts here.

  5. Oh maaaaan I needed to read this. The bookmark for this entry is now a thumbnail shortcut on my iPhone, in case I need a reminder

  6. Yes! I tend to combine these strategies into a system called “Little Wins” which, depending on the day can be writing an essay, conquering laundry or showering and remembering to eat. You are extremely right, normally on “shower & eat” days once I have managed to check those off my list I feel like doing something more substantial, a lot of the time the tiny bit of progress “unsticks” my brain from whatever it has gotten stuck on.
    Really good post!

  7. Keely, I love this post so much. For starters, it’s really beautifully written, and I think more people than you’d ever realize can relate to it. I definitely think hacking your own psychology (and, more importantly, understanding your eccentricities well enough to do so) is the best way to get yourself moving and stave off your jerkbrain. I’ve totally used your baking brownies (or pumpkin muffins) method before, although I tend to do work outs more now. My thought process is usually “oh, this day has been a waste–but at least I got a workout in!” And it’s usually a 15-20 minute youtube video workout, rather than a run (which takes more scheduling and will power from me).

    When I was living in Costa Rica and I switched jobs and was working from home for the first time, I had about two weeks of full blown anxiety. I used to think of myself as a really chill person who didn’t sweat the small stuff, but actually, when I look back on high school and college, and the way I reacted to certain things, I absolutely had anxiety issues. I just didn’t realize it until Costa Rica. I thought I was dying or something–I had this horrible tightness in my chest for days and my heart was racing and I had no clue what was happening. Fortunately, I opened up to a good frined of mine and she immediately identified the problem (her sister has anxiety attacks), but rather than tell me “oh, you’re suffering from anxiety”, she simply said, “Tell me all of the things you’re worried about right now. Let’s make a list, and then let’s figure out what steps you need to take to fix each one.”

    So I started to make my list for her (we were on gchat), and all of the sudden I was just balling my eyes out. Like, super-ugly-sobbing-crying. I think I was feeling a combination of sheer appreciation for Claire’s wonderfulness and also relief because the weight of the worry was coming off my shoulders. Upon making my list of problems and really looking at them, none of them really seemed that big. None of it was a big deal. I just need perspective. And kindness from Claire. It still took a few days for the anxiety to go away, but it did. It comes back every now and again, but I make my lists and I take deep breaths. I medidate a bit, or I go for a run, or I consciously say to myself, “Kaitlin, you’re just being anxious. Be calm.” Sometimes just being with my boyfriend (he’s really good at taking my mind off things/making me laugh, etc) helps.

    I’m not really sure where I’m going with this comment now. It’s a giant ramble. Sorry! But your post is wonderful and you are awesome, Keely! We need to catch up in person sometime.

    <3s

    • Yes, catching up in person needs to happen.

      I’m thrilled to hear you like the post. I really enjoy your blog as well. Hopefully I can keep up with writing and getting your feedback… you’re a great writer and I really appreciate the input. :)

  8. Captain Awkward was right. This is an awesome post. Thanks for sharing – it’s nice to look at that list and go “Oh, hey, I actually am doing some things right – sweet!” as well as having some extra coping tools I hadn’t thought of. :)

  9. A friend shared this on Facebook, and asked me to make sure I read it. I’m a counselor, and I’ve met many, many people just like you :) May I print this and use it as a handout? I think it will have a lot of impact, since it comes from someone who’s been there, done that. Thanks.

  10. This was so great, I shared on my Facebook, too! Thanks so much…I recently found that keeping a gratitude journal/blog helped me change my perspective while also serving as a kick ass toolbox for all the things you mentioned. Now when I get into a funk I think about all the things I’ve listed that make me happy and I go do one (or twelve) of them…and then I write it down to reinforce it. I’m going to stalk your other posts and Captain Awkward now, too :)
    Amy Love

    • Awesome! You’ll find that this blog is a little empty at the moment… not a lot of posts. That should be changing soon, so stay tuned I guess? And yay, I’m always glad to spread Captain Awkward to more people. That site is a magical place. Empathetic, smart people.

  11. I have so much going on right now and this was an amazing reminder that I have more in my toolkit than I give myself credit for. A break… that cup of tea and lord, yes, some things are just difficult and that shouldn’t make me feel dumb.

    My favorite trick is just starting the thing, whatever it is, with no other commitment. Usually, once I’ve started I’m naturally committed and just finish it up!

    • Just starting the thing is great. I’ve also heard it stated as “just show up” or “just put your shoes on and step out the door” (for running).

  12. Thank you for bringing up your struggles and how you deal with them – it’s important to share our stories. I am reading a book right now called Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and find it quite wonderful. I feel like all women would benefit by reading this book.

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  14. Nice to see so many women out there managing their lives even with ‘jerkbrains’ yammering in the background. I’ve been a card carrying member of the SSRI fan club since 1986. Keeps me from alternating between being a raving bitch and wanting to drive into oncoming traffic. Good stuff.

    What an interesting day to find your blog. Not sure how I got here whilst searching for clues as to how on earth to talk with my 11 year old son about “playing with his ding dong,” but it sure is nice to hear someone else’s take on grad school as I ponder retaking the GRE’s (after 20 years) to return and morph my masters into a doctorate. I was hoping it had evolved a bit…alas.

    • Well, I hope you found what you were looking for re: talking to your son. This is my go-to resource for that: thesexpositiveparent.com, but I’m guessing you got here via Nicole’s blog, in which case you probably already found what you needed.

      As for grad school… yea, it still sucks. Might still be worth it, depending on what you want it for. Most of my friends are still in grad school, and its the right decision for them… just a hard road.

  15. “Grad school is not a healthy environment. It’s set up to make you feel stupid, all the time!” Man, I hope you’re right. It would be so nice to think that life after grad school is different.
    Thanks for the great post.

    • Glad you liked it! And I do think life after grad school is better, but if you’re always trying to learn and push yourself, you’ll always have to contend with feeling a little stupid.

  16. This is a large part of why I tutor. It’s hard to tell myself I’m stupid and worthless when I spend a few hours a week turning kids who were terrified of and failing high school chemistry into kids who get Bs in high school chemistry. That’s not nothing.

    Hell no, and thank you for the work you do!
    On the subject of the grad school stuff, I’m working on a series about the pressures faced by women in academia, and how we don’t really talk about this. Would you mind if I quoted you?

    I’m really glad that I read this – you deserve everything.

    <3

    • I would not mind at all if you quoted me, and hopefully I’ll have my own post up soon about problems with academia, though mine are largely more general/funding-related complaints. I’ll be interested to read your series as well!

  17. I love this! It’s really inspiring! I’ve been suffering from depression for years and it’s reminded me to stay strong and to not let my stupid thoughts invade my life too much. Thank you.

  18. Ha, I have a similar jerkbrain. I have a jerk job, and am in jerky school. (I say jerky school because I’m so close to being done that continuing to go is becoming a huge imposition. Plus school can be just plain jerky to deal with.) I’ve drilled so far down into the procrastination glory hole that I’ve even stopped doing the things I used to procrastinate, like housework, or playing games on my phone. My jerkbrain is always telling me, “hey, stupid, you suck if you can’t sit down and write the perfect poem with a first draft or finish a piece of art in an afternoon.” And I say, “you’re right, I do suck, so let’s just stare at the idiot box.” Then I feel mad and depressed for not getting anything done. Tis a vicious cycle I cannot seem to break right now. Why does my jerkbrain do this? You would think one’s own jerkbrain would want itself to be happy. And yet, the jerkbrain is so hard to defeat! My point? I don’t really have one. I just was glad to find this and some others I can relate to. Oh, and I think the therapy recommendation is important. There are certain things I get done because I have committed to doing so to my therapist. It doesn’t work for everything, but every little bit helps. Another thing I do is try and have people/friends give me deadlines. School was good for motivation, for a while, since there are consequences for not meeting deadlines. Thanks for the post.

  19. Keely

    Thanks for your posts … the brilliant one the other day and then this brilliant one on reaction to it.

    I’m going to plug our little blog too – called depressed academics – from my co-blogger’s link I found out about your posts.

    http://depressedacademics.blogspot.co.uk/

    The purpose of the blog is exactly posts like yours and for people who might want to talk about depression or of course just to read about it. And we welcome guest posts.

    Best of luck with your studies and keeping going at tough times.

  20. I simply want to tell you that I am newbie to blogging and absolutely savored you’re website. More than likely I’m want to bookmark your website . You amazingly come with exceptional writings. Bless you for revealing your webpage.

  21. As someone who has had depression for the last 3 years, reading this put a bit of a smile on my face as I too have discovered that these little things really do help quite a lot!

    • Thanks! I wrote this post because I’d been spending a lot of time lately explaining to people about my “toolbox” of tricks for coping with my stupid brain. I’m no where near perfect but I manage much better than I used to because of these little tricks.

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  24. Hello there! I stumbled across your blog because I was searching for the origin of this quote: “Be kind to yourself. Stop telling yourself that whatever you are struggling with “should” be easy. If something is hard for you, it is hard for you. There are probably Reasons, though those may just be how you are wired. Acknowledge these things. When you finish something hard, be proud! Celebrate a little.”

    It may seem silly, but I have a question…did you write all this? It’s wonderful, helpful, and brilliant. I would love to give credit to its creator!

  25. Pingback: Kindness. – CITY AND MUSE

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  27. Oh, jeez.
    You know, I don’t really believe in fate, but reading THIS, TODAY, must me some sort of fate.
    I also have anxiety disorder, and I’m recovering from depression, and reading this just showed me that most of the things I did, was mostly because of my jerkbrain. I never thought procastination was one of them, and always hated myself for that, and what is procrastination if not a way to sabotage yourself, because you just don’t think that’s worth doing?
    I had to drop grad school because I had panic attacks just to think about going to the lab I worked. And the panic started because I procrastinated my own research. I never, ever thought I may or may not had procrastinated because of the depression. Had to drop grad school made things even worse, and only now, almost an year after everything, I understand.
    Thank you, SO, SO MUCH for this. It makes me feel so much better about everything.

    • *jedi hugs*

      I’m so glad I could help. Your story sounds similar to mine. In my case, my project wasn’t going well and I felt I could not make my boss happy no matter how hard I tried, and I started having frequent panic attacks at work. That means I either took a break while the attack subsided and risk the boss being angry for me not working enough, or work through the attack and risk messing up my experiment because I’m distracted.

      Anyhow, *hugs*, and best of luck continuing to treat your depression and anxiety.

  28. Someone shared this on tumblr and it came on my dash today… so glad I decided to come read it.
    I don’t necessarily have huge anxiety issues, but I have a higher IQ than most and I can get overwhelmed by thoughts. I also am struggling in college right now for a variety of reasons, and this week has been absolutely awful.
    I just wanted to say thank you for posting this. I procrastinate so much and I definitely have issues with letting myself be upset about things. It all builds up and has no where to go, I suppose. But These methods should help me in my road to being better. And i’m definitely looking forward to baking some brownies!

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  31. Thank you for sharing your experience with jerkbrain! I needed to know what I’m feeling is normal. I suffer from PTSD, recently lost my father, and I’m trying to write my first (to publish) novel while taking care of my teenage niece and disabled mother. Yesterday and today, I can’t seem to get jerkbrain to shush! I’m going to give your ideas a try. And, work harder at giving myself permission to understand this is an emotionally HARD TIME and it’s okay that it is.

    • Wow, you certainly have a lot going on! I’m glad you found this and that it helped a little. *hugs*

  32. Pingback: Doing what Works | Vevacha

  33. I just found this from a Tumblr post, and it almost made me cry. Change a few minor details and you could be talking about my life. I figured out some of the more action-oriented tricks (like “just get started and see how far you get”) on my own, but it’s the belief-oriented ones (like not worrying about how something “should” be easy for me because it seems easy for everyone else) that I have trouble with. I’m sorry that you’re stuck in the depression/anxiety boat with me, but since you’re here, I’m glad to have found you.

  34. Thank you for this. Finally something else than those new-agey females who have never experienced anxiety or depression. Finally these little things, not just “find your purpose in life and stop worrying.” I’m going to read this over and over again.

    But there is something, a stupid question, about the ‘baking brownies’ thing. You said: “instead, do something simple and satisfying that you are good at.” But what if I’m not good at anything. Really. People always say “you have to be good at something”. But I’m not. One of the reasons I can’t keep going is that there’s nothing I could do or enjoy doing, not even a way to be useful. Maybe should just skip that tool.

    Anyways, you seem to have a nice blog. :)

    • Thank you! I’m glad you like the blog. :)

      I’m sorry you feel like there isn’t anything you are good at doing–that sucks. Skipping that tool would be a reasonable response, but having a satisfying hobby of some kind can be really, really helpful when you’re struggling. If you have the time, I’d recommend taking a class or joining a group to learn some kind of simple skill that you’d like to have. What comes to mind for me personally is crafty things, like knitting–something I can do and feel productive even when otherwise I’m mostly moping and watching TV–but it could be anything that you could learn relatively quickly with fairly low-investment. Web design, photo-editing… what sounds exciting to you? But again, if this sounds more stressful than helpful, feel free to just skip it.

      • Thanks for the reply!

        It’s funny how I never actually thought that I could learn something simple. Basically, what I’ve been doing for pastime is trying to master an almost extinct language with 200-year-old study materials. Simple, eh?
        So it definately is helpful to see that there is another option too. The other tools have already been extremely helpful to me (and many, many others as well, judging by the awesome flow of comments you’re getting). :)

    • Also, I think many of us create too high a standard when someone asks us what we are “good at”. We think back to school where everything was graded and ranked, and we only feel that we are good at something if we are better-than-average. I never got above JV baseball in high school, but it is still something I am “good at”. I can go to the batting cages and have a satisfying experience that takes me out of my head for a few minutes.

      You don’t have to be “better than”, you just have to get some satisfaction from doing it. It could be alphabetizing your books or hiking a trail you’ve never completed before.

      • Clay, staying alive is a pretty good thing….we have lost all conception of what is important, how to get there and how to measure our worth as human beings. I am far fro being “deep thinker”, it is just perverse these days.

  35. Thank you for this. I have a lot of these issues stemming from combat-related injuries three years ago, and I’m still struggling to accept the fact that who I was then, is gone. Needless to say, that causes a lot of depression and anger, especially when I found out the hard way this semester that school will no longer be a ‘walk in the park’ for me like it used to. I’m going to print this out, and keep it here in my studio, since it’s my sanctuary from the rest of the world at the moment.

    Thank you again.

    • It is so hard to accept changes in ourselves and our limitations while also finding the strength to move forward. If I could be even a little help, I am so glad. Best of luck, and thank you for your kind words.

  36. I’m so glad I stumbled onto this!
    I’ve suffered from depression for a few years now on and off and not too long ago I near enough had a complete break down.
    It’s good to see good advice from someone who actually knows what it’s like to be depressed so many people just . . well don’t

    Thank you for this post

  37. Thanks for this post, particularly the last bit about grad school. I’ve been in the depression game for more than half my life now and my third year in my PhD program is hitting me pretty hard. I hadn’t ever thought about the ritual thing, but I might start to try to incorporate that more into my work. I am lucky in that my university’s health coverage is amazeballs, but it is always good to have more tools in your toolbox.

    • Third year is the worst! That’s where I was when I left, and what all my classmates are trudging through now. At this point you’ve been at it long enough to be getting worn down, but there isn’t yet light at the end of the tunnel. It’s brutal. Keep using the amazeballs heath resources (yay for one of the awesome things about grad school: insurance!) and building up your toolbox, and best of luck!

  38. I was wondering whether you could help me with the following question: I have a chronic depression and am quite anxious about every little thing, and have always been struggling with going outside or DOING something. So my CV looks a bit empty for my age (and it took me long enough to finish my education). What do you think I should say to future employers who ask me about these things? Should I be honest and tell them what a depressed hermit I am? Should I lie and tell them I’ve just been occupied with private things but am now willing to ‘change my life’, as in: get a job? I feel very nervous and shit about these future conversations and questions. Do you maybe have any advice or links or anything?

    • That’s a hard one, and I can’t say I’m an expert, but I’ll take a stab at it and then link you to some other things that might be helpful, k?

      My instincts on this would be to be honest without giving more detail than the person wants or needs. Something like “I was dealing with some health problems that I now have under control” might be all you need to say, but if you reveal that much you may have to prepare for more questions. I’d avoid going into a ton of detail even then, just something like “It took me awhile to find a medication that worked for me, but since then I have [list a few accomplishments/positive steps you have taken that show that you are functioning, such as classes you have taken or personal projects you’ve completed].

      Beyond that, I’d recommend checking out the CaptainAwkward archives re: mental health, and specifically the post in which she linked to this one.

      Also, go into interviews when you feel like you’re ready. Can you look someone in the eye and confidently and succinctly discuss your past work history and your current skills/goals? If not, I would recommend practicing with a therapist or a at least a trusted friend before you start putting yourself out there. When you do feel ready, do a LOT of interviews, even ones for not-perfect jobs, just to get the practice. Interviewing is a skill that you can develop, and really the best thing I’ve done personally to get better at it was applying to grad school and then having effectively 30+ separate interviews in the space of about a month (At each school I met and interviewed with 4-6 professors in the space of a day. Intense and exhausting, but I learned a lot from it in the end.)

      Hope some of that helps, and best of luck getting back on your feet.

      • Thank you very much for your quick reply and help!
        I’ve also found several more links through the ones you’ve sent me, filled with inspiring words. Your and CaptainAwkward’s blogs are really helpful, so thank you for sharing your thoughts here.
        Doing a lot of interviews was something one of my teachers suggested as well, you just reminded me of that advice again.

        Thank you.

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  42. I so needed to find this today. Trying to plan a graduation party for my son-which is booked for July 13th….3 short weeks away!!! I am the professional procrastinator….also the professional list maker!! Lol SOOOOO many days, I think “why can’t I just be like everyone else” then I read something like this and think-maybe I am!! Thanks!!!

  43. I LOVE the term ‘jerkbrain’…so appropriate! I’ve been dealing with my severe clinically depressed jerkbrain for about 20 years now…Wellbutrin is my BFF! Your post was great; I love all your suggestions, particularly letting hard things be hard. Depression SUCKS and dealing with all the crap that life enjoys throwing at me makes it suck exponentially. I am forever beating myself up for not being able to get over something faster, not dealing with things as well as I think I should…I expect myself to deal with everything the way that my non-depressed non-jerkbrained friends and family deal with things…why?? Thank you for making me realize that it’s OKAY if some things are hard for me. I don’t know why that is such a hard concept for me to really get through my head!!

    Great post! Thanks so much :-)

    ( And I agree about baking…I love the sense of accomplishment when I take something out of the oven and it looks and smells amazing…and tastes even better! )

    • “Jerkbrain” as a term comes from CaptainAwkward, I didn’t coin it myself. It is rather useful though… a good way to separate yourself from those thoughts and fight back.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. :)

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  47. As one who has a chronic jerkbrain as well, I would add one or two things to your already awesome list — 1) Take a walk. It doesn’t matter how slow or fast. Notice things in nature, or just be in your head or recite a mantra. It helps. 2) No matter how much you want to crawl back into bed, get out and be with people, preferably positive ones and friends who don’t expect you to talk or joke around and don’t judge you. Isolation kills. Just two of my observations after about 20 years. Great list!

  48. One more suggestion: if you are having trouble getting motivated to do the thing you *have* to do (and probably just sitting there staring at your computer) do the thing that you are *excited* about doing. If there’s a project that you can’t get out of your head, go make some progress on it. Just an hour, for me at least, can be enough to let loose the energy that I need in order to do my actual work.

    You do have to worry about getting lost in that new project, but that’s a different problem.

  49. Jerkbrain, well it follows you through life, so you have to circle back on it time and time again. The lucky ones get through it once or twice but I tend to think those of us that get it, have a lifetime commitment and need to realize fight back and maintaining is just a part of our daily lives. And we will slip and slide and forget and wallow. So we start again with those very small victories that most certainly will evolve to bigger and better things.

  50. hi
    i may just say that i`m a younger version of you. from what i read about you above i can say we are twins…
    i will try to read your blog more because i can not take this anymore. i`m currently struggling with grad school as well. now i think you can imagine what i`m going through. if you ever feel like helping someone, just know that i’m here!
    thank you

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  55. My Name is Ms. Olivia mike, I was married to my husband for 13 years and we were both bless with three children, living together as one love, until 2009 when things was no longer the way the was [when he lost his job]. But when he later gets a new job 6 months after, he stated sleeping outside our matrimonial home. Only for me to find out that he was having an affair with the lady that gave he the job. since that day, when i called him, he don’t longer pick up my calls and he nothing since to come out good. Yet my husbands just still keep on seeing the lady. Until I met a very good friend of my who was also having a similar problem, who introduced me to a very good love spell caster. But i told her that if it has to do with things that i am not interested, but she said that it has nothing to do with pay first. but the only thing he was ask to do was just to go and buy the items to cast the spell, and that was what she did. And she gave me the spell caster e-mail address and phone number. When i contacted him, i was so surprise when he said that if i have the faith that i will get my husband back
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  56. I really needed to hear this today. I’ve been doing poorly in academics because of depression which reared its ugly head towards the end of my second year in university. i’m in my fourth year not but I still have quite a ways to go. I’ve hit my latest roadblock and it probably means I’m going to spend more time in school which is not what I wanted. I’m just trying to get through it but it’s so hard. I’ll try to keep this post in mind for the future. I actually used that quote of yours for my desktop wallpaper. :P

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  63. I decided to go back to scholl after the family business closed, and I now hold a degree in restoration ecology, and am trying to get my masters in env sci. I have pushed myself SO HARD over the last 5 years, and have been quite successful in my schooling. However, since starting grad school I seem to have hit a wall. I have lost all self confidence, and I feel totally overhwhelmed with, well.. EVERYTHING. I want desprately to complete my degree, and am trying to get a grip on these feeling so that I can complete. This post was a huge help. It’s so nice to know I am not alone..

    Thank you!

  64. Umm…for the first time I could relate to something without my head telling me to stop exaggerating petty issues. For the longest time I believed my mind. God knows I still do. I don’t want to go to a therapist. I’m sure I don’t need one. But im just tired of all the empty noises in my brain shouting, yelling….its really frustrating. Can you please suggest something?

    • First of all, I’d like to gently suggest that you think about what you mean when you say you don’t “need” a therapist. What a lot of people mean when they say that is that they are capable of continuing to function in their lives without a therapist, therefore they are not in need of, or deserving of, the help a therapist can provide. I think this is a shitty, unfair criteria to apply to ourselves–saying that if our situation is not dire, it is unnecessary to get help. So if you think therapy COULD be helpful for you, don’t toss out the idea just because you can get by without it.

      That said, while I’m a big fan of therapy, a lot of what I’ve gotten out of it have been some ideas/practices that you CAN learn in other ways. I’ve been meaning to write a post on some of these, kind of a “part 2″ for the above, and maybe now that you’ve reminded me, I finally will get around to that soon. But for now, in short: a few inter-related things that I’ve found particularly helpful are 1) self-compassion 2) mindfulness and 3) learning to value vulnerability and authenticity over perfection and projecting “strength”.

      All of these things are things I struggle with and resist to some degree, and I think that’s common, so I’d encourage you to do some research to find people talking about these things in a way that clicks with you, but for starters, a few suggestions:

      1. I enjoy a lot of what Jon Kabat-Zinn has written about mindfulness. Maybe check out one of the books he has written or co-authored, or some of his guided meditations?
      2. UCLA has some free audio files of mindfulness exercises (http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22) available.
      3. Brene Brown’s books on vulnerability, perfectionism, and shame are really amazing.

      I particularly like these sources because they are all grounded in research to some degree, and therefore are less prone to the kind of mushy, woo-y language that tends to make me uncomfortable, but go with what works for you.

      I hope some of that helps!

  65. I’ve been dealing with a year old head injury and I’m just learning to deal with the depression of the loss and the difference in who I am. Thank you for this. I have a very rigid sense of where my feelings should be and when I should feel them. This helped me so much.

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  69. “Let hard things be hard,” and “When all else fails, bake brownies.”

    So wait… let’s consider this in the context of gaming. If I find that a certain video game is too hard, even if it’s supposedly an easy one, (a lot of gamers think that MarioKart and other recent Nintendo games are easy) then I can just quit, and I don’t even have to come back to it again if I don’t want to? Sure, I’m still willing to play any game with my loved ones, but…

    I’m a hardcore gamer. But I’m not good at every game. And that’s OK. I think this advice is very liberating and delightfully rebellious against those toxic “noob-shaming” gamer communities. I now declare independence from the spaces dominated by cyberbullies, and I no longer consider myself to be a sub-human just because I can’t beat some game.

    Thanks!!

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