Human beings are creatures of habit. Obvious statement is obvious. But habit is important not just because it makes us feel safe and comfortable but because it means we don’t have to spend as much brain power on determining what we are going to do and how we are going to do it. Routine is like having a formula to complete a complex mathematical equation instead of having to figure it all out fresh each time. You know what happens next.
I started a new job a couple months ago, and in that time I’ve started to build routines. I freelance at home a few days a week, and for the past two months I have been able to get about the same amount done each of those days. I haven’t had to struggle or fight myself for the motivation. This is normal for me. It’s routine. I go to the coffee shop, complete x amount of work, come home, eat lunch, clean, do x amount of work. I can rely on it.
Until last week at least. Last week I started to hit a little bump of depression. Suddenly every bit of work was like pulling teeth. I couldn’t wake up at my normal hour, could barely drag myself into the office on my days in, and fell asleep again a few hours after being awake. My habits were suddenly unsustainable. Things that were average to me became impossible.
Welcome to mental illness.
The inability to rely on certain things as normal, average, or constant is one of the more draining elements of mental illness, and it makes everyday functioning incredibly difficult. Not only is trying to maintain any sort of normal life while struggling with serious highs and lows really hard, but it also comes with the extra emotional tax of assessing where you are on each given day and then trying to understand how much you reasonably can get done as well as trying to psychically tell how you’ll feel tomorrow or the rest of the week.
It also adds an intense amount of guilt onto any day that already feels bad. When you have a down day in which you can’t force your brain to focus, you have no energy, your emotions are all over the place, or your anxiety is spiking, it doesn’t help that you’re also acutely aware of the fact that you’re not keeping up on all your obligations, or that you can barely make it through the bare minimum of tasks to get through the day.
As I’m trying to move further towards something like recovery and healthiness, this is one of the biggest struggles for me. When every day was awful, it was easy to rely on the knowledge that I would have to drag myself through the day. The days in which everything is a struggle are the ones in which it’s hardest to be gentle with myself, to remember that I won’t be stuck feeling like this forever, to know that not all of this needs to get done right now.
I forget sometimes that it’s normal to take a day off. I forget that it’s normal to have unproductive days, or days when you just want to put your feet up. I forget that I’ll be better off tomorrow if I listen when my body says it can’t keep up today. I suppose this is a good time to remind myself that self care is an accomplishment, something I work on and work on hard. It is not a cop out or a reason to be lazy. It is part of recognizing that having depression and anxiety mean there is no consistent baseline to my emotions and abilities, that some days I just can’t and some days I’m super kickass. Acceptance is an ok response. And while it’s tiring to spend time each day sussing out how much I can reasonably do, it’s something I can and will do to stay healthy.