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When Major Depression Makes a Mountain Out of Basic Self-Care


Living with major depressive disorder (MDD) is complex, to say the least. Seemingly easy tasks for the majority of people can often seem insurmountable for me on a daily basis. The insidious nature of major depression that never really relents, and the guilt associated with it, makes these “small” tasks that most take for granted all the harder to manage. A good day for me is managing the smallest of things, like showering and changing my clothes, or making my bed and doing some washing up. By its very mechanics, depression doesn’t allow me to celebrate these small wins because I am consistently focused on the things I cannot do. Something like going shopping for groceries is an example of a perfectly “normal” thing people take for granted as something they just do. For me, it is an enormous mountain I continually put off until I eventually, at age 39, ask my mother to come with me purely so I don’t end up with no food in the house again and again.

Living with major depressive disorder is confusing to those around me because they cannot see any reason why I struggle with the smallest things — things they do almost on autopilot. Coupled with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD), the mountain I stand before seems bigger and bigger each day. To know that basic human needs like showering and accessing food are something I struggle so much with is frightening because it sends a message to my brain that if something big comes my way, I will have no resources to fight it. 

I will be perfectly honest: I feel so angry and jealous of people around me who are able to navigate the world in a far more simple and straightforward way than I can. I also feel an immense amount of shame about not having the strength to gather enough resources to accomplish the most simple of tasks when it comes to basic self-care. I am also well aware that those around me see things like not showering or wearing the same clothes for days as lazy and “not caring.” I cannot count the number of times that even the closest people to me have made comments like “just don’t think about it and do it.” It not only drives me “crazy” that it reinforces the sense of isolation that depression brings, but it shames me into a spiral of self-criticism. I wish I could articulate to people how hard I try, every day, just to get through the day. MDD is significantly different to other forms of depression. It is generally not triggered by an event or specific reason. This makes it all the more difficult not only to live with but to explain to those around me. For me, with my co-morbid mental illnesses, it sits in the background all the time and depending on what is happening with my anxiety and BPD, my depression either accelerates or is completely overtaken by one of the others.

It’s basically like the dinner party from hell. There’s me sitting at the table with depression, anxiety and BPD all sitting around the table, vying for their chance to run the show. It’s a complex mix I often feel at the mercy of. After the exhaustion of this battle, just getting through the day is considered an achievement for me at the moment. If I manage to squeeze in a shower and a change of clothes, then it’s a big win! 

So, it leaves me facing two challenges, the first being the most obvious: not being able to achieve those most simple of self-care tasks. And then, there is the other extreme challenge of living with that knowledge and being self-aware that this illness is so powerful and so overwhelming I am unable to do things so many people take for granted and barely think about. It is hard not to feel jealous and angry but I know those feelings aren’t helpful in the long run. All I can do is keep fighting and recognize when I do achieve something, albeit seemingly insignificant to those around me. I look forward to a time I am no longer driven by my illness and there are certainly times when I do achieve things, often without realizing it.

To those out there who are lucky enough to not have to think long and hard about whether or not to muster up the energy to take a shower, spare a thought for those of us who struggle on a daily basis to enjoy what should be a basic need.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash