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Why Making Lists Helps My Depression

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In 2011, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. That means when I’m depressed, I’m in a deep, dark hole with no foot holes to climb up and no rope to pull me out. When a depressive episode hits me like a UPS truck, I go through the motions of just trying to scrape my way through the day. If I get out of bed at all, I force myself to shower, coax myself to eat and push myself out the door. During my depressive bouts, I try to use the coping skills I’ve developed through therapy and learned during my inpatient stay in a mental health ward. One of my favorites, and the one I think works the best is making lists.

I arm myself with lists to battle depression. There are no cons to keeping lists, only pros. The lists I keep when I’m depressed give my seemingly messy life a little bit of order. Every thought, every task is neatly written in columns of a neatly lined page. When I’d rather sit in darkness and do nothing, lists help me prioritize. They’re handwritten letters of encouragement, and each word is a cheerleader on paper. Crossing off individual tasks, big or small, brings me a great sense of accomplishment that immediately boosts my mood. Depending on the list I make, doing so gives me something to look forward to. Whether it’s a list of goals or dreams or plans for tomorrow, there is always something to look forward to.

I have several lists I keep to get me through my depressive episodes. I like them all, and love how they make me feel. The first list I fill out is my Gratitude List. As I number the page, I recall everything in my life I am thankful for, and my spirits are lifted. The second list is a basic To-Do list. This list is full of daily tasks I would normally find daunting during a depressive episode. They may be big, they may be small, but they are all equal on my yellow-lined paper, and I feel equally satisfied when I cross them off. Another list I keep is an I Want to Remember list. This list helps me take a break from my negative thoughts to recount memories and write down which ones I wish to remember always. An obvious list to keep while depressed is a Joy list. I list everything that makes me happy, even little things like warm rain, a child’s smile or the softness of my kitty’s fur. Finally, I keep a list of my Accomplishments. As I write and then reread this list, my confidence goes up and my negativity goes away.

Keeping lists is my favorite way to cope. I feel order in my life, success when I cross off a task and have hope for the future. I read and reread these lists as many times as I need to until I feel better, and then I throw them away so I can’t cheat the next time. I list my way through depression not only because I actually enjoy it, but because I need to do it. When I’m down, I lose and forget the other coping skills I’ve learned throughout my battle with bipolar disorder. I arm myself with lists because they’re easy; just grab a notebook and a pen and get started. I’ve thought of adding some humor to my lists because laughing is a great medicine for depression. The list of lists I could make is limitless, but it always keeps my mind focused elsewhere instead of on my despair. And that’s the goal of list-making. To move your mind in the direction of a comforting fortress that will protect you from the dangers of depression and help you fight.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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