Do Two Things
I’ve probably come to this conclusion before, so my apologies if this is tiresome.
I make the same mistake over and over again (what was that definition of madness, again?)—deciding either:
- …that I will somehow throw the neurochemical round-house punch to end all neurochemical round-house punches and knock my depression right TF out.
- …that I’m feeling much better and that, as a result, my depression is just about over and I’ll be fine any old minute now.
Then I find myself flummoxed when I don’t magically turn into … well, not a normal person (as D always says, “Average was never the goal!”), but a not-depressed person … overnight, or when I overextend myself and just can’t even for the next five days.
As such, I’ve decided to adopt a motto that some might call “strategetic” and others might call “cowardly.” In short:
When all else fails, run away
And live to fight another day.
(Coincidentally, this exact phrasing is the motto of Daniel D’Aeve, a semi-cowardly knight [he doesn’t like loud noises, for one thing] and accidental pirate [he doesn’t like boats, either] and the semi-hero of a musical I’ll probably never finish, but who knows. Miracles do happen.)
I’m not going to wrestle my depression into submission. That’s not how this works.
If I keep engaging it head-on, this gorilla will always, always wrestle me into the ground. Depression is like … I don’t know, wrestling some kind of mutant alligator that has gained the ability to steal your strength and make it its own as long as you keep fighting. (I feel like there’s almost certainly a Japanese monster movie about this already, but if there isn’t, there should be.)
As such, I’ve decided to adopt a more conservative tack. I know that I’m too impulsive to entirely avoid wrestling the alligator—sometimes I don’t realize I’m doing so until the alligator is already doing death-rolls at the bottom of the pond—but I’m going to try not to, like, walk up and pick fights with the alligator … even if that means letting it live in my house for a while.
In other words, for a little while, I’m going to try not to do as much.
I’m not going to stop doing everything, of course, but I’m not going to push quite as hard for a bit.
Instead, I’m going to revert to the best strategy I’ve ever found for keeping myself afloat in the midst of one of my moderate-but-grinding depressions: Do Two Things.
Oddly, I thought I’d written a post about this strategy before, but I can’t* find it, so I’m writing it now.
*Which is to say, I ran a search, devoted exactly 30 seconds to looking
for it, and then I gave up because I realized that if I kept it up I’d
start reading old posts and never finish this one.
So, in case you’re wondering, here’s how it works.
First, you get depressed. This makes living seem like a tedious uphill grind, and causes you to write poems empathizing with Sisyphus, and generally makes every single little thing that you have to do in order to continue to remain semi-afloat seem like a hideous impossibility.
Second, you own up to the fact that you don’t want to do anything. You don’t feel up to doing anything. You drag yourself to class because some part of you dimly recognizes that things will only be worse in the long run if, on top of recovering from a depression, you also have to get yourself back in performing shape or auditioning shape or what have you in the span of 3.4 days somewhere down the line. But other than that you feel like you just can’t even.
Eventually, you begin to feel slightly better, and then you look around your house and you realize, Holy Hell, it looks like a tornado crashed through a paper mill, a diner, and a thrift store before chugging right through your door. And also the cat has somehow contrived to get maple syrup on his head (which he doesn’t mind in the least, but you do). And you are out of Kleenex.
Some part of you thinks, “I should do something about all this,” while the rest of you just gazes around at the chaos with the proverbial thousand-yard stare and no idea where to begin.
That’s where Do Two Things comes in. You tell yourself, “Okay. There is no way I can do all of this right now, so I’m just going to do two things today.”
Then you turn to the thing nearest thing—or the nearest thing that feels like you have some hope of accomplishing it—and you do that thing.
The whole strategy hinges on this one truth: that sometimes “Do The Dishes” counts as one thing, and sometimes, “I’m going to wash this one dish” does. Sometimes, getting out of bed counts as one thing, and sometimes completely unmaking the bed, rotating the mattress, and remaking the bed counts as one thing.
It doesn’t matter. You judge yourself by the standard of where you are now. You give yourself permission to wash this one dish and that one fork.
The funny thing is that usually once you get started—once you wash the One Dish—you’ll usually find yourself thinking, “Ah, well. I might as well wash this entire stack; it’s not going to take any longer, really, and I already have my gloves on.”
So often Doing Two Things turns into Cleaning the Kitchen—but you have to remember not to look at that fact too directly, or your motivation might catch your scent on the wind and bolt. Wild motivations are flighty like that.
In my worst depressions, sometimes my Two Things are as simple as getting out of bed to get a drink, then eating a bagel while I’m already up.
When I’m well into recovery, they may be as complex as making the dining room ready for company and re-organizing the closets.
Either way, I give myself permission to feel like if I’ve done my Two Things, then I have done enough for the day.
It is, of course, totally okay to do more than the Two Things. It is pretty much impossible to do less: even in the pit of the kind of depression that keeps you confined to your bed or the sofa, it’s fairly likely that you’ll have to use the bathroom at least twice on any given day. If you’ve been in that place, you’ll understand why that counts. You just start with whatever Two Things are in reach.
Do Two Things acts both as an accessible goal and as a limiter.
If I’m having the kind of day that starts with “I am going to wash this One Dish,” then I know that, no matter how significant an uptick I might feel, I probably shouldn’t tackle rearranging the closets (which always sounds like a good idea, but turns into a nightmare because D has lived in this house for 20 years and almost never gets rid of anything).
Even if Washing the One Dish turns into Washing the Dishes, the knowledge that the first of my two things began as “Wash the One Dish” keeps me mindful of the fact that I’m not yet fully recovered, and that I shouldn’t start burning tomorrow’s matches today.
So there we have it. For the time being, I’m going to Do Two Things. This will help me get through the current slog without overwhelming myself (at least, without overwhelming myself as often).
Anyway, I don’t know if this strategy will work as well for anyone else as it does for me, but feel free to try it if you want to. It’s also good for getting started when you just plain feel overwhelmed, whether you’re depressed or not (this is a key feature of Adulting with ADHD).
Posted on 2017/11/25, in adhd, adulting, Do Two Things, healing, life management, mental health and tagged adulting with adhd, depression, Do Two Things, don't wrestle the alligator, managing, the struggle is in fact real. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.
Sounds pretty sensible to me, albeit perhaps too ambitious.
One piece of spiritual mastery I picked up in India was than one thing per day is probably enough. That’s because the combination of energy sapping tropical weather, soul destroying Indian bureaucracy and bowel wrenching microbial invasions often left me little choice. I was always bemused at the two-week tourists who tried to ‘do’ India on five attractions per day. No wonder they hid behind camera lenses and waited until they got home and developed the film to (pretend to) enjoy their trip. Actually being there while trying to fight against the fact would have been a miserable experience.
I’d have thought you’d know by now there’s no such thing as a neurochemical sucker punch. That’s because something called homeostasis ensures anything you knock down that way gets up bigger and stronger and comes right back at ya.
What psychiatrists like to call ‘mental illnesses’ are almost certainly symptom clusters that are adaptive more often than dysfunctional, otherwise evolutionary selection pressure would never have allowed them to become so common. They’re your body’s way of telling you to slow down a bit and give yourself space to recover (or to flee the real problem – which ain’t your brain, no matter how many ‘experts’ insist otherwise). The reason they’re ‘diseases’ is because we’ve created a hyper-competitive civilisation that doesn’t look kindly upon slowing down. Instead of pathologising the demands and conventions that (usually) create the problem mainstream psychiatry shifts the blame onto the sufferer (while pretending it’s blaming chemicals, not individuals; though its ‘mind=brain’ materialist ontology insists there’s really no difference).
Yeah, we can better keep up with the Joneses by whacking up amphetamines every day. For a while. But an increasing number of people are learning the limits of that strategy the hard way. Yet a century of biopsychiatry seems to have learned nothing of the inevitable outcome of long term attempts to supercharge the synapses. In fact they’ve unlearned a lot of the lessons about stimulants that were well understood by the mid-20th century.
Thanks … and also, I’ll take that under advisement 😉 You have a good point about how exhausting the world can be.
I suppose the flexibility of my definition of the Two Things means sometimes, basically, I’m only doing one thing by a more standard definition, anyway 😀
WRT the travel thing … it boggles my mind. Honestly, I can’t imagine believing I could visit all of my block at Burning Man in the span of a fortnight, let alone cramming in five sight-seeing excursions per day, plus travel, in India.
My old roommate vacationed like that, and I found it completely exhausting even when confined to, say, the state of North Carolina.
I don’t suppose I ever thought about it this way, but people do seem to be living their entire lives that way. Ack. I try not to be one of them, but I suspect that I am more often than I realize. That’s definitely something to think about.
I suspect that you’re also dead on about the things we call mental illness … and I need to bear that in mind.
By way of example, I definitely suspect that the thing we call ADHD has its merits outside of the structure of 21st-century Western society. What we think of as constant restlessness in the context of a sedentary world translates, in different contexts, to endurance. When I worked with horses, when I worked as a bike courier, when I worked in a distribution center warehouse chasing down stuff to get shipped out, my inability to sit still was an asset. It remains an asset as a dancer and as an aerialist: when other people are physically exhausted and can’t stand the idea of repeating the same choreography even one more time, I’m ready to run it for another hour straight. The social aspect can be exhausting, but that’s a different thing. I need to keep all that in mind.
The other bit–the roundhouse punch bit–I’m still working on. Rationally, I know it doesn’t work that way. Now, if I could just get the experiential part of my mind, which for some reason continues to expect it to work that way, onboard… Blargh. I suppose that’s an opportunity for mindfulness.
At any rate, I’ve taken four days off: I could have gone to class this morning, but I’m shifting my usual Sunday class to Monday evening for the time being, since I’ve got rehearsals on Sunday mornings through January. We didn’t have rehearsal today, so I decided to lie around in bed reading ~The Mother Tongue: The English Language and How It Got That Way~, which is a wee bit outdated in some aspects, but profoundly entertaining.
Anyway. You’ve handed me quite a few waypoints, here, and thanks for that as well.
I guess New Age pseudo-Jungians would call this synchronicity, but …
For the past two days I’ve been working on that story we discussed. The prose was running free and it felt like I was cooking. Loaded with linguistic flourishes such as double meanings, alliteration and strong sentence rhythms. I was pretty pleased with myself.
Then last night I had a dream. It was a bit too chaotic and abstract to try to describe here but it incorporated aspects of the Ballard short story The Voices of Time. It also featured Time Herself (i.e. Kali) and included strong bodily sensations and an overwhelming sense of Her immediacy that didn’t dispel when I awoke. When I did it was with the conviction I’d gotten carried away by my love of language and lost sight of the actual story I was trying to write. Reading back over my recent efforts I remained impressed with their prose style but realised they weren’t suitable for the story – not least because they broke completely with Ballard’s symbolism and embodied a rhythm that conflicted with my vision of the stilted character of Bellows.
Then I checked my emails. Your comment was the only new one. It ended with a reference to a book about the English language. To Kali worshipers like myself The Mother Tongue has a double meaning …
She really loves trashing stuff, that girl. Especially my self regard.
Weird, for some reason this ended up in my comments-needing-approval queueueueue, and I just saw it now (Kali, again?).
“When I did it was with the conviction I’d gotten carried away by my love of language and lost sight of the actual story I was trying to write.” <<<This. I run into this so often when I'm writing–and I do mean run, like headlong into a brick wall.
Synchronicity indeed. I’m looking forward to seeing where this is all going. As for trashing self-regard: so there as well, struggling hard with the voices of inner torment lately for some reason. But you saying this now makes me realize that, in a way, there’s something to be said for that, too–self-regard is another illusion, yes? Another thing that serves us well at times, but at other times we cling to it and it gets in the way. We get stuck in the idea of what’s good about ourselves and it prevents us from encountering the next thing that’s coming down the pike.
This makes a lot more sense in my head; I’m having trouble putting it into words.
Not Kali. Akismet. Two external links (one to the pic).
Sometimes I get this literally. Mostly it’s two voices, one male, one female. I don’t know their names but I’ve got a strong sense of their personalities now. Sometimes they address me but usually they talk to each other about me. They apparently have full access to my thoughts – including unconscious ones – and as you might expect they know me very well. They’re not malign but can be very cutting. As in ‘cut me down to size’. Very funny too, with the jokes generally on me. I’m quite fond of them. One of the things that make me glad to be crazy.
I think generally when people talk about losing their self regard they mean adopting negative self regard. This too is a conceit. An illusion. You can’t stand outside yourself and judge yourself. There’s nowhere to stand.
My bad. Didn’t fact-check my comment. For some reason I thought it was Kali you had mentioned. Akismet makes sense.
Shared bad. I should count my links before hitting ‘Post Comment’. When I noticed I thought of adding a comment to alert you but decided you’d probably find it eventually. At least it didn’t go to spam.
No worries. I’m glad I found it 🙂
Apologies if my comments today seem cranky. I’m way out of whack right now in a way that doesn’t appear to relate to anything in the external world—I mean, I’m not out of whack about anything specific, just on the emotional rollercoaster.
And yes, you’re exactly right about what people mean when they say that. Doesn’t keep it from being a powerful metaphor.
The Mother Tongue.
BTW, if I was asked to sum up the lesson of the story of Raktabija in an aphorism it would be that you can’t defeat existence in a head to head battle because you’re ultimately fighting yourself. You’ve got to learn to incorporate it entirely. Just suck it up.
Gets back to what I was saying about neurochemical homeostasis I guess.
I love the do two things strategy. Thank you for posting about this! I will try it and report back on how it goes. My favorite blog is Zen Habits. Do you know it?
Thanks! I hope it’ll work for you as well as it works for me. I feel like I’ve read a couple of posts from Zen Habits and liked them—I should add it to my reading rota!
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