How to get out of bed

Guest post by Ava Strange

Page from “Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me” by Ellen Forney. Used by permission.
I get it. What others might see as a chronic case of laziness, is actually paralyzing depression. The thought of getting out of bed is like running a marathon. The thought of getting better is like getting a PhD in life, something you want no part of. You haven’t even changed your clothes in four days.

Today, we’re going to take it easy. Forget about all those thoughts that are slowly crushing you. Today we’re just going to take a shower. That’s it. Don’t worry if you forget your meds right now. If a shower is too much, run the bath. Just put two feet on the floor, get in there and soak.

Take as long as you need to. Don’t think about the mean things people have said while they thought they were helping. They don’t get it and it’s not your problem. You don’t owe the world anything but your best effort, and it already got you in here, so you’re doing great.

Now look at what you’ve accomplished. More than you have in days. You’re doing it. Let’s build on that…

Time to take your meds, if you have them. It’s an important step. The only thing you have to do today is take your meds.

You’ve done some very important things. Facing the day can be tough, but you’ve already gotten so much out of the way. But there’s just one thing you need to do. All we’re going to do today is get dressed. It can be ugly, it can be comfy, it can be something that makes you feel beautiful. There are no rules. Wear what you want. Don’t worry about impressing anyone. There. Doesn’t that feel better already?

All we’re going to do today is eat. I know you haven’t been hungry, and if you were you don’t feel like you deserve to eat anyway. But you have to eat to live, and for now, for just this moment, that’s what’s going on. You’re living. It’s a big deal, but a bowl of cereal isn’t. You can sit under your therapy light while you eat. You can cuddle your animal or a teddy bear while you eat. Just eat. Eating is showing yourself some of the love that you need right now.

It’s over. You’ve done so much. There are no expectations placed on you today, but do remember that there can be a correlation between depression and creativity. You might not realize it, but there’s something in there that you’re amazing at. Write, paint, compose.

It doesn’t have to be good. You don’t have to finish it. You don’t have to show anyone. But just look what you can do.

Look at simply what you can get done. You who thought, just an hour ago, they couldn’t even get out of bed. This is huge. You can do this.

For more explorations of the interplay of depression and creativity, check out the graphic novel that the image in this post is from, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney.

Comments on How to get out of bed

  1. Thanks for the lovely post! When I was recovering from a period of extreme anxiety, my morning routine was one of the most important parts of getting back into regular life. I can’t remember all the details, but integral to this routine was having a bowl of cereal. At some point after waking up, I would have a bowl of cereal and watch banal morning talk shows (the meaningless banter of Al Roker and Katie Couric – perfect for overcoming anxiety!). Then I’d take my medicine. Then I’d actually get on with what would become an increasingly anxiety-free day.

  2. This post ran so true to me. I definitely had a day last week where I decided that getting out of bed and going to school was my victory of the day. It was hard enough to get to class and I gave absolutely no fucks at all about anything, any critique, unfinished homework, because I had already won the day by getting out of bed. I had gotten out of bed, and sitting in class was my freaking victory lap!

    • You may have created your username just for this post, but I want to celebrate it. The internet would be such a better space if we all had names that reflected our gratitude for the words we are responding to (even if we disagree with them). Your way of expressing yourself is awesome. I’m sure, by extension, that you’re really awesome too.

      Also, getting out of bed and going to class are both huge accomplishments. Go you!

  3. What a great post! It really spoke to me. When I was fresh out of the hospital after attempt #2, my mantra was “Just better than yesterday.” My only goal was do one thing “better” than the day before. That could mean as little as taking a shower, or leaving the house to get the mail. I gave myself permission to not “get sane” in one day. After a few years of a little better than yesterday, today I’m doing better than I ever have before. I’m even working with my Dr. to slowly reduce some of my meds to see if I can live without the side effects.

    • Major props to the idea of giving yourself “permission to not ‘get sane’ in one day.” Depression is bad, but I found that being mad at myself for failing to be happy was way, way worse. Far better to explain to myself that yes, this sucked, and it was likely going to continue to suck for at least a while longer, but that all I needed to do in any given moment (literally, the one thing you HAVE to do) is breathe. Everything else can wait until you feel slightly less out of control or overwhelmed.

  4. <3 <3 <3

    (Though I have to say when I first opened the post, I thought the comic was about being cold… I haven't been able to sit on the couch without swaddling myself in months)

  5. “The thought of getting better is like getting a PhD in life, something you want no part of.” THISSSSS. Getting better is. So. Much. Work. It feels so overwhelming at times. I love the way you phrased this!

  6. My bad days in a nutshell. Sometimes getting my day started is so overwhelming I have to concentrate on just showering, getting dressed, and brushing my teeth. Many times after getting those things done (on bad days it can take a while) I might feel good enough to paint or apply to shows. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person who struggles to brush their teeth before noon. Am I really the same person who planned a wedding and trained for a half marathon while getting a 4.0 in grad school? Depression is an asshole. Thanks for this. It makes me feel less alone.

    • “Am I really the same person who planned a wedding and trained for a half marathon while getting a 4.0 in grad school? ”

      I struggle with this sort of “identity crisis” as well. It’s like I’ve divided my life into B.A. (Before anxiety) and A.A. (After anxiety). Even when you sort of get shit under control, you aren’t the same person. The same things don’t motivate you, you can’t plan your life the same way, etc. And each time you try to slip into “Before” habits, you hit a wall realizing (just do it, just get started, just work faster, just just just just…) that you can’t do that anymore, and then it’s a whole other wave of frustration, self doubt, and helplessness all over again.

      • Absolutely this. For me personally, I have to recognize that the “before” habits are what contributed to burn out and adrenal fatigue. We only have so much energy/life force and acting that way borrowed against my future, which is why I don’t have it now. So now life is slower, messier, more cyclical. The work for me is accepting this and working with it rather than mourning the loss of the before/beating myself up for not getting “back” to that way.

        • It takes time, but eventually you can get yourself to a place where you’re doing more than the struggle to function and finally feeling like you can do something again. I started to come out of a post-grad school, post-“feeling-like-I-failed-because-I-didn’t-immediately-find-a-job-in-my-field” fog last year around this time, thanks to a few months of seeing a psychologist for an hour every other week. Before I started going, I was unemployed and it was always a struggle to get out of bed, I did next to nothing all day long, and then couldn’t sleep at night. While it took more than just these few things, her main advice for me was this:

          1. Try to go to bed earlier and get up earlier

          2. Eat something about every 3 or so hours (example: breakfast, a snack, lunch, a snack, dinner, a snack)

          3. Be sure to stay hydrated (at minimum, get in those 8 glasses/day)

          4. Eat more fruits and veggies

          5. Eat more protein

          6. Get at least a little exercise every day

          and 7. Do something to stimulate your mind (whether it’s doing a crossword, putting together a puzzle, reading an interesting book, or creating art, or whatever, just something to get your mind working).

          Sure, at first, it’s daunting to try to do all of the above, but if you slowly work them into your daily habits, it’s unbelievable how much better you can feel.

          She also reminded me of the fact that we can only handle so many stressors/cope with a certain amount before it really, really weighs us down. Sometimes we just have to accept that we need to let certain things go or maybe for some people, it’s cutting out certain people from your life, in order to get better control over our wellness.

          I’m not trying to say that my experience solved all of my problems, or that what I learned will solve everyone else’s, but I hope that some of those thoughts might help someone.

          [I understand if moderators must delete this comment, though I don’t in any way claim this to be the end-all-be-all medical advice or anywhere near it.]

          • Absolutely YES to this whole list. To aid in me getting up, I keep water, fruit, some protein (like some unsalted almonds), and ginger candies in case of nausea next to my bed. Then I can take care of several things before I even get out of bed. This works especially well if I wake up an hour before I have to start getting dressed. That way, by the time I actually put my feet on the floor, I feel physically closer to well.

          • The change in diet (more protein and veg, eating every few hours) has been huge for me. The rest of the list I struggle with implementing. I think seeing someone every other week would be great. Did you have insurance that covered that? I am trying to figure out health care before the March deadline (another one of those daunting things…).

          • Jala: Yes, I was fortunate to have insurance that covered most of the cost. I still had a co-pay, but that was all. By the way, I’m based in the US, so experience could be different elsewhere, just as it varies according to what insurance you might have.

            My psychologist’s office actually looked into the insurance before my first appointment so that they could tell me whether I would be covered and how much it would cost. If you’re thinking of seeing someone and the office doesn’t make it clear that they will do this, you could probably ask that they look into it beforehand for you.

          • Making sure you eat well is really important. One thing that I have found to help keep my depression at bay is to cut out high fructose corn syrup. Not only is it only found in processed foods, there is some (minimal) scientific research to show that women who are susceptible to depression, and also are lactose intolerant tend to be intolerant of corn syrup, also.
            It’s an odd mix: woman + lactose intolerance + depression + corn syrup. But I’m feeling mentally healthier since I’ve cut it out.

  7. Beautiful post. I was reading my journal from 2008 the other day, and I realized I am still saying the same things–I need to do this, and this, and this and I’ll get better and then I can have a real life. I had an epiphany that this IS my real life. I am living with depression. So when I can’t/don’t do “this, and this, and this” (exercise, socialize, etc.) it’s just a time when my depression is hitting harder. That’s not ideal, but accepting that this is true is easier than continuing to believe that I am not a real person with a real life until I am “all better.” Some days you just got to get through and try not to take it personally. Thanks for giving us sweet, accepting words to use on those hard days.

    • That is such a good realization. Even without clinical depression it’s something to remember. Sometimes I catch myself thinking about how everything will just be great and perfect in my life once I (start a real exercise schedule/finish this project at work/clear out my email inbox/etc.). But of course, if I did all of those things I’d find something else. There’s no magic formula for perfectly content, so it’s okay to be satisfied with simply “good,” whatever your definition of good needs to be for the day.

  8. When I was at my worst, I had to accept that recovery and maintenance can go not even day by day. I had times when it went hour to hour, minute to minute. I had periods of time when I just finally accepted that I had to go someplace, sit down, and just work through the minutes. Sometimes, that’s what it takes. I think the best thing that comes out of the struggle (at least for me) is that it makes very clear that selfishness isn’t always bad. I don’t feel bad anymore for telling my husband “You need to take care of the baby for a while, I don’t think I should.” I don’t feel bad for demanding that I get 8-9 hours of sleep a night, because that’s what I need to stay healthy and stable. Good mental health requires, on some level, a bit of selfishness, and that’s okay. I don’t think I really advanced in stability until I could accept that.

    • And it doesn’t help when people tell you you are lazy for needing so much sleep, or that it’s ridiculous because for them 6 hours is enough. One of the best things I learned from seeing my therapist was realizing that everyone has different needs (and that I, for instance, really do need that much sleep to be well) and how to teach my husband that our needs are different and that he needs to respect mine. He is still somewhat incredulous at how much sleep I need, or how much I rely on lists, but at least we’ve had open communication about it and the results of me meeting my needs speak for themselves!

  9. Thank you so much for this today. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis when I was 15 and it seems like every day is even harder to get out of bed. Add to that some crappy cold+allergies I caught this week and I’ve been feeling pretty helpless. Today my husband went back to work after his vacation days and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to, you know, walk downstairs to feed the dog, or carry a drink upstairs to take medicine without falling. It is difficult to accept my limitations when I’m barely thirty and can’t even get dressed or feed myself everyday.

  10. This completely described my morning/afternoon. Minus the shower, and eating part, but hey I’m sitting at my computer and not on my phone in bed, and all critters have been fed. Its all about little victories on days like today!

  11. Where was this post a year ago? This is what I had to tell myself a year ago when I was so depressed that I had to talk myself through putting on my shoes. Saturdays and Sundays I’d stay in bed until 1, not because I was especially tired, but because getting out of bed was too much work. Weekday mornings, I’d wake up and give myself one minute of awake in bed time where I forced myself to just sit up. Then I’d force myself to the shower. Then, getting dressed. Then, shoes. Sometimes I’d be exhausted by the emotional journey my morning routine would take me through, and I’d be reduced to tears by the smallest thing. I came out of it though, and I wish I could tell anyone who is dealing with their own depression that I understand. You’re still a great, wonderful person, and there is another side.

  12. Thank you for this post, and thanks to all the commenters for sharing.
    When I was going through a rough period I decided I had to write 2 good things at the end of every day on my calendar – many days had “drank a nice cup of coffee” on them, but it helped. Another girlfriend of mine had bought herself stickers during a rough period and everyday she gave herself a sticker for making it through the day.

    • I love that! It can definitely help to think about what you’re grateful for, or think objectively about your accomplishments. Though I seem unable to feel pride in anything I do lately, I can at least be reminded that there is a world outside of this fog that will be waiting for me when I get back.

      • Hey, you have three “THIS!” points! I would be proud of that. It’s the little things. As I feel like everyone here is saying, you may not be feeling pride in things because you “know” you can do better, but you have to realize that you honestly may not be able to do better right now, so you need to learn to take pride in doing your best, whatever your best is at the moment. If that means you write a blunt, uninspired email to someone, that’s awesome! If that means you shared a comment online and several people saw it and agreed and thought it was worthwhile, that’s extra awesome! It’s difficult re-orienting your brain to think of success not as accomplishing something other people would say “wow” to, but as accomplishing something that you found difficult at all. Even getting out of bed.

  13. This post really captures the feeling of my “bad” days.
    Just putting one foot in front of the other so to speak is sometimes the best way to cope and begin to climb out of the hole of depression.

  14. “Yes, exactly,” to this entire post and all the comments.

    From the ages of (roughly) 12 to 26 I went through bouts of major depression. My last – and worst – episode lasted for 15 months. I spent two stints in the psych ward, once voluntarily, once decidedly involuntarily. Having lived through that, and knowing that I will be fighting depressive symptoms for the rest of my life has taught me the following:

    1) It’s okay to do the bare minimum sometimes. More than okay – it’s triumphant.

    2) It’s important to talk about depression. It scares people who don’t understand, but that’s their baggage and not yours.

    3) After years of living with depression and anxiety, you tend to learn what works and what doesn’t. For me, helpful things include writing “to-do” lists, natural sunlight, exercise, getting enough sleep, talking to my husband, having concrete goals, and humor (funny tv shows/books/movies/YouTube vids/etc.).

    4) Life – full, happy, joyful, fulfilled life! – is possible, even with depression. It has taken so, so, so, so much work, but I am now four years away from my last major depressive episode. Even though I still battle with symptoms daily (particularly my anxiety, grrr), I am far enough away from the “getting out of bed is impossible” symptoms that I can work a somewhat stressful job and not collapse in on myself like a dying star.

    5) Number 4 does not happen automatically. It takes baby step after baby step. It takes hard. fucking. work. And it’s okay to be sad and frustrated at the amount of time and effort life takes compared to those folks living without depression. It’s okay to be kind of jealous of those people. God knows, I am.

    6) Depression teaches empathy and compassion. Knowing the pain of depression, I hurt to think of others going through that pain. Which brings me back to number 2. IT’S IMPORTANT TO TALK ABOUT DEPRESSION.

    Thanks for this post.

    • I find it really frustrating to compare myself to others that don’t deal with depression. It throws my perspective all out of whack. What really matters is personal progress. Is today better than yesterday? Fucking hell yes! Is today harder than yesterday? It doesn’t matter what others deal with, I’ve gotta find a way to turn myself around and not fall deeper into depression.

      • I agree wholeheartedly with all of the above and would love to add this- don’t compare yourself to other people with depression, even yourself in past episodes. The bane of my existence right now is my own mental “but SHE’S doing it!” and, “I used to be able to handle that!” and “I don’t have it THAT bad, so why can’t I…”

        • Totally this. I keep wondering how all my friends with depression seem to be managing it just fine, as far as being successful at their jobs, while I seem to struggle so much. But I guess we also don’t always know what other people are going through either.

          • YES. I’m one of those who appear highly functioning, but I feel a wreck. In fact, I get accused of being melodramatic when I tell someone I’m depressed. Everybody has a different experience, everyone has different coping strategies, but we don’t have to feel alone, either.

    • “I can work a somewhat stressful job and not collapse in on myself like a dying star.” ~as an aspiring astrophysicist suffering from depression, I really liked the imagery here.

  15. Finding this was so perfectly timed. Im currently having one of those days but after reading this I think I’ll get up, have a shower and something to eat and try to make myself some new jewellery.
    Thank you.

  16. As someone who used to deal with crippling depression every day, and occasionally still, thank you for this post. It’s so easy to beat ourselves up when you get to this place, but it’s the time we need self love most of all. Thank you for your lovely post reminding us all to take care of ourselves, love ourselves and be gentle with ourselves. Beautifully written 🙂

  17. I was helpless today. I felt like i just take up space and I couldn’t do anything. All I can think of was “how does everyone else manage, but I can’t even get out of bed?” … then i log on here and it’s the first thing i see. How to get out of bed. I thought it was kind of a joke, but it’s exactly what i needed.

  18. I’ve made my motto these days, “make your bed and take your meds.” Bigger ambitions can wait. I’ve never been a bed-making type, but I’ve finally made it very easy for myself (make it look made “enough” by just pulling up the covers and throwing some throw-pillows on it). It’s amazing how much such a small piece of the “I’m not doing life right” puzzle needs to be put together in order for the rest to seem semi-whole. Showers are another ballgame. Didn’t do one this weekend, but made it look like I did.

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