Added note: I have just come out of a slump, so I haven’t updated in a while. This post explains why.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read an article about how depression feels. Plenty of accurate and powerful analogies exist; I just don’t know if they’re quite enough. I’m not sure if it truly sinks in for those who have not experienced it. Can it really be felt through an explanation?
With that question came an idea. In college, my sister studied special education. She told me about an assignment that helped her understand disability. The class was told to pick a disabling condition and live it for a few days. They either had to wear a blindfold, earplugs, use a wheelchair or something of that nature.
I think the same can be done for depression, in a way. To that effect I offer a simple challenge: before every activity, you must do something physical until begins to wear on you. Jumping jacks, pushups – whatever is going to make you exhausted. Keep track of how many you do, and before you get out of bed every morning after that, look at how many reps you have to do. Repeat this for three days.
That only covers the fatigue part of the illness. However, this can be the most disabling part and is one of the features that is criticized the most. From the outside it looks like someone with depression is lazy, or just giving up. Why don’t they try harder?
This Depression Challenge could change those ideas. When I say exercise before an activity, I mean everything. Do it right after you get out of bed. Repeat before taking a shower. Again before breakfast. Again before getting dressed. Twice before leaving for work.
If you read anything or turn on the TV, do another set. Need to get the kids out of bed? Another set. Checking your email for the day? Do it again.
Add that as part of your morning routine (at least) and see how motivated you are to get up the next day. Don’t hurt yourself of course! Do push past your limit slightly. No matter how fit you are, there is a peak where the exercise will become too much. You need to reach that point every time.
Depression is an honest-to-goodness battle. I describe mine as “heavy” or an “aching experience.” This experiment will not replicate the mood, anxiety or the dark thoughts. But it will offer a glimpse into the toll those things take on the body.
If this doesn’t sap the motivation and drive you have to carry on with your day to day life, I’m not sure what will. My hope is that the next time you want to shame someone for being lazy or not snapping out of it, you’ll think twice.