Depression and laziness

When I was younger, it was not uncommon for people to think I was lazy. I didn’t ever want to go outside (we’ll ignore that playing outside involved a high likelihood of being bullied), I watched too much TV and later spent too much time online, I quit too easily, I didn’t try hard enough in school, I put off doing my homework and chores, etc, etc, etc.

I’m sure lots of kids have these things said about them and I’m sure I’ve made my fair share of choices to earn that label, but I think it was a bit more of a fight for me. There were times when I felt like there was a mental force field blocking me from doing something even when it was something that I wanted to do. Something sucked the strength from my muscles at the thought of getting up and accomplishing something. It may be made from the same stuff that keeps your from touching something dirty like poop or bugs or dead animals or, more likely, it’s made of that stuff that makes you think you need to stop running way before you actually need to. It’s the thing that makes you want to stay in bed when your alarm goes off and makes you want to run away from an embarrassing situation.

I could never quite articulate it. I didn’t know that I had depression at the time and I didn’t even really know what depression was. According to TV commercials, it was something that makes attractive moms with very clean, but blandly decorated bedrooms want to lean their backs against the door frame and slide down to the floor with their head in their hands. I was pretty sure I didn’t have that. But look at some of those depression symptoms again:

  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of pessimism
  • excessive sleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable

Laziness is a unwillingness to do work, use energy, or do things with care, but depression can rob you of that willingness or that capability. I am not, not, not saying that everyone who acts lazy is depressed or that people with depression can’t get work done, but in my circumstance, I think I was further deflated by the blame and guilt placed on me for something that I didn’t understand and couldn’t describe, but felt was an affliction.

There were times when I couldn’t get important work done without waiting long enough for panic to set in and motivate me. Eventually this turned into starting 10 page papers at 3 am the day they were due. Then the morning of. Then at some point the panic didn’t even kick in until a few days after the assignments was due. Once, in college, I just stopped going to a class because I couldn’t get myself to do the final assignment. I would sometimes fantasize about getting hit by a car on the way to school. Not badly, just enough to get me out of turning in the assignment on time.  In middle school, I distinctly remember fantasizing often about just collapsing in the hallway for some unknown reason. That was at least I could stop and lie down and everyone else would realize there was something wrong with me without me having to justify it. 

I wasn’t like this all the time of course. I would snap out of it and get my energy back. I would be able to be productive and social and act like a real human, but those times also came with a little bit of self-shaming. Why couldn’t I just do these things before? Why couldn’t I just get them done and make my life easier? I just didn’t realize at the time that I was cycling through better and worse times and I didn’t have the language to talk or think about it. I didn’t figure much of this out until my late 20s (which I am still in).

I really wish I had discovered this laziness/depression connection sooner. I experienced a lot of hurt and frustration over being blamed and insulted for the obstacles in my way. Then I turned around and shamed myself for it. The laziness thing kind of became part of my identity over time which, when paired with eventually not giving a fuck, turned it into a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy. 

Depression isn’t sadness

(NOTE: please don’t read an amateur blog post and start mis-diagnosing yourself and your friends. Seek help from a professional or encourage your friends to)

Recent events have brought depression back into the public eye (along with all the other terrible and shitty things that have happened this month). It’s important to get good information out because there are a lot of misconceptions about depression and leaving it untreated or treating it poorly can seriously detract from a person’s life.

One of the common misconceptions I’m seeing all over the place is that depression is basically being really sad – or being sad for a really long time. But sadness is only one of the possible symptoms of depression. You can be depressed without feeling sad at all! This is something I’ve been slowly learning over the last few years. Couple of my friends shared their experiences with me.

I have actually found that depression in many cases is the absence of sadness, or any other emotion.

Or feeling emotions but being unable to engage with or express them (alexithymia)

Here are some of the symptoms of depression listed on WebMD (bold mine):

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings

Are you surprised by any of these? Especially the ones I bolded? Sometimes depression makes people feel grumpy and irritable. Sometimes it makes them feel just not particularly excited about things or actively negative about things they would normally enjoy. Sometimes depression makes people kinda shut down because it feels too hard to remember things, focus, or make up their mind.

These things can be misinterpreted as personality traits or intentional behavior, as self-absorption, laziness, apathy, ennui, or poor priorities. That might look like aimlessness, a lack of direction in life, inability to care for oneself (cooking, cleaning, hygiene), choosing easy/cheap pleasures over responsibilities or more fulfilling activities (fast food where you would normally prefer to cook at home, TV instead of time with friends, masturbation/lazy sex/disengaged sex instead of the usual engaged or passionate sex). 

Again, these are just examples of how things can play out. They aren’t symptoms of depression and can be the result of choices or other circumstances or circumstancial stress/sadness. 

This is by no means an exhaustive or exact list, the point I want to make is that depression is not just sadness turned up to eleven. If someone is experiencing sadness as a symptom of depression, it might not be very helpful to treat them like someone who’s sad about something. You can’t just distract them or tell them to cheer up or get over it because the sadness is not being caused by their dwelling on a sad thing. The same goes for the way you treat yourself. Don’t beat yourself up over feeling sad. Don’t tell yourself to snap out of it or further upset yourself by trying to force a mood change. There are certainly things you can do that will help (I’ll save that for another post), but you have to remember that depression is not sadness. They are not the same thing. Don’t treat them that way.

(I want to also note that a person with depression can be sad about something separately from being depressed. In that case, the usual approaches to dealing with sadness may be appropriate)