Depression and everyday tasks

Fatigue and low energy are common symptoms of depression. Everyone we spoke with described struggles with tiredness and/or loss of motivation. Many people also talked about the specific impact depression had on their ability to complete everyday tasks — things like housework, personal hygiene, or going outside. Many people also had trouble getting out of bed.

People who found daily life hard to manage while depressed said they “struggled with daily things,” or found it hard to “just wake up and approach the day-to-day things.” Specific tasks people described as difficult include taking a shower, brushing teeth, doing laundry, cleaning, paying bills, and shopping. A few people also talked about having problems making or getting food: as Casey put it, sometimes “what I would have to do to get myself food and to physically eat it feels like too much to accomplish.”

For Sally, tasks that need to be done repeatedly, on a daily or weekly basis, are hard to manage. Anything she has to do just once is much easier.
Interview Transcript

But like I have trouble doing arbitrary tasks, things that, that have to be done, that need to be … that have to be done and need to be done to live, but that have, like, repetition, that, like, they never have an endpoint like, like putting away laundry, and doing laundry, and hanging clothing, stuff like that I have always had trouble with, but definitely got worse in the last like 5-6 years. Like my boyfriend will do laundry and it will be folded and sitting on the bureau for weeks at a time and I just won’t be able to put it away. Just the whole idea of it is just so tiring, and then I finally get the courage to do it, or not the courage, I guess, like the motivation to do it and then it’s finally done, it’s so relieving and then like four or five days later, there’s just another pile of clothes and I have to do it again. So it’s just like, constantly, you know, forcing myself almost, to do it. Same with like, dishes. Same sort of thing, there’s no end point. With school, because I’m in my master’s now, I find that’s completely different for me, because like, with school work, it’s like, “Okay, I have 20 pages. Finish these 20 pages and then I’m done.” There’s like an end point, there’s something to look forward to. Where as some tasks, like what I mentioned were, were, not able to overcome them very easily.

DEP Sally
Profile Info
Age at interview: 25
Sex: F
Age at diagnosis: 19

Background: Sally lives with her boyfriend, dog and cat in an apartment in a suburb. She is in graduate school part time and works as a researcher. She is Middle Eastern/Egyptian.

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Some people said that when their lives had little or no structure and few external demands such as work or school, everyday tasks became increasingly difficult. Ben, for example, felt most depressed when he had nothing to do and didn’t feel like a “productive member of society.” At such times he says he “… wasn’t taking showers” and “…wasn’t taking care of myself.” Other people talked about how the pressure of many responsibilities interacted with their depression, creating a “cascade of… obligations” that in the end could grind everything — including basic everyday functioning — to a halt.

Joey found it increasingly hard to take care of basic tasks after college was over and he had not yet found other productive things to do with his time.
Interview Transcript

Like, hygiene, eating properly, you know, like healthy and regularly – which I’m still working on – but, I mean, like, I just pretty much checked out on like, all those things. Like I mean every, I don’t know, I just was like unable to take care of responsibilities and then that kind of just snowballed out of effect, or, to the point where it’s like, just wake up in the morning and you’re just like, “Ah, I don’t know. What? Nope, just not happening,” just…

Was, I was treating myself like crap. Like, I, every thought I had about myself in my head was a negative thought. I didn’t exercise – at all. Didn’t … rarely ate. Like, I mean I’d eat, a meal a day – maybe, at like, and it, was, you know, not that … nu-, you know, full of nutrients or that good. Like, yeah, just, didn’t believe that, like, really anything was possible … like, room – looked like crap, like, bed – was never made …

DEP Joey
Profile Info
Age at interview: 28
Sex: M
Age at diagnosis: 26

Background: Joey lives in an apartment in an artists’ building in an urban area near where he had gone to college. He works part time in retail stores and is a musician. He is White.

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Maya's life is busy and demanding, but sometimes she needs to conserve her energy and prioritize the hard work of daily life.
Interview Transcript

I have to say, “No.” All the time, I have to say, “No, I can’t come see your show. No, I can’t get coffee today. No, I can’t do that project. No, I can’t do that job. No, I can’t volunteer for that program. No, I can’t stay out late. No, I need to go home. No, I need to rest. No, I can’t do the dishes. No, I can’t cook for myself today. No, I can’t go to the store.” Or, if I do go to the store, that’s literally the only thing I do all day. Like, when I was really sick it was just like, “Wow, that, that was my major accomplishment for this week,” was being able to go to the store and get all the groceries into the house. And so that’s been one of the most difficult things for me, to be the person that does literally everything, at an amazing level, well not an amazing level, but a very high level. It’s impressive that I did all of them at a high level, to be a person that’s just like, “Cool, I, I carried groceries upstairs and didn’t leave any of them in the car for my partner to carry up later.” So that’s been my biggest struggle.

DEP Maya
Profile Info
Age at interview: 27
Sex: F
Age at diagnosis: 15

Background: Maya manages an adolescent program in a community center and lives with her boyfriend. She is Chinese American.

Click here to view Maya's profile page

Cycles of struggle with everyday tasks

For many people, depression comes in cycles: sometimes it is very acute, and other times it recedes. This can mean capacity to accomplish day to day tasks also fluctuates. Colin, for example, talks about periods of functioning fine, followed by times when he would “… just have another pit fall and just not be able to get out of bed.” Sierra Rose says that after a period of intense depression her “main job, if you can call it that, has been attempting to keep my apartment clean… cooking, cleaning, and watching TV.”

Violet needs to manage her time very carefully to prevent stress, which is a trigger for depression to recur.
Interview Transcript

The overwhelming feeling that happens when I realize that I have X amount of things I need to get done and only Y amount of hours … it very, it, it does, it really lowers my mood. I start to feel very anxious. That’s a, that’s a big thing, I get very anxious just knowing that I have so much I need to get done. You know, I need this much for bills and I can only work this many hours. Or I need to get A-B-C done and I only have this one hour to do it in, you know, time management has been super key. I mean, when you’re raising a child, in general, I’m sure that’s coming into play. To be a student, and working and raising a child, I think that that stress, in general, probably, contributed to my depression – like, when I was a new mom. Now, I’ve had time to adjust to it, I, I know the ups and downs …

DEP Violet
Profile Info
Age at interview: 23
Sex: F
Age at diagnosis: 22

Background: Violet is the mother of a young child and a part-time student. She has worked as a nanny. She lives with her father and daughter. She is Caucasian.

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Maya contrasts her productive everyday life when feeling well with the difficulty she has getting out of bed and taking a shower when depressed.
Interview Transcript

And I was in, you know, cool gifted programs and stuff like that so, I was surrounded by a pretty exceptional bunch, but I’ve seen that, as more of the norm … But yeah, I think that there are alot of things about depression that are very difficult and one of the things that I struggle with the most is just the fatigue. Just the, I can barely – and, I, I’m someone who like, I like to run around and I like to have my fingers in all the pies and I like to be a mover and a shaker, and for many people like, they, they couldn’t imagine me being the person that like, just cannot get out of bed. You know? That like, if I take a shower, that’s, that’s a success. That, in these past three days I’ve been able to get out of bed and take a shower. And I think that that’s the truth, for many people, many people who come across as very high functioning. And I think there is an enormous amount of shame about that, to have other people see that you occupy such a vulnerable space, because I think that, projecting strength is so important here ….

DEP Maya
Profile Info
Age at interview: 27
Sex: F
Age at diagnosis: 15

Background: Maya manages an adolescent program in a community center and lives with her boyfriend. She is Chinese American.

Click here to view Maya's profile page

(To learn more about cycles of depression, see ‘Cycles of depression and maintaining hope’.)

Staying in bed

Many people we talked to said that at one point or another, depression made the everyday task of getting out of bed hard or impossible. As Mara put it, depression “… just ruins your motivation and makes it really hard to get out of bed and to want to stay up.” For some people, bed exerts an irresistible pull: it’s a safe haven in which to numb out watching TV or avoid overwhelming responsibilities. Joey said that when he is depressed he yearns to go back to bed right after he has woken up and had his coffee. Whitney noted “… I’d rather stay in bed and sleep than to have to deal with my problems.” Others described being so immobilized by depression, it felt impossible to get out of bed in the first place, even when expected at school or work.

To her own amazement, Leanna found she would sleep the whole day away, missing class and reversing day and night.
Interview Transcript

…but I would just not go to class, because I just felt like, I would just look outside be like, “You know? I just, I just kind of just want to sleep this whole day away.” [laughs] And I would, just sleep the whole day away. It was kind of amazing, but then I’d be up at night, and, you know, everyone else is asleep, so then I’d just be alone. The hell am I gonna…? I would just walk around at night, by myself. It was really, yeah, really actually rather, like, depressing how I would just – I still kind of do, to this day, walk around just by myself. But now I’m not depressed, now I’m just like, “Oh, chilling by myself.” But, back then I was, kind of just moping around, just wallowing in my depression, letting it, just kind of, letting it overcome me.

DEP Leanna
Profile Info
Age at interview: 23
Sex: F
Age at diagnosis: 15

Background: Leanna lives with her husband and many pets in an apartment complex in a suburb outside a large town in a rural area. She is Caucasian.

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Crystal describes what it feels like to be unable to get out of bed.
Interview Transcript

I mean, I still suffer from it now. Some of the things that I go through on a daily basis that, you know, you know, kept happening in high school was, you know, it’s really hard to get up, you feel completely pulled down and drained in bed and you, you just can’t get up sometimes.

DEP Crystal
Profile Info
Age at interview: 20
Sex: F
Age at diagnosis: 15

Background: Crystal is an African American college student. She works campus jobs during the year and internships in the summers.

Click here to view Crystal's profile page

See also ‘Depression and strategies for everyday life’ and ‘How depression feels’.

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