Here’s a topic that makes people uncomfortable: depression.
Mental health has a stigma that people should be embarrassed or able to fix it. So I’m sharing with you, openly, that I’ve lived with anxiety and depression my entire life. Some seasons of life have been more difficult than others, but none have been an all-encompassing picture of who I am as a person.
But let’s talk for a minute about how to approach the world of goal setting when you’re feeling bogged down or maybe even defined by your mental illness.
First, start with your emotional and mental health.
Sure, it’s true that exercise and accomplishments can act as natural and physical highs to improve your mood. However, if you’re living with a depressive disorder, you are familiar with the feeling that you might not even get out of bed today – let alone get to the gym or write a chapter of a book or go try out the dating scene (whatever your goal may be).
Mental health comes first, period.
It will be harder to make or sustain progress without some type of coping mechanism. Talk to a doctor, seek a counselor, try a new meditation routine – just keep searching until you find something that works. And be brave. There’s definitely no shame in needing to start from zero.
Do what you can.
When I first started trying to make my life better, it had to come one small step at a time. And they took a while. Let me give you some real-life updates:
- Feb 2016: I started taking an antidepressant and worked with a doctor to find the right dosage until we finally hit it in . . .
- November 2016: I finally felt stable enough to start looking for other things to make me feel fulfilled. I sent out job applications and waited until . . .
- January 2017: I started a new job!
- October 2017: But then I hit rock bottom again, moved back in with my parents; and at that point, I realized I needed a fresh start . . .
- April 2018: So I moved to another state and started another new job!
- June 2018: I recently started WeightWatchers, began training for a 5K, and found more joy in every day.
Goals aren’t accomplished in one fell swoop. Some days, the most I can accomplish is showering and getting to the office on time. And that’s totally fine; because it’s still progress. This is the whole reason we’re living the concept of daily new years. Every single day is an isolated decision to move just a little bit forward.
The sooner we accept that it’s going to take time, the more successful we’ll be in the long run. And hey, if you’re stumbling every step of the way, at least you’re moving.
Related: Success is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Don’t be afraid to maintain.
You’re not always going to be able to build, build, build. When I moved back in with my parents, I didn’t have the mental energy to meet my financial or physical goals. Those goals would come when the time was right. So I gave myself permission to just not get into more debt and not gain more weight.
Staying right where I was turned out to be the progress I needed to get me back to a place to start improving. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)
Don’t be defined by what you can’t do.
This is a tough pill to swallow, and maybe you’re not ready to hear it. Even the people that love me sometimes root for me to “beat” depression. But that’s like overcoming my brown hair. It’s part of me. But it’s not the whole. And we can’t fall into habits that let it become our identity.
It’s true, there are days when life feels like more than we can handle – but those are the moments we get to decide who we are really going to be. You don’t have to feel great about it.
I will admit that I have sobbed on more than one elliptical. It’s not because I don’t let myself be the True Erin, but because that my truest self isn’t defined by only any one thing. I know that if I give an inch, it will take a mile. So I don’t give that inch. I keep going on auto-pilot until one day I realize it’s not auto-pilot anymore.
Mental illness of any kind, or even tough days or times in our lives, can affect our ability to achieve. We can be as stifled by our mind or heart as we are by a broken leg or the flu. The good news is that goals can help give our minds something to do, something to focus on. So if we build the habits around us, despite our hardest days, we will have something great to show for it.
You got this!