When it’s not depression, and yet…


Each Monday through Friday, between 7:30 and 7:35 a.m., I stand poised at the doorway that connects our garage to our family room, my right hand on the door frame, my left hand waving good bye to a shadow of Fred as Max backs out. As soon as the car straightens at the end of our driveway, I do one last wave to the two pairs of eyes that have already turned straight to face the road. As they drive away I attempt to close our temperamental garage door, cursing each time it rolls back up.

This is my daily ritual, and it is accompanied by a small wave of dread.

At this point in the day I march back to the kitchen to clean up after breakfast and lunch preparations. Since I work from my home my mind then moves toward, then rejects, the idea of some light morning exercise and a shower. So it’s onward to my computer to begin the daily run of checking work e-mail, work-related news, and client documents. I also remember that I need to call AT&T and a medical biller to resolve mistakes that they have made. It’s a waste of my time, poor customer service, and I make a mental excuse to put this off yet again. I think about what Max and I will do for lunch, and I am relieved if there are leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. Then I wonder what we’ll do for dinner, and realize I have to find time to squeeze in a trip to the market. And before I know it the school day will be done, Fred will be home, and while I can’t wait to see him, I brace myself for the inevitable nagging and negotiating over homework, snacks, and jackets and socks strewn on the floor.

My days are uneventful, but somehow I end up disliking myself at the end of each one. Yet another day will always go by where I do not call AT&T, do not exercise, do not make better progress on the ____ work project, do not clean the ____, and do not better restrain myself from nagging and scolding. The non-depression depression that I experience is well nourished by this parade of self-criticism.

Perhaps you have been there too. It’s that land north of depression but south of joy. It’s that place in everyday life where you climb out of bed on time but in slow motion. You pick at the work in your house. You talk to your children with just more irritation in your voice than is necessary. But you don’t need meds and you don’t have the time or the money to see a therapist (but oh how you’d love to talk to someone!). You get through each day doing what needs to be done, if even at a B- level in your book. It’s just the tedium of a script that never changes and yet you are treading too deeply in inertia to initiate any changes.

By coincidence I had an “eventful” and light bulb sort of weekend. Our Saturday started off with an early morning used book sale at our area high school, where Fred and I filled up a carton full of terrific finds. In the evening we enjoyed dinner and a music and dance talent show/fundraiser with good friends at the same high school. On Sunday, we went to see Life of Pi and treated ourselves to coffee and doughnuts afterward.

While my weekend can’t exactly be categorized as exciting, it was filled with my favorite things: books, bargains, the arts, food, friends and, of course, family. I did more than just accompany Fred to his weekend activities or run errands or watch Fred and Max play basketball. We did something that I enjoyed and, for me, I realized, anything related to the arts provides me with the spiritual and aesthetic lift that I don’t get enough of in my life.

Little did I predict that a box full of book bargains and a schedule to look forward to this weekend would vitalize me enough to clean out my closet and drawers, organize the bookcase, vacuum, cook (we usually eat out on weekends), clean our bathroom, do the laundry, change our sheets and bath mats and even pack for a family trip that isn’t happening for another two weeks. I even insisted to Max to hand over a new work project to me. I ended the weekend not just satisfied with our activities but feeling good about myself: I accomplished what I’d put off for weeks and I liked myself as a mother.

In Simple Abundance, Sarah Ban Breathnach tells about a woman named Joanna Field (a.k.a. Marion Milner) who in 1934 published a book called A Life of One’s Own. Field had kept a journal in which she noted daily the triggers of happiness in her life. Ban Breathnach writes, “It was written . . . in the spirit of a detective who searches through the minutiae of the mundane in hopes of finding the clues for what was missing in her life.”

And so, like Field, I have started my own journal and journey to find the simple daily pleasures that, in a mosaic, will hopefully become a life of contentment, energy and purpose.

Do you also find yourself languishing in this…”non-depression” depression? What are the simple daily pleasures that make a difference for you?

14 thoughts on “When it’s not depression, and yet…

  1. Dear Cecilia,

    I am familiar with the “non depression depression” sensation. I suffer from it off and on without any predictable pattern. Only in the winter, though. When I started tracking my downturns, I found them 100 percent correlated with physical exercise – unfortunately for me, ONLY physical exercise done outdoors. I tried to combat the ennui with sessions at the Y, but sometimes that made it worse for me. The trudge to the car in the zero degree temps after spending an hour with a bunch of strangers in a big building sometimes made me cry! (OK, maybe I did need therapy). But, when the weather turns (and for me in MN, all I need is temps above 20) and I can spend an hour walking or running outdoors, I am OK. My kids push me out the door when I am in the doldrums – they say, “MOM! Go for a walk!” And I do. And it helps immeasurably. When I return from a walk I feel powerful – how cheesy that sounds, but somehow those endorphins propel me out of the funk.

    Love, Claudia

    • Claudia, Thanks so much for sharing this and it’s an important point. Aside from sun, I can’t think of anything else that’s been recommended more to combat the blues. And exercise is definitely something I am not doing enough of (along with sleep).
      You’re in a tough place quite literally, with the weather, and I am not surprised that you need to exercise outdoors to feel good. The sun is a huge factor, and I can see my moods going up and down literally with the sun each day. So this time of year where spring can’t quite decide whether or not it wants to show up, is hard for me.

      I hope winter eases up soon there in MN!!

      Thanks so much for commenting.

      Love, Cecilia

    • Alexandra, That means so much to me, honestly. Lately whenever I’m in doubt about whether or not I should post something (because it’s too personal or makes me appear too “weak”), I try to tell myself that that is the post I should write.

      Thanks as always for everything!


  2. I’m treading too deeply in inertia too. I look around to see all I’m NOT doing. It’s enough to bring down the sun itself. Art and books and movies and goodness, that sounds so good. Exercise and sleep are key to me and feel so out of reach. It’s foolish really. But there I go again telling myself I’m not good. I think my self talk is highly to blame.

    Thank you for writing this and reminding me to sift through the mundane for what sparkles.

    • We are so hard on ourselves, aren’t we? The less-than-productive days may bring us down momentarily but it’s the punishing self-criticism that keeps us there long term. You’ve got so much on your plate, Kate, that the last thing you need is your finger pointing at yourself 😉 I KNOW you are doing great.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, even though I know you’ve got so much going on. I hope everyone’s feeling better!


  3. Complete and total understanding. It comes in waves for me, sometimes i go for weeks, high on inspiration and optimism and other times I go for as many weeks, just north of depressed. I do know some of my triggers but sometimes I’m caught off guard and I charge it to the necessity of balance. I take it as life trying to tell me something and if I don’t get it right away, I know eventually i will. Sounds like this weekend, you caught a glimpse of life telling you, “more like this…” ….you need more of those things in your life. The only other thing I’d suggest in addition to journaling is to be kind to yourself. I know exactly how it feels to be hard on yourself and be annoyed with yourself, but imagine if it were Max or Fred who was sort of down on themselves and in a rut. You would love them up and tell them that it’s OK to not get everything done all the time and sometimes you have to go through difficult phases. As you can see from the other commenters, what you’re feeling is so very common. you’re not alone at all 🙂

    • Thanks for all this, GG. Absolutely – what keeps me down is the self-criticism. When I think about how I talk to myself versus how I would talk to others, it’s quite shocking actually. A good practice as you said is to talk to ourselves the way we’d talk to those we love and care about. Turn the love inward for once, eh?

      Thanks for commenting!


  4. I relate to these words. Often, at the end of the day, I ask myself, “Did I live to my fullest potential?” I question whether I am prioritizing what I really need to do to live a fulfilled life. It is a high expectation and I almost wonder if I am setting myself up for sabatoge.

    No wise words of advice, but know that you are not alone. xoxo

    • Looks like we are the same here, Rudri. Maybe we need to look at our expectations and readjust them. I’d started telling myself that it’s okay if I accomplish even just 2 things from my list a day, or if I make a dent in something. A good example is cleaning – 15 minutes is better than nothing, or wiping down the kitchen and bathroom counters, rather than scrubbing the whole bathroom and kitchen from top to bottom in one day.

      Thanks for writing.


  5. Someone gave me The Happiness Project over Christmas and when I read it, I finally saw why last year seemed like such a great year. Have you read it? In the book, Gretchen Rubin talks about how doing the little things around the house that lifts our spirits, like spending a couple of minutes tidying up, completing a closet organization project, writing that dreaded email that would take less time to write than the energy it takes to feel guilty about not writing it…that sort of thing.

    It helped me see that the little things we do at home do contribute to our overall happiness more than the grand gestures – it’s not always about the big vacations, or relationship breakthroughs, or having many social engagements. And I’ve learned to put aside time to do those little things that make a bigger impact than I thought, like having Project Wednesdays to complete tasks that require attention, such as reorganizing my hall closet, sewing all of my daughters’ torn clothes/pillows/stuffed animals, etc.

    I’m not saying it’s 100% guaranteed to remove the blues, because I’m still working on the parenting part, namely how not to be flustered easily when confronting a forever-negotiating always-combative preschooler. In that respect, I often go to bed thinking I could’ve said or done something better, and hope that I will do so the next day…

    Plus running helps. Not just the exercise to boost my mood, but the sunlight. It absolutely does wonders for me.

  6. That sense of restlessness, of something missing – sometimes it’s heavy-handed and at other times, it holds us with a lighter touch.

    For some of us those blues come and go all our lives. We learn what works (the sun, as you say), but when we’re responsible for family, it’s so much harder to give ourselves the nourishment we need to stay afloat, and keep the blues away.

    Then again, family gives us purpose. That in itself can help.

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