I Can’t: Navigating Death, Life and More With Depression

One of the most difficult things about depression? Coming to understand the difference between laziness and the crippling, soul-destroying lack of motivation that the illness so lovingly gives. The difference, in short, between I can’t and I don’t want to.

This past month has been really hard.

That’s why you’ve not seen a lot of me posting here. It was busy for a start – but it also involved a complicated family bereavement. I’m really grateful to be well enough now that I was able to go and support my family, to be there for them and with them. The funeral was two weeks ago, so we’re now into the process of slowly mending all the parts that are broken.

What this has meant, as a result, is that I’ve had a lot of days where I’ve run myself to a spoon deficit. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? You have permission to leave my blog immediately to read the Spoon Theory).

There’s been a lot of travelling – my family are a minimum of 130 miles away – a lot of putting myself in situations I’m uncomfortable with, a lot of seeing people I care about struggling and upset. It’s exhausting in a way that can only be understood if you’ve gone through it, which most of us have at some time or another.

I’m home now, and have been for over a week, but I’m still shattered.

I’m still catching up on all the things that fell to the side. I don’t mind that they fell to the side – on the contrary, I’m incredibly grateful that I’ve had the capacity to let them. My friends and family have been incredible, my supporters on Patreon so very patient, and I can’t imagine how hard this would have been without that.

Through this past week, in part because I’ve had so much to catch up on, I’ve had a lot of time trying to navigate the meaning of I can’t. Because when you’ve got depression, the meaning of it isn’t simple. Being unmotivated is a symptom of depression – google any definition of the illness and you’ll find it listed mostly in the first sentence.

But it’s also, of course, the meaning of laziness.

I spent years upon years seeing no difference. When I didn’t get out of bed all day, I called myself lazy. When I couldn’t make myself take my medication, I called myself lazy. Even having panic attacks, I called myself lazy, because I saw them as a made up excuse to avoid whatever was happening. This, too, was my depression talking.

Because sure, I have times that I’m lazy. Absolutely. But now, fifteen years in, I can tell the difference. I know when it’s my depression, and I know when I just plain don’t want to get up. I know the difference between I don’t want to and I can’t.

How? I wish I could tell you for sure.

I think, in truth, I just know myself and my illness well enough now, and I’m better enough that my depression’s internal monologue isn’t getting in the way.

What I can tell you is this: there is a difference. And the only way we will recover is if we let ourselves ride through I can’t. If we push when it’s okay to push, and let rest when we need to. For me that’s really been something I’ve had to learn for myself, and am still learning.

Do I still feel guilty about having not done things? Abso-bloody-lutely. But I know that there’s every chance that in five minutes, five hours, even five days I’ll have that motivation back again and I’ll be able to catch up. Or I’ll have a day where I know it’s okay to push, because the I can’t isn’t quite as strong.

This is one of those days, in fact.

I woke up feeling awful. I slept badly – there’s been a lot of that in this heatwave. At 6am I woke up, incredibly stressed about the fact that I had yoga in three hours. I cancelled it – thank goodness for a studio that lets you do that without loss – and felt immediately a lot better. Then I stayed in bed until 10:30am.

It feels very much like something has my heart in a vice and is crushing it. Or maybe my sternum. It’s somewhere around there. The feeling is incredibly hard to ignore, and every time I pause, my mind is filling with all the things I haven’t managed to achieve.

But, for the first time in weeks, I wanted to sit down and write to you. So here I am, at my computer still in my pyjamas, with the cat birdwatching on my desk. There are a lot of things that I can’t right now. But here’s my secret:

Sometimes, the way to push is to find the thing that you can do anyway.

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