Dark Mornings and Depression Coping Mechanisms

I’ve been struggling to stick to a schedule lately. Well, specifically to the timing part of it. I’ve still done all of my stuff every day, I just haven’t really been doing it on what I would call my preferred timetable. Which has had the unfortunate side-effect of really disrupting my sleep schedule, bedtime patterns, and mental well-being. It’s a complex issue since there are a few reasons for it, most of which are valid and difficult to argue with, and all of the problems I’ve encountered exist only in the practical application of this altered daily schedule rather than the on-paper version I’ve been trying to argue with this entire time. It has been going on for a month or more at this point and the roots of it can be traced back even further, but now I’ve taken the time I need to work through the actual problems and have arrived at a proposed solution that might just work for me.

To strip away any vagueness, I’ve been having a difficult time getting out of bed in the morning. It’s a little stereoptypical of me, I’ll admit, because the root of all this is my depression. That, plus the truth that it largely doesn’t matter when I get to work and when I get home these days since I don’t really have anything going on outside of work that I’d miss if I worked until eight or nine or ten in the evening (thankfully I haven’t worked past nine yet). Which, you know, also contributes to my depression. The flipside of keeping my evenings that open is being overcommitted by having something going on every night. That said, having that much going on tires me out in a way that also tends to worsen my depression. There’s a fine and ever-changing line between the two that represents the proper balance for myself and I frequently don’t have the spoons to figure out where it is. The unfortunate default choice ends up with me staying in bed as my depression reminds me that I have nothing I need to do and there’s no reason to hurry at all.

So I find myself spending an hour or two in bed every morning, searching from some kind of motivation. Browsing twitter for something that makes me laugh or makes me feel good like the good morning tweets of Chuck Wendig and Lin-Manuel Miranda used to. Looking through my email and other apps for a bit of good news or interesting ucoming events. Hoping a favorite song plays off my morning playlist. Instead of any of that, I spend two hours filling myself with doomscrolling-based despair, reminding myself of my empty schedule, and finding nothing but advertisements and bills in my email. All of which makes me more desperate for some motivation and more likely to listen to the whispers of depression in the back of my mind, telling me I’ve got nothing worth doing today.

I’ve tried this blog and weekly story posts of what will eventually be a book in another forty weeks or whatever (assuming I don’t miss any more posting days and that feels like a stretch given that all of the extra time I gained by breaking one chapter into two has been eaten up by exhaustion and depression making it difficult to work), but they only help how I feel about myself, not how convincing my depression can be that my schedule doesn’t matter. After all, I’ve managed so far on this schedule. Stands to reason I can keep it up no matter what time I get out of bed.

It’s difficult to advocate for hurrying out of bed in the morning because I still struggle with falling asleep and getting enough sleep that I don’t feel awful every day. If I feel exhausted, it is incredibly easily to slip from sitting onto the edge of my bed to laying down for “just one more minute” before I actually get started with my morning exercise. If I feel worn down from a couple days of not enough sleep, I might change my alarm so it goes off an hour later and then still spend the same amount of time laying in bed because I didn’t really only got the same amount of sleep rather than more. Plus, if an hour doesn’t matter, why would two? Most of the time, it’s not even a conscious decision. I just need a couple minutes and, because I’m working on being kind to myself, I give myself that. Then I wind up staying there for a couple hours and only realize how long it has been once the smell of coffee has faded from my apartment.

Of course, the problem with all of this reasoning and logic and kindness is that there is a problem with letting myself lay in bed an extra hour. If I get to work at half past eight in the morning, I’m gone before six, which means I have five or six hours before I need to be asleep. If I don’t get to work until a quarter to eleven, I’m going to be at work past eight and will be finishing dinner around ten (after my post-work shower, making dinner, doing some dishes or other chores while it cooks, etc). At that point, I’m going to bed at one in the morning at the earliest. Plus, I’m quietly berating myself for the entire day, which doesn’t help. Then the cycle repeats the next day but with even less sleep and a growing sense of despair that I’ll even have an evening to myself again.

It would be easier to do both of these things, lay in bed in a depressed state and not be at work super late, if I wasn’t doing my exercise in the morning. I could save an entire hour by not doing my cardio and workout stuff, but then I run the risk of staying in bed even longer because I know I can skip those things. I’ve already done it multiple times in the past month. Which is, coincidentally, when I knew I had a problem I needed to solve since the benefits of my exercise routine are clear and dwarf pretty much every mood-enhancing thing I do other than my daily walks in the sun.

To resolve this, I’ve come up with an elaborate system of bribes. I created a list of reasons to get out of bed in the morning. Because I despise toxic positivity and anything too self-affirming feels overly saccarine and sickening to me, that list of things is stuff I can buy myself when I’ve made it through my morning routine in a timely manner enough times in a row. Highlights include buying myself the new God of War game when I hit five in a row (gotta start off strong with a very tempting bribe), buying myself that Sonic Frontiers game when I hit fifteen in a row, and then buying myself a PS5 (or at least starting to hunt for one on my own behalf rather than on behalf of others) when I hit fifty in a row. They’re all things I wouldn’t normally buy myself at the drop of a hat like a new Legend of Zelda or Fire Emblem game, so they don’t become a punishment if I wind up needing to wait a while to get them. After all, the whole point is to give me enough of a reason to push through the morning fog I’ve been in lately since arguments about the value of my time or how not-terrible my life is haven’t worked yet. Good old-fashioned bribery usually works wonders, though.

The most important lesson I’ve learned from a life of attempting to live with mental illness is that you have to figure out a way to be flexible. Nothing is going to work all the time and things that used to work won’t always. My depression used to be characterized by sadness, a desire for solitude, and suicidal ideation (with went horribly with that also being the main mental component of my OCD). Now it’s characterized by the idea that my time doesn’t matter and what I do doesn’t matter since I’ve managed to successfully defeat the part of myself that convinced me that I didn’t matter. If all it takes to keep the problems this causes at bay is for me to buy myself some nice video games or whatever every so often, then I’ll count myself lucky while I figure out how to address this new aspect of my depression.

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