How to Become A Motivated Person in Spite of Mental Health Concerns

Hi lovely readers,

Thursday is my least favourite day of the week, because I have a 3 hour class followed by 3 hours of work (I am a teacher’s assistant for a class I took a few years ago). I am my most awake and happy in the morning, but on Thursdays I have to relax during the morning and try to sleep in (I never end up doing this) and do some self-care so that I’m not totally drained by the time I have to head to school.

Every Thursday morning I wake up with dread because I am genuinely afraid I will end up having paralyzing anxiety, or start a depressive episode, or just plain get so tired I cop out of class and work. In the past, I did – often. When I was still using (I am a recovering addict, if you haven’t read my blog before) I literally never went to class, and while I managed to pass a few courses over those years by cramming and then stumbling into my final exams. It’s very unlikely you’re going to get to a 10 am lecture if you were up until 5 am doing drugs, needless to say. But even during periods of sobriety, and at the beginning of this one, my mental health was very poor at times and I simply couldn’t keep up with school, or friendships, or keeping my space tidy, or any job no matter how part-time it was, or any semblance of self-care. Though underlying all of those issues were emotions related to having Bipolar 1 and PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder, the word I often used to describe myself was “unmotivated”. I couldn’t come up with powerful enough ‘whys’ to get myself to stop lying on my bed staring at the ceiling all day. And to be fair, I was a level of depressed where I couldn’t even focus on a Netflix show on my laptop. I felt so little desire to do anything, because everything sounded like so much effort, and as though it would feel just as bad as hating myself for never doing anything with my days. Life felt pointless as a whole, as did societal expectations and the human existence in general.

I want to first say that I am on medications that work significantly better for my mental illnesses now than I was then. But that doesn’t discredit what I’m going to share, because even on the wonderful meds I take at present, I still have days and sometimes weeks where as a result of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder related symptoms, I sometimes find myself crying at the thought of fulfilling a responsibility to myself, or my parents, or teachers, or friends, or my boss. Like I will literally curl into a ball on my bed and sob, and lately that’s primarily been because I’m really scared of leaving the house. PTSD often means having really illogical, pervasive senses of impending doom and while nowhere feels entirely safe, my room is a place I’m really familiar with and where I can be completely alone. So I often can’t bear the thought of having to leave it. But, then, I do.

I am able to get either a ton of things done in a day, or at least what absolutely has to get done, done, because of a few things.

  1. I have a why. My why is that, even though there’s often a voice screaming in my head that nothing can make me feel better, if I do anything it will end terribly and I will feel terrible, within the logical part of my brain (this is kind of a mindfulness/CBT exercise, as I’ve discussed before – if you want me to write more about this I will!) is the memory that’s been ingrained in me that, actually, when I do things I need to do or typically would want to do, I feel better. Sometimes that’s because I would genuinely enjoy doing the activity, and sometimes it’s just because I wouldn’t feel shame about not accomplishing anything and later that day I’d go to bed feeling legitimately tired, not depression tired (there is a distinction). There’s a secondary why, too, which is that my family and friends will be proud of me, too, and I won’t let people who are counting on me down. But often that secondary why does not help me push through as much as my first. I don’t think I’m alone in being kind of selfish in some sense when I feel really unwell, though it is not my intention to be.
  2. I find inspiration. What inspires you is likely different from what works for me, but I subscribe to about 20 youtube channels, and every morning I watch a vlog of a week in someone’s life or a day-in-the-life video or a video where someone organizes their home or their closet or a “plan with me” video. All of the people I follow are really positive, upbeat, organized and productive young women, and that is deliberate. I’m sure their lives aren’t as put together as they seem all the time, but as is standard for social media, they don’t post that. Which is negative and positive, as on the one hand some vulnerability from people we admire can help us feel less isolated and imperfect, but on the other hand, I watch them with a purpose, and that purpose is to be inspired. I also look on Pinterest and make ‘boards’ all about what I want my day to look like and quotes that make me want to get up and get moving. I check instagram and look at the pages of people whose lives I would love to have. It is important to note that while I look up to these people, I don’t put myself down for not being exactly like them or having what they have. It’s not about that at all. I am not dissatisfied with my life because theirs appear perfect. It’s their attitudes that I try to meld with my own, and it’s actually super helpful. I acknowledge many of these people do not have mental health issues as I do or that are nearly as severe, and I factor that in and try to be gentle with myself, but it’s okay to still motivate yourself by seeing what other people get done everyday.
  3. I count down from 10, or 3, and then I get up and get going. Sometimes I randomly find myself sitting on my bed unexpectedly when I have already had enough time to rest and when I need to be doing something else, because I’m responsible for getting it done or because if I ‘chill out’ anymore as my brain tells me I really need to do for some reason, I’m going to get really, really down. So I’ve started counting down from either 10, if I know I’ll be pretty capable of starting and just want to bask in my laziness for a little longer, or 3, if I know in 10 seconds I will have talked myself out of doing anything for another 4 hours. Technically I have until I get to 1 to stand up and move in the direction of the task at hand, but because I often feel some fear that I’ll hit 1 and change my mind, I devote a lot of energy into every part of my body with my mind and typically stand at 2. Things build up in my mind and as I mentioned my irrational, mental illness brain is telling me when I start it’s going to SUCK, and the longer I let myself sink into my mattress the more likely it is those thoughts will overpower my logical mind. So start as soon as you possibly can, and what’s really possible for you might not be what your head is telling you is – absolutely nothing haha.
  4. I shower, get dressed, and do my makeup everyday, and I dress for what I want to get done. This is going to sound weird, but if I want to go to the gym that day, even if I’m not going until the afternoon, I put on workout clothes after I shower in the morning. It doesn’t always work because I can truly talk myself out of anything, especially strenuous, continuous movement for 45 minutes-an hour, but often I look in the mirror during the day and I’m like “Ugh, I can’t have put on workout clothes and worn them all day when I would have rather worn sweats or something cute and not have gone to the gym. What a waste.” And then I take a deep breath, count down from 10 or 3 and head out the door, blasting pump-up music while I walk. If I have class that day I dress like I think a studious person would and I wear something at least sort of cute, for the same reason as I wear gym clothes. It feels like a waste of wearing an outfit for a specific reason to never go do what it was put on for. Sometimes putting on makeup seems like a pain in the ass, but I do that, too, because I know I have days when I don’t feel presentable or pretty without it (there are days when it doesn’t bug me, too) and if I start feeling that way later in the day and haven’t put any on I will use it as an excuse to do nothing.
  5. I practiced. A lot. That whole 21 days to form a habit is scientifically proven to be untrue, unfortunately, ’cause if it became natural and easy for me to do things that take a lot of effort in 3 weeks my life would be a cake walk. It really varies from person to person, and if you have mental illnesses it might take longer and certain things may never come with total ease. But, in my case, it took about 3 months of literally devoting all of my energy, mental and physical, to literally doing anything, and in the beginning I could only exert myself enough to do maybe 2 things that I find difficult, but at the end of those 3 months most things became so second-nature that even though the act of actually doing things like working out, studying, or for me, oddly, taking public transportation to go anywhere remain challenging while I’m doing them, starting to do them is not nearly as difficult. My brain seems to have a little timer that goes off now at certain times of the day when I’d usually do something, and then my mind says “okay, it’s [activity] time” and before I know it my feet are on the ground and I’m getting shit done. But this took time.
  6. I find people who don’t mind holding me accountable. Sometimes I call a friend when I know 1. I should probably be a good friend and talk to them and catch up on life and 2. I need to make sure I do something. I’m someone who really can multitask, so I’m not half-listening if I tidy my room or do my makeup or skincare routine while I have a conversation. This may be a practiced thing, too, come to think of it. Half the time my friends don’t even know I’m doing this intentionally or that they’re ‘holding me accountable’ – I just find that if someone is on the other side of my screen I feel like they know that that thing in my head I know I should be doing, I’m not doing. Before you tell me this doesn’t make a lot of sense, try it. I also text people and tell them what my plans are for the day after I ask them theirs in the morning, so that I’ve told someone what I want or need to do and if I don’t I’ll feel like I lied. Which, I didn’t – if I had every intention of doing those things and my plans had to change for mood or situational reasons then I was not telling them an elaborate lie. But I feel like I was, as odd as that seems.

I want to say before I end this post that I am not saying that when you are really unwell, because your meds aren’t working, or something is going on in your life that is kind of intolerable, or it’s just one of those days, weeks, or months, that you should feel ashamed if you can’t motivate yourself to do the things you’d like to be doing. I would like to be someone who is nicer to themselves when they don’t achieve as much as they’d like because they don’t feel well, and I’m working on it. I actually think that’s a lot more important that knowing how to push yourself, because I still have at least 1 day a week when I just. can’t. do. anything. and on those days the mean self-talk going on in my head makes me feel so much worse than I would otherwise. Your worth is not defined by your productivity, at all. But it is human nature to generally feel better when you get things done, even if what needs to be done is just some form of peaceful self-care, and sometimes some distraction or using up some negative energy on something positive can really help your mental health.

I hope this post finds you well, and that it was helpful to you, lovely reader!

Lots of love,

Liz

2 thoughts on “How to Become A Motivated Person in Spite of Mental Health Concerns

  1. Reblogged this on WordyNerdBird and commented:
    There are some fabulous tips here for staying motivated despite the things that try to drag us down.
    I found this post hugely relatable, and also got some great new ideas from it.

    Plus, on an entirely different note, I also have a calico cat. She is divine.

    Like

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