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Anybody else with depression or anxiety disorders?

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  • Anybody else with depression or anxiety disorders?


    As the subject suggests, I have anxiety and depression disorders and I'm finding it difficult to keep my GTD system going. The times when I'm feeling good, I'm enthusiastic about processing my inbox, managing my lists, writing things down, and pretty much the entire system. It feels like I can accomplish anything and I feel secure about my system. Then there's the majority of the time when my depression and/or anxiety are bad and I get into my lows and it feels like each task, no matter the size, is akin to having to clean out the garage or solving the world's hunger problems in one day. Just knowing that there are any tasks waiting is enough to drain me. A simple 2 minute task is often way too much for me and it'll just sit there taunting me every time I look at it. The only things that get done during my lows are those items that are about to blow up, rather than taking care of them when they show up. Logically, I know that reacting this way during my lows creates more problems later, which will likely bring me lower in the future. Logically, I know what I should be doing, but I feel so psychically weak during these "spells" that just to do the absolute necessary—going to work, paying bills, eating, etc.—can be enough to keep me from doing much else.

    I've tried the "just start with something small and use it to get the ball rolling and to have energy beget energy" stuff, but that only seems to work on the few days where I feel somewhat decent and am just procrastinating. Normally when I'm in my low spells, I'll try to initiate the flow of energy by just trying to do something and it ends up draining me rather than getting me started off in a snowball effect.

    Here's where I am in my GTD practices:
    • I've read Getting Things Done and plan on reading it again in a few months.
    • I'm currently reading Ready for Anything.
    • I'm fairly new at the whole GTD thing and officially have been at it for about 5 months now.
    • I have a complete Projects, Someday/Maybe, Next Actions, reference filing system, Inbox, and everything else and try to keep them as up-to-date as I can.
    • I usually re-read any sections or cheat sheets related to anything I'm confused about in GTD regularly.
    • I try to review my lists and do my weekly review as often as possible, but that doesn't always happen for the reasons explained above.
    • I try to keep up with blogs, reading forums (including this one), buying interesting office supplies (I love office supplies), and reviewing my accomplishments to try and keep myself motivated, which doesn't always work.
    • I've been on various medications for my disorders and am now trying something else. I'm actively seeking treatment (which is one of those things I do that's often a pre-blow up project). Making and keeping appointments alone is enough to zap me off my motivation.
    • I try to capture as much of what's on my mind to paper as often as possible.
    • I'm pretty strict about keeping up with my next actions to keep myself from being overwhelmed by not knowing what to do next. Breaking things into small, "bite sized" chunks has already helped some.
    • One of my anxiety and depression triggers is my irrational fear of making phone calls. This makes things very difficult since not everybody communicates through email. I have at least 2 simple, under 10 minute calls I have to make that I've needed to make for about 2 months now that still remain incomplete.

    I guess what I'm looking for here are others who have similar problems and have found ways to get past them. Writing this post by itself is costing me a lot of psychic energy, which is fine since I'll be going to bed soon. Basically, I have a lot of faith that sticking with GTD will benefit me greatly and I've already seen many benefits. The fact that it's so forgiving that I can come back to it after being in my funks is reason enough. It's frustrating, though, realizing there's a system that I enjoy that can make me more effective, productive, and better all around is also a system that can so easily overwhelm me during my lows. It's also frustrating because when I'm fully partaking in the GTD process, I feel in control of my life. When I'm not able to do what I need to do in GTD, I start to feel like I'm helpless, or at least out of control of things again.

    Maybe I'm too much of a perfectionist? Maybe I'm too hard on myself (or not hard enough?) I'm not really sure. I don't know what else to say as I'll likely just repeat what I've already said, but just in different words.

    Hope you can help.


  • #2
    FWIW, in GTD terms it sounds like you're doing fine. That is, it sounds like your system is pretty darn solid and trustworthy. That's a big accomplishment after only five months, even for people without your energy issues.

    Likewise, plenty of people, with or without diagnosed energy-sapping conditions, sometimes struggle to get even seemingly trivial items done. If they didn't, David Allen would be out of a job.

    So while I'm fortunate enough to not have any experience with depression and its gray relatives, I can tell you that what you describe is quite common, in kind if not necessarily in degree. Focus on the things that help, and take it one step at a time.




    • #3
      Hi, artistenigma, and welcome.

      Firstly, pay close attention to anything that Katherine says, because her comments are always (a) useful and (b) thoughtful.

      Secondly, I'm very much with you, although my system is probably less stable than yours, so you can congratulate yourself on that. I've suffered from depression all my life, and the episodes keep getting worse, so according to my doctor I'm looking at a lifetime of medication just to keep me close to normal. Not something I'm happy about, but I'm dealing with one thing at a time.

      Apropos of the depression, you might want to try taking fish oil capsules and making sure you get good nutrition (lots of greens in particular). I've recently started doing that, and I've noticed a quantum change in how I feel. I'm not saying that suddenly everything is rosy and I'm racing about accomplishing everything. I'm not saying that it's solved all of my problems in one hit. But it has removed that awful black cloud of despair, which has allowed me to start dealing with all the problems resulting from a lifetime of depression.

      Now onto the main meal. From my experience, when I feel overwhelmed the best approach is to cut my committments to absolute basics and get a bit of help from friends/family/whomever. Think of your depression as similar to a muscle injury: if you go out and do the same exercise that caused the injury, you inhibit the repair.

      One thing that might be helpful is Mark Fiore's book The Now Habit. It's about procrastination, but the ideas carry over to trying to do things during a depressive episode. You might also want to look at Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It, by Jane Burka and Lenora Yuen, for a similar reason.

      Finally, about the calling thing, my suggestion is that you take those calls off your list altogether, and put them on a special list. Then, one day when you're feeling good, make that the absolute first thing you tackle, even before email, processing, or anything else. Because by being reminded of them constantly, you're just reinforcing the negative feelings you have about them, which makes it harder for you to do them. It's a feedback loop, essentially.

      Also, with the calls, make sure you've got the numbers written down on your special list, along with any details you need to talk about, so that when you get the chance, you can make that call (you only need to do one at a time, although if you get carried away you can do both).

      Finally, make sure to sit for a few minutes afterward and appreciate how good it feels to finally have those buggers off your lists for good. In fact, this sort of reflection is good in general: I've been trying to accept the days when I'm crap, and feel good about the days when I'm good, so that over time, I dig new habitual grooves and make it easier to do work when I'm feeling crap.

      One final thing: habits will be your saviour. If you can develop regular daily habits, these will carry you through the rough times. Start really, really small, with one habit, and do that for a couple of weeks before adding another one. If you fall over, just get up and start again: it will be easier the second time, because you've already half-built a habit.

      Sorry for the extended wiffle, and I hope that helps.


      • #4
        From personal experience, I know how hard it can be to be productive when you feel terrible. That you're managing the critical stuff is very good - that's the first level - damage control (what Covey calls urgent and important).

        Beyond that, I very strongly suggest you use your new system (which sounds well set up) to create a new project to improve your illness, e.g., "My depression is 50% better." This should be a major focus (what Mark Forster calls your "current initiative"), something you work hard on until you're feeling better.

        Like any project, it should have at least one next action (often this will be research - buy book, read discussion groups, make appointment with doctor, etc.), and will have a corresponding project folder with articles, ideas, replies, etc.

        Treat it like an experiment on yourself - keep a log of moods, what medications you've tried, what OTC you've tried, how you felt, etc. You'll have "sub-projects" like finding a great doctor and researching medications.

        This must be your primary focus. You won't feel like doing it (you described the resistance well), but it is the "meta" project - the one that will allow you to do *other* projects in your life. Some things to help you along: Ask for help! Get a partner, check-in, reward yourself. And make sure you keep your actions very, very small.

        It's a tough situation. You will look at others and wonder how they can do so much. The answer is you're built differently, and have challenges they frankly won't ever be able to understand. So you may have to adjust your personal expectations of what's possible. It ain't fair, but using your system to improve it as much as possible will give you a big leg up on your pre-GTD days. Congratulations on making this step.

        Hope that helps.


        • #5
          Me too

          I haven't been around this forum in quite some time and now to see a most timely subject addressed as the first post I read can't be a coincidence.

          The intial post and replies are some of the best I have ever seen here - direct, on topic to the point with compassion.

          Thanks you - now I will print this and keep it with me as I dust off my GTD infrastructure which has been crying out for attention. Its a shame though, my inbox which expands to my desk, truck & sometimes the floor is too often a reflection of my own mental health and self-esteem.

          Thanks for being here!


          • #6
            Originally posted by jerendeb View Post
            Its a shame though, my inbox which expands to my desk, truck & sometimes the floor is too often a reflection of my own mental health and self-esteem.
            This is kind of off topic, but I just wanted to highlight that comment. I know that's something I've noticed as well, that my external environment very quickly begins to reflect my internal one.

            I think in some ways, GTD is a tool for using that connection in reverse; by controlling your environment, you are able to achieve greater internal control as well.



            • #7
              When feelings of overwhelm occur, the best thing to do is to just to do a few things that make you feel better. Some things that help me:

              1. Music - Ipods or MP3 players are the greatest things. I listen to whatever I want loudly and no one is the wiser.
              2. 5 tasks that I can do quickly and easily. Immediately I feel at least I've accomplished something. I will usually pick my "5 energy drains", things that have been bothering me, but that are easy to do. I realize this won't be the same as tackling the hard stuff, but maybe it'll get you started in that direction, because those particular energy drains are gone.
              3. Think of the outcome - for example, think of how great you'll feel after you've come out of the shower or how great new sheets on the bed will feel.
              4. Exercise - Take a walk around the block or dance a bit to the music. The endorphines immediately lift the depression a bit.
              5. A journal - if you write in one first thing in the morning, it captures your feelings and moods. Later in the day people usually record their responses to situations. Both are valuable in their own way.


              • #8
                It it important to your well-being that you have adequate support in place to create the space to return to full health. This applies to all of us.

                I'm sure you have family, friend and medical support for your depression. GTD is another system of support. Yes, it may not have everything covered. Yes, it may be creating a pressure to do some tasks but those tasks and pressures were there anyway. At least with GTD you can choose not do to them. Importantly, I would imagine that when you come out of a depressed period GTD allows you to get up to speed faster. If that's the case I'm sure others would like to hear about that.



                • #9
                  getting to the phone calls

                  some ideas-

                  send a letter saying you would like to set up a time for the phone call and write out its purpose

                  ask another person to sit there with you or dial and get it started

                  actually ask another person to make the call for you and do all the talking or set it up as a conference

                  call when you know the person won't be there and leave a message

                  make some practice calls that are less stressful-such as to a video store or bookstore to check on a title's availability

                  if you aregoing to call and hangup or say uh and hangup, call from a number that is not your own or is blocked; many people and businesses have caller ID

                  if it is appropriate, send the person a card or gift and say I hope to hear from you or I will call you on.....(date) to discuss...., unless you want to talk sooner

                  if the person has a secy or assistant,call that person and chat them up for a minute

                  think about seeing a psychologist for systematic desensitization for phone call avoidance

                  most people who avoid calls do so for fear of rejection by someone they don't even know or they know the person and he or she is hostile or demanding (or you think he or she will be that way) or they are really hard to understand.


                  • #10
                    Awesome insight!

                    Originally posted by AdamMiller81 View Post
                    This is kind of off topic, but I just wanted to highlight that comment. I know that's something I've noticed as well, that my external environment very quickly begins to reflect my internal one.

                    I think in some ways, GTD is a tool for using that connection in reverse; by controlling your environment, you are able to achieve greater internal control as well.

                    Adam, I've never thought of it that way. Right now my office is more cluttered than I'd like...and my BRAIN feels cluttered right along with it!


                    • #11
                      re: Tips for Anxiety/Depression

                      Here are some tips and suggestions:

                      (1) GTD will eventually get everything out of your head and into a trusted system you can review regularly.
                      And those regular reviews and collection will create deeper perspective on what is going on with the anxiety/depression. In all likelihood it will have to do with not realizing just how much you want to be somewhere else or be doing something else. Probably a career change / life direction, etc. GTD will go a long way toward getting you moving more in that direction, but it will take a good 6 months to get both the momentum and the traction to feel like you are getting where you want to be going.

                      (2) Get more sleep! (can't emphasize this enough)
                      Part of what creates anxiety/depression is not allowing yourself to get good sleep. The more anxiety produced, the more sleep you actually need. The medications prescribed for anxiety often regulate the natural chemicals your body produces when it is getting good sleep. By pushing the body to the limit creates adrenaline; and this keeps the things like seratonin and other sleep-related chemicals in your body from balancing things out. The drugs prescribed for anxiety/depression artificially mimic and/or regulate what your body does naturally if you are getting enough sleep. Of course, some have natural deficiencies and thus have to take these medications, but for the vast majority more sleep can solve a lot of anxiety/depression.

                      (3) Calms Forte by Hylands
                      This homeopathic and all-natural sleep-aid / anxiety-reducer works amazingly well. I take this stuff faithfully when I'm under a lot of stress / high-anxiety and it sounds like it works for lots of other people too. So give it a shot and see if that helps.

                      (4) Music / Poetry / etc.
                      Good music, art, poetry have amazing ways of penetrating the soul and helping with anxiety and depression. Find the kinds of things that you can most relate to and perhaps even start journaling some of your own. People with anxiety/depression often have a lot to offer the world lurking beneath the surface. It's just a matter of "collecting" it all so it can be shared with others.

                      Not sure if that helps at all, but this is what's working for me.


                      • #12
                        shift your perspective

                        GTD helped and GTD didn't help a few aspects of my anxiety and underlying depression.

                        1. It was very helpful in making me feel in control of the stuff I had swimming around in my head.
                        2. It did make me feel overwhelmed.
                        3. It helped me realize how many things I put down as next actions that were really projects.
                        4. It helped me relax because everything was captured (notice I said captured, not processed, just captured) and I knew I had the item written down somewhere, so when I was ready, it was there.

                        I was completely unrealistic about what I was accomplishing and how much time I had in a day. I was also incapable of truly prioritizing, every project seemed life or death if I didn't get to it. I had to get help to come to terms with my perfectionism and fear of failure.

                        I set up a planning calendar in addition to my regular calendar. I kept it on paper, and colored in the days when I would get around to some of the projects I had listed. I also colored in the calendar for days when I was out of town, or had more than one activity planned already. This helped me realize that I was overscheduling myself.

                        The first thing I had to come to terms with was that if I wanted to get better and feel better, I was going to have to put taking care of myself first. So my days revolved around what I was going to do to recover.

                        I also "cheated" at processing. When I was in the thick of trying to recover, I had an inbox a mile high because I kept collecting. I saw early on how stressed I would get about processing because everything felt so critical. So I stopped processing. On a good day, I would decide what project was the most essential for me to spend my energy on. Then I scanned my inbox for items that were directly related to that project and put the rest in a "later" folder that I filed right next to my someday/ maybe list. I would then process and organize the items and decide on the single, solitary next action that I could do and did it. That was it. I then gave myself permission to relax and recover the rest of the day.

                        When you are trying to recover, I think you have to strip your day down to bare bones and concentrate on one thing at a time. That was the hardest part for me (probably because I also have ADD). Once I figured out how to accomplish one thing a day without draining myself or stressing myself out, then I moved on to processing my inbox.

                        I hope this helps,


                        • #13
                          Hi, I am glad you are seeking treatment and I wish you the best of luck. Have you tried cognitive behavior therapy at all??? This is a system for dealing with depression with solid scientific backing. It actually reminds me quite a bit of GTD. Since you are so good at managing a system maybe you would be interested. It has helped me personally quite a bit. If you are looking for a book on it, I would recommend "feeling good" by david burns.



                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Deighve View Post
                            Hi, I am glad you are seeking treatment and I wish you the best of luck. Have you tried cognitive behavior therapy at all??? This is a system for dealing with depression with solid scientific backing. It actually reminds me quite a bit of GTD. Since you are so good at managing a system maybe you would be interested. It has helped me personally quite a bit. If you are looking for a book on it, I would recommend "feeling good" by david burns.

                            I would second Dave's recommendation. I first heard of Burns's book on this forum. The version to get is titled The Feeling Good Handbook, by David D. Burns, MD. The sappy title put me off. But once I read it, I realized that this is one of those rare books--like Getting Things Done--that will change my life.

                            The core notion of both David Allen's and David Burns's books is the same: get it out of your head. The essential core for Allen is to write down your commitments. The essential core for David Burns is to write down your thoughts and feelings.

                            Writing down my commitments gave me a much better of feeling of control over my life and gave me the confidence to set more significant goals. Writing down my thoughts and feelings made me markedly more content. And Burns has the data to show that it makes almost everyone who tries it less anxious and less depressed.


                            • #15
                              The Cycle of Depression

                              Maybe this worth reading for some of you: