"I can't do it" vs "What can I do?"
I remember the thought, "I can't do that" was like a song on repeat in my head back when I was struggling with depression in 2011.
One particular day, I was lying in bed until late morning, covers twisted up, feeling like being a human was impossible that day. It was one of the first sunny, warm days of Spring.
The sun was blazing through the window onto my face, so I turned over, blocked the light with my pillow, and felt guilty I couldn’t enjoy this beautiful day because I felt depressed.
An empty bag of Oreos and crunchy peanut butter on my nightstand reminded me of the binge I had the night before, delivering another pang of guilt and shame.
During this time, I was in a constant mindset of “I can't.”
“I can’t get out of bed.”
“I can’t clean my room.”
“I can’t stop eating sugar.”
“I can’t go to the gym and workout.”
“I can’t make myself feel better.”
I had these negative thoughts all day every day. It was a huge effort to think of something positive, let alone do something positive.
For me, depression was like wearing a lead vest in the deep end of the swimming pool: The thought of trying to lift myself out of it was exhausting. So I continued to sink into 9 feet, because it felt easier even if I was suffering.
Finally one day I woke up again surrounded by Oreos and peanut butter, I was done with it.
I got sick of saying “I can’t.”
I started to ask myself one question: "What can you do, Christine?"
If the answer was nothing or sleep, I’d wait until a solid response came to mind.
Take a shower.
Clean a corner of my room.
Wash my face.
Put on makeup.
Wash a dish.
Go sit outside in fresh air.
Go put my shoes on for a walk.
Write a sentence about how I feel.
Turn on a podcast that I enjoy.
Text a friend.
And then I would GO and immediately do it, whatever that thing was. Notice how some of these things are just a piece of a whole job. It didn’t matter because sometimes it was just the momentum of shifting my thought and body that made the difference. Sometimes washing 1 dish would be enough to clean the whole sink, or writing one sentence was enough to keep writing down my feelings and get them out of my head. Putting my shoes on was a step towards going outside for a walk. Doing a part of a healthy choice was evidence enough that I actually COULD do something and that “I can’t” was a lie my mind was in the habit of telling me.
When you feel depressed, you don’t want to get out of it even though you want to get out of it.
The World Health Organization states that over 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression. About 1 in 6 Americans will suffer a major depressive episode in their life (major depressive meaning lasting at least two consecutive weeks). Since those numbers are based on reports, and many people do not report their feelings of depression or anxiety or are not diagnosed with it, perhaps these numbers are even higher. Everyone I meet and speak to about depression can relate personally or has someone in their immediate circle who currently or has suffered from depression in the past. Regardless of the cause of your depression or anxiety (there are several and some are only now being discovered), you can empower yourself to do something about it.
So I pushed myself to get up and do it. And that was a win.
This is still a practice I use today to help shift me out of a funk when I feel like my thoughts are getting anxious or depressed. I’m glad to share it with you and invite you to try it!
Sound familiar to you? Maybe you're not struggling with as low of a mood as I was back then, but you may have felt like your thoughts were trying to stop you at every turn.
What “I can’t” thoughts are you having, and how can you turn them into an “I can”?