When Depression Gets in the Way of Your Multipotentiality

When Depression Gets in the Way of Your Multipotentiality

Written by Kristin Wong

Topics: Mental Health

“Oh, great. Another story about depression.”

Listen, I hear you. Depression is everywhere. It’s in our Twitter feeds, on our podcasts. Even our favorite Queens in the North are talking about it.

But you know what’s worse than hearing about how everyone is depressed? Actually being depressed, week after week, month after month. Constantly forgetting what you’re doing. Getting lost on short, routine trips to the grocery store. Finding yourself exhausted after sending one stupid email.

As an ambitious multipod who wants to do everything, I often tell myself if I pretend the depression isn’t there, I can try to get some stuff done. But working when you’re depressed feels like trying to jog underwater. As fast as you try to go, there’s something holding you back. And somewhere, beneath your shrunken hippocampus, your ambition and creativity are screaming. You want to move, but you can’t.

As perpetual novices, multipods are often in the process of trying new things outside of their comfort zone. This sounds exciting, but when you’re depressed, it’s oddly unpleasant—like someone asking you to go to a concert when you have the flu. You think you want to, but your body is like, nope.

When you’re depressed, you feel easily overwhelmed and completely underwhelmed at the same time, which makes it easy for self-doubt to take over—the possibility of taking on a new project seems even more impossible, and the benefit of doing so seems pointless. Multipods are often torn between many options, and as psychologist Gail Post puts it in this blog post, choosing can be quite the existential burden—which is especially fun when you’re depressed!

As a freelance multipotentialite who writes, teaches, and dabbles in some other random stuff, I often miss having a standard 9-to-5 job when I’m depressed. I just want someone to tell me what to do. Creating structure as a self-employed person requires clarity and insight, two things that don’t come easily when you’re depressed.

For me, it’s helped to create and stick to a routine as much as possible. I won’t pretend to have the answers, but I can tell you what works for me (aside from a good therapist and a supportive network of friends and loved ones).

Disclaimer: I should point out that there are different degrees and types of depression. The following assumes you’re functioning at work with depression. But this is certainly not a substitute for a medical professional’s help when you’re in a really dark place. If you fall under the latter and don’t know where to start, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a national helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Working in smaller increments

Try to work on small tasks in focused bursts. For example, when I’m depressed, the idea of writing 1,000 words seems impossible, so I break it up into routine tasks. Outlining. Researching. Writing a 100-word intro paragraph. I take baby steps and remind myself that I’ll figure out the rest later, but for now, all I need to do is get through that one small task.

The Pomodoro Technique is also useful for this. You set a timer for 25 minutes and try your best to work without interruption. When the timer goes off, set it again for 5 minutes and give yourself a break. No work at all. This is considered one “Pomodoro.” After three Pomodoros, you take a longer, 25-minute break.

Being upfront with people I trust

I joke that I need an out-of-office reply for my depression, because I’m socially useless during those weeks. The problem is, this kind of vulnerability can be hard in the entrepreneurial world, which tends to value a picture of resilience and determination over anything remotely resembling vulnerability—oddly enough, vulnerability is often a necessary part of being resilient and determined.  

For the most part, I tend to avoid any networking or professional events around this time. Even when I do muster the energy to actually go, it can be exhausting. I’ll meet someone new, struggle like hell to hold a conversation, and then we’ll part ways, with them having seen a side of myself that I wasn’t comfortable showing. Or maybe they don’t care. Either way, it doesn’t matter—depression’s obnoxious cousin, anxiety, will make sure I worry about this interaction one way or another.

A more helpful alternative to avoiding people is having a support group of friends and colleagues that I can trust, and be honest with them about how I’m feeling. Recently, a colleague invited me to a workshop she was hosting. I wanted to go to support her, even if my brain didn’t. “I’m feeling out of it again,” I told her. “In case I seem weird, distant, or distracted, don’t mind me.” She laughed and said she could relate. It’s extremely helpful to have a group of people that can help validate what you’re going through and not make you feel like a weirdo.

Finding a balance between dwelling and denial

It’s generally a myth that talking about depression makes it worse. Talk therapy is a powerful tool for treating depression, Ellen Greenlaw writes at WebMD. And ignoring the problem can lead to denial, isolation, and substance abuse, all of which are things that will actually make your depression much, much worse.

On the other hand, sometimes I do get tired of wearing the label—it feels like I’ve made depression my entire identity. Eventually, I get to a point where there’s nothing left to say about it and I’m not getting anywhere.  For me, finding a balance between dwelling and denial starts with simple self-care: eating healthy, getting enough sleep, not binge spending (or binge drinking).

With denial, you tell yourself there’s no problem and keep driving, even though you’re on empty. When you’re dwelling, on the other hand, you can easily convince yourself it’s impossible to get up to take a shower. And it feels that way sometimes. Self-care is a good middle ground—it helps you focus on small tasks to avoid self-destructing while still acknowledging that, however necessary those tasks may be, they still feel daunting. It’s easy to overlook self-care even when you’re not depressed, but when you are, and you still have to get stuff done, these basic needs are even easier to overlook.

The key is knowing how depression affects you, and acknowledging that you might have to make changes to manage it. For years, I was in denial. I had no idea what was going on in my brain or in my body and I thought it was normal to feel this way. Yeah, I got stuff done, but I also made destructive, costly, hurtful mistakes because I didn’t understand why I was feeling strange. Allowing myself to talk about this, no matter how much I cringe every time I do, has been critical to managing it—and not letting it get in the way of my pursuits. As exhausting as it might feel to take on a task when you’re depressed, pretending like everything is okay only makes you run out of gas faster.

Depression doesn’t hit multipotentialites harder, but navigating it as a multipod can be trickier. Making choices, trying new things, forging your own path—these things all require motivation, and it’s frustrating when you can’t seem to find it, especially if motivation flows freely when you’re not depressed. Having a group of supportive friends and colleagues, focusing on smaller tasks, and embracing self-care won’t fix the problem—but it’s a start in the right direction.

Your Turn

How do you deal with your depression when it gets in the way of your multipotentiality? Do you take breaks from your projects or find other ways of coping? Share your stories and ideas in the comments below. 

neil_2017_2Kristin Wong has written for the New York Times, The Cut, NBC News, and Glamour magazine. She’s the author of Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford. Kristin is a writer, but she’s also an amateur photographer, speaker, podcaster, and recovering workaholic. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram @thewildwong.

22 Comments

  1. Liz says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I just got some genetic testing done to hopefully find an antidepressant that I will actually respond to. I hadn’t considered all of the ways my depression affects me until reading this article. Thank you.

  2. Jas says:

    This is an *awesome* article, Lisa, thank you.

    I feel like you’ve hit the nail on the head there with ‘self-care’. For me, it feels like the key to managing my mental health/wellbeing is *energy management*. This includes sleep, nutrition/water, social interaction, downtime, writing & gym/yoga.

    Thanks again, for writing this. You’ve done a brilliant job with articulating a complex theme(s).

  3. Nina says:

    I want to thank you so much for this article! I feel like I don’t have any good advice in regards to coping with depression, as I’m leaning more on learning how to do it right now, than being someone who knows how to do that stuff. The advice that is given here in this text is the most essential and the best part is that I feel like it could actually work for me, and for so many others! It also helped me to asses my current strategy and what I do and don’t do well for my mental health. I have other things on my plate besides MH issues, and those are physical chronic, common but still stigmatized, like PCOS, along with Hypothyroidism and Insulin Resistance, and I was pre-diabetic at one point. I do have a lot of information and guidance about dealing with those things as effectively as possible, but one of the big issues is that they are the things that can cause depression even when there aren’t any other causes to it, the mere existence of them causes it, not to mention other things that enhance it even more.

    But, I can tell everyone that they don’t deny themselves (harmless) small, simple pleasures, like listening to uplifting music, or whatever genre or type of it that feeds their soul. One can listen to sad music too, but as it’s mentioned in the article, they should find a balance between dwelling and denial.

    Another helpful thing is to know that your problem is at the same time unique to you, since you are a unique human being, and everyone’s depression is different, but that a lot of principles of it are same for everyone, and therefore there are a lot of coping principles and also the characteristics of their path to well-being are exactly the same, and a lot of them are mentioned in this article.

    • Kristin says:

      So true that even though there are some universal similarities, it’s different for everyone. Thanks for reading and I’m glad you found it helpful!

  4. Jayne says:

    Great article. So good to read and know that I am heading down the right road. I asked for medication 6 months ago as a last resort as while I was functioning, I knew something wasn’t right and my usual methods weren’t working.
    Now, after doing research, courses and focussing on self -care, I feel positive about where I am going. My motivation has improved significantly and I feel more able to cope when I do have a slump.
    My manager also noticed how much more focused I was at work which is always a good thing to hear ?
    It will always be difficult but acknowledging it and factoring it into my life is definitely the first and most positive step.

  5. Kim says:

    Thank you for writing this article. There’s a lot here that I can identify with.

    Self-care has been integral for managing my own mental health and motivation. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by a new or ongoing project, I tell myself to simply take the next small step. That helps me reconnect to my sense of purpose and stay committed to my various goals.

    • Kristin says:

      Small steps are so helpful for me, too, even when I’m not depressed. Just an important thing to remember when anything seems overwhelming!

  6. Mr. ADHD says:

    Thanks for the article. I relate to a lot of it. Good suggestions.

    If I may make a suggestion, sometimes ADHD is misdiagnosed as depression. And, sometimes taking a drug like Wellbutrin helps take care of both. In addition, I am (also) very much in favor of having structure wherever possible in personal and professional life. And, I agree, a good therapist who has specialization in the patient’s “disorder” can make a big difference.

  7. Franci says:

    Dear Kristin, thank you so much for sharing your story. I have been struggling with depression for years and you describe exactly how it feels. Currently I am unemployed and, despite my various interests, I am not able to grasp a project and carry it ahead. I will try to follow your hints and to finally finish the program “Work your Work” by Emilie. Thank you again for pointing the lights on a subject that suffers from a huge social stigma. Love from Switzerland

  8. Anna says:

    De-pression is always a Su-pression of goals and new skills to be learned towards the Op-pression of what/who we truly want to be.

  9. Jed Pike says:

    This says it all. Thank you for being strong and sharing your experience. It helps to know others “get you” and are “getting through” too.

  10. Lisa says:

    I love your practical suggestions for breaking down tasks into easier to achieve chunks. Great advice for anyone having a challenge with focus or attention management for any reason. We all have times where we feel overwhelmed, under the weather, struggle to focus, down days, down months, injury, illness (mental and physical). Great advice to help us move through those times if a complete stop/rest/recuperate isn’t possible.

  11. Nicole k says:

    Thank you.
    I thought this was perfectly written and it came at a wonderful time for me. It is such a refreshing reminder to not hide everything away and it’s so important to find those people who you can trust and be upfront with when you’re just not “you”

  12. Paul Goldsby says:

    Thank you Kristin, As a person who deals with depression while dealing with schizoaffective disorder, I was pleased to read your comments.Motivation seems to be the biggest obstacle in my case and understanding how to be kind to oneself can sometimes be a difficult task but it is so true to have people who get you for who you are is important.Although, I struggle with projects I`m often enlightened by people like yourself and those who share their own journey.Do take care and I look forward to your continuing path!

  13. Petra says:

    This came just in the right moment… I will send this article to my 16 year old teenager (today’s birthday ;-) ) and hope, that he and I will find a good way…
    Hello from Germany!

  14. Sandy says:

    Thank you Kristin for sharing, especially what you say about feeling overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time. I never thought about it that way, but I can totally relate to that.

    My mental balance is fragile mainly because of my sensitivity (I’m HSP) I’m at my best in a harmonious environment, free of tension and stress. As a child I intuitively did what caused the least bit of commotion, meaning: living up to the expectations of others.
    This pattern is quite headstrung. Even today (I’m 48 now) I struggle with finding authority within myself without guild or doubt or fear.
    I’m practicing with selfcare and I am learning, but as soon as I hit the ‘feeling-overwhelmed-zone’ I’m not capable anymore of doing the most basic things in everyday life.
    At the same time I WANT to explore and do things so badly because I haven’t done / been able to do a lot for such a long time…

    The thing that helped me most when I was hitting rock bottom, is choosing a different perspective. For me this means:

    – Embracing a slow pace life style (You can still do different things, just not as many and not as fast)
    – Writing (this helps me to process things and it enables me to share my experiences without getting overwhelmed by being around people)
    – Spending as much time outdoors as I can and learn from nature by observing (nature seems to have a solution for everything, it just takes more time than us humans are used to)

    I wish you all the best and thanks again!!

  15. Sahar says:

    Thank you for this article, very helpful. However, I did find that being a person with so many calling works better for me and my depression. I suffer from bipolar and Fibromyalgia so on days when I’m down I focus my energy on my normal routine job as an ESL teacher. On days when I’m in my manic mood, and to be honest, it the time where I get all my creativity, I focus my energy on my creative side and work on more exciting projects. I can’t imagine myself working a 9-5 job with my condition but his Multipotentialite thing is working great for me, so far!

  16. Josephine Peare says:

    Really great article! Hit very close to home. One thing about the pomodoro technique that’s helped me and friends of mine with ADHD and other similar issues is to adapt the technique to suit your needs, like if you cant focus for 25 minutes but you can for 5 minutes or ten minutes, then dont feel guilty about setting your timer for that amount of time. Often I technically can focus for 25 minutes but it gets so exhausting that i will avoid doing it next time. It’s better to make some progress, any progress tjen to just exhaust yourself trying tomake the best progress

  17. Terri says:

    Underwhelmed and overwhelmed at the same time. One part of me has some creative ideas. The other part of me can’t get going. I’m a “senior” who thinks, acts and looks like I’m in my early 50s. Lucky right? But I’m bogged down with the reality of aging. My ability to find work has been painful. I was successful for many years as a “data analyst.” Since the industry and needs have changed dramatically with the development of data shortcuts, I graduated to doing less corporate work, i.e. garden center help, administrative assistant, etc. But now even those opportunities have dried up. I had a job on Thursday. On Friday I got a call that “it’s not going to work out.” I had 30 hrs of training using an ancient DOS system. Bottom line, I was crushed. Felt rejected. Living on Social Security is not going to make it. Yup, depressed. My goal is to keep my house. It’s my sanctuary, my haven.

    I related to everyone’s experience here and give you all hugs. I’m looking for a local “seniors” group going through similar experiences so that we can support each other. Haven’t found it yet. Friends? There are a couple who are supportive. Most don’t understand the feeling. Thanks all.

  18. Leila says:

    I feel you all. So many of these comments I can relate to. Being hurt by my father the most when I’ve always been there for him and I did what was right and protected my family, now I’m told “I’m on my own” “all I do is cause trouble for everyone around me”. I wonder why I feel like giving up on everything.

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