Managing depression: finding rungs on the ladder

We can improve one small step at a time. Photo by Mike Lewinski on Unsplash

Depression often involves a sense that things will never get better.  An exhausted, demotivated mind cannot see how life will improve.  Even simple tasks seem beyond one’s capability.

One simple technique for getting development under way is ‘finding rungs on the ladder’.  The ladder of future development, when we are depressed, can look a little like a ladder with only sides, and no rungs in the middle.  In other words, we see where we want to go, but have no idea what viable steps we can take that will actually hold us.

The important thing to know is that we don’t have to wait until all the rungs are in place.  Depression can rob us of much of our faculty of logical thinking, so that we are less able to make long term plans and see how everything fits together.  But what we can do, one rung at a time, is build some sense of direction, however small.

Compromise is necessary.  Even if we have, in the past, been experts at strategic planning, we may not now be able to see very far ahead.  So we can be content with identifying small projects.  For example:

  • Instead of planning our sporting life as though we were training for the Olympics, we can build in a simple, regular half an hour a day of exercise.
  • Instead of doing a plan for a whole course of study, we can start with a simple, regular half an hour a day of study, just to get ourselves used to it.
  • Instead of trying to completely transform our lives before we find a partner (and never actually getting round to the partner bit!), we can seek out, through social and interest groups, simple, easy opportunities to meet others who might want to date.

These are not earth-shattering changes.  But they are manageable rungs on our ladder, put in place to coax us in the right direction.

Here is an exercise that can help.

Choose something you would like to make progress with.  It can be anything you like – something you want to learn, a life change you want to make, an achievement you want to aim for.

Then identify an easy first step.  It’s important that it is manageable, and not daunting.  For learning, it might be finding a teacher or institution and getting in touch.  For a life change, it might be a very easy first target, just to get things under control.  For an achievement, it might be joining an interest group related to the goal.

The idea is to move from despair to manageable positive action.  When we are depressed, we find it overwhelming to think about tackling our problems or goals.  But by identifying simple starter actions, we begin to build a ladder that we can have faith in.