Depression doesn’t just attack the mood. It also can do a number on cognitive functioning. When my symptoms are bad, my concentration goes out the window, multitasking is a foreign concept, and my memory takes a hit. Sometimes I feel like I can’t think my way out of a paper bag. Since my depression is only partially responsive to treatment, I’ve had to find ways to compensate in order to function (at least somewhat!) as a human.
The basic starting point is my calendar. I use Google calendar, which I can access on both my laptop and my smartphone. If an appointment or event isn’t in my calendar, chances are high that it just won’t happen. I use colour codes for work, personal, and health appointments. I will often set up reminder notices for the day before to make sure I’m not taken by surprise.
My overall functioning would take a significant dive if I didn’t have lists. I can get overwhelmed by too many lists, though, so it’s a constantly evolving process, with lists splitting or coming together as needed.
Some of my lists are on the Google Keep app. That works particularly well for shopping lists. I sometimes struggle to keep track of even a small number of items, so things always need to go on the list, and my phone is in my hand the whole time I’m at the store.
Other lists I record in Apple’s Notes app. This tends to be devoted to things I want to keep track of rather than items that need to be ticked off. Because spontaneous recall of information can be dicey for me, I have notes on a lot of different topics for quick referencing purposes. Some notes are related to work, whereas others are about rather mundane things. For example, I have a note with a bunch of different meal ideas, because I’m now much better at selecting from options as opposed to spontaneously generating ideas.
When my cognitive symptoms get really bad I get overwhelmed very easily, and even simple tasks can feel very complicated. To be prepared for that, I have step-by-step lists for certain important tasks. It may seem a bit odd, but having these lists feels very reassuring.
I’m a nurse, and I work on a casual/contract basis so I can adjust how much I work based on where I’m at with my illness. One of my jobs is doing medication teaching. I get assigned patients, and then I’m responsible for connecting with them, setting up and doing their teaching sessions, and doing all of the requisite paperwork. I’ve been careful to build in redundancies in case I forget any steps. Appointment dates go in my calendar, but there’s a couple of other places I record them as well. A couple of times I’ve forgotten to put appointments in my calendar, but I’ve been saved by my backup system. In meetings with patients, I’ve always got my teaching materials binder that has my concise, well-organized notes to save me in case I get off track during the sessions.
Routine is also important. The less mental resources I have to devote to day-to-day tasks, the more I have left over for other things. On my computer, I have a lot of web browser tabs open for all the various things I’m working on. If something isn’t open where I can see it, I’m likely to not even think about it, so I have lots of tabs open. They’re always arranged in the same order to keep the overall number of tabs from feeling overwhelming.
While my depression started off as an episodic illness, with periods of normal functioning in between depressive episodes, it’s evolved over time into a chronic illness that’s always with me. Adjusting has definitely been be a process. I’m an intelligent person who’s well-educated, but my mental illness can make me feel like an idiot sometimes. I know that it’s a problem of being able to access mental resources rather than not having them at all, but it’s still humbling.
As I’ve grown to accept the chronic nature of this invisible illness, I’ve come to realize that although I can’t make the symptoms go away, I can learn to compensate. It’s certainly been useful that I’m a naturally organized person. I’ve had to come up with systems and backup systems to manage things that used to be easy. Still, I feel proud of myself for being proactive in finding ways to manage. If I need to look at a step-by-step list to manage a task I’ve done many times, what matters the most is not that I needed the list but that I had that list ready when I needed it. Accomplishments may not always come in the form we’re used to, but they’re still well worth recognizing.