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Young Adults’ Experiences of Depression in the U.S.

Depression and everyday tasks

Fatigue and low energy are common symptoms of depression. Everyone we spoke with described struggles with tiredness and/or loss of motivation. Many people also talked about the specific impact depression had on their ability to complete everyday tasks -- things like housework, personal hygiene, or going outside. Many people also had trouble getting out of bed.
 
People who found daily life hard to manage while depressed said they “struggled with daily things,” or found it hard to “just wake up and approach the day-to-day things.” Specific tasks people described as difficult include taking a shower, brushing teeth, doing laundry, cleaning, paying bills, and shopping. A few people also talked about having problems making or getting food: as Casey put it, sometimes “what I would have to do to get myself food and to physically eat it feels like too much to accomplish.”
 

For Sally, tasks that need to be done repeatedly, on a daily or weekly basis, are hard to manage. Anything she has to do just once is much easier.

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Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 19
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But like I have trouble doing arbitrary tasks, things that have to be done, that have to be done and need to be done to live, but that have repetition, like they never have an endpoint like, like putting away laundry, and doing laundry, and hanging clothing, stuff like that I have always had trouble with, but definitely got worse within the last like 5-6 years. Like my boyfriend will do laundry and it will be folded and sitting on the bureau for weeks at a time and I just won’t be able to put it away. Just the whole idea of it is just so tiring, and then I finally get the courage to do it, or not the courage, I guess, like the motivation to do it and then it’s finally done, it’s so relieving and then like four or five days later, there is just another pile of clothes and I have to do it again. So it’s just like constantly you know forcing myself to do it. Same with like, dishes. Same sort of thing, there is no end point. With school, because I’m in my master’s now, I find that’s like completely different for me, because like, with school work, like ok, I have 20 pages to finish and then I’m done. There’s like an end point, there’s something to look forward to. Where some tasks, like what I mentioned, where I’m not able to overcome them very easily. 
Some people said that when their lives had little or no structure and few external demands such as work or school, everyday tasks became increasingly difficult. Ben, for example, felt most depressed when he had nothing to do and didn’t feel like a “productive member of society.” At such times he says he “… wasn’t taking showers” and “…wasn’t taking care of myself.” Other people talked about how the pressure of many responsibilities interacted with their depression, creating a “cascade of… obligations” that in the end could grind everything - including basic everyday functioning -- to a halt.
 

Joey found it increasingly hard to take care of basic tasks after college was over and he had not yet found other productive things to do with his time.

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Age at interview: 28
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 26
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Like, hygiene, eating properly, you know like healthy and regularly, which I’m still working on but I mean like, I just pretty much checked out on like all those things. I mean every, I don’t know, I was just like unable to take care of responsibilities and then that just kind of like snowballed out of factor to the point where it was like you wake up in the morning and it’s like I don’t know what. No, this is not happening just... 

Was I was treating myself like crap, like every thought I had about myself in my head was a negative thought. I didn’t exercise at all didn’t, rarely ate. I mean I ate a meal a day maybe and it was, you know, not that you know, full of nutrients or that good. Like, yeah, just didn’t believe that like anything was possible like, my room looked like crap my bed was never made.
 

Maya’s life is busy and demanding, but sometimes she needs to conserve her energy and prioritize the hard work of daily life.

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 15
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I have to say, “No.” All the time I have to say, “No I can’t come see your show, no I can’t get coffee today, no I can’t do that project, no I can’t do that job, no I can’t volunteer for that program, no I can’t stay out late, no I need to go home, no I need to rest, no I can’t do the dishes, no I can’t comfort myself today, no I can’t go to the store.” Or if I do go to the store, that’s literally the only thing I do all day, like when I was really sick it was just like, “Wow, that was my major accomplishment for this week,” was being able to go to the store and get all the groceries into the house and so that’s been one of the most difficult things for me to be the person that does literally everything at an amazing level, well not an amazing level, but a very high level. It’s impressive that I did all of that at a high level to be a person that’s just like, “Cool, I carried groceries upstairs and didn’t leave any of them in the car for my partner to carry up later.” So that’s been my biggest struggle.
Cycles of struggle with everyday tasks

For many people, depression comes in cycles: sometimes it is very acute, and other times it recedes. This can mean capacity to accomplish day to day tasks also fluctuates. Colin, for example, talks about periods of functioning fine, followed by times when he would “… just have another pit fall and just not be able to get out of bed.” Sierra Rose says that after a period of intense depression her “main job, if you can call it that, has been attempting to keep my apartment clean… cooking, cleaning, and watching TV.”
 

Violet needs to manage her time very carefully to prevent stress, which is a trigger for depression to recur.

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 22
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The overwhelming feeling that happens when I realize that I have x amount of things I need to get done and only y amount of hours it very much, it does, it really lowers my mood, I start to feel very anxious. That’s a big thing, I get very anxious just knowing that I have so much I need to get done. You know I need this much for bills and I can only work this many hours, you know I need to get ABC done and I only have this one hour to do it in, you know, time management has been super key. I mean, when you’re raising a child in general I’m sure that’s coming into play, to being a student and working and raising a child I think that that stress in general probably contributed to my depression like when I was a new mom, now I have had time to adjust to it. I know the ups and downs.
 
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Maya contrasts her productive everyday life when feeling well with the difficulty she has getting out of bed and taking a shower when depressed.

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 15
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I was in, you know, cool gifted programs and stuff like that so I was surrounded by a pretty exceptional bunch, but I’m seeing that as more of the norm. But yeah, I think there are things about depression that are very difficult and one of the things that I struggle with the most is just the fatigue, just the, I can barely. And I’m someone who like, I like to run around and I like to have my fingers in all the pies and I like to be a mover and a shaker and for many people like, they couldn’t imagine me being the person who just cannot get out of bed, you know, that like, if I take a shower that’s, that’s a success. That in these past three days I haven’t been able to get out of bed and take a shower and I think that that’s the truth for many people, many people who come across as very high functioning and I think there is an enormous amount of shame about that to have other people see that you occupy such a vulnerable space, because I think that projecting strength is so important here….
(To learn more about cycles of depression, see ‘Cycles of depression and maintaining hope’.)

Staying in bed

Many people we talked to said that at one point or another, depression made the everyday task of getting out of bed hard or impossible. As Mara put it, depression “… just ruins your motivation and makes it really hard to get out of bed and to want to stay up.” For some people, bed exerts an irresistible pull: it’s a safe haven in which to numb out watching TV or avoid overwhelming responsibilities. Joey said that when he is depressed he yearns to go back to bed right after he has woken up and had his coffee. Whitney noted “… I’d rather stay in bed and sleep than to have to deal with my problems.” Others described being so immobilized by depression, it felt impossible to get out of bed in the first place, even when expected at school or work.
 

To her own amazement, Leanna found she would sleep the whole day away, missing class and reversing day and night.

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 15
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…but I would just not go to class because I just felt like, I would just look outside and I be like I kind of just want to sleep this whole day away. And I would just sleep the whole day away, it was kind of amazing that I would be up at night and you know, everyone else is asleep so I would just be alone, but oh my God. I would just walk around at night by myself. It was really, yeah, really actually like depressing how I would just. I still kind of do to this day walk around just by myself. But now I’m not depressed, now I’m just like oh, chilling by myself. But back then I was, I was just moping around, just wallowing in my depression, letting it just kind of, just letting it overcome me.
 
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Crystal describes what it feels like to be unable to get out of bed.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 15
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I mean I still suffer from it now, some of the things that I go through on a daily basis that you know, kept happening in high school was you know, it’s really hard to get up, you feel completely pulled down and drained in bed and you, you just can’t get up sometimes. 
See also ‘Depression and strategies for everyday life’ and ‘How depression feels’.
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