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Depression and Skewed Perception of Time
March 8, 2013 4:22 AM   Subscribe

I have clinical depression and I have a skewed perception of time, which I hear is common in depressed people. I will wake up and want to do something productive, but instead if I can't find the energy or will power I will busy myself with unimportant things and watch the hours fly by. Hours turn to days, days to weeks, etc. One day I look up and it's March 8, 2013. On the flip side, on the days I do manage to do something productive time drags by at an agonizingly slow pace. Actually being productive exhausts me most days, and this dragging of time doesn't help at at all. I'm on an antidepressant and seeing a therapist, but I was hoping to find some way to better keep perspective of time? Instead of having all my days morph together. Also looking for ways to better cope with working since I work from home.
posted by Cybria to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Visualizing time helps me manage and plan large, medium term projects. Printed calenders that offer entire year's worth of days, by month, with a box for notes, is a great poster on the wall. I also use desktop flip calenders by the month for appointments, calls and to do's. Being able to the "see" the "whole" helps and you can look back and see what you've done or not simply by flipping the pages or looking at the annual poster. Use coloured stickers for milestones and achievements to add a bit of fun to your efforts!
posted by infini at 4:35 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't tell from your question, but are you currently working, in school, or doing something else that requires you to leave the house most days? Because that, for me, is what makes the most difference (although I understand and have experienced the paradox where, when things get too bad, you can't keep up with those sorts of obligations and you start missing days, which makes the time problem and the depression get worse). I experience exactly what you've described, and the most important thing for me is to have something I'm obligated to do, where I'll be missed or even get in trouble, if I don't do it. It's such a clear help for me that when I have days off but I'm not going out of town, I will purposely volunteer to do things that I'll feel obligated not to skip (volunteer work, doctor's appointments, social plans with my most rigid friends).

If you're not working or in school or otherwise occupied every day, I might suggest asking your therapist about a day program. Basically, a lot of hospitals and medical centers have what they call "intensive outpatient" treatment, where you go every day and meet with medical professionals and have therapy sessions and do other things to help you get your life back on track. It serves two purposes: first, it actually is a more intensive way to get treatment in hopes that what you're doing to help yourself will help sooner and better. And second, it forces you out of the situation where you sit alone in your house for days on end just letting the time pass, because you have someplace you have to be. It's immensely helpful to a lot of people who are suffering.

Feel free to MeMail me if you ever want to talk. I've been there. Things aren't perfect now, but they're way better than they used to be.
posted by decathecting at 5:25 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Same sort of issues here. Here are a few things that I do, that admittedly, sometimes work and often don't. (Depression sucks like that.) So, I do these things on good days, and try to do them on bad days when I still have a teensy bit of self-awareness.

1) For certain things, like reading emails, I limit myself to some number of emails to read and respond to. Sometimes that number is one. Sometimes it's "all of yesterday's" or "twenty". Whatever feels doable.

2) I set timers for everything where counting doesn't make sense, like reading the day's news, or working on a specific project or (ha!) cleaning the house. Ten minutes, then a break. Or twenty minutes, then a break.

3) I keep a list of things I've accomplished throughout the day. It help gives me perspective on what I can or cannot accomplish in some time frame. I'm not sure if this is a Depression Thing or a SuperSquirrel Thing, but I also sometimes have a skewed sense of how much can be done in a certain time period - usually thinking that I can do a huge number of things in an impossible time frame - and then failing at it, causing me to just give up trying. Looking back on my list of things I was able to do helps me to get a handle on what's doable on good days and bad days.

And agreed with just getting out of the house. Can you go get coffee every morning, maybe at a certain time? On days when I work from home and don't actually have to go anywhere, I sometimes get LESS done than the days where I may have a few appointments scattered throughout. On days with no scheduled appointments, I start the day thinking I have this HUGE block of time to be productive, so it's ok if I waste a little time first. But if your sense of time is skewed, "a little time" ends up as "all f-ing day", and suddenly it's 8pm and you're still in your jammies.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:54 AM on March 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Since you have a therapist, see if she can recommend a therapist-moderated depression support group. First off, it gives you somewhere to go every week and second, you may find some useful skills.

Additionally, I find that working for 20 minute shifts tends to help a lot. Some days that may mean you only get one 20 minute shift in and as you heal, some days you work a whole day.

Last, I found that the 80% rule helped. You don't have to be perfect. Try for 80% - or 70%, whatever works for you. So if you say I want to get X done today, success is getting 80% of x accomplished.
posted by Sophie1 at 6:39 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

When you're avoiding doing things, you avoid looking at the clock or even thinking about what time it is--that makes time go faster. When you're doing things you don't want to do or that you have to push yourself to do, you're looking at the clock constantly--that makes time go slower.

Although I'm not depressed, I have a procrastinating personality and what has helped me is setting timers or reminders. I will set a timer for 20 minutes and work on the task. If I'm in the groove I reset the timer for perhaps longer and keep going. If I'm not, I set a timer and then screw around for 10 minutes. You would be really surprised at how fast 20 minutes can go and how much you can get done in that amount of time.

When I was depressed I would pick one or two things that I wanted to get done that day. Some days one of those things would be really simple things on the level of daily living (take a shower, eat lunch, run to the bank) some days I would attempt more. The agreement I had with myself was that if I accomplished those tasks, I wasn't allowed to feel guilty that I wasn't doing more. Those were my valid accomplishments and I was allowed to feel good about doing them. When I did this, the screwing around time tended to be less of a black hole, because I wasn't actively avoiding doing something--I had accomplished my tasks and I was allowed to enjoy the rest of my day.
posted by Kimberly at 6:50 AM on March 8, 2013 [8 favorites]

You might want to look into stuff about dissociation, and see whether it might resonate with anything you have experienced. It's a reasonably common response to severe distress which can seriously mess with your time perception, and sometimes just being aware that it's happening, so that you can consciously 'check back in', is helpful.
posted by Acheman at 12:53 PM on March 8, 2013

I'm more apt to use my time productively if other people are around. Ideally it's an environment with quiet, studious types intensely absorbed in their own tasks - my ideal coffee shop. Sharing a more private workspace with the right personality may help considerably, if it's an option.
posted by infinite joy at 7:18 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I use to live within walking distance of Starbucks but not anymore...but in any case I tend to get easily distracted online no matter where I am. I decided to volunteer at my local Family Services Association. I have to fill out an application and interview but it's not as high stakes as getting a part time job. Also I'm joining a local women's gym, Ladies' Workout Express. The environment is very cozy and also there's just women there, so not so intimidating. I think this will help me to keep track of the days going by. Thanks everyone for all your replies. :)
posted by Cybria at 9:27 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

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