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David Baxter PhD

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3 Ways to Get Things Done When You’re Depressed

by Julie A. Fast,
Feb 4, 2021

It takes effort and a plan, but bipolar depression can’t stop us from reaching our goals. We can get things done when it feels impossible.​


Every Shade of Depression​

My brain feels like mush. I can’t focus as I write this. I’m restless and unhappy, worried and frustrated. I’m depressed.

But I have work to do and a life to live. I don’t want bipolar depression to control my life, and this means I must have a plan in place on the days when my brain is not my friend.

I’ve lived with depression for over 30 years: Weepy and sad depression, irritated and angry depression, and a catatonic type that tells me I can’t move my body.
For many years, I stayed in bed, cried, and wondered how I was ever going to reach my goals. Maybe you know the feeling!

I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to stay this way.

I have a plan that works, and I would like to share three of its strategies with you today.

Desperate to Find a Pattern to My Depression​

My plan started in such a simple way. In the late nineties, after years of unsuccessful treatment that included 23 medications, I knew I had to find a way to tame my brain, my own way, if I wanted to have a life.

I thought to myself, What am I missing here! Why can’t I get better!

Out of desperation, I decided to write down every bipolar symptom I had experienced—since my teen years—to see if there was a pattern. I wrote for days. I focused on what I thought, what I said, and what I did during my tough times.

And, after months of writing out my symptoms and my partner’s symptoms (he has bipolar I disorder), I started to see patterns.
Making these lists was the start of the system I teach in all of my books. (This system works for mania, anxiety, and psychosis as well, but for the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to focus on depression.)

What Happens When You’re Depressed?​

The process taught me that I think, say, and do the same things every time I get depressed—and so does pretty much anyone who is in a mood swing.

I realized that bipolar depression was not me at all. It wasn’t even about my life. I wasn’t weak, dysfunctional or lazy…. I was sick.

I realized that if I could STOP—the very moment I recognized that I was depressed—and DO SOMETHING about the depression instead of wondering why I was so sick all of the time, I could finally move forward in life.

That is how I learned that recognizing what you think, say, and do when you’re depressed is the first step in taking your life back from depression’s control.

Three Strategies for Getting Things Done When You’re Depressed​

#1 Know What Your Brain Thinks, Says, and Does When You’re Depressed.​

Here’s a short exercise to get you started:
  • Focus right now on three things you think when the depression starts.
  • Then, focus on three things you regularly say when you’re depressed.
  • Finally, think of what you do when the depression begins.
Write these down.

This is your first “Depression List.” Make sure you focus on your beginning symptoms, not your advanced symptoms. The goal is to recognize depression early so that you can move immediately into management mode before the depression gets too strong.

Here is an example of a Depression List:


  1. What’s the point of my life?
  2. Why is work so hard for me and so easy for everyone else?
  3. Nothing good is happening in my life. I’m going to be miserable forever.
What I SAY:
  1. “I never get anything right. I can’t find my path. No one cares about me anyway.”
  2. “You never want to do anything. Our life is boring.”
  3. “I am not sure about my feelings for you.”
What I DO:
  1. Isolate in bed and binge on junk food.
  2. Write pages and pages in my journal about how unhappy I am while I cry in sadness and frustration over how unfair my life has become.
  3. Snap at people who want to help.
My depression has a pattern: dissatisfaction, jealousy, worry, sadness, irritation, and unkindness to others.
I’m not like this when stable, but I lose so much insight when I’m depressed that the symptoms feel 100% real. Once I created these lists and used them to cultivate an inner awareness that depression was controlling my brain, I started to get better.

Please know that this wasn’t and still isn’t easy … but it is possible.

I was then ready to create and use a plan to get out of the depression.

#2 Have a Plan That Is Ready to Use Once You Recognize the First Signs of Depression.​

Your plan will need to be tailored to your life and your depression. I describe my own plan in Getting It Done When You’re Depressed.

At first, my focus was on two goals: (1) staying out of bed and (2) learning not to say everything that came into my head.

To accomplish these two goals, I talked back to my thoughts, reminded myself I was depressed, and made sure I had something in place—every day—that required human interaction.

It was SO basic and yet so hard to do.

I had to teach myself—and am still teaching myself—to live with the pain of depression while I’m using my plan.


Because depression is painful! This leads us to step three.

#3 Expect to Feel Awful and Overwhelmed While You Use This System.​

Anytime you push back on depression, depression will push back on you.

I see it as an adversary holding the door to my life closed, and I have to push and push to open this door so that I can survive. You can create your own imagery, but please remember that you won’t feel good as you start any new system.

It will HURT at first…. Then it gets easier, and, eventually, it becomes a natural process that is still hard but not awful!

I am proof that these strategies work.

Your Life Can Change for the Better, Even with Bipolar Depression​

As you use this system more and more, depressive episodes have less hold on you because you learn to recognize and stop them before they get out of control.

Getting things done starts small and then builds. Soon, you find yourself going to bed feeling a bit better than you did when you woke up. Over time, this adds up to bigger projects and a life where the door to your future is easier to open.

Back when I created this plan, I could not work at all. I lost many of my friends, as I couldn’t keep up with their lives. I spent more time in bed than out of bed. I cried, was jealous and irritated, and didn’t think I could go on.… All signs of depression.

Today, I still have these symptoms—because bipolar is an episodic mental health condition. But I know what to do when they show up.

I have taught myself to recognize and stop depression before it completely takes over my life.

You know what? I just looked back at the first sentence I wrote for this blog post: “My brain feels like mush.” By pushing through this pain, I finished this post. And it’s now one less thing to feel miserable about when I get into bed tonight.

Talking action and getting things done is how I end the hold depression has on my life. I am committed to getting life done when I’m depressed—even when it hurts. And I want the same for you.

My plan was born of desperation, and I know that many of us are feeling desperate right now.

This is often when the greatest changes in life occur, so please know that even if you feel too sick to function right now, you ARE moving forward—simply by looking for help and reading this blog post.

We can do this.
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