Making Decisions When Depressed

CrystalRefraction-AMagill

Like so many, I experience depression in various forms, yet each in its own way knocks out the decision control center in my mind. At times, I scramble in anxiety and can’t focus enough to pick out one among many possibilities. At other times, I don’t care about choosing – or anything else for that matter – and I let the alternatives fall where they may. Or I make all kinds of decisions, even life changing ones, but none of them seems like a choice. Each one is do-or-die. If I fail to do it, I’ll go right over the edge.

Varieties of Indecision

Depression isn’t one thing but a series of moods along a continuum from mild to severe. I used to move regularly with this perverse flow toward desperation. At the mild end, I might wake up knowing that something is wrong, feeling at once that everything is a bit off. I want and need to get a lot done, but I’ve lost my sense of where to begin and what’s most important. Then I get anxious.

There’s a steady snowfall of tasks, floating free of deadlines and priorities. I feel the anxiety and tension about getting them all done, so I pick one out of the air – yes, I’ve got to do that! Then I realize after a few minutes of continuing worry that I’ve got to do that other one in a hurry too. So I grab that and start working. And then another and another. It’s like picking snow flakes out of the air, each melting at once, a drop of moisture in my hand. I’ve got to get everything done, but I’m going crazy because I can’t grab hold of anything.

Then there are those times when I’ve felt nothing and could care less about making decisions. That’s happened most often when I’ve been on the antidepressants targeting serotonin, like Prozac. I think I’m fine because I don’t feel depressed, but then everything else, including close relationships, seemed far away and empty. I could drop them in a minute, and that might well seem to be the logical thing to do. The thinking brain can still function but cut loose from any tie to feeling. Decisions based on logic and indifference can be the most dangerous of all.

But on the other end of the spectrum, where major depression waits, there is plenty of feeling, but it’s all desperation. My survival is at stake. I have to be alone and shut the door on everyone I know. I have to quit this job, or it’ll destroy my life. Seeing this therapist makes me sicker, and I’ll go off the deep end if I don’t quit. This relationship is a trap that’s ruining my life. There are only relentless drives here, and everything I do or desperately feel I need to do simply has to happen. I have no power of choice. It’s easy to argue that a decision has been made. But I can’t see it that way, any more than I would say that someone under torture makes a choice to confess and stop the unbearable pain.

What Does It Take to Decide?

The psychologist James Hillman wrote a book called Kinds of Power in which he presents an interesting take on decisions. This may sound a bit pedantic, but he looks at the root meanings of the word from a Latin verb meaning to cut or to kill. Decision/decide shares this root with words like incision and homicide. Cutting away or killing off are useful metaphors because that’s what I have to do to pick one among many possibilities.

Cut away the extraneous possibilities and narrow down to specific action that will accomplish something: here’s what to do, now do it. Choices must be made to keep life and mind moving. But to do that, I need a clear vision of what I want, confidence that I can do it and belief that I can improve my life by acting in this way. When depressed, those are exactly the qualities I know I don’t have.

Depression brings the whole world inside me. I look at people and everything around me, and I’m not seeing anything but evidence of how bad I am. I’m dancing with my own nightmares. Even if I’m only mildly depressed and feel suspended amid a thousand possibilities, no one of which I can choose, I’m assuming that whichever I might pick will not take me anywhere. I’ll move in an endless circle.

Or else I’ll feel nothing, and there is no point in wanting anything. I put on a good show, pass for happily adjusted to life but only see blankness ahead – if I take the trouble to look. And in the most desperate state of severe depression, I’m running for my life. The idea of choosing a different path doesn’t enter my mind.

What’s common to all those ways of being depressed is an all-or-nothing thinking. Nothing good can result from what I do, and so there is no vision that I can choose of my own will. Everyone else is better than I am, and each seems a powerful presence that only makes me smaller still. Whatever I do will not work and only confirms the worst. All the creative possibilities I might see when I’m healthy become so many triggers of obsessive thinking.

When I began to recover some years ago, I started with a single decision. I can’t explain how it happened when I was so close to believing that I should do the world a favor and just disappear. But something snapped. All I could hear in my mind, louder than any sound I knew, was NO, I won’t go there, and YES, I’m getting out of this. I will do it. It was more than a survival instinct, or fear of where I was headed. I had to push hard against the current that was forcing me in the wrong direction, and suddenly the strength and purpose were there. I felt in my bones that I did have a choice, and I’d better make the right one.

Most people don’t have to make a decision like that. They can take self-respect for granted and get on with living. I guess people with severe depression have to work harder to master the most basic dimensions of life, to keep going and to kill of the impulse to stop.

How are you doing at deciding things these days?

Image: Some Rights Reserved by AMagill at Flickr

49 Responses to “Making Decisions When Depressed”

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  1. guru says:

    hi everyone,

    i am having problem in making decisions, for example if i am working on one thing, suddenly some one tells about some thing new then my mind will get attracted to it and i cannot concentrate on the work i am doing. because of this i am confused which one is my goal. and in which field i want to start my career. so can anyone help me how to decide which one is my goal….

  2. Fred says:

    I’m posting in order to subscribe to followup comments.

    I’m 12 years into my recovery process and treatment for depression. I envy people who have loved ones willing to wait for them; I was very young (22) when I had my meltdown, and my ex-fiancée did not wait for me. I had left her for someone else in a desperate attempt to stop my pain; by the time I was clear-minded enough to realize what I had done, my ex had started seeing someone else and hated me. I’m still struggling to figure out how I let that happen.

    Hoping says in an earlier post that you have to realize you’re depressed. I definitely didn’t. I felt like me; it turns out I’ve had dysthymia probably since birth, so the major depressive episode just felt like I was more intensely me, if that makes any sense. I didn’t realize that life wasn’t like that for everyone. Every decision I made felt like a life or death matter that had to be dealt with immediately. I feel like I’ll never stop paying ythe price.

    Fred

    • Hoping says:

      Hello Fred, I was one of them people who was willing to wait for my depressed Ex, She left me for another man in her desperate attempt to stop her pain. Waiting it hard when you know the one you love is ill and they dont!..and the damage they do can be bad. We in the end have to move on to protect our hearts. Like most of us here we fight that battle hopelessly trying to get the people we love to see they aren’t themselves and we all fail. I dont hate my ex i love her dearly always will, but i will never forget how worthless she made me feel. And i hope she finds the courage to find hersefls again. And im sorry you to had to suffer from this awful illness.

      • Fred says:

        Hoping, thank you for your response, and thank you for trying to hold on. I think my former fiancée would have waited longer, but her parents were very much involved in her life and I believe tbey manipulated her via finances to give up on me. She was still financially dependent on them, so they had a trump card. That in no way alleviates my guilt.

        I wish she had known I was sick. I really do think she simply thought of me as an asshole who had wasted five years of her life. I loved her, desperately so, but my sickness made her feel a million miles away. When she repeated that her parents said I was “dragging her down with me”, it was over for me. They confirmed my worst fears.

        I wish her a happy life filled with love, but I wish it had been with me, or at least that we could have parted on happier terms.

        • Hoping says:

          Whats so hard when your trying to hold on is that from the outside it can look like a normal break up, but its far from it..your blind sided when someone with depression ends things. And it takes a long to to feel normal again. I know my ex lost her connection to me..but she turned on me was cold and indifferent. Now im not sure if i want to every see that stranger again. How long did it take you to become clear? And did you see everything for how it really was? Or was it still a skewed version of you reality? Again im sorry this illness ruins good things.

  3. Rachel says:

    Whoever is reading this, I’m sure for most people it is a desperate hope to find an answer to what you are going through. I think this description of depression is the best I have found. I myself this morning was trapped in my own mind, which lead me here. These thoughts I describe are what I have decided may improve my life after reading this page.

    The biggest thing that has gone wrong is not the actual things that went wrong, although they were horrible to adjust to, but the loss of the ability to find happiness, hope and meaning. Or perhaps the ability to accept that what you do may no longer have a great deal of meaning, (for example your day job – or trying to find one if you are unemployed) but that is how your life is and when there is no practical alternative to try to believe that it is ok and that you need to be ok with yourself doing what seems like un-meaningful tasks.

    When you have no cause, it is very easy for people to try to help by telling you to find one. Of course there are many causes you would like to feel you believe in but maybe you aren’t quite attached to one yet in order for it to make a difference to how you value your life. Whether it be a faith, charity, person you love or passion (this is quite rare to find in a depressed state) I think the problem is that I don’t believe it will find you. Somehow you have to find it, even if you can’t physically go out perhaps you could find it in a book, on TV, online, another person you have contact with. Then you have to make contact with that cause – do something to feel part of it, whether it’s just a phone call, a letter or something more practical. After having a major passion and losing it through a series of bad events it makes sense for me to try to find a few little causes rather than one big one – without over complicating my life in a way that I can’t deal with when anxiety attacks or spreading my time between so many things that I have no sense of belonging. For some people it might be better to find just one cause, or sometimes I think it might be better for me to find a new one cause realising that if that one becomes difficult I will find another one. Everyone’s cause is different – but it should be your own, and not somebody else’s. You may be alone in your own mind, but you may not always be if you can let something else in.

    I hope this works. I’m off to find a cause for myself. Thanks to all the lovely people that have posted on this page.

  4. Kim says:

    First: Thank you John for setting up this page.

    I have been writing earlier on (below) about indecision due to depression during stressful situations. Reading through this page once again helps to remind me how bad off I was just a year ago.

    My summarization below is intended to point out some of the key aspects that have helped to redirect at least one “storied mind” back to his true and usual self. Perhaps these pointers may give some good insights of how to throw out the demon of depression hiding deep inside.

    The importance of moving on – I used to be stuck “in my bed, too immobilized to eat or even go to the bathroom”. It is very important to find a way to get the momentum back in life. To start thinking ahead rather than looking back. As painful or useless as it may seem to try moving on it will still have the reward of having taken action in it. And taking action means regaining control. Do not be afraid to ask for help to get a move on. Total entrapment in unsolvable situations or unmanageable circumstances is the slow strangling killer when facing a major depression.

    The importance of realignment – I used to “hesitate to make decisions because I’m afraid they will be wrong”. Clearly and without a doubt all important decision making while being depressed should be avoided. My experience with indecision is that life will graciously always give you more opportunities that will be there for you (yet again) when you are more ready to grab them. Realignment also has a great deal to do with changing life style, present life circumstances and/ or expectations on life. It is easier to find a daily sense of gratefulness when easing up on the goals and achievements.

    The importance of others – I used to feel “isolated, imprisoned in my apartment”. Let’s just face it. If heading into major depression it is vital to have others to rely on for support (not for decision making but for the sake of recovery). I do not believe there are many people that manage to “shape up” on own without the help of a supporting friend or relative. Isolation leads to entrapment and the best way then is to avoid remaining isolated. One obvious step to help break the spell of isolation is to understand that you are not alone and that there is help to find.

    The importance of faith – I used to feel completely lost and helpless. Somehow I cannot help but stressing how important it is to be able to find true faith in God. From then on you will always be heading somewhere, whatever achievements or failures in life that you struggle with are suddenly of minor importance, and you will never ever have to be alone again. Depression always seems to arise from losing faith in oneself. My point here is that lasting faith may actually be found elsewhere.

    As far as I know the only really important decision I had to make while being depressed was to “never give up”. And that was not even much of a decision.

    Kim

  5. Alan says:

    I have to say this is the best explanation of feeling depressed that I’ve ever read. I couldn’t have put it better myself, I even recently penetrated the ‘saying NO to ending it all’ barrier, but It doesn’t get get much easier, in fact i don’t have the ‘ending it all’ crutch to lean on any more, I have to do this the hard way.

    For those that have never experienced severe depression, this is what it’s truly like, your doctor is unlikely to understand to the extent this author does, and indeed the British NHS service understood depression so badly that it only drove me closer to ending it all when I was at my worst.

    My advice; seek to understand your mind yourself, and try your best to love those around you, that will keep the hope if a better life alive. Also, confront your demons, it will seem impossible at first but once you take the first step it can only get better. (in my case i had to confront my father about childhood emotional issues)

    Despite how you might feel there are understanding people out there but don’t be fooled there are a lot of uneducated people who cannot and will not understand your condition, avoid them if you must and seek out those who are a little more emotionally sensitive.

  6. Hoping says:

    This is helpful to know, but only if your aware your depressed. My ex partner broke up with me afew months ago yet she’s depressed but in denial of it obviously not aware of it at all. It’s her reality how do I question her reality against my own?

  7. may says:

    really i learn alot from all of you.iam so sorry for that and i am now in the same situation since 20 day my boyfriend he broke up with and go away.but my question please if the dispressed pesron not come back why they have to go doctors and take medicine i was hopping he will back when he is will be ok and good?

  8. oxy says:

    this is my biggest problem i ever had in my entire life.. i cant make up my mind on the right time and most difficult part of my life is when i didn’t make up my mind on time realize me that i made a mistake which make me very upset , disappointed n very sad…if you guy’s know what can i do for rid off from this situation plz plz plz tell me i really need inspiration…

    • Donna-1 says:

      Yeah, this can be a big problem. I deal with the same issue. I think depression makes me more sensitive to failure, so I hesitate to make decisions because I’m afraid they will be wrong. Part of the problem is, there isn’t always a lot of time to make the decision (whatever it is). So by the time I weigh all the positives and negatives and possible consequences, the optimum moment for deciding has already passed, and often it is just plain too late. I’ve missed an opportunity. I’ve lost out on something good, or I’ve lost a chance to experience something fun, or people have moved on in their lives and left me behind. Sometimes, you just have to make a leap of faith and go with your gut instinct and hope for the best. If you get too bogged down in what you “should” or “could” or “ought” to do, that can actually just become a way of avoiding the responsibility of making a decision. You wait too late and then you don’t have to decide. Then you get mad at yourself for NOT taking the leap and it just makes you more depressed. Or at least this is what happens to me. It is one of those vicious cycles. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. But if you go ahead and make your move, even if you fail you will know you tried your best.

  9. Brittany says:

    This is my current downward spiral. It’s terrible..a terrible rut, “All the creative possibilities I might see when I’m healthy become so many triggers of obsessive thinking.” So, then I ignore everything till it builds so much that I’m waiting for something to crash and burn so I don’t have to do it myself. It’s like I want it to all end and go away so I have a way out and I can recuperate and start again fresh without all the obligatory sh*t in my life which drives my depression incessantly. bah.

    Thanks for the article..much of what you describe is how I feel 100% of the time. It sucks. My counselor called it “Turning a Corner” when I must make a decision to a path that I want to try…which is incredibly hard for me :(. The unknown is scary. I dunno, why I’m responding, just want to say, I relate to everything in the article and everyone’s responses.

  10. David says:

    Hi Jon,
    Great article, I too have hit rockbottom again in the space of 8 months and what you wrote above struck a massive cord with me. I hate the fact the depression I have effects me and family and this time has me questioning if still I love my partner anymore on top of my other issues. I don’t want to say anything or do anything yet until I’m in a better place, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get to a better place again.

    Though I don’t want to commit suicide if I had a heart attack today I would be a happy man.

    David

  11. Jess says:

    In the past I too had a very difficult time making decisions when under a great deal of stress or anxiety. I found if I did force myself to make a decision, many times I would come to regret that decision later. Waiting until you are in a better place to make a decision, especially an important one, makes good sense. Thanks for posting!

    • mike says:

      I’m terrified of my situation that I feel is quickly getting worse. Severe depression due to long term unemployment, now broke, having to move out of my apartment and return to my conservative, small town to share a condo with my 91 yr old mother. At 54 and clueless about what I can do for employment I’m feeling panick, grief, shame, intense regrets but no choice left. My life feels ended. Doom and gloom surrounds me. Isolated, imprisoned in my apartment and beginning to fade awasy physically. I’ve had many depressions but was able to ride them out, now I have no choice but uprrot and relocate again, lost my house in the last 3 years so I’m spending time in any fashion to find comfort and distraction from the reality and torment I feel but can’t avoid the future choices. Many, many hours spent contemplating the utitmate solution but too frightened to lift a finger on that as well. Trapped and without hope, direction or sleep.

      • Jon says:

        Wow,
        You incapsulated the highly concentrated period of depression that may in fact be reflected in many who have survived the poisons of MDD for so long. OMG your list describing your mid life march through humiliation, loss and fear while suffering the constant burn of untreated depression was really spot on. Or I should say it resinated with me very much. I hold out hope and I wish you every opportunity for good and healing. Keep going, please… that’s what we do, right?

  12. Robyn says:

    I was searching the web to find an answer to my question, “why can’t I make a decision” and I found your post and read it and all the comments. We all seem to be in this black boat together, weathering a storm of anxiety, self doubt and indecision. I want to be part of life but I also want to cut myself off from everything. I lay in my bed, too imobilized to eat or even go to the bathroom.
    I am not sad or suicidal, I feel nothing. I start an interest and even though I want to continue I have no motivation to do so. The only things I do are things I must because the shame I would experience in the eyes of others would be too much to bear. Like another commenter, I also feel it is contrary to my actual nature. In the good times I am born leader. i will read more of your posts to try to find the answer mean’t for me. I like your style of writing, there is a kindness in it.

  13. KM says:

    I guess now’s not the time to decide to pursue some sort of permanent birth control…?

  14. Me says:

    I just reread this post and found new meaning. Fear of making decisions, procrastination, fear of failure remain with me . But somehow when all seems lost, I decide not to give up and decide to go on for another day.

    • Jeanie says:

      Yes you are right – giving up is suicide. And what’s the point of that. So yes I have once again raised myself up. There was something you wrote that has really stuck in my mind. We spend so much time “cursing” our depression and you said we must learn to live with it as part of who we are, not as if its a demon sitting on our shoulder (my words latter part!!). We need to take in into ourselves and really feel that it is part of our living composition, in our mind, flesh and bones. As with sleeping eating laughing crying, depression is part of the series, more some days and less others.
      I am trying to include it as part of me rather than an external force.
      Thank you John for your crisp clarity despite the mind-befuddling roaring and subsiding of depression.

    • Enigma says:

      I wonder for how long I can live this get by life,Sooner or later it will cease to be even an option and then that another day that I’ve been living will not come.Two choices are all I have–either get out of here or get out of life.I’ve already resisted making any decision for over a month,but this is killing me now.The sheer worthlessness of my being is weighing heavily on my conscience.Got,only days to decide now,but thoughts are so messed up that I can’t think clearly,if I choose life,i have to get out of here.

  15. Jeanie says:

    Hi John
    Just found your site. You speak to the heart with your talent for words. You have a gift. Can’t write much now – too detached. But want to say what happens when over and over and over again you make the decision to lift yourself up and for awhile life is moving at a nice, manageable pace.; but then down you go again and again and again.. until there is no strength anymore to get up, to crawl away from the darkness. You know you will only return once again so why bother. This has been my pattern for 20 years and I am just too tired now, too worn out.. and feeling guilty and ashamed to burden readers with my despair.

    • Jon says:

      Jeanie
      As much as I wish us both renewed capacity to get up again and take our place in this amazing experiment, I totally understand the exhaustion you describe. I’d like to reach out and hold you up until you’re able again.
      peace and strength to you,
      Jon

      • Jeanie Bailey says:

        Hi Jon
        You hold people up every day with your lucid and truthful words. I have read many web-pages on depression over the years and yours is the only one that reaches those dark pits where depression resides.

        You have helped me realise that deperssion is part of me and not outside me; it is not a dark force that descends; its a darkness that lives within. It can’t be descarded so it must be part of the journey that is life. With that in mind I have started an exercise regime that has buffered the darkness and my life at this moment is content. I am living in this moment.

        So Jon you have reached out and you have held me up so I can reach this moment. We can’t ask for more than this. I will be depressed one day again but not now.

        I hope others may reach the realisation that depression is part of us. We can’t curse it. We can’t wring our hands and say why me. It just is as it is. We all feel suicidal at some point. We all reach points of utter exhaustion. We all have times where even having a shower is beyond our ability. I say to myself thats OK. This is me. I am where I am. Someday ahead I will be able to shower and feel the other parts of me that make me whole. Love to you all.

  16. Laura says:

    Hi,
    Once, I was on the point of making a serious mistake. I wanted to break up with my boyfriend because I had accumulated too many details of his gestures, attitudes and behaviour towards a certain girl. I was so angry and so frustrated. I didn’t want to part with him because I really loved him. We have a five-year relationship. All I did was to cry and be indifferent to him, although he was acting normally, but I was so lucid and so rational. I was even searching for other reasons why I should leave him. I was also listening to sad music which made me feel even more horrible than I had felt. I think I was a sadist myself. I felt depressed for almost two weeks. He noticed that I wasn’t okay, and started asking me questions. I would avoid them. After so much pain my reaction would be to alienate from him. But I simply didn’t have the guts to leave him and tell him what I was thinking. Little by little, those thoughts left me, because I realised he was still loving me.
    Nevertheless, I am still predisposed to this kind of depression. Now I realise how much depression can change you if you allow it to do that. I felt as if I were a stranger myself. That pain needs a pause at some point, and you think that taking a decision at that very moment would change your life and be happy again. You have the impression that you’re right, but you are completely in the wrong. Maybe I am exposing myself to suffering and too much pain, but in the end I don’t have the courage to take up the responsibility of a wrong choice and I just leave it. Anyway, it is a dangerous method.
    Best regards.

  17. michele says:

    The two articles I read—the one about relationships and this one about decision making with depression really spoke to me. My husband decided just before our wedding that he wanted to move back home, which is overseas to Israel. I’ve always had the tendency toward depression, but as our departure came closer I was struck with a nasty bout of it. I saw a psychologist, marriage counselor, and began taking Zoloft just to be able to be alone in a room without the “what ifs” swarming in my head and tears swimming in my eyes.

    What’s strange is that I never felt like I decided to move– I could have called off the wedding, not filled out the paperwork, not packed up/sold my belongings, not boarded the plane, and I could have left at any time, but I never really decided–this is it, I’m going to live abroad, I’m going to make this work.

    Even though I logically know that postponing making a decision until I feel better is the best idea in my situation, waiting has its own set of “whatifs.” I’m constantly reminded that I’m already 30 and if I ever want to have a family…

    And I don’t even trust myself in my feelings about my husband. I’m currently so resentful of him (feeling like he forced me to move here, not accepting my hand in the decision), that I would be relieved to just go back to the U.S. But there’s no doubt that I would miss him, regret it…

    He is trying to be patient with me while I blurt out negative feelings, but he’s anchored his feet… he says he staying here no matter what I decide.

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Hi, Michele -

      What a terribly difficult situation to be in when you’re depressed. I’m not sure if it would help you, but the method of focusing on what you most value rather than the reasons and what if scenarios might simplify making a decision. It’s the approach I describe in the latest post on Inner Beliefs vs Outer Action. The best motives for choosing are rooted in the things we value most deeply. This is something I’ve been learning from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and is a broader view than the one I had in mind while writing this post on making decisions.

      My best to you –

      John

  18. Vernell says:

    As a woman whose husband has been diagnosed with depression and who has now had him leave me with our 8 month old son for a new woman and life so unlike we built together, Im beginning to wonder if his decision to sell our house and divorce should be stalled until he is 100% well.

    His medication has been doubled for the last 2 weeks but he is still drinking heavily on them but seems clear headed and is adamant this is what he wants…He doesnt love me, wants out of our marriage and wishes to set up home with his new woman who also has mental health issues.

    Its so hard for me to know what is best to do as he is constantly telling me he doesnt love me and we need to sell up etc, but this has come out of the blue, and he is living a life all of the sudden that is so unlike him and is actually a life he would criticise others for leading.

  19. Daffa says:

    Thank you. I feel relieved I am not alone with the torture of making a decision under duress.

  20. Sriram says:

    Superb piece. What strategies does one follow to overcome this?

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      That’s a hard one to answer. Usually, I try to avoid any big decision when I’m depressed. At times I’ve tried a mechanical approach of listing out criteria, pro’s and con’s etc. The problem with that is that there is a crucial emotional component to every important decision. If it doesn’t feel right – despite all the rational reasons for doing it – you won’t want to follow that decision. When depressed, of course, I either feel nothing at all (so worrying about the decision seems pointless) or so despairing that every option seems miserable and hopeless. Not much fun.

      John

      • Kim says:

        I also like this blog a lot and can relate strongly to almost each and every experience described on account of depression.

        I am presently having my second hurdle in life with regards to this immobilizing condition. It is a very much real and terrifying experience that somehow also feeds on itself and that practically makes me unable to sleep more than a few hours a night and makes me toss around in shivers/ shakes of anxiety.

        Right now I am stressed to make a crucial decision if I should go ahead and buy an apartment that has been booked for purchase andI have extreme difficulties in coming to a firm decision. The indecision makes me stay mindlocked rather than to be able to move on. Letting the deadline pass without having reached a clear decision is equal to an avalanche of despair and regret. Any decision made in time (yes/ no) cause immediate fear of having come to the right or the wrong decision and so I reevaluate again for a new decision.

        Since this is a flat that we will forcibly be locked down with for at least 5 years the emotional ingredient is very important – and as explained it is either non-existent or randomized. It is impossible for me to judge clearly from the present point of view and it is driving me insane. And time is running short.

        From where I am at right now I am not even sure if I can even make it to any appointments to even sign the papers if I go for ‘yes’. Indeed it may be very awkward.

        The ‘do-or-die’ in having to decide when you are really not well is deteriorating me as I cannot snap out thinking about of it – all of the time – and even if I am reasoning to let things be/ to let it go / I bounce right back into the decision making thought process sooner or later. When in this kind of mental condition everything becomes a trap. There are no solutions and it is easy to spark off other negative evaluations.

        Thus from my present point of view I find it downright dangerous to have to make major decisions when heading for a more severe depression since it will always come out random or not at all in the end because of the emotional turmoil/ or blankness, the confusion and physical exhaustion. But what if you must choose and are in a hurry to do it (we are talking about hundreds of thousands of $ paid for someone that is not rich)?

        Kim

        • John Folk-Williams says:

          Hi, Kim -

          You convey the anguish all too well, and I’ve been trapped in that do-or-die decision mode too many times. In the situation you describe, it sounds like there is no option not to decide – is there? Letting the deadline pass is the same as saying no?? What I’ve been training myself to do is to just face the fear and walk through it. The fear by itself is only that, and I find that the real-world consequences are never as terrible as the anguish and panic – or the intense shame of not deciding. It sounds too rational and pat as I write that down, but in a way the fear is the problem I’m facing, not the decision. And I’ve let fear run my life for too long. Maybe it takes a certain amount of fear-bred disaster to get to the point I’m at now. I’m sorry it’s so impossible for you, and I hope you’ve been finding something to guide you through.

          John

          • kim says:

            Thank you for your reply. I am in dire need of encouragement.

            Just want to share on what happened after the deadline expired. Shed some light on it for others to read…

            I cowardly let my wife steer our steps, reasoning that she would see things clearer than me. I believe that she did choose my health over finanical gains and status. Thus I feel like I did not give her any choice. From that moment on it had to become a sacrificed opportunity, a “no”.

            For me things are now in a shutdown, motivation lost, no future perspectives, self pity. Depression is still there but the acute anxiety is gone leaving room for apathy. I admit serious regrets for not facing my fears. For not being decisive. For abandoning my post in the midst of battle.

            Today my therapist ask ‘so what has changed?’. I reply ‘nothing’. My wife says ‘everything’. Feel like still stuck in a hole unable to see anything else but rainy clouds far above. She is already a bird in the sky.

            It is impossible to know what would have turned out better or worse, but it seems at least that even if ‘no’ in this case was a bad decision we do continue to live in the present and I am to some degree relieved and did not force change upon myself (and others) at a time most vulnerable.

            The spell of depression is not broken and confidence is at an all time low. But life goes on regardless. No one died. No one was injured. Cash still in the bank, even if the heart is poor.

            If anything, through this ordeal, it has brought me closer to God.

  21. Donna-1 says:

    Many days (they flow into each other) I wander from what absolutely must be done, like laundry, to absolute immobility, like lying in bed. The time spent in bed might even be worth something if I could sleep. But I can’t. I’m either trying desperately to keep from thinking, or I’m obsessing about conversations I want to have with other people but never will. Often, these “mental conversations” end darkly. I am almost seduced by the pleasurable fantasy of “disappearing,” as you say. And there are many ways to disappear besides suicide — holing up in my apartment and refusing to answer the phone; packing up my stuff and moving to Arizona; refusal to visit any of my usual haunts and therefore setting myself up to be forgotten, and even delivering myself over to a punishing diet and exercise wellness routine. Some people disappear into books, some into gambling, some into drugs. There’s a whole smorgasbord to choose from.

    I’m afraid to interact with people and society, but what happens if I “disappear?” Would I be any happier or would it just be more bed-time obsessing?

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Hi, Donna -

      It’s so good to hear from you again! It sounds like you’ve had a hard time recently, and I hope you’re feeling better. I must say as a veteran of disappearing that I wouldn’t recommend it. Sometimes, it is sooo tempting, like a beckoning paradise of simplicity and contentment. But I’ve always found it to be a dangerous Siren song that only leads me into more pain – and shame.

      John

  22. Dear John,
    Terrific piece. Yes, I know how difficult it is to make decisions during a depression. In some cases, I learned that I was better off not making them because my judgment was impaired.

    In other cases, I couldn’t seem to make a decision no matter how hard I tried. And perhaps some of that was because I had become terribly confused about what I wanted or thought I wanted.

    What’s interesting to me is that an inability to make a decision is contrary to my nature when I’m well. One of my best skills is my analytical ability, and I like making decisions. So…it was always so disturbing to be so wishy-washy.

    Susan

    • john says:

      Thank you! I know well what you mean about acting against your nature when depressed. I have endless experiences with that, all of them things I wish I could just forget.

      Holding off from deciding sounds exactly right. Trying when you have half a brain to work with only adds to the torment.

      All my best to you –

      John

  23. Wendy Love says:

    John,
    Here is another article on decision making and depression which may shine some more light http://www.bphope.com/Item.aspx?id=592

    • john says:

      Wendy -

      I finally had a chance to look at the article you mention. People had to make choices under (mild) stress and went with the safer one, associated with smiling faces. That makes sense – though that sort of stress – momentary distraction while trying to make the choice – doesn’t capture the sustained impact of depression. Retreating to safe ground when the mind isn’t free to do its work sounds like a good strategy.

      Thanks for the reference.

      John

  24. Ellen says:

    Hi John,
    I um ‘suck’ at making decisions. Recently I was trying to decide on a therapy method and therapist, and ended up just going with whatever was closest to hand. Not the best way.

    However, I also found that sometimes I would try to hedge my discomfort with decisions by doing a lot of research – for me, research can lead to endless detours and procrastination and in the end, I would still have to make a decision. I spent about two years trying to decide on a brand of car – in the end, I just went with a Honda because I’d had one before and liked it. A lot of research and agonizing wasted really.

    Now what I’m trying to do more is to discern what I really want – what is it I really like, emotionally? That’s kind of a small voice inside, not so easy for me to hear. But that way, at least I choose something I genuinely desire, whether in the end it was the best choice or not. Kind of trying to respect my own personality.

    Now, what do I really want for dinner, truly? Perhaps pasta…with something green. Yes, that will make my heart glad!

    Cheers,
    Ellen

    • john says:

      Hi, Ellen -

      That sounds so familiar – two years for a car is impressive. Of course, you don’t want to rush into anything. I’m busy at every procrastination sale and always come home laden with bargains.

      But you’re so right, you have to get clear about what you want. If only that were a simple thing to do! It’s embarrassing how long it takes me to figure out what I’m really trying to say in these posts. At least I’m able to keep asking that question and staying with it until I’ve cleared away all the digressions. But it takes way too much time, given all the other things I’m trying to do.

      I like that idea of respecting your own personality. Perhaps that’s a key part of this inability to decide – not accepting the legitimacy of your own wants and desires but trying to import them from somewhere else – like research into what other people think you should want.

      Best of luck – I hope you enjoyed that dinner.

      John

  25. Louise says:

    I am finding your blog most helpful and enjoyable; and, I agree, you have a great writing style!

    I wish to share a book that caused a shift for me: Mystic Path to Cosmic Power by Vernon Howard (or any work by Vernon Howard). Yes, it’s a corny title, but it contains authentic answers to worry, heartache, and suffering.

    An excerpt: “We must see what happiness is not. It is not exterior activity; that is merely a distraction from inner unhappiness. What, then, is happiness? The answer is not complex. Happiness is simply a state of inner freedom. Freedom from what? With a bit of self-insight, every individual can ancer that question for himself. It is freedom from the secret angers and anxieties we tell no one about. It is freedom from fear of being unappreciated and ignored, from muddled thinking that drives us to compulsive actions, and later, to regrets. It is freedom from painful cravings that deceive us into thinking that our attainment of this person or of that circumstance will make every right. Happiness is liberty from everything that makes us unhappy….it is formless; it cannot be fitted into the frame of our demands. We insist upon this wife or husband, this career or achievement, this home, this secrity, excitement, or distraction. Even if we get our demand, we are no happier than before; we have merely covered our unhappiness. It is still there, and it will inevitably show itself when change occurs. We must break the frame altogether, and just let life happen; then, we enter an amazing new world whose existence we never before suspected.”

    “For a happy life is joy in the truth.” (Augustine)

    • john says:

      Hello, Louise -

      That is a beautiful passage. It’s amazing how many writers I keep discovering who’ve been around for a long time and have inspired millions.

      Thank you for letting me know about his work and also for your kind words about the blog.

      All my best –

      John

  26. Wendy Love says:

    This is so good, so well-written and so true! The way you break down the process of thinking and deciding and ruminating etc. impresses me. I tend to be a bottomline kind of writer and your details add so much. I decide when I am well, then regret when I am not well. One way or the other, it is a difficult process. I used to be very decisive and so being undecisive is a change which I have not yet adjusted to. Thanks for the challenging ideas.

    • john says:

      Thanks, Wendy -

      You’re too kind! It interests me that you changed from being very decisive. I went through perhaps a similar shift at midlife as measured by Meyers Briggs. From being a very cocksure and decisive INTJ to an INFP – much less interested in reaching sharp conclusions as in exploring possibilities – often for far too long to get things done.

      Thanks for your comment.

      John

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