Shawna Atteberry

Baker, Writer, Teacher

Battling Depression and Sloth: Routine and Ritual

October 2-8 was National Mental Health Week. I’m a little late to the party, but this week I’m going to post on my own struggles with clinical depression. This post was originally published on December 4, 2008.

I am becoming very content with having a routine: praying at set times (Morning prayers and Compline or Vigils) or doing a little housework and laundry to maintain the order of my house. I like reading and writing in the afternoon and the wee hours, walking in the morning, and practicing yoga in the evening. And I am thinking that routine may be more than the same old drudgery we tend to define it as.

Kathleen Norris started me thinking about the value of routine in her latest book: Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life. What is acedia you wonder? Acedia is from the Greek akedos, which means the absence of care. Wikipedia defines it as apathy or laziness. Its more commonplace synonym is sloth, one of the seven deadly sins. This is one of the seven deadly sins I am the most acquainted with. Me and acedia (or sloth) are on a first-name basis. Here is one of Norris’ descriptions of acedia:

One of the first symptoms of both acedia and depression is the inability to address the body’s basic daily needs. It is also a refusal of repetition. Showering, shampooing, brushing the teeth, taking a multivitamin, going for a daily walk, as unremarkable as they seem, are acts of self-respect. They enhance the ability to take pleasure in oneself and in the world. But the notion of pleasure is alien to acedia, and one becomes weary thinking about doing anything at all.

Taking care of ourselves and where we live, are signs of self-respect. Signs that we take pleasure in our lives, in others, in what we do, and in who we are. When we let sloth in, it really does suck the pleasure out of life. When I let acedia have its way, I have trouble getting off the couch, let alone writing a chapter or picking up the clutter.

I live these paragraphs more often than I want to admit. Like Norris, I don’t know if acedia leads to my depression, or if the clinical depression makes me more susceptible to acedia. I do know the two tag-team me on a regular basis, if not a daily basis.

So much of the time I just don’t care. I don’t care what gets done and what doesn’t get done. I don’t care if I write or not. There are times I don’t care if I shower or not. I have no ambition, no energy, and no drive to accomplish anything.

I mindlessly surf the net, mindlessly watch TV, mindlessly stare into space. And I don’t want to do anything else. Norris notes that repetition is what fills our days. Life is a routine of daily activities: getting up, showering, eating, cleaning, working, and playing. These are the rituals of life–from putting on clothes to making the bed to rinsing out the tub–these are the daily activities that keep us connected to life, connected to each other, and connected to ourselves.

In prayer a couple of months ago, I asked God to make me aware of her presence in my everyday rituals, to remember God was with me in the making of my bed and in making wholesome meals. That’s when it hit me that everyday routines were rituals. Not only rituals to bring us closer to God, but rituals to take care of ourselves. This is Brother Lawrence’s wisdom that worship in the kitchen making meals was every bit as important as worship in chapel taking communion.

Instead of routine, I am slowly starting to think of the daily motions of my life as ritual. Something I do because I am important, and I am worthy of taking care of myself and my surroundings. It’s slow going, but I think that is because there is no quick fix. It takes a combination of prayer, yoga, meditation, daily routines, antidepressants, and the daily discipline to do small things such as making the bed or taking a shower. But I feel better.

I also think that realizing my routine was not the 9-5 one our world glorifies in has had a major impact on how I feel and function. I am a night owl, and I’ve always done my best and most creative work in the wee hours. It’s after midnight. It’s quiet. It’s dark. I can hear myself think and for some reason, in the wee hours, I don’t mind hearing those thoughts.

Last month I started staying up working until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. I get up around 10:00 a.m., pray morning prayers and practice contemplative prayer then I start working between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. and go until around 5:00. Now it’s time practice yoga, make supper, and spend time with The Hubby. Then sometime between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m., I get back to work (usually closer to 10:30 p.m. because I have to have my Jon Stewart fix).

I am finding a lot of self-acceptance in this process. Accepting that I keep different hours, that I need that order and routine of the Daily Office, need to clean off the coffee table and keep the tub somewhat clean. I’ve always enjoyed cooking and crocheting, but now I am finding sacramental moments in creating meals and creating gifts for others. I like the journey I am on, and I hope it gets me through this winter better than the last two.

Chicago winters are brutal if you have depression and tend towards Seasonal Affective Order. Depression and sloth are knocking on my door, and they will be held in check until after Christmas. But January and February. . . That’s when I become a big slug who doesn’t care if I get off the couch. I have not made it through the last two winters well. But I am hoping to do better this year in adding routine and ritual to Vitamin D, B complex, antidepressants, prayer, and yoga. Well, actually, I’m hoping to keep practicing yoga and exercising regularly. That is something I have yet to accomplish in the winter gloom. But I have hope. Hope that the little things do make a difference and that if I keep doing the little things every day, I will eventually become whole and healthy.

Related Posts:

What Are You Saying to Yourself?
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Depression and Spiritual Direction

Depression Hurts: Only when it doesn't

We’ve all seen the commercials for that one anti-depressant (whose name I can’t remember): Depression hurts. And it does: there can be aches and pains to go with all the emotional pain. But depression doesn’t always hurt. Sometimes it becomes a big, numb void. This is where I’ve been the last three weeks. You get to the point where you just don’t care. And you don’t care that you don’t care. I’ve written about acedia before. Acedia is the absence of care. It’s better known as sloth, one of the seven deadly sins.

This is where I’ve been, and it’s been really bad the last couple of weeks. The thought of doing anything overwhelmed me. Even putting in a load of laundry. Or checking the mail. I have sat on the couch and web-surfed and mindlessly watched TV. I didn’t care if my house was a mess. I didn’t care if I wasn’t working although I am teaching a workshop next Saturday that I still need to get going on. I haven’t even showered everyday. Kathleen Norris recognizes that the ceasing of repetition is one acedia’s first symptoms:

One of the first symptoms of both acedia and depression is the inability to address the body’s basic daily needs. It is also a refusal of repetition. Showering, shampooing, brushing the teeth, taking a multivitamin, going for a daily walk, as unremarkable as they seem, are acts of self-respect.

Moving seems so hard let alone taking a walk. In a week I left home twice. I don’t care if I’m isolated or lonely. I don’t care that nothing is getting done or that I’m not praying or writing. It’s all too much.

Earlier this week I did decide to take charge and do one thing: call my psychiatrist. I saw him yesterday and we talked. Nothing triggered this bout of depression. Everything is going fine. It’s been a good summer. I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling the way I’m feeling. My doctor said sometimes that happens. You have a dip in brain chemistry and need a little help. We decided to increase the dosage of an anti-depressant I’m on to see if that helps. I also have to push myself to get out and to exercise. Because depressed people just like to sit. I got out today. I got my haircut (love it!) and went grocery shopping. I’ve actually gotten out of the house two days in a row. Woot! As Bob used to say, “Baby steps.”

Baby steps. Because I have to start somewhere.

Depression's Last Winter Fling

The last week has been rough. The depression I suffer from has decided to rear its ugly head, and it’s trying to turn me into a lazy slug (not that it’s getting much resistance). To a large extent, it has succeeded. I don’t move much. I sit and read and stare off into space. I’ve fallen behind on writing, laundry, groceries. And I need to get out of the house more. I didn’t think the depression was that bad, until today.

Last week was a grey, cloudy, dark week. I couldn’t wait to see the sun. Today was a beautiful day in Chicago. It was sunny, the sky was blue, and the temperatures were up in the 60s, and yet I sat on my couch all day pretending to work (hey I have to network, you know?). I had been dying to see the sun, to go outside without various and sundry layers, and did I do it? No.

I also need to go grocery shopping. I love to cook, and I love having my larders full of stuff I can make several meals from on a whim. I could have enjoyed the walk in the beautiful weather going to the grocery store, but did I? No. It seemed like too much work.

And that’s when it hits me. Those voices in my head are telling me it’s too hard. It’s too hard to keep up. Why bother. Hello my old friend sloth. Or are you going by acedia this time around? The voices that say nothing will change why bother? You’ll only need to make it again. You’ll only need to buy it again. Lulling me into that sloth state of sitting on the couch surfing the net and twittering. But not accomplishing anything.

Now in this wonderful stillness, I see that I have to get up and move. I must continue to pray the Daily Office and practice centering prayer. Tomorrow the sheets on our bed have to be changed. Tomorrow I have to go grocery shopping. Tomorrow I have to move: walk and practice yoga. Above all tomorrow I have to work. Not pretend to work by mindless activity, but work: WRITE. The sloth has been caught in the early stages. And the sunny days give me hope that spring is on her way; this is the winter’s depression last grand stand. I must stand firm and do the things I need to do that make life important. Do the things that say my life and my being are important enough to take care of us and our surroundings.

Gray Winter Days and Gray Winter Thoughts

I really can’t think of anything to write tonight. It was an odd sort of day. I woke up late after having some really crazy dreams. It took me awhile to wake up. It’s been gray, abysmal and snowing here for the last few days. I’ve really just slogged through the gray day, in which it took me awhile to wake up. I’ve done a lot of reading today, but this is the first writing. At least I’m writing now.

The feeling that the winter is going on too long, and I just don’t want to get out of bed and do anything veil is falling around me. Acedia is setting in. Sloth is getting comfortable. But I am keeping up with some of my routines and rituals: prayer, centering prayer, making the bed, cooking, and doing a load of laundry. Although I need to think about eating regularly more. Daily life is full of routines and ritual that make daily living sacred. Acedia wants says, “It’s not worth it. You’re not worth it. You’ll have to do it all tomorrow? Why bother?” But we have to bother because we are important. Our bodies are important. Our homes are important. Our souls are important. And these facets of life must be attended to. They must be given attention and kept every day.

This is why I need to write. Writing is important to me. It always has been. That is why I must break out of this acedic funk that says “Why bother? Who’s going to read it?” I bother because it is a part of who I am. It is important because it’s one of the ways I feed myself, take care of myself, cherish myself. It doesn’t matter if it’s not read. That’s not what makes the ritual of writing important. It’s important for the simple reason I like doing it.

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Battling Sloth and Depression: Routine and Ritual