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?
Another Jouney with Depression
Fogs of Depression

Depression and Spiritual Direction