How Hard Do You Push Yourself Against Mental Illness?

illustration of inside a head, one person pushing themself against another person pushing back
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Perhaps there are things you want to do, or think you should do, but they’re just not happening. How hard do you push yourself to try to get ‘er done anyway? Do you keep trying even when it becomes clear there’s no way it’s going to happen?

I can think of a few factors that could be getting in the way. We’ll use the scenario of driving to the grocery store to explore some of them.


The car has a full tank of gas, and it’s just had an oil change and a once-over by a mechanic You’ve got some gift cards for the grocery store that you were given as a thank you for helping a little old lady cross the street. You want to go to the store, since you’re out of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. But… You’d actually have to get up, change clothes to be more presentable… and that just seems like so much work. Maybe you’ll go tomorrow instead.


That damn gout is acting up, and you can barely walk. But you’ve just started your extra medication, and in a couple of days things should be better, so you’ll put off the grocery trip until then. It’ll be a much easier outing if you wait for that particular change.

Or, perhaps your illness is giving you 10 spoons a day right now. Yesterday you had to do something requiring 15 spoons. You know tomorrow will be at least a 12 spoons necessary kind of day. There’s just nothing left for a grocery trip today. The car’s gas tank might as well be empty, because you’re running on fumes.

You could call this procrastinating, but it’s a good reason to do the task at a different time but still within the foreseeable future.

I think spoon theory is really useful in conceptualizing capacity. You can’t magically increase your available spoons; your illness is primarily taking the reins on that. You can’t put out in spoon-costing actions what you simply don’t have in available spoon resources.


You just don’t care one iota about the grocery store or anything you might get from there. Even Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are just meh. Shit’s getting really dire at this point, and if even peanut butter cups aren’t doing it for you, trying to push yourself anyway would be like pissing in the wind.

It’s time to do something about this situation, because if even peanut butter cups are meh, you’re basically on the psychiatric version of life support.


The guy/girl who broke your heart in grade 11 works at the grocery store. He usually works the afternoon shift, but what if he traded shifts today and is working in the morning instead? He might see you looking crusty (keep reading and we’ll get to that part), and give you the stink eye, or even worse, laugh at you. Now, you’ve never seen him there in the morning before, which is one of the main reasons you’re usually a morning shopper, but you never know, today could be that first day ever that he switches shifts. Are you prepared to take that chance?

On the other hand, a sinkhole could have opened up in the middle of the road, and you will end up in it, and it’ll be a whole production with people having to rescue you and then you’ll get a massive bill in the mail… Or maybe you’ll be killed! Who will look after your pet degu? Or even know what a degu is?

Inner critic

What a pathetic excuse for a human being you are that it’s such a huge bloody deal to go to the grocery store? Get over yourself and act like a normal human being already!

Or… Do you think you’re actually capable of going to the grocery store and actually doing it right? You’ll probably run over the little old lady who gave you the gift cards, and then you’re really going to hell. Or you’ll get the wrong kind of cheese and just be an embarrassment to humanity.


Speaking of embarrassment, it’s been 3 years since you last had a haircut, a week since you showered, you’re fairly sure you haven’t put on deodorant since you showered, and there are still crusty bits on your shirt from dinner a few days ago. You’re not presentable. It’s not even really a question of if people will judge; they will.

So, do you let embarrassment hold you back? Or is the lure of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups enough to overcome caring? Do you dislike people enough that you don’t care that you smell?

What gets in your way?

As a quick recap, we looked at these potential barriers to getting things done:

  • lack of motivation
  • lack of capacity
  • apathy
  • fear/anxiety
  • inner critic
  • embarrassment

For me, it tends to be some blend of apathy and capacity (due to psychomotor slowing). I don’t really try to push myself, because the capacity part I can’t do anything about anyway, and apathy and pushing myself are kind of at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Do any of these factors get in the way for you, and do you try to push yourself anyway? Are there other factors that get in the way that I haven’t thought of?

45 thoughts on “How Hard Do You Push Yourself Against Mental Illness?”

  1. Good point. I’m far too crotchety to live with another person at this point. I’ve been living alone for 11 years, and the guinea pigs are more than enough interaction for me. 😉

  2. For me it’s almost always embarrassment and my inner critic. Thank you so much for shedding some light on the mental health factors that often hold us back – it’s refreshing to know you’re not alone! x

  3. Oh, this is such a good question. I come up against that question a lot with schoolwork. Do I push myself harder to get things done? For what purpose: learning, fun, contributing to a group project, a better grade? The purpose matters a lot for me. It’s hard when there’s a lot of peer pressure to do more schoolwork but I just can’t, or I know I need to stop (am aware of my spoons and limits and what’s best for me).

    I think capacity and inner critic get in the way the most for me. Currently I’m here on wordpress because I’m procrastinating doing my contribution for a group project. My inner critic is telling me that everyone else in the group is more qualified to take this class in the first place, and that my contribution won’t be good or right or make sense because I don’t know enough (there’s some truth to this). So I shouldn’t even try because it’ll be a waste of time, and my work will be scrapped and replaced by the more “correct” work my groupmates will have done. There is also some truth to this, since similar things have happened in the past with this group. But it’s probably worth it to try at least, so that I can learn and get practice for myself, and because I said I would, and they probably wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t do any work.

    Oh also, speaking of procrastination: “You could call this procrastinating, but it’s a good reason to do the task at a different time but still within the foreseeable future.” — I would call this prioritization, not procrastination! If it’s a wise mind choice to do something later, that’s prioritization. I’m not avoiding it, I’m actively choosing to not do it / do it later.

    1. Prioritization – yes, that’s a good way to put it! And at least trying to to go ahead with the group project sounds like a good wise mind choice, even though the inner critic says otherwise.

  4. Thank you for liking my blog/s. I tend to push myself when I am feeling well and lately that is more often. But I know how to take a break especially when I am around a lot of people and need to recharge. Alone time to me is my elixir. peace, love light and joy:)

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