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. It definitely is frustrating. Wanting to be able to relax and enjoy social situations more but getting in your head and overthinking things can be a real nightmare. I guess I’m lucky that I’ve had CBT and am so much better than I used to be

  1. Sometimes I don’t think I push myself hard enough, at other times I think I push too hard. It definitely varies. It is hard to know exactly when to push through and when to rest.

  2. I have ADHD and paralysis of will often causes what resembles procrastination. It’s very distressing to want to get up and do something and not being able to because your brain is unwell. Thank you for writing about this.

  3. It’s hard to stay focused especially when I am depressed or anxious. My mood swings are quite bad and as far as I know, I’m not bipolar. There are days when I’m totally fine and feeling calm, and then there are days where I can barely get myself to do anything productive. I never know when a bad day is going to hit.

    One thing I started using again is my habit tracking planner. If I fall off track, I can refer to that to see what needs to be done next.

  4. A personal trainer I like suggests his clients ask themselves to rate how much they want to train on any given day out of 10. If it’s less than 5, then have the day off. Obviously this isn’t a perfect system, but it can help us evaluate our capacity and motivation. For me personally, I rarely push myself. I’m lucky to be able to do what I want, almost all of the time. Maybe I’m overly selfish, but I’m fairly content, most of the time.

  5. Here’s my contribution. Great post by the way, I admit to laughing at some of the scenarios, as I’ve surely ‘been there and done that”.

  6. Capacity and apathy. I push too hard against my capacity and I have… not an inner critic, more of an internal sword of Damocles.. that nags at my apathy.

    I wear my “nice” hoodie to the grocery store, and “public” clothes, without holes. If I’m walking over to the market… I’m gross in my slippers. Don’t care.

    I think lockdown has made us all a little more willing to be gross.

  7. Metamorphic Shell

    Omgoodness! Yup… all of them.

    It depends on the day too and how I am feeling, and what I am up against that particular day. Living with severe mental illness/trauma is a challenge every day.

    You don’t know if it’s going to be a rough day, where basically all you can do is survive, and maybe that’s hibernating, crying in bed, wanting to die all day… or if it’s going to be a: “hey, I’m actually going to get dressed and do adult stuff today…and something achievable.”

    I do push hard against things, and the trouble is I expect a lot from myself….
    However, sometimes it just makes me worse, and I end up getting really annoyed, angry and hating myself more, because I can’t do what I want or think I “should” be doing. It can kinda trigger a downward spiral for me.

    Often just doing one little thing though…can lead to another little thing…and so forth, and then bigger things get done.

    I do find myself ruminating/over-analysing a lot, thinking about all what might or might not happen or how I might or might not feel, or even how others might view something etc… when it would probably just be quicker to just get on with something and just concentrate on staying in the present.

    What can help is thinking: “ok what Can I control today? and what can’t I control today?

    Writing lists can help too, and I see someone else suggested this.

    But at the end of the day, you just do what you can on any given day, and nobody, including our own selves should not judge us harshly for whatever or however much that is.

    We are allowed to take up space and just be if necessary. And that is ok.

    1. I completely agree. And I’m all for keeping expectations low and setting myself up for success rather than failure. Because sometimes just getting started is 100% success.

  8. For me at the moment is pure frustration. I want to do my own shopping, but, just cannot for being very limiting in mobility.
    When I go out, especially to the doctors, I remember when my mother would take us to see a doctor always told us to have clean underwear on. I am sure doctors have seen people with sort of unclean underwear.
    I am sometimes conscious of my bad teeth when I go out anywhere. I try not to let people see the shape my teeth are in.

    1. I remember hearing something similar, although I’m not sure where I heard it, that you should always have clean underwear on in case you were in an accident and had to be taken to the hospital. I’m not sure why that would be a priority in that situation, but then again, there were a lot of ridiculous bits of advice floating around in the world.

      I can imagine lack of mobility would be very challenging, and even more so back in the day when it was harder to get things delivered.

  9. Most of these factors get in the way for me. Especially fear/anxiety. I’m probably not as embarrassed as I should be sometimes. Ha! 😉 Now I really want some peanut butter cups! 😀

  10. What both Miranda and Amber said above is my experience. It varies, and I suspect it varies in accordance with the severity of my ADHD. When very severe, I can implode. I start “living in the deficit” rather than in any of the things that my attention is supposed to engage. The more difficult the task is, and the more pressure I am under, the larger the deficit, and the greater the chance of “paralysis of will.”

    At those times, I actually feel as though I am pushing myself to an extreme — but my pushing of myself never gets me anywhere. I begin to run around in circles if I’m trying to get out the door.

    At other times, when I’m managing the ADHD a bit better, I can do the things it’s fighting against. I use a technique of asking myself: “What’s next?” This usually brings my mind back to the pertinent point of focus.

  11. I experience each of these on varying levels. Until reading the comments, I wasn’t aware to the extent of my adhd’s contribution, so there’s that. Makes me feel much better yet I wonder if I look for excuses for why I seem incapable of making things happen in my life. My inner critic is making am appearance here in the comments…lol.

    Great post, Ashley.

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