Depression and Procrastination Since Parents Divorced

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Reader’s Question

I think I have a severe issue with procrastination. I have a habit of not completing or sticking with tasks or holding down jobs.

Basically, I was a very good student when I as young. But after my parents divorced I stopped bothering with school. My mum actually suffers with me. She always believed me when I lied and said I was ill; she let me stay home from school at first. But I literally pushed it as far as I could and hardly bothered to go in at all for a year, and she just didn’t seem to care.

I was thrown out of some of my courses in school and then again in college. I worked for 4 years full time and then went to back to university, thinking that I had grown up a bit. But it’s still the same. I hardly go to class or do my work. I’m terrible with jobs too, always calling in sick, and showing a bad attitude.

All my mum does all day is lie around because she is ill. I hate it and yet most days I end up doing the same. I don’t want a quick fix, but I just can’t understand what’s wrong with me. I’m terrified of working a 9-to-5 job, 5 days a week, and I just don’t know how I’ll cope. I know that all of this sounds pathetic, and I have tried to force myself to stick to deadlines; I can make myself motivated, but it doesn’t last.

Lately my life has sunk to a new low where all I do is watch mindless stuff on TV. I feel certain I’m depressed but at the same time I have an active social life and am always laughing and joking, so it seems odd to feel that depression might be the issue. I have let down so many teachers that I have no real support from them. I just feel like I’m doomed to be a lonely loser.

Please help.

Psychologist’s Reply

It’s very interesting that you report that your behavior took a dramatic turn in direction following the divorce of your parents. This suggests that you might have been experiencing some level of depression for a substantial period of time. Procrastination often accompanies depression, even low or chronic levels of depression. And such depressions can exist in individuals who have the capacity to be socially active and to experience joy.

Procrastination is a coping tool (albeit a maladaptive and unhealthy one) that helps a person cope with some of the physical and emotional symptoms of depression. It can take several forms, from having trouble focusing and organizing thoughts, to being easily overwhelmed by and therefore avoiding tasks, to fearing disapproval and failure to the point of not trying. It can be fueled by self-doubt, the unwillingness to bear discomfort, guilt over past failures and anticipation of future failure, and by the force of habit (settling into a pattern that has become too ingrained and reinforced).

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The best thing to do is seek professional help and advice and to deal with the underpinnings of what has become an ingrained but self-defeating habit. The by-products of even a low-level depression sometimes require medical or other therapies to break the vicious cycle that has developed. In the meantime, there are some things you can do on your own:

  • Prioritize your goals. Be reasonable. Don’t reach for the moon. Limit yourself, perhaps to one job and one class, for example.
  • Tackle one challenge at a time. Start small and build on your successes. Reinforce yourself for every effort, not just for success.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Make your goals clear, simple and attainable. Set a timetable for yourself and follow your plan.

The fact that you are bothered by what you’ve been experiencing is actually a good sign and bodes well for your likely success in therapy. Seek out the assistance you need — and don’t procrastinate!

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