One Way To Stay Productive While Managing Mental Illness

By Sheila O’Shea

There’s a New Yorker cartoon from a long time ago that depicts a sculptor at work. The statue is the stylized figure of a woman with her gaze fixed upward, and it is large enough that the sculptor needs a ladder to work on it. Just below where he holds his hammer and chisel, there is an enormous crack bisecting the statue from its nose down to its feet. A bystander fixes the sculptor with a contemptuous look. The caption of the cartoon reads “You and your ‘just one more tap’!”

How Just One More Tap Can Help

One of my depression management techniques takes its inspiration from that cartoon. It helps when my mood swings in a downward direction and I’m feeling particularly lethargic and reluctant. It also helps when I’m just plain tired. Here’s how it works: take a particularly onerous task and break it down into individual steps. Then concentrate on one step at a time.

Take the dishwasher. I love having nice, clean dishes after running a load in it, but emptying the thing seems like too much to deal with when depression is weighing me down. So, instead of focusing on the entire dishwasher and everything contained within, I start with a single thing.

All I have to do is open the dishwasher. Tap. And while I’m at it, I’ll put this mug away. Tap. And then I can put this other mug away. Tap. And then I’ll just put these three pint glasses away. Tap. Tap. Tap.

Eventually, the momentum builds and the next thing you know, the statue splits open and I no longer need to nudge my way through. Everything flows easily and this looming task becomes something simple to do.

Other Things You Can Tap Your Way Through

Exercise is another good way to tap. For exercises that involve repetitions, just think about the next rep, and don’t worry about how many you have left to do. For exercises that involve time, such as stretches, keep your mind on the next second or five seconds, and, again, don’t skip ahead to what has yet to be done.

If you have something that isn’t quite as easily quantifiable, like a shower—which can be a very daunting task when in the thick of depression—establish a fixed routine for it, so that every step leads to the next one. For example, first, I will turn on the light in the bathroom. Next, I will turn up the heat to warm up the bathroom. After that, I will lay out my clothes on the bed.

When you get a routine established enough, sometimes the only tap you’ll need is the first step (e.g. turning on the bathroom light) and everything else will fall into place.

The next time you’re faced with something that seems overwhelming, you don’t have to procrastinate or avoid it. Remember that you can always knock it down with just one more tap.


Editor’s Note: The tapping method mentioned in this blog does not refer to the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) tapping that some individuals use to reduce physical or emotional stress.


A portrait image of Sheila O'Shea.

Sheila O’Shea is a writer, recovering poet, and one of the first graduates of the Creative Writing program at Emory University. She acted in Theatre Gael’s production of Waiting for Godot, sang on the album The Mod Mod Sounds of Middlesex, and DJed for Emory’s college radio station. She’s currently working on The Ten Thousand Flowers Project, in which she draws flowers and gives them away to people, with the intention of drawing and giving away ten thousand of them. She hopes to hit 5,000 flowers by the start of 2022. You can find out how to get one at http://wonderbink.com/10kflowers. She also works as a freelance copywriter, with an emphasis on narrative marketing. You can find out about her writing services at http://sheilawrites.com

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