Maybe I'm Not Lazy: Maybe I'm Just Ill

November 30, 2010 Kate White

Reminding yourself that you're not lazy, just ill, is important. And then, taking steps to overcome the mental illness seems more manageable. Try these steps.

Back when I was living with my best friend in college, I just couldn't manage a lot of basic life activities. And you know it was the little stuff - doing the dishes, getting up off the couch more than once a day. Yeah, even I thought it was weird. Having such trouble with things as easy as taking care of myself, my home, my needs.

Long after I'd moved out, I realized that seeming laziness (as in it seems lazy to someone else) is a really big red flag in terms of my mental state. It's shameful for me and I felt stupid, but for a long time I just, well, couldn't. Too depressed, dissociated, afraid and out of it.

Despite how cool my friend was, I still felt horrid about being a lazy, useless bum. Guilt doesn't help when what I needed to understand (and sometimes still need to remind myself) is that it's the depression, the trauma, the anxiety and life stuff, and not a blame thing.

Get Motivated When Your Illness Makes You Seem Lazy

Visualization Exercises

Like, even if I couldn't take a shower or change my clothes that day, I would imagine doing that stuff . . . and then the steps towards it, the baby steps you need to take to get there, started to make sense again. Guess it gets your brain into prep mode.

I would break down the steps that each thing required: Make it so that even if I just approached the stack of dirty dishes, even that was a step in the right direction. And I'd say to myself, okay, tomorrow if I can I will wash one. See how that feels.

And if that felt like too much, that was okay too, but it was a tiny step closer to getting back my sense of ableness, of motivation.

Mental health is complicated. So is finding your way out -- all this stuff we go through, it's really complicated, confusing, hard. So setting myself small, manageable type goals really worked.

And I have this acronym thing that helps me a bunch when depressed -

H.A.L.T. -- Are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?

If so, address those first because if it's one of those things going on, on top of whatever else, then it's gonna be almost impossible for me to address the 'real' mental health issue(s) until it's sorted. Also, I tend to feel a whole lot more balanced after I've done just that much self-care and it's generally way easier to find a bit more focus, not get quite so lost.

Body-Mind Awareness

I find part of lack of motivation is also not being able to be particularly present for long enough to complete even the thought of an action. So I practice in my head what I want to do, build up a little intent at a time. Then from intent, you can get to do.

Even if all I can do that day is make a cup of tea, I pour all my focus into that one task: Into the small steps that go into it. The more I did that, the clearer the task became - sort of crystallizes in the mind as a much more real thing. A thing you can do, even amongst all the other things you can't.

APA Reference
White, K. (2010, November 30). Maybe I'm Not Lazy: Maybe I'm Just Ill, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Kate White

July, 19 2015 at 8:45 pm

How I resemble that remark. My dad always said my mom (and I) were just lazy. No one else in the house understood that it's not that I am not able to do my homework, or clean my room. I just can't seem to make myself do it.
Fast forward ahead about 35 years, and I still just can't make myself get up and clean my room, or feed the kids (which are thankfully plenty old enough to fend for themselves). I don't understand - do other people have more give-a-damn than I do? Or are they mysteriously able to get past that wall? How? Someone PLEASE tell me how.

July, 14 2015 at 6:55 pm

Thank you to all of you for having the guts to post how you feel. I work with adults with mental illnesses and love it. I was a cop for 13 years, and have been a social worker for 13 years. I also have a few diagnoses myself and am finishing my masters to be a therapist and appreciate the comments about therapists. I have received therapy on and off my whole life for a myriad of issues; mainly because I am gay and Mormon, and way back in the eighties, it wasn't like it is now and I really thought I was going to hell for something that I didn't ask for and could not change. It has taken years of therapy and trying out many therapists to get to where I am now and I will continue to need and want therapy for as long as possible. Reading these comments will hopefully help me to be a better therapist to help those with mental illnesses.There are some great therapists out there, as well as some who stink, so keep on looking for the right fit. I love the HALT acronym and learned it in Alcoholics Anonymous. God bless you all.

May, 25 2012 at 8:28 am

Thank you so much for this post. My case manager just shared it with me, as my manager just told me she was going to kick me out for having a messy apartment. I find this particularly hurtful as I live in an apartment for people with disabilities, where I moved partially so I'd be able to get help with my problems. I have fibromyalgia, seizures, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Apparently since none of these make me "look sick" people decide I'm just lazy and don't want to do things, including clean. My mother will help me clean sometimes but berates me for not doing it myself. I've realized I internalize these things and start to think I'm just lazy myself, and this has kept me from getting help because I think, "Oh, I just need to get on top of it." But I never can.

January, 17 2011 at 2:37 am

I just stopped seeing my therapist because every session her only advice was to "push past it" and "just do it." That "everyone has a tough time sometimes" and "Did I think I was different than anyone else?" Now I don't even know what is wrong with me. If I'm not different than anyone else, why is it such a problem? Why am I paralyzed?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kate White
January, 18 2011 at 7:32 am

Hi J,
At which point I'd say, find a new therapist. One that can offer the empathy you've every right to receive. "Just do it" has never been a particularly helpful phrase for me. It isn't therapy. It's an advertising slogan. I dunno, I'm a bit baffled by therapists who insist their clients can use a one size fits all healing kit to change their lives.
Yes, everyone has a tough time sometimes. Sure. And it's nice if that's offered as just a way to say hey, you're not alone in this. But if it's offered up as if it's somehow a solution, that's probably less helpful.
Anyway, I hope you can find the help you've been looking for! Keep at it. Finding the right therapist can be a really trying process.

Blooming Psycho
December, 10 2010 at 7:16 pm

In my teen years I constantly heard how lazy I was. I always felt like if I couldn't be perfect I shouldn't try at all. I learned at 16 that I had hypothyroidism, but the pills didn't help. I learned at 25 that I have fibromyalgia, but nobody taught me how to deal with it. I learned at 38 that I have type II bipolar disorder that the doctors kept misdiagnosing as depression with anxiety. Finally a counselor asked some questions that led to the discovery of a pattern and the beginning of my taking lithium. This helped with the irritability, but the constant exhaustion was still there. I learned in the past year that I also have borderline personality disorder and that my hoarding problems are not due to being lazy, they are part and parcel of my obsessive-compulsive disorder. I am struggling to get on top of many, many, many years worth of avoiding the problem and hating myself.
I thank you for this post and am going to invite you to my by-invitation only blog showing my journey of renovation from living with hoarding. It isn't easy.

December, 5 2010 at 9:42 am

i need help please.
my boyfriend has ended our relationship because i don't want a dog and i can't do household tasks all the time. he says i'm in a rut and would rather watch tv. the thought of a dog is to much work. i can't cope with the cleaning now, so there would be more with a dog. my house used to be perfect years ago. but i got post natal depression 8 years ago and have never got over it. as the years pass, i can see myself getting worse. i tried antidepressants but they didn't help - only made me worse. when i came off them i was very angry and irritable and still am also anxious. i was always very pleasant and calm. the doctor said i came off the medication too soon and he said i would always feel like that. i feel so low, guilty about not being able to cope with doing most chores. i'm a single parent and i feel guilty when i'm irritable with my child but i can't help it. i avoid my friends. i just feel i can't be bothered with anything. please can you give me some advice? thank you

December, 5 2010 at 3:33 am

Thank you for posting this.
I have my days when I have absolutely no motivation.
Sometimes the biggest accomplishment might be taking a shower and getting dressed.
I find being in the moment helps. And baby steps.
take care,

December, 4 2010 at 3:05 pm

Anxiety and depression can definitely appear as laziness to others. It's not truly what it is. Also, those symptoms will shake up anyone's confidence.

December, 4 2010 at 9:43 am

Thank you Kate, Im finally in a place where im ready to take charge over myself and reading your notes has been great! im really NOT the only one like this. Im not just crazy stupid or selfish. Im bipolar. Now i just hope i can educate my fiance on this disease so he can see its ME not HIM. i have great support with him, i dont know where id be right now with out him. I just found this site and it went straight to the top of my favorites. knowing im not alone and that there is hope for living better life makes my day. Day by day we all struggle... hopefully this triggers something good for someone else too. THANK YOU

December, 4 2010 at 2:09 am

Your title to this article is perfect. I have been training my thoughts to re-evaluate how I see many people who receive the "lazy" label. Most, when you dig a little deeper, have at least a troubled past. So, in stead of passing judgement, I think it is best to step back and think about just how motivated we would be with those issues. Let alone any conditions or illnesses at play as well. The key is to remove judgement and try to show more patience and understanding. Very wise article.

December, 3 2010 at 2:30 pm

Wow -that is familiar- three brothers with bipolar, and I used to think they were lazy or too energetic- now appreciate how bad they must have felt. We have a lovely family despite the condition. Some family members are too busy-upset-angry. Others are too slow, tired, disorganized. I sometimes speculate that this illness is related to how our body processes our food-converts to energy.
I have looked for food that can give steady energy without going overboard-ie too much coffee, sugar, alcohol, is not the solution.
I have low energy problems tho not the diagnosis.
I am now on a blood pressure med(for blood pressure) that helps me keep my cool- I used to have a flash temper that was impressive.
Use multivitamin with digestive enzymes, vit D and Chia.
I find I have a steady energy now throughout the day-and don't have that-
too tired to accomplish anything feeling. It cranks up my motivation magically.
Have tried omega 3 and other things which are helpful.
A multi with vit B has always been essential to my functioning.
Good luck to you all. It is important to remember that you are doing all you can to feel well- this condition is not your fault- and you are doing your best. Get rid of the blame thing and you may just feel a little bit better.
Be good to yourselves!

December, 3 2010 at 9:12 am

I want to thank you so much. I have extreme problems now. I try not to let my mind go back to the way use to be before I had a late onslaught of my mental illness because it just makes me feel bad.
So few people can began to comprehend. I don't even have a way to explain it so they can understand. But thank God I have a loving mate in my life that does. I have my good days and my bad ones.
On my good days I make good use of a old fashion kitchen timer. I set it for 15 minutes and tell myself if I can't finish in 15 minutes that that is ok too. When I do start that 15 minutes I work as fast as I CAN because I honestgly do not know if I will be able to handle the next 15 minutes. I look back and often times I am very pleased and go onto the next 15 minutes. I have not yet been able to go pass three units of time but I feel good when I do. I also allow myself breaks between those units; just little ones. I wish I could do this everyday and maybe someday I will.
I have learned from you to visulize it before I start. That will help me alot I know. I think I will play the Rocky theme song in my head too. I like the line that says "Getting stronger...".

julie w.
December, 3 2010 at 6:38 am

I AM SO GLAD TO KNOW I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE!! As I get older it gets worse!! I moved over 1 1/2 months ago, and my house still looks like I just moved in.
My kids seem to have picked up the "who cares" attitude and I do not want them to grow up like that.
They know of my disorder, but I think I should go into more detail and help them to realize, mom is NOT JUST LAZY, I am ill. The med's do not help.
I am dealing also with a ADHD, ODD, ANXIETY 11 yr old boy. COULD IT GET ANY WORSE!! I really wish I could check myself in somewhere and just SLEEP AND THINK. I am a single mom so that is not possible.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kate White
December, 3 2010 at 3:54 pm

hi julie,
oh yeah, that is a serious load to be carrying. single motherhood is just plain tough even without all the issues you've described. do you have a therapist at present? if so, could you talk to them about how you're feeling, find some options? and if not (i'm guessing not), perhaps you could call around and see if there'd be anyone who works on a sliding scale, and would be OK with working with you when the kids are in school, who might be available to help relieve a little of that pressure you're working so hard to contain?
i'm not sure where you live so i can't say for sure (and i wish i wasn't so jet-lagged answering this... if i can i will come back with a more detailed answer later) but my first thought, off the top of my head, is that perhaps there are women's advocacy services or occupational therapy services you could apply for? they are usually based within mental health outreach programs (public and private) or with state services. if there's a lifeline type thing in your area, you can always call them and they often know what types of services are available in your area --
because even if you don't think that option of going somewhere to sleep and think is available for you, there probably are options where at least someone could come in and help you with things around the house for a couple of hours here and there. maybe just give you a small break. (i had someone like that for a while. it helped. even just that little bit of talking to someone about how to manage things a tiny bit better helped)
there are also a bunch of online support groups you could join, if you'd like a space to say more about what's going on for you - that could be helpful. isn't always so easy though, i realize.
also, you could email The Samaritans because they are available 24/7 to help folks think through as many options as possible -- and they really know their stuff, and it sounds like you're in that phase where it can get to be a crisis thing relatively easily so if there's anybody you could let a little out with, that'd be a good thing, i reckon.
is there any family you could call to take the kids for a day? a friend, perhaps? probably you have thought of that already but i'm just throwing ideas out there for you, just in case.
any space in the day, or things you can do that feel in the least bit soothing/comforting/fun/OK for you, yourself, that you can find, it's OK to let yourself have those things. creative things are great, too.
journal what's going on for you if you can, or maybe listen to your favourite music, get a massage (even if it means having the kids there for it, if that's something you can afford. i know budgets are tight this time of year, for most of us)...
none of these things are a fix in and of themselves, of course. really they're just suggestions that may help you feel a tiny bit more stable, more OK, less depleted and exhausted and stuck -
and from there it can often start to seem more manageable (the things that really just don't/can't feel manageable right now, that is).
i understand how dark it can be. i really do. and i'll be thinking of you!
take good care

December, 1 2010 at 12:14 am

I've struggled with these basics for my whole life. The longer I live, the more I perceive disorders of mood (i.e., depression) and excessive stress (i.e., PTSD, panic) as partly metabolic and functional, meaning: the depth of metabolic exhaustion is ferocious so there is little vital energy to cope with even the ordinary, everyday tasks and pleasures of living ... and one's ability to function is compromised to that shameful degree you write of --> We feel such shame in revealing that doing something as common as make a cup of tea or have a shower can be utterly overwhelming.
And yet ... as you write, Kate, we can take what look like 'baby steps' -- and there are moments when I think that *any* step is good ...
Just two days ago I visited with a dear friend I've known for over 13 years ... As close as we are, I'd not revealed the functional difficulties I now live with -- feeling ashamed -- stuff like terrible coordination, nonexistent working memory, fine-motor glitches, trouble with spatial awareness and sequential thinking, etc. I told my friend how I'd just about lost it while baking muffins the night before --> prepping the ingredients, getting out all the bowls and implements, doing all the mixing, baking, and then the cleanup ... I felt *almost* overwhelmed, right at the "losing it!" edge ... and then I consciously slowed myself down, looked at how well I'd organized everything, and told myself I know this recipe inside out and these muffins always turn out beautifully.
The 'HALT' acronym is a good one ... I always check in with myself if I'm feeling frayed re: need for food, water, warmth, movement, rest, quiet, touch, relation, sleep ... whatever will moderate and calm any of those potentially alarming states ...
Thanks Kate ... xoxo

Heather Whistler
November, 30 2010 at 3:36 pm

Hi Kate,
It's so awesome that you've identified the things that help motivate you to engage in life despite the depression and anxiety. Our culture makes it so hard for people who suffer from mental illness -- there really is an attitude that it's laziness and a lack of willpower, and it's easy to get sucked into that and feel guilty for not being able to overcome our problems at the drop of a hat. I actually wrote a blog post about this same issue last week. I'd love it if you'd check it out and let me know what you think:…

Kate White
November, 30 2010 at 3:31 pm

hi the Maggie, donna - you're both totally welcome. of course :)

November, 30 2010 at 11:58 am

Thanks I am always beating myself up about not being able to do the "normal" stuff,my parents think I'm just lazy,they don't know about my bipolar disorder even though I live with my daughter as a single parent them complaining just adds to my pressure,its always me failing to be good enough or tidy enough and just explaining that I can NOT always do these things isn't enough, I'm going to steal the HALT thing too, I'm often so worried about how much I haven't done I forget to do simple things like eat,thanks for sharing,its nice to feel like I'm not the only one out here Donna.

the Maggie
November, 30 2010 at 10:30 am

I really needed this today. thank you

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