Chronic Procrastination - Avoiding the Unavoidable

A hazard of bipolar depression

A man looking through his mail
Gianni Diliberto/Getty Images

When you’re depressed, sometimes it’s impossible to do things that you know need to be done. No matter how dire they may be, or how easy they may be to take care of, some tasks just keep getting pushed off the to-do list.

In response to a blog about avoidance behaviors, a lot of feedback returned regarding house repairs as a fundamental thing people with bipolar disorder often avoid. How serious does a damaged home have to be before we pay attention to it?

Sandy has spent 7 years putting off a $6000 roof repair. Another respondent calling herself the “Queen of Avoidance” has so many repairs needed in the back of her house that she had to move everything into the front of the building. Now she can’t sell the house until she takes care of all the damages she’s been unable to address for years.

Brenda managed to fix her roof, only to find out that avoiding the issue and leaving the leak for so long created a mold problem that turned what could have been a simple fix into a two-room remodeling project in order to repair all the damages. But her avoidance eventually turned into a saving grace.

Two years later, with the remodeling still not begun, a monsoon came through the area and revealed that the leaky roof was still in need of repair. The two damaged rooms took a mild beating compared to what could have happened if they had been freshly remodeled.

But most people don’t find any silver linings to procrastination on major issues. Many times the little things we ignore snowball into problems that cause us ever more anxiety as they grow into insurmountable obstacles. This is especially true when the things we avoid are on the outside where the public can see: a cracked foundation, crumbling roof, or unkempt yard can lead to police interference, court settlements, and even evictions.

Vernie says, “I can’t make myself do stuff unless it’s practically an emergency.  The longer I have put it off, the harder it is to do because of guilt, knowing it’s late, etc. What I feel is a sort of (imaginary) pressure in my head, like there’s a force field between me and it.”

That force field seems to build up between people and their mailboxes as well. Teena’s tale holds a common thread with many of those suffering from bipolar depression: “I abruptly quit my previous $60,000 a year job with no notice during a manic phase, and quickly cycled into deep depression. When I lived alone, I would not go to my mailbox for weeks, just because I didn’t want to see the bills – and then when I was forced to go, because the water or electricity was cut off, I’d have horrible anxiety for what I’d done.”

Likewise, Leslie, a special ed teacher, found it difficult to check mail both at home and at work. “I lost my house because of the anxiety over opening mail … I had two boxes of unopened mail in my car the last year I was able to work.”

Even when finances aren’t an issue, sometimes just looking at them can be a chore, as in Aly’s case. “I find it difficult to open my mail. Bills are important so I usually auto pay which so far is the best method for me.

I avoid my bank account too but it is rarely a problem. I have difficulty with the blinking light on answering machine and may look at it with knots in my stomach for some time before I can do what I need to do.”

Marnie said something similar: “I sometimes avoid listening to my messages until the display says ‘Message space low’ and I know I have to get rid of some of them.”

While we may not be able to pin down exactly why we get so paralyzed about mail, messages, and repairs, at least we know we are not alone.

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