CW: Depression/Mental Illness
Having depression sucks, and so does having mental illness in general. But you know what? People like us are not alone. So many people are in our shoes, and we are no less valuable because of our illnesses. Let’s talk about one of the things that sucks about mental illness, something that impacts a good percentage of us but is still unreasonably stigmatized; let’s talk about executive dysfunction.
Basically, executive dysfunction is a symptom of mental illness that gets in the way of us being able to do the things that we want and/or need to do and overall makes our lives harder. According to the Cleveland Clinic website, “Executive dysfunction is a behavioral symptom that disrupts a person’s ability to manage their own thoughts, emotions and actions,” and the impacted executive functions include working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibition control.
Executive dysfunction comes in many forms. Have you ever tried to do something that you knew you had to but couldn’t bring yourself to do it even though you knew it was important? Maybe you just couldn’t focus enough to do it, or maybe you were focused too much on something other than the thing that you were trying to do. You might have been “spacing out,” or maybe you kept forgetting to do the task. Maybe you couldn’t find the motivation to do something even though you wanted or even needed to do it.
Executive dysfunction impacts our ability to do all sorts of tasks, even tasks that people not suffering from it don’t have any difficulty doing at all. But that’s okay, it’s not our fault and we are not alone. It can impact hygiene and doing any sort of chores. It can impact work or school, maybe even causing us to fail classes or lose our jobs. But that doesn’t mean we are less valuable as people. Like all illnesses, mental illness is very real, and it’s not like we chose to be this way.
If you have experienced executive dysfunction before, please know that you are not alone, you are not “lazy,” and you have no less worth because of it. Having executive dysfunction is not any of our faults. There are ways to combat it, which are important to talk about, but so many people don’t have the tools to do that; so why blame them when it’s not their fault? Sometimes we need professional treatment in order to get by, and that’s okay. Therapists exist for a reason, and that includes helping people find out how to not only fight but also radically accept their mental illness symptoms, including executive dysfunction.
Society wants us to constantly be “productive.” But it is important to acknowledge that self-care is a form of productivity. You don’t need to be working or doing chores for your time to be spent well. Every time you take a break, every time you let yourself eat a snack you enjoy or watch that show that you like, you are being productive. We all deserve breaks, and we should all enjoy ourselves when we can.
The hardest part of my mental health recovery, personally, is being kinder to myself. I know so many people who are in the same boat as me, too. But even though it’s hard, it’s a goal that’s worth it to strive towards. If we start treating ourselves like we treat the people we love, even if we don’t quite love ourselves yet, it can improve the quality of our lives so much.
Everyone needs breaks sometimes. Everyone deserves kindness. Someone having executive dysfunction (or having mental illness in general) is never their own fault. So please, if you suffer from executive dysfunction, remember to try to be kind to yourself; remember that you are not alone and that you are valuable just as you are.