“Do The Work:” How Maria Bamford Helped Me Leave Behind New Years Depression

*this piece was originally written around 01/18, in reflection of overcoming my New Years depression. 

For many, New Years celebrations mark pivotal moments in the progression of life and help humans frame goals according to the passage of one year. Whether you believe in the human concept of time or not is irrelevant; the Western idea of the “new year” subconsciously brainwashes inhabitants to “turn a new leaf” and set goals for the next 365 days. For the last three years of my life, the marking of a new year meant a swift kick in the face from the best acquaintance many of us know as depression.

After the holidays, I struggled (as per usual) through the month of January trying to find the sense of meaning in my life apparently found by my other millennial cohorts. With the flood of beautifully re-touched family photos and career-related revelations, it was difficult to feel change within myself when the only thing staring back at me was a bloated face and the increasing distance of my 2016 college graduation date. The year of 2018 also marked the three-year anniversary of my empty attempts to lose weight and remove some of the weathered attributes apparent from my recent history of drug abuse. While I have been clean off of hard drugs for two years and counting, the marks of self-abuse and hard partying still prove hard to shake off.

Apparently, my body’s preprogrammed solution to my feelings of inadequacy was to sit in my room in the dark and watch the same episodes of every season of Futurama I memorized when it went off air in 2013. It’s much easier to smoke weed and avoid responsibility than address the amounting duties knocking at your door. This also marked the final time I would let my insecurities paralyze my growth as a human being and writer.

“What do I have to sulk for,” my inner dialogue asked. I had what some might call an amazing year: I attended events in the name of music journalism, I met a slew of wonderful individuals, and remained unflinchingly loyal to the day-to-day of my writing duties. While I may not be getting paid oodles of money and having my work featured in the New York Times, I had a lot to be proud of when leaving the difficult year of 2017 behind.

Once again, the same nagging emotions haunted the corners of my mind with repeated mantras: variations of my mind telling my subconscious that I was too fat for the gay community, that I lost my looks with drug use, and my growth as a writer was stunted.

This episode eventually lead to a reminder of my life mantra conveniently adopted from a New York Times interview featuring my favorite offbeat comedian, Maria Bamford; In the interview, Ms. Bamford offers the best line of advice and self-defense for combating lack of activity due to depression: just do the work. A light flickered inside of me and the mantra perfectly suited for my logical-yet-emotionally-volatile-medicated-brain made its ideal nesting spot.

How could I not trust Maria Bamford and her newfound wisdom? While I cannot relate to her specific diagnosis, Bamford made the bread and butter of her stand-up career by normalizing daily mental struggles and helping my own brain make sense of life viewed through a diverse, less CBS-friendly lens. In the interview, the idea was gracefully summed up as the winning statement to deflect any emotional negativity which may drive people like Maria and I to inactivity:

Do the work. It’s a stay against paralysis, against the descent of dread. It’s less dramatic than “seize the day!” more affirming than “stop overthinking everything!” It is functional, and that’s what she’s trying to be. Do the work.”

Telling yourself the phrase negates all possibility for both positive and negative thoughts. For someone who analyzes logical patterns to the eventual result of absurdity, this new phrase dawned on me like a godsend. Finally, I could have a motivational phrase which fits my life without seeming too flighty, negative, or preachy. While my boyfriend frequently employs what some might call a nihilistic approach of seeing the world as dreary as it truly is, I could now employ a phrase which directs me to do what has to be done.

In some ways, “doing the work” has allowed me to validate and feel the extent of my emotions without drowning in them. With an emotionless phrase, it’s impossible to justify or negate the validity of the work your mind might convince you is not worth it when it truly is in the long term. In the slumber of depression, it’s easy to negate all the progress you’ve made in your life and simplify it into one cloudy, emotional twister. By telling yourself to “do the work,” you acknowledge the things you need to do as musts, instead of turning it back on yourself and questioning “why?” When you know what must be done and understand the steps it takes, procrastination cannot adapt to this phrase, no questions asked.

As with any good product sold that comes with a warning, this is not a fix-all. While the phrase may have inspired me to take action, it’s up to us as individuals to take the first step. Sometimes the validation we need doesn’t always arrive in the package step-by-step guides, feel-good coffee table books, and enabling company, but the reminder that we are capable of “doing the work.”