Study habits when I’m too depressed to get up

I wrote earlier about some of the things I do to make language-learning part of my day, a habit that clicks into place ideally several times a day.

When I’m not feeling well, when I’m in a bad place with regards to my depression or anxiety, I have to scale back my routines. Sometimes a lot. Unfortunately, while depression often robs me of my ability to do things, then not having done anything makes me feel worse.

I’ve developed a few tricks to keep the learning going, even a tiny bit, when I’m so low that I can barely get off the couch over a weekend. Apart from how awful that is in its own right, it is terrible to feel like being ill chips away any progress I’m making (on languages or on life things in general…). So. Here’s how I manage to do something, even if just a little bit, rather than nothing.

(Oh, stigma. I started this blog to speak openly about being someone with mental illness learning a language. And yet I still cringe talking about it. You perhaps can see why I have very little identifying information on this blog…)

My most important tool at these times is my smartphone. I resisted getting one for a long time, but a few years ago I caved and I wouldn’t go back. For a lot of reasons, many of which relate to self-care when depressed (at least I can tweet at my friends from under a blanket while stuck on the couch), but also because it makes language-learning more portable and accessible. Yeah, a tablet would probably be even better for this, and I’d love to have one, but it’s not in the budget right now. So my phone it is!

Duolingo and Memrise on my phone are a blessing. I often find Duolingo a nice way to distract my anxiety anyway, and the fact that I can do this on the couch is even better. I like match-3 games on my phone for anxiety a lot too, but most of them limit how long you can play at a time. If I can redirect this gaming urge to languages, all the better! (Duolingo isn’t a miracle tool, but I have found it useful for vocabulary, and in getting myself to engage with languages when I don’t have enough focus for anything else.)

I can review my Anki cards while prone on the couch too, of course, but something about Duolingo or Memrise seems to work better for me at those times, maybe because silence is often frightening to me then, and the sounds/gamification works to fill it.

Also on the audio tip, I like talk radio (usually the news) in my target languages. I try to choose a station from TuneIn on my desktop computer before I sink down onto the couch, if I can. But if not, well, then I’ve got a TuneIn app on my phone! The news may not sound very relaxing or soothing, and it wouldn’t be in English. But even when it’s about something heavy, the act of having to focus in order to figure out the least bit of what’s going on distracts my mind a little. It’s soothing in its own way. Plus, news presenters tend to have comfortingly monotonous voices.

If that doesn’t work, another thing I like to do is put on the same song, in my target language, over and over. One of my current comfort songs is Boskomat‘s Idée Folle. Putting songs on repeat means both that it soothes me but also occasionally a lyric I hadn’t been able to parse before suddenly becomes clear and comprehensible. Repetition helps with this, of course!

So yes, silence is poisonous for super-depressed-me. I also crave color, pretty things, things that push back against the way the world feels (cliche alert!) gray gray gray. This is where I start refreshing my Instagram feed on my phone. As mentioned, I follow a lot of people posting food photos with commentary in German underneath, and clicking through tags to find more people to follow, and seeing more food, is a great thing to do when I’m too agitated or worn-out or sad to do anything more active. (I’ve also started looking up tags for other subjects, like dogs!)

I do also sometimes watch YouTube videos in my target languages on my phone — sound and color, hooray! — but they can require a sustained level of focus that I can’t always muster.

I really need to figure out even more things I can do along these lines. Any ideas? My phone is getting a bit worn-out and clunky (I’m hoping to make it until my contract runs out in the spring and I can get a new one), but there must be other things I can do.

What do you do when you’re limited by your energy due to mental or physical illness? What are your core study tools and resources? Are there things that are easier or more sustainable through the fog of depression/anxiety/etc.? Things you find impossible? Does it work better simply to let yourself rest and recover before you dive back in?

(I should note that this is all an ideal version of coping with severe brainweasels. All this doesn’t always happen, and sometimes almost none of it does. I had a really bad patch recently — actually, let’s be honest, self, I’m still struggling through it — and sometimes this stuff was just beyond me. There’s a balance — that I can’t always find — between pushing myself, in a good way, and being kind to myself and letting myself rest. And sometimes that doesn’t even feel like a choice.)

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5 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing! I know it’s not the same but I’m so busy with work at the moment I don’t have the energy to do much self-study. Your suggestions are really helpful so I can start to build a default list of Vietnamese things to turn to when I’m worn out. Lately I’ve just been resorting to working on beginner Korean because it’s easy to see my progress (yay, I learnt 3 words / a new question) and to feel good about language learning.

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    1. Aw, it’s great to hear that the post is useful on a wider scale too! Thank you for letting me know. I definitely know what you mean about the allure of the lower-level language… easy progress is so tempting. My French is definitely suffering because German is more exciting and faster to work on at the moment!

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  2. For me, when I am “stuck” on the couch (for roughly the same reasons) … My IPod is my lifeline. Music is my escape really, and not just k-pop… Korean podcasts or uploads from the cds that come with some of the books I use. My ipod goes on as soon as the current disc of a korean drama finishes, and I have no inclination to switch to the next. I find that audio is the only format that is bearable when I am having a day, or two…

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