How (NOT) to Get Out of Bed

Last week (Sunday, to be precise), I woke up in the morning and could not think of a single reason for getting out of bed.

I wasn't hungry. I didn't feel like seeing anyone. I felt tired and drained. The blue, sunny sky was like an insult: how could it be so beautiful outside when everything felt bleak and hopeless?

I lay in bed and looked at the ceiling, which needed a new paint job and reminded me of all the work we needed to do around the house. I shut my eyes. I dozed. Then I was suddenly woken by a loud voice right next to my ear:

"Hey, you! Get up! We're supposed to be going for a bike ride this morning! Get out of bed! It's late!

It was the voice of my friend Jeannette, who tends to speak in short sentences with exclamation points. She is a kind person with a good heart, but she can be way too enthusiastic.

When she stopped shouting, I told her in a quiet but firm tone that I could see no reason for getting out of bed. A bike ride seemed like a needless expenditure of energy that would only make me more tired and would not help my situation in the least.

This seemed to stop her short. She looked at me closely, as if to see if I was missing a limb or flushed with fever or maybe had developed a rash. But she couldn't seem to find anything wrong.

Then, to my surprise, she turned around and walked out of the room. I turned over on my side, thanked the powers that be that she was leaving me alone, and went back to contemplating my miserable existence.

Suddenly there was a rushing sound and I heard footsteps. I turned over to see not one but FIVE people in my room: Jeannette, my cousin Andrea, my neighbors Jack and Annie, and my husband. Jeannette hadn't gone away; she gone out to get reinforcements.

I moaned and pulled the covers over my head. There was a short silence and then they all started talking at once:

"Are you sick? Do you have a cold or something?"
"Don't be so lazy!"
"You're going to miss out on a beautiful day!"
"You know we can't go without you–you're the only one who knows the route!"
"You're not getting depressed again, are you?"
"How about a cup of coffee?"

Needless to say, not one of these questions was remotely helpful. I seized on the last one as the one that was easiest to answer: "No, no, thank you but I don't want coffee. I don't want anything in fact, except to be left alone."

Silence. Then they all drifted out, murmuring to each other and taking quick, furtive glances back at me.

I just turned with my face to the wall and listened to them leave.

OK, we've all been there. Nothing new about this scenario. What interests me, though, is the way all of my friends and family reacted. Every single question or comment¬—no matter how well meant—was bound to make me feel worse AND be less likely to get out of bed.

The ironic thing is that these are exactly the kind of things we say to ourselves when we're feeling bad.

So, here's your assignment: Look at what each person said and ask yourself the following:

1. Why was this so unhelpful?
2. What would be a better thing to say?

Send me your thoughts at moodnetwork@mgh.harvard.edu, and we'll reconvene in a future blog. In the meantime, I'll go back to trying to get out of bed.

Roberta Eve Tovey