Two hard, one easy. It’s a formula employed by swimming coaches and mental health therapists alike.

At the pool its purpose is to break down a tedious 4.5 Km session into manageable tasks – two laps swum hard followed by one lap easy is more palatable than swimming three laps at a moderate pace and then repeating that for an hour and a half.

There are countless variations on the theme depending on the overall purpose of the day and the desired toughness of the set. Three hard two easy, four hard two easy, but always more hard than easy.

Apart from breaking down an imposing task the formula has the added benefit of offering a small treat as encouragement along the way. With your lungs bursting for air you can always find a little more to give when your mind turns to that cruisey lap coming up next.

In therapy the formula serves the same purpose. It breaks down tasks to what’s manageable on any given day, and continuously rewards effort towards that end.

In depression the first two hard tasks of the day will always be getting up and getting dressed. In severe depression the act of getting up breaks down further – turn on the lights, remove the blanket, put your feet on the ground, breathe deeply, rise, take a step. Each step is performed in slow motion with a lot of mostly negative self-talk willing you to fail. ‘I’m not well enough to do this, I’m not strong enough today, I’m tired of the fight. I’m not normal. I’ll try this again tomorrow’. 

On these days failure presents as your friend. You look forward to his visit so you can get back under the blankets together where it’s safe and your body and mind hurt less. But no good comes of friends like failure and so you start over again, and again, until there’s more positive self-talk than negative, and your feet are on the ground.  You pause to take a small measure of confidence that you’ve found your way through the fog and the haze of your mind to have achieved something, anything to build on as the day progresses.

On these days the third part of the formula, the easy part, will be something so small and insignificant that on reflection it might seem pathetic – a cup of tea, a moment in the sun, a breakfast at a café if you’re feeling strong enough to go out. These things are not the big bonus cheques or overseas holiday or new clothes that we might strive for when we are well. These easy things are far more valuable than those things. They are not pathetic; they are life saving.

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