Amy Jones on coping with anxiety and depression by writing to-do lists

In The To-Do List and Other Debacles, Amy Jones reflects on her millennial misadventures through friendship, marriage and mental health disasters. While struggling with anxiety and depression, Amy copes by writing to-do lists to keep her sane. But is she really coping? And how do you navigate your life when you feel like the rug has been pulled from under you?


To everyone who feels lost, alone, or like they’re not good enough.

It’s okay to feel lost. I promise you, you’re not alone. And more than anything else, please know that you are enough.

Four years, two courses of therapy, a year on Sertraline, two years of pretending I was okay again and eight months of Citalopram later, and there I was: describing myself like a waterlogged flannel because a pharmacist gave me a dodgy look. Aren’t brains great?

The pharmacist called my name and I jumped. Collecting my medication was nowhere near as stressful – the pharmacist barely looked at me for longer than customer service dictated, let alone sized me up like I was about to take an overdose right in front of him – and I felt slightly cheerier.

Yeah, look at me go! I’m just as repulsive as the guy with the STI, no more, no less! Look at me go!

I got home, put the little bag of pills on the shelf, settled into my yellow armchair, waited for the cat to settle herself in between the crook of my legs, then opened up my Notes app.

Pick up meds: tick!

I scanned the rest of my list, and frowned. There was quite a lot of energy stuff on there to tackle. And I did tell the girls at brunch I would do something about the situation. Opening my inbox, I eyed the unread emails nervously. I also knew that in the drawer I could see out of the corner of my eye there was a pile of letters I could have looked at. Even if I didn’t actually pay the bills today, or find out what I owed, maybe I could go on to other sites and see what I could pay there?

I could do it, it would be so easy.

But then, I can do that any time. To be really productive – and that’s the whole point of a To-Do List – I should do all the stuff that just needs to be started and then left to do its thing first, and do the energy stuff while I’m waiting for the first stuff to finish. By doing the energy stuff first, I’m wasting time. I’m actually being worse than I would be by just ignoring the energy stuff altogether. Right? Right! I instantly felt better so I stood up, earning myself an annoyed little chirrup from the dislodged cat, and marched towards the kitchen: I should start by hanging up the now-clean washing.

Four hours later, I settled back down in the chair with a notebook and a stack of pens. The washing was hung, another lot had gone on. I am a domestic goddess, I thought proudly. I’d made some brownies, cleaned the kitchen while they baked, photographed them in case I wanted to put them on my blog (add to list: Blog brownies) and ate three of them with a big cup of tea while wiggling my toes under the duvet for the cat to pounce on. I’d written my mental health newsletter, done the online shop. By anyone’s standards, it had been a productive day.

I consulted the list: only a few things left for today. I needed to do my monthly reflections – a task set for me by a former therapist, and which I still tried to do – and the energy bill stuff. And considering my energy bill stuff was being sabotaged by my mental health stuff, I reasoned that I should really do my reflections first. Opening my notebook carefully, I wrote the date on a fresh page in my neatest handwriting, and in a different colour underneath wrote out the first question of the set my therapist gave me at the start of our sessions together.

What have you been doing this month to improve your physical well-being and relationship with your body?

I’ve kept up my swimming, but mainly because I’m obsessed with the teeny-tiny arm muscles it’s giving me. It’s like my upper arms have baked potatoes growing under the skin now and I love it, although thinking about it, that’s a weird thing to enjoy. I stopped putting lotion on my body after showers because I felt too bad about the way my stomach and thighs felt under my hands. But I’m sleeping a lot – last weekend, I slept for 24 hours out of 48. Is that good? I don’t know.

I’m cooking a bit more, and feeding myself good things more, so that’s good. I just need to get to a point where I can cook myself something that’s both healthy and as delicious as a Domino’s Pepperoni Passion and Sainsbury’s White Chocolate cookies, then I’ll be laughing.

What have you been doing this month to improve your intellectual health?

Not beating myself up for not yet having read any of George Eliot’s books and not really enjoying any of Jane Austen’s novels apart from P&P, mainly. Although I’ve also stopped arguing with people on the Internet and muted anyone on Twitter who talks about Piers Morgan more than once a day, apart from the days he’s done something Exceptionally Stupid rather than just Generally Stupid. Still having that problem where I come home from work with every intention of doing something to improve myself, but end up lying on the floor and staring blankly at a wall for two hours, but I’m starting to think maybe lying on a floor and staring at a wall is a thing I enjoy doing and I shouldn’t beat myself up for it.

What have you been doing this month to improve your spiritual health?

My lack of belief in God, the healing power of crystals or moon-charged jade eggs you put up your vagina continues to make this a difficult one, to be honest. But I’ve been looking at trees a bit. Last week, I saw a fox and it made me quite happy. Especially when it saw me looking and jumped three feet in the air in shock.

What have you been doing this month to improve your social health?

Talking to people. Also, not talking to people. There’s a particular joy found in cancelling plans the afternoon before you’re supposed to do them – even better if they cancel the plans rather than you – and I’m taking as much pleasure as I can from it. And even if I’m not talking to people I’m listening to them, scrolling endlessly through social media, flicking through Twitter to Instagram to Facebook to Tumblr to Snapchat and back again, and even though I don’t often have something to say back, at least I’m interacting in some way and that counts.

Overall, how do you feel you are coping?


How was I coping? I hated that question. In a way, I was coping when I was spending every waking moment in my pyjamas, crying daily and eating nothing but entire boxes of cereal. I was coping when I was perfectly happy, meeting new people and making them into solid friends, and having fun experiences and absolutely bossing my job. I was coping when I spent my entire 45-minute walk to and from work each day wondering if I should throw myself into the road or the nearest canal. No matter what stage of mad I was in, I was still doing the work I needed to do, paying my bills (apart from the fucking energy bills, I KNOW), saying the things I needed to say to the people I needed to say them to. I was, technically, coping. But two of those ‘copings’ weren’t right, really. I know they weren’t. So, which ‘coping’ am I doing now? What does the word even mean?

The front door slammed. I lifted up my head and the cat streaked past to stand in the doorway and meow at the person coming through the living-room door. He looked tired, his curly black hair fluffy at the front where he’d been running his fingers through it all day. Shrugging his backpack off, he bent down to fuss the cat, then stood up and pushed his glasses back onto his nose. He smiled at me across the room, stretching sleepily; his Ghostbusters t-shirt rode up and the hint of fuzzy brown hair I saw on his soft belly made me feel a rush of love. I smiled.

‘Hello, sweetie,’ he said, bending down again to fuss the cat as she wound her way around his legs. ‘You okay?’

‘I’m good, you okay?’


He scooped Flick up and cuddled her; she stayed there for a few seconds, then clawed her way over his shoulder and down his back. As her claws dug into his shoulder, he winced.

‘You busy? Want to snuggle up and watch some Peep Show before I cook tea?’

I looked down at my notebook, then back up to him. ‘Sure!’

I said brightly, snapping it closed and standing up to hug him. My forehead rested perfectly in the space between his collarbone and his shoulder, and Flick rubbed herself happily against both of our legs. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t done the energy, I’ll do it tomorrow. And I’m not going to bother answering that last question. Because I’m coping, I am. Look at me go! I’m baking brownies, writing newsletters, making lists… I’m doing fine, I really am.

I’m fine.

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