Searching for Motivation as I Struggle With Depression

Tré LaRosa avatar

by Tré LaRosa |

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When I took Advanced Placement psychology in high school, a few subjects stuck out to me as being intuitive. I was weirded out by this because the majority of school lessons were not intuitive. Math, chemistry, and biology are logical and scientific, but I don’t naturally understand cells, or how compounds interact with one another.

Psychology is the study of how our minds work and how we behave, or how we intuit and perceive the world around us. Humans have always tried to make sense of our existence and our surroundings.

As a species, we aren’t abnormally fast or large, our bodies aren’t particularly good at creating energy out of limited resources, we aren’t the best predators, and we don’t have many physical defense mechanisms.

What we do have, however, is a developed brain with countless folds that allow for complicated thoughts and mental acuity. This has allowed us to overcome many of our physical limitations. To be human is to seek an explanation of why we are who we are, both as individuals and as a species.

One psychology lesson that just made sense to me was about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is when you are motivated by something internal, whereas extrinsic motivation is when you are motivated by external rewards, such as recognition, fame, or money.

However, I don’t believe these concepts are binary. Sometimes we are motivated by a confluence of factors. For example, one might have a vested interest in a work project, which may also generate income and awards if it’s successful. I am motivated by multiple factors to write this column. I hope to deepen the communal and scientific understanding of cystic fibrosis and also help others who have CF.

It’s hard to disentangle these types of motivation. Intrinsic motivation isn’t always enough without some sort of external pressure. With CF, I’ve been intrinsically motivated by a desire to feel good, but even in childhood, I was also externally motivated by my family and friends. I didn’t want to be taken care of, and I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me.

I wanted to be healthy for myself, of course, but also because I associated health with that godforsaken concept of “normalcy.” This external pressure sustained me in times when I wasn’t as committed to myself, or when the intrinsic motivation to “feel good” just wasn’t enough.

Searching for extrinsic and intrinsic motivators has had new implications for my life. My depression is the worst it’s been since I was diagnosed over three years ago. (Surprisingly, my anxiety has been better.)

My depression used to manifest as intensified anxiety; now, it manifests as a lack of motivation, an inability to focus, and general apathy. Work is manageable because of those extrinsic motivators and responsibilities, but even the most mundane tasks feel Herculean. Yoga and basketball are the only forms of exercise I do anymore, and they seem to slightly lower my stress.

The most difficult part is doing one of my favorite mental exercises: What advice would I give to a friend if they vented to me about these struggles? I would likely tell them to take it day by day, focus on the things that bring them joy, be gentle on themselves, remember that others have experienced this as well, and know that a better future awaits them. This is a part of the journey.

Those pieces of advice hardly resonate with me. I know that continuing to do something that usually brings me joy, even if it doesn’t right now, is the best path forward. But this doesn’t restore the intrinsic motivation I’ve long relied on.

Although I’ve lacked the motivation, I promised myself I would write this column no matter what. Perhaps someone out there needs to know that another person understands how they feel, and just knowing this will provide them some comfort.

It’s late, and perhaps not my best writing, but I am proud of myself. It’s a small win, but I’ll take it.

Follow along with my other writings at my humbly named site, www.trelarosa.com, or subscribe to my newsletter “sonder, essays” at trelarosa.substack.com.

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Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.

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Jennifer Powell avatar

Jennifer Powell

You always inspire by showing up.

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