The Curious Case of… lack of motivation

(The Curious Case of… used to be part of our bi-weekly newsletter but we decided to make it a regular blog post instead so it can sometimes be more frequent. It’s always been technical up to now, but this time it’s a personal note.)

I came to a realization yesterday (Thursday) evening: I’m depressed.

Over the last month I’ve found myself sleeping really late, and having a hard time getting myself out of bed before noon most days (much to Kimberly’s annoyance, as she gets up before 8 usually). I’ve also completely lacked motivation to do anything, including things I usually love, like reading, Lego, being outdoors, blogging.

As an example, back at the start of November I went on a book buying spree on Amazon, and when the boxes came, I wrapped them in Christmas wrapping paper and put them under the tree to surprise myself on Christmas Day. Six of the boxes, with who-knows what wonderful books in, are sitting behind my desk as I type this, still wrapped up. You all know how much I love books, and especially opening a box of new books – so this is really not normal.

So I did some research around lack of motivation as I was wondering if I was just being lazy. It turns out that if you have no motivation to do *anything*, not just things you don’t like doing; it’s a symptom of depression. Coupled with the not being able to get out of bed, no appetite, and finding myself constantly looking at the news when I’m at my laptop instead of working, it’s definitely mild-moderate depression.

I don’t *feel* depressed, with despair or dark thoughts – what I naively think of as how depression feels like – but I recognize it for what it is.

And I’m not surprised I guess. 2021 has been pretty crappy so far in my view. The pandemic is raging. The wild Capitol riot happened on January 6 and then the tumultuous two weeks after that leading up to the Inauguration. Gareth Swanepoel passed away on January 8, and then a second friend (wonderful dive master we’ve spent weeks diving with in Mexico over the last few years) passed away earlier this week. Two friends passing away in three weeks, and both from COVID-19 complications. That really knocked me for six (British phrase derived from cricket). I hope they’re the only friends of mine that the world loses this year, but I suspect not unfortunately.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I think a lot of you out there may be experiencing something similar, and I want you to know that you’re not alone. It’s not a bad thing to admit. It’s not weak. It can happen to anyone. And it can creep up on you unawares like it did to me. There’s a lot going on in the world.

It’s not something to ignore either. I happen to have the annual physical with my doctor in a few weeks and if things haven’t improved (now I realize what’s going on) then I’ll talk to her about it.

So if you are feeling anything like me, talk to someone. For me, writing this up for the newsletter and posting on my blog has already made me feel better about it, and I hope being aware of it helps some of you too.

And tomorrow I’m going to open those book boxes!

100 thoughts on “The Curious Case of… lack of motivation

  1. Move on Paul! Everybody was affected by the pandemic. I am tired about staying in front of my laptop all day long. Try something different like board games or puzzles.

    1. Perhaps there is a language barrier, or perhaps you’re yelling from the cheap seat. If so, move on, pal. “A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” – Beene Brown

        1. I think that “move on” (as in “do something different”) was a recommendation for coping, rather than a mean-spirited “get over it” response. As someone who deals with continual depression much like what you describe (dysthymia), “do something different” isn’t *bad* advice, but it’s far from complete. “Talk to someone” is better advice!

          Depression is various guises is common in our industry. I know many professionals who burned out and dropped out because of the ongoing stress and high-pressure of continually working to deadlines; I regard myself as rehabilitated from doing exactly that. Again, you are very right in reminding people that they are not alone; there is no shame in realising when we are not well and that we need help.

          For me, depression will never go away. It’s something I will deal with every day, although some days are better than others. Learning how to manage it and be productive and successful is the key. What worked for me was finding a good professional to talk to, and learning coping mechanisms. Counselling/therapy: cognitive behavioural therapy, dialectic behavioural therapy, neuro-linguistic programming all went in to the mix, but I think connection is just as important. I can also recommend mindfulness as a form of non-religious meditation.

          Well done on recognising what was going on, and I am in awe of your ability to speak out openly about it.

          1. Yes, I believe that’s what was meant too. Sorry to hear that you suffer, and thanks for the kind words. I’m definitely going to start mindful meditating again this week.

  2. I can’t believe there are people who are experiencing such similar things and to think I am not the only one struggling with this, surely give hope to live a better future which one dream about.
    P. S. Those symptoms are hell similar, so does this mean I am depressed too every now and then!

  3. Thanks for sharing Paul. Lack of motivating in someone as energetic and enthusiastic as you is definitely a red flag.
    I was not aware that sleeping late can be a symptom. I’m suffering from that myself. No lack of motivation here though but I’ll still look up some websites to double check other symptoms.
    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hello Paul,
    I’ve been reading your blog for a few years even if I don’t work on databases anymore but SQL remains one of my favorite topics :-)
    It’s very brave of you to write this article.
    We are all in a similar situation.
    I am lucky to be able to go Nordic skiing, to go skating to clear my mind.
    And in France, too, with all this pandemic organization, rules and curfews, it’s not so easy.
    Let’s keep the fire of motivation
    Best regards

    1. I love your awkward hugs :-) Hope you’re doing well, and thanks again for the R learning suggestions for my daughter – she’s steadily working through them.

  5. Thanks for sharing Paul. Really appreciate your vulnerability, there’s bound to be some bit of healing in that for you. Thinking of you. There’s much to be depressed about, and I’m prone to focus on that stuff and sort of create a vicious circle. Know you matter. You have a lot of friends. And a lot of blessings and good things – many right there in that house full of people and cats even.

    Do talk to the doctor, that’s solid advice. No shame and sometimes it’s a brain chemistry thing alone. Hang in there.

      1. Start being grateful. So easy we take things for granted and forget that we’re actually very lucky in our lives. Every day find 3 things for which you’re grateful and speak them. Then don’t drown in the past, just concentrate on what lies ahead.

        I found these helpful and it started working for me ​after a couple of weeks.

        For me the root cause was an idiot who drove into our car when I was traveling with my wife. She got injured with some fractures and more. It was excruciating experience to watch her suffering and assist her in simple everyday tasks. We both got PTSD. But in order to not get mental or fall into the well of depression I had to forget that, stop brooding about it and live on. Now I’m grateful for being alive and am letting the memories go. I’m also doing what I can to help my wife recover mentally as the body is healing itself pretty well.

        So please think about how lucky you are and that you can do a lot of good for yourself and others. You’ve already did a lot. Remember it every day.

  6. I’m working with a Junior DBA and was thinking of you yesterday after talking with him. It’s been a tough go lately and I’ve felt much the same as you. I didn’t read much all of last year, but I’m really enjoying The Midnight Library right now. Open those boxes and let us know what you’ve got waiting on you. We will get through this together!

    1. Hey Shawn – that’s actually one of the books from a box I *did* open on Christmas Day and I’m looking forward to reading it. Thanks for the kind words and don’t go without help for those feelings!

      1. Incidentally, the guy who wrote The Midnight Library has also suffered with mental health and written about his experiences in Reasons to Stay Alive. I recently heard Ruth Jones (comedic writer) talk about how she was given it by a friend, and read it out of obligation. She then chose it as one of her top three books and said it was a positive and life affirming read for anyone.
        I haven’t read it, but The Midnight Library is going great guns and so maybe this reassures people that there are better times ahead

  7. On top of this very feeling you describe I feel pressured to “keep it together”. I feel like I have to and that it’s my job to hold my spouse together. I feel like the whole world needs a vacation.

    1. Luckily for me Kimberly doesn’t have any of this so it’s just me I have to fix. And yes, I need a long dive trip! Hope you get through this quickly – hang in there!

  8. Hey Paul hang in there, it might also be worth getting some blood work done if you haven’t recently. Only you know how you are feeling and I certainly wouldn’t tell you any different. I was surprised to learn how common vitamin D deficiency is and how it can lead to some similar symptoms and make things worse when you are experiencing depression..

    In any case, I wish you a speedy DBCC SYS REPAIR :)

  9. Thanks for writing this Paul. I’ve fallen into a similar pattern. I recognized it, and took the first steps in a conversation with my doctor yesterday. Be well. Hi to Kimberly.

  10. Hey Paul, It has been an amazingly tough year. Not to mention weird in a lot of life twisting ways. If there is anything I can do to help, any support you need please feel free to reach out to me.

  11. Hang in there buddy. I’m here if you ever need anything. You can reach out anytime bud. Hope the family is doing well. Miss you all!!

  12. Big hugs Paul. I’m glad you were able to identify it and accept it. That’s the first step of conquering it….not that conquering it is easy, or quick. I’m going through the same thing as you and neither of us are alone in our battle. Hang in there.

  13. Kudos to you for recognising that you have a problem. There is a lot of misunderstanding around what depression is and how it impacts people – it’s so much more than “feeling sad”.
    It’s something I have lived with myself for more than 20 years now and over that time it has manifested in myriad ways, the biggest one for me though has always been the lack of motivation.
    I truly hope that you can get on top of it and return to your normal self soon.

  14. Paul,

    We barely know each other (if that), but we have a ton of this in common. Last year for me was very tough and 2021 so far only mildly better. Business is good, my loved ones are amazing, we moved and I love it here.

    But my guts are still shredded and I’m just a hair over a hospital stay. I’ve had to remove things from my life and ask loved ones to curate what we talk about or watch on TV. Exercise helps (me).

    I’ve been here before and will be again through this life. Recognize it, adjust for it (tune it?) and go forth :)


  15. Thanks Paul. You have always been one I have looked up to and this just makes it more real and I appreciate you. I too thought what you thought, and I do some of the same things and am more aware of them now. Thanks for everything.

  16. Thanks for sharing, Paul. Sharing what the world needs to know as soon as you learn it is what a Master makes (in the teacher acception, and in the mastery acception, of course)

  17. Thanks for posting this, Paul. The more people talk about this, the easier it is for others to speak up, and we don’t feel so alone.
    Between Covid and some other things in my life, I’ve been fighting depression myself. Not focused or organized, always feeling like I’m not doing enough, while working hard to get through the day.
    I’ve often read your posts to cheer up, and I look forward to being able to have a beer again.

    1. Kevin, I had no idea and I’m sorry to hear you’re suffering. But yes, that’s why I posted this, as I thought (and now know) that many people were suffering in silence. I hope you have help and are working through it, and yes, beers when it’s safe again!

  18. Hey Paul,
    It takes real bravery to post this. The last year has been really tough. I’m glad to see you’re taking steps to take care of yourself. Keep your chin up.


  19. life is not stable, it take time to change,use positive thoughts what u do make it profession allways be happy . everyone have chalanges, except it and move on…… ✌️

  20. I’d say “great timing”, but that seems kinda terrible to say. So I’ll just say – yea – I get it. It doesn’t have to be severe, but you do need to keep an eye on it. Different things help different people, but I think letting people know is pretty universal. If someone doesn’t get it, talk to someone who does.
    Removing news and limiting social media, particularly when they are toxic, helps me.
    You are not alone. And, I can tell you from being a long time follower, you are awesome.

  21. Hi Paul,
    I am sorry to hear that you are going through this situation .
    You are an amazing and a very smart person . You exude self confidence all the time . What you are going through is just transient and you will come out of it as a stronger person. For me I spend my weekends on sprituality and in spritual reading . I disconnect from tech stuff and it really helps me focus on metaphysical stuff . Please Stay strong and you will soon be back .

    Warm Regards

  22. Depression is definitely a very real thing, and it’s amazing you’re able to share about it and know when to get help. A huge percentage of the population are on depression and/or anxiety related pills of some kind — we’re only human and sometimes needs a little help managing the modern life, and that’s okay. I hope you feel better soon, and know that better days are coming sooner or later!

  23. Same …. /waves hello from the iPad while on the couch. It’s been such a slog and it’s taking a toll. Thanks for speaking up. This too will pass but it doesn’t make the waiting any more fun, eh? Fingers crossed your journey back to normalcy is a swift one.

  24. You have been SQL server Guru to us. I and my team have looked up to you for sql server expertises. We take your post reference making business cases in front of the management.
    I appreciate you even more now. This is a reality and thanks for sharing. I feel that it’s just a matter of time and you will get out of this with flying colors… good luck ,PaulThanks for everything.

  25. Thanks for sharing Paul, I’m sure you are not alone, most people seem more depressed than 2 years ago, and that’s sad.
    but there is always a ray of hope, vaccines are coming and also the world is changing every moment. there are always good and bad, light and dark together and mixed.
    you are a source of inspiration and energy for many in the community, so many look up to you.
    I’m sure you’ll knock this depression out very fast and very soon. writing this blog in this situation is a great sign IMHO.
    one thing that keeps me going and may help you as well, is writing a journal with a fountain pen I like, it is a kind of mindfulness that you may also find beneficial.
    but you are the great mentor that knows best.

  26. As a run-of-the-mill SQL professional who has benefitted from your enormous generosity in sharing your expertise, I wish you blessings of revival and renewal.

    If I may offer a perspective which seems conspicuously absent in the replies, and may possibly be one avenue of consideration under the circumstances, some have found solace for depression in turning to prayer. As a timeless testimony, even the Psalmist is given to darknesses and seeks relief from the throes of ennui. So perhaps this ancient witness to existential challenges, if anything, might be seen as a sort of faithful companion in all its stark honesty – and of course, that you come through this stretch fully restored.

    Respectfully and Sincerely,

  27. Hang in there, I’ve been through the mill with the black dog on my back a few times, it’s not nice but it does get better…

    I’ve spent many hours under the duvet with only Test Match Special (Cricket!) on the radio for company in the darkest days (seemed to help, but maybe it was a symptom?!)

    My words of advice to anyone….. the drugs do work, if the doctor says take them, take them!

  28. Hey Paul,
    Thanks for talking about this. Too many people don’t want to talk about or admit these issues.
    These are very common symptoms at the moment, I’m seeing them in varying degrees across our teams.
    One of the hardest things for me is knowing that I can do very little to help my guys, all I can do at the moment is to keep listening and talking.
    Hopefully the year will get better.
    Stay Strong

    1. No problem – I’m not shy, as you all know, and I figured it would do good for me and others to talk about it openly rather than suffer in relative silence. And I hope so too – thanks!

  29. On the same situation as you. So thank you for sharing, for letting me know that I`m not alone.
    I got professional help last week because nothing was working to restore my motivation.
    And that`s my best advice – if nothing works, try to get some professional help. There is no shame on it. The only mistake is to let it grow.

  30. Hi Paul,
    I think you can safely assume that you aren’t alone in this now.
    It took me a long time to realise that the way we are having to live right now has worn us down and depression had set in. I like to post a blog article each month and yet there was a four-month gap and I just couldn’t get interested in finishing a fairly simple piece. Too much time ‘pratting about’ (to coin another British phrase) instead of actually working just fed the feeling that I wasn’t achieveing anything of purpose.
    A frank discussion with my wonderful wife, after being a complete pain to live with for a while, certainly helped.
    It is possible to get through this but it does need the help of others.
    Fortunately you are at the centre of an amazing community and collection of people.
    Oh, and I suppose Kimberly might be of some help too….

    1. Yes, I’ve definitely realized that too from all the comments here and on Twitter! Kimberly’s most helpful by being understanding, and encouraging. Thanks for the kind words and encouragement!

  31. I feel for you Paul. Clearly you’ve struck a chord with others here, many of us are struggling with this. Talking about it, normalising it, naming it, I think that all of this helps. It took me a long time to recognise it in myself, but how it showed up for me as well as the lack of motivation, and little interest in hobbies, was a noticeable drop in resilience. The smallest set backs would really shake me. I had to force myself to step back and get things into perspective.

    I haven’t conquered it but practising conscious gratitude, and regular exercise certainly help keep it in perspective.

    1. Thanks for the kind words Matt. I’m really glad I wrote this post (and in the newsletter today), as I think it’s helped quite a few people, not just myself. Sorry to hear you’re suffering too – I hope things improve for you soon.

  32. It takes courage to admit suffering, a lot of courage. Thanks for your courage to speak up, Paul, and hope you start feeling better as we approach spring!

      1. To overcome the blues, one thing that I do is watching youtube old music videos of my past favorites. It always makes me feel better somehow.

  33. I hope you get better. I have been on a roller coaster. For me I think I already had a mild case before the pandemic hit and it got worse a few months after. I also won’t tell you what to do. I find it a bit disrespectful for someone that doesn’t know how you are feeling to try to tell you how to feel better. Take care and I hope you find the best solution that works for you.

  34. I always read sooner or later anything that you write but I never left a reply till now. Maybe it is just that you are in this marathon for so long and always among the ones in front if not the first one and this made a small or a bigger part of you to just come out and say, I did my part. Nevertheless I hope you will still make our lives easier with your passion for SQL without jeopardizing your well being.

  35. Well done on being so brave and sharing your experience and feelings. It’s refreshing to read something so honest and relatable and I’m sure it will have helped many people feel they are not alone, and hopefully encourage them to reach out to someone and start a conversation. Community is massively important for our wellbeing and you have a whole SQL community there for you. Wishing you, and anyone else going through something similar, the very best, and keep talking – it really does help.

  36. Hi Paul, for two decades and more you were and continue to be the inspiration and beacon of light in the path of many of us who follow and love the world of SQL Server.
    Many technical communities around the world give thanks for opening you heart and sharing what happens to you and it happens to all of us in this world pandemic. a lot of thanks to the great human being in Paul’s heart.

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