The Jacobs Ladder Effect-for depression & fatigue

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 6-10-2020

“There is beauty even in pain. Beauty in hard paths and difficult choices. Beauty as a messy person in a messy life. Character and lessons are built when we accept our imperfections and try regardless of fear, barriers and judgements.” -EaE

       I would call myself a busy body, perhaps maybe even a bit addicted to adrenaline. I have hit slumps as well, depression consistently being a major factor. On one of my more recent slumps, I found myself trying to get my cardio back up. I chose the Jacobs Ladder. (Pre quarantine of course) For anyone that does not know, it is a workout machine that requires us to strap on a waist belt before we incline our way up a revolving ladder. The higher on the machine we get, the faster the ladder goes, forcing us to move at a quick and exhausting pace. The lower the ladder, the slower it goes, an easier more reasonable pace. This latter makes for an incredible workout!

     As I climbed the Jacobs ladder, I realized that not only is it a great workout, but an incredible metaphor for humans and their daily lives. Much like the ladder, we need momentum, when we fall off the ladder, it is that much harder to get the momentum back. Why? Primarily because slowing down means we are still present and actively climbing, but falling off requires us to process the experience, get up and try again. Way more exhausting and draining. This is the unfortunate vicious cycle that many people have found themselves falling into:

  • Depression
  • Decrease in motivation & energy
  • Decrease in activity
  • Increase in fatigue & sedentary activities
  • Shame

(Repeat cycle if symptoms are not tended to)

     We can think of this cycle much like the flush of a toilet or the action of a tornado, as humans we plummet further and further if we stay sedentary. The other unfortunate thing is we often feel lonely in a cycle such as this. Especially if our peers/ family members are on their ladders going full force, and we feel way too exhausted to get up and grab the rung again. Common barriers to this can include:

  • Other underlying Mental health conditions
  • Family demands
  • Occupational stressors
  • Self-Hate/ Inner critic
  • Substance Abuse

There is a practical way to get back on the Jacob’s ladder, and there is also a very self-sabotaging/ self-destructive way to try to do it. First, I will go over the self-destructive way. Shame, as I mention in the very last step of our depressive rut cycle, is a powerful emotion. Shame may cause us to never want to try. Also, shame may cause us to compulsively do things that are impractical. If we are off the ladder, feeling the shame kick in, we may get the compulsion to jump on the top of the rungs and sprint full force. This will surely lead to exhaustion, fatigue and burnout. Then before we know it, we have fallen off the ladder again. We are defeated “yet again” and we feel like we “failed”. The result might be more shame, more depression cycles, and hence more time off our ladder. What causes a person to go from binge eating all week to then starving themselves? Shame. What causes a person to go from being sedentary for an entire month to running a 12 miler in one day? Shame. What causes a person to sink into a depression and then want to give up the moment they grabbed the ladder rung because “what’s the point I won’t’ be able to keep up the pace or do this forever” and then they quit?? Shame.

     The practical and healthy way humans gain momentum, is by grabbing one ladder rung first. Or metaphorically speaking, working one simple goal at a time. Take things step by step, day by day, do not rush! Grab the second latter rung, then ‘you put your left foot in and then your right foot in!’ Before we know it, we will be climbing again. But not so fast! When we are at the bottom of the ladder, we tend to want to rush up it, but what are we racing for? Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Need I mention the last time I jumped and sprinted on that ladder I regretted it terribly after? It was not a practical pace; it was not something I could sustain forever and therefore when I fell, I fell hard. It takes time to build back momentum in life, and we cannot do it by force. Rather, we do it with daily habits and daily self-care. My grandmother had told me a long time ago that many people rush, and there is no need to try and keep up with them, “go your own pace Elisa, no matter how fast or slow, as long as it is your pace”.


     If/ when possible go to your local gym and find that ladder. A stair master is also a great substitute machine. Get a feel for the exercise. Take your time, listen to your mind and body, and truly do it for you and you alone. When you are tired, slow down the pace. Just do not stop. When a burst of energy comes in, be honest with yourself and pick up the pace. If you are tired again, slow the pace down again and do not shame yourself for it. This is what humans are and what humans will do. Humans get tired, our momentum will slow down sometimes. Humans are also resilient and capable of speeding up.

     Now as far as life goals and picking up momentum in daily activitiesWhat is your pace? How will you get back on the metaphorical Jacobs ladder? Or, if you are on the ladder, what has been stopping you from picking up the pace? What contributes to you falling off it? Do you use activities for constructive purposes and in constructive ways? Or do you find that you are self-destructive, even with perceivably healthy activities? If you keep jumping and sprinting on the ladder and then falling off, are you able to grab and walk up the ladder instead? If you want so badly to speed up the pace but find that you cannot will yourself to do it, is it an issue of motivation, an issue of self-care, or an issue of expectations you hold on yourself that are perhaps unreasonable?


One of the never-ending quests many people will find themselves in is the quest for balance. Just when we believe we may have found it; life circumstances can change. Medical conditions, mental health issues, having kids, as well as harder/ longer work demands, financial strain etc. I acknowledge and sympathize with the fact that when we are drained due to depression and other life factors it is the hardest thing in the world, to get up and get our momentum back. However, I truly believe that one of the most important things a person can do when they are at the lowest of lows is keep a hold of the ladder, and pace up it slow. Not for societal demands/ expectations, not for torture, but for our own self-care. It is not about what we do on the best of days, it is about what we do on the worst days. That is what will define what kind of future may lie ahead of us. There will be life circumstances that cause us to cling onto the ladder with one hand only, while struggling with all of our might to get the other hand clasped on the rung. There will be periods of time when we are walking up so slow, we wonder “What the hell is the point of this?” The answer is, we will find out later.

Published by functionallymentall

Social Worker, Writer, USAF Veteran

One thought on “The Jacobs Ladder Effect-for depression & fatigue

  1. Awesome blog. I LOVE how you (at least for myself) can make me put myself into your words and somehow see where I might need to pick up the pace, slow down and reflect , or simple finding a way to find the courage to hold my head high and just keep going. Thank you and keep the blogs coming.

    Liked by 1 person

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