I once read that being depressed is like walking while wounded in a battlefield.
Yes, I know that sounds a little confusing so let me explain.
Depression is an illness, a mental one, but an illness nevertheless. And like any other illness, it can be crippling. Bed rest may be required, physical activity diminishes, appetite and sleep patterns change, focus and cognitive functions drop, and motorskills are reduced. But unlike most other physical illnesses, depression is treated differently.
Thus, the analogy of the walking wounded.
To suffer from an illness, is to be wounded. A depressed person, however, has to keep walking despite their wounds. We can’t call in sick to work. We can’t pop a dose of DayQuil to reduce the static. We can’t skip happy hour for feeling unhappy. We can’t lie in bed, skip our chores, and not bathe because our energies are nonexistent. We can’t make our mental illness our excuse for our limitations. Socially speaking, we are not there … yet.
So how can we manage to keep walking when we are about to collapse? Below are a few strategies that have helped me keep afloat even during my most dangerous depressions.
Take it one day at a time
When caught in an episode of depression, it feels like the days are endless. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. There is only darkness. But alike all things, this too shall pass. This is why we need to take our depression one day at a time. If we don’t and we think ahead for days, weeks, or even months, this battle will feel overwhelming and impossible to bear. The “one day at a time” mantra allows us to hope … hope that tomorrow may be different. This is our light at the end of the tunnel.
I know. It’s tempting to drown your sorrows in a bottle or take relief from a temporary high. But alcohol, aside from being a distraction, is a depressant. Alcohol can lower serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain, or the neurotransmitters that help regulate mood. This means that after the temporary sedative effect you get when drinking, your mood will drop even more. Dipping into an episode already diminishes our ability to think clearly and rationally. Alcohol alters these perceptions, negatively. I am not even talking about the effects alcohol can have with medication. Thus, drinking alcohol to overcome a depression is as sensible to me as is eating sugar to overcome diabetes.
Lean on your support system
There is a reason why having intimate relationships is one of Maslow’s human needs. We all need a sense of belonging and love. Unfortunately, our depressions inhibit our self-esteem. We feel like burdens and unworthy of love. So we isolate. Having a proper support system is the affirmation we need to hear to know that we are not a burden and we are worthy of receiving love. In a perfect world, I suggest having two forms of support: personal and professional. Your friends and/or family can be your greatest cheerleaders, rooting for your recovery, and reminding you who you truly are. While mental health professionals are the safe space you need to vent and to learn the tools to achieve wellness.
Read a book
Yes, a book. Put the phone away. Turn off the television. We live in fast times. And a depression slows us down. The quickness of social media and our television shows paint us a false image of what we can’t achieve. We know that most people only put their best face forward on Facebook and filter their lives on Instagram. And not having one of these photoshopped lives is a blow to our self-esteem. So why be so masochistic? Instead, we could relish in the opportunity depression can bring: introspection. We tend to think more while living in darkness because we are forced to tap into other senses to see. A book offers perspective and the opportunity to focus in-depth and ruminate.
Maintain a routine
The first time I attended a support group everyone kept talking about maintaining their daily routines. Naively, I asked why this was important. Everyone kindly explained that structure gives us some necessary predictability. For us bipolar folk, unpredictability and mood instability is our norm. And another one of Maslow’s needs is to have safety and security in the form of stability. Therefore, by creating and maintaining a routine, we are controlling the stability of our environment and by extension our mental wellness. I take comfort in knowing that even if I can’t predict my mood tomorrow, I know that at 4 p.m. I’m taking my dogs out for a walk and that coffee proceeds tea, every morning. I overthink everything. My daily habits should not be included in “everything.”
Do one or two spontaneous things a day
Routine though crucial, can also lead us into a dangerous comfort zone. Dopamine, the “happy” neurotransmitter, is associated with risk, newness, and spontaneity – or discovering new things. So if we don’t experience anything out of the ordinary, we are reducing our potential for increasing our dopamine levels. We oddly need a combination of familiarity (routine) and newness (spontaneity). Side note, finding the right equilibrium between these two is what makes for long-lasting-happy relationships (according to Esther Perel). But being bipolar is to be naturally spontaneous and impulsive (at least in my case) so we need a little more conscientious structure. That is why I advise do one or two spontaneous things a day. These can be anything from taking a different way home to trying out a new restaurant without Yelp stalking it first.
I could go on and on and on with this blog post. But I’ll call it quits until our next episode. I will however, leave you with this quote by Yoko Ono,
“A lot of things have been thrown at me in life, and I've got through it all without a rule book, taking it one day at a time.”
One day at a time, that’s my rulebook.
Tune in to OWN IT’s next episode, Surviving and Thriving from a Toxic Relationship.
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The Ins and Outs of OWN IT: How to Show Bipolar Who's the Boss
A blog for people with mental illness written by an unstable, unpredictable, and uninhibited woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder
Covers all topics including relationships, coping mechanisms, entertainment, and everyday resources
Updates available on Instagram @jackie_loweree , and if you don't have an Instagram, no problem, just check my site - all posts will be here
Disclaimer: OWN IT is a first-hand account of bipolar disorder designed to orient those diagnosed with mental illness. It by no means intends to offer medical advice. If you are diagnosed with an illness, or think you may suffer from one, please seek professional help. Otherwise, take my words lightly and have fun reading!