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Staying Afloat During Depression

I have tried to write this blog countless times over the course of the past few weeks, but the words would not come. 

Come to think of it, I’ve tried to do a lot of things over the past few weeks, until eventually I just gave up, sinking into my own private despair. Putting forth the effort to clean the house, to do my coursework for graduate school on time, to shower regularly, to write – it was too much. 

It wasn’t until I paused for a moment, looking at the mound of laundry on the chair in the living room and then at my calendar with a list of items not marked off, that I knew something wasn’t right. But then I looked within and I realized. I saw only emptiness. This was real. I’m depressed. 

It has been some time since I’ve had a full blown depressive episode. I almost felt distant from it, like it wasn’t really happening to me, but that was because I was gradually shrinking away from the world. The messiness of my home can be fixed, and tasks can be completed. I can find a way to drag myself to the shower – but what of the emptiness? Who or what is going to fix that? 

This is not to say I do not believe treatment works. It does. It has kept me afloat, with only a few disruptions. But that hollow inside amplifies all the mental and physical anguish that depression brings. It echoes in the silence. 

When you are in a depressive episode, sometimes the first step is recognizing that is your reality at the moment. But you can’t stop there. You can’t wallow in it. So, what comes next? What steps can you take to ease the degree to which you experience depression? 

What do you do when you’re stuck in a depressive episode? 

1. Reach out

Your instincts say to withdraw, to avoid social events and stay home for days without stepping outside for even a moment. This is a time during which you should not trust those instincts. Isolation only makes depression worse. Now, that is not to say that you should become a social butterfly. In fact, it might be a good idea to take it easy so you do not become overwhelmed. But reaching out to others instead of withdrawing inward is an important step in coming out of a depressive episode.

2. Keep moving

Sometimes, when we are depressed, our world starts to slow down. We stop doing things we normally enjoy or let responsibilities slide. While it may be a good idea, or even necessary, to lighten the load a bit during a depressive episode, it is important that we do not stop moving completely. When you stop moving, you settle into the depression, rusting in the endless rain pouring over you.

3. Track your symptoms and try to maintain a schedule

Tracking symptoms helps not only you, but your doctor, as you progress forward. Additionally, it is important to try to maintain a healthy routine, which includes diet, exercise, and a normalized sleep schedule.

4. Seek help

Treatment is an important part of managing bipolar disorder. This may involve therapy or medication, or a combination of these two. I believe that treatment also extends to our lifestyles – our diet, exercise, and sleep cycles.

5. Remember it gets better

Episodes end. This pain will end. Sometimes we have to endure it for a short time, and other times it may seem unending. In all honesty, we don’t know how long an episode will last, and that can be discouraging or scary. But the nature of bipolar disorder is that episodes end, and we can continue moving on with hope and stability. 

These are just tips that help me, and in reality, no one thing is going to take away your symptoms. But I believe it gets better. Even now, as I sit here writing this one word at a time, my mind numb, I know this will end. I have hope; and that hope brings freedom from all of the negative thoughts that tell me I’ll be here forever – though I’ll admit, sometimes I still believe them. 

You can find relief. It may take time and a lot of hard work, but remember, episodes end. It isn’t forever after all. 

Comments

Great blog. You are not alone in this. These depressive 'lapses,' I mean. I've had Bipolar Disorder for 26 years and I'm still learning. The first time my meds 'burned out' or stopped working was the worst because I didn't know what to do. I had drifted far, far away from psychiatric support ...was getting my antidepressants nd mood stabilizer from a family friend long distance over the phone in LA. The reason I'd drifted was my nomadic career. I see this now. At the time, I was in radio...and the types of stations I sought to work at were very adventurous musically, and the sad fact is that people like to hear familiar music more than stuff they have never heard! So my 'stations' went off the air and I'd have to move to a different state. AND I worked 14 hour days...total workaholic. When the bottom fell out, I was shocked and did not know what to do. I self medicated. The mixed mood episode lasted three years. I moved across the country and was involuntarily hospitalized and met the psychiatrist I still see today. He resembles the actor Richard Dreyfuss in sorta cynical affect...that we were bigger than bipolar with his... 'Hey, let's not take all this too seriously, you'll be feeling better in a few days..' and I trusted him. In three days I was straightened out. Under his care, even when I tried the hardest, I have had depressive episodes lasting for months, one time a year. But it's darkest before the dawn. You can go to bed one night and wake up feeling completely different when the right meds kick in and the 'right meds' are different for everybody. Right now, 26 mos stable. It could change any day. I keep my routine the same when I am in an 'episode' I just don't enjoy it to the same extent. Once again, great blog on this 'med burnout' 'depressive lapse' syndrome. People rarely discuss it.

Thank you Charlie for the reminder that "episodes end" even when it feels as though they never will, and for sharing your hope.

I am trying to learn all I can about no polar my girlfriend has it .i want to understand so that I may can make it easier for her.

When I am ok mentally I make a video of myself reassuring myself that everything is fine and this depression will pass & It is not forever. Sometimes I write it too.

This helps me A LOT.

Thanks for the concrete suggestions on how to stay afloat during depression. And that it will end. The recent holidays got me off of my routine (therapist closed, gym closed, relative in town). Now I have an emotionally triggering trip to take. I can take as much of my "routine" with me as possible. Good sound advice.

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