Author: Valéry Brosseau
Bipolar depression is like an old faded blanket that’s worn out in just the right spots. The one I can’t bear to throw away. Once in a while it falls out of the closet and I pick it up, wrap myself in it and hide from the world. It’s comfortable, it’s familiar.
However, that is the problem; that comfort, that sense of familiarity. When I feel bipolar depression coming on, I feel two things. I feel anticipatory anxiety at the thought that things are about to get difficult, but I also feel a draw to what is known. I know how this works, I know what to expect. The good times are more precarious. When my mood is more stable, more neutral, I wonder when that will end, I wonder when I will crash. When the depression comes on I know that no matter how long it lasts, it will follow a pattern that I am familiar with.
When I fall into bipolar depression I lose myself. I become withdrawn. I constantly feel like I cannot connect with people. I have learned over the years to reach out for help when I need it and to ask for support from those who are close to me. Despite doing this, depression makes me feel lonely and alone. It makes me feel separate from those around me, different. I lose my usual energy and motivation. Being productive and keeping busy is usually a powerful coping mechanism for me, but when I am depressed I lose that part of me. I have trouble being active, I want to sleep too much, I procrastinate yet feel restless at the same time. My inability to be as productive as I normally am also brings on feelings of guilt. I blame myself for what I perceive as inadequacy and feel shame when I cannot meet the unrealistic expectations I set for myself.
Despite the difficulty of these feelings, I am familiar with them. I often want to sink deeper into them. I want to give in to the desire to go back to bed and sleep the day away. There is comfort in staring at my screen for hours getting nothing accomplished. I feel like there is no other option.
I have learned a few things I can do to mitigate my bipolar depression and to cope better before it comes on full force. If I start early enough, these things can be also be preventative and help me keep my head above water:
1. Break tasks into smaller steps and take breaks frequently: Depression can make any task seem herculean. It can make us feel as though every project is an insurmountable challenge and we are too intimidated to even get started. I find it very helpful to break any task or project into the smaller bite size pieces possible. If you have to contact 5 clients about something, break down more than you normally would. Make list of client contact information, draft email, proofread email, personalize to each client or add client names, send email. Perhaps normally this would feature on your to-do list as one simple bullet: “send email to clients”. Breaking it down into smaller steps makes it more manageable and allows you to take short breaks in between each step, which can be key to managing the little energy you have.
2. Leave the alarm clock outside of the bedroom: This one is quite simple. Leaving the alarm clock outside of the bedroom forces you to get out of bed to silence it. I find that having to get up and get moving makes it less likely that I will feel the need to go back to sleep. Many of us use our phones as alarm clocks; leaving your phone to charge in a different room and having to travel to that room in the morning will get you up and going.
3. Get out of the house: Getting out of the house at least once each day can be extremely helpful both in staying connected to the world and interacting with others, but also in helping us feel more productive. Going for a walk can suffice, as can running one easy errand each day. Fresh air can elevate our mood, even if only slightly, and interacting with other people can do the same. It can also alleviate the loneliness that depression makes us feel.
4. Get dressed: Many of us now work from home and this environment means we are spending our days without interacting with co-workers and without being out and about. It can be tempting to stay in comfortable clothes, or even pyjamas but doing the opposite can lift our mood, help us feel more productive and raise our self-esteem. Try to get dressed each day even if you have nowhere to go. Wear clothes you feel good in and while there is no need to put on a suit if you are staying home for the day, try to wear something that makes you feel professional and confident.
Bipolar depression can be extremely difficult to power through, especially when it follows a manic episode. The contrast between the two moods can make it extremely painful and hard to manage. There are things we can do to make sure we do not sink into the familiarity of depression and we do not give in to the desire to shut down. Though these tips are simple, they may not always be easy to accomplish. What matters is that we try and that we reach out for support when needed. We need to remember that we have survived this illness up to this point and we can continue doing that.