We all know the symptoms—sadness for no apparent reason, lethargy, sleeping too much, self-doubt, lack of confidence, and a general malaise. But knowing and recognizing these symptoms doesn’t automatically reverse the onset of a down cycle. Depression always finds a way to weave its way back into my life regardless of what I am doing. And each time, I embark on a new quest to quicken the episode and lessen its intensity.
My current depressed state emerged out of nowhere. I was enjoying a myriad of activities—a part-time job at a gift store, volunteering at a no-kill animal shelter, visiting family, and taking long walks with my dog in my neighborhood. I also recently added social outings to my calendar, like getting together with friends at the movies or meeting for lunch. In fact, I just met my sister-in-law for lunch a few days ago and ended the evening with a social media post claiming, “All in all, a fabulous day!” As the sadness crept in, worry and fear clouded my thinking. How would I handle an upcoming birthday celebration with family? How will I fill my calendar to avoid inactivity? What can I do to escape the impending doom?
One thing I realized is that no matter what I do, the mood needs to take its course. I can’t wave a magic wand and make it disappear. I need to ride the wave even during the low tides, excavate those tools I’d gathered along the way and use them. I need to hold on to the truth that “this too shall pass.” Sometimes I roll my eyes as I hear tired old clichés like this one, but I suppose they’re clichés for a reason. If nothing else, I am certain I will emerge from the darkness at some point. And perhaps since I caught it before it knocked me down completely, my actions and thoughts could lighten its impact.
As I look around, I am amazed by the resilience of so many people in this world. Those with so many challenges, obstacles and forces out of their control. Good souls who take two steps backward for every step forward. They are everywhere, somehow, some way making it through tough times. So why am I complaining? I have a loving husband, a caring and supportive family, good friends, and a roof over my head. How does a morsel of fear and doubt creep back into my thoughts when there is no reason? It’s the illness at work, beating down the door of my mind, spouting lies about myself and creating fear out of nothing. I have to be vigilant in my quest to push those thoughts away, because if I don’t act quickly, they spread like wildfire.
Just like hypomania, the depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder appear and feel real. And the more I give in to the beliefs, the more trouble I encounter. While soaring in a hypomanic episode, I am invincible and can handle anything I find. If I hear about a job opening, I apply and handle the interview perfectly, persuading the hiring manager I am the perfect candidate. I accept positions I may not be able to handle in a month’s time. I meet new people, who quickly become my best friends. I have every intention to get together with each of them regularly without realizing there aren’t enough hours in the day to fit in new social engagements on top of that new job I accepted. I overcommit to the point of burn out and then am left to pick up the pieces when I am simply unable to fulfill all the obligations I make.
When the depression hits, I start withdrawing from everything and everyone—I might miss days at work, put off dates on my social calendar, and begin isolating myself from the world. Of course, stopping activities and backing down from responsibilities make me feel worse, and the downward spiral of self-loathing sets in. I am left helpless and hopeless wondering how I can dig myself out.
At this point, I must remember the illness does not define me—it simply makes life more challenging. I may not want to go for a walk, get together with friends or attend a support group. I may try to tell myself that it’s a good time to rest. But, I know better. It’s during these times that staying active is vital for my mental health. I may stumble and fall, but I have to get right back up and keep moving forward. I may face obstacles along the way, but I need to understand the pathway to recovery can be bumpy at times. I need to remind myself that I always persevere, even during the most difficult times. I am resilient, strong, and will forge ahead, even when I find myself in a cycle of doom.