I certainly can’t say I didn’t see it coming. The signs were all there. I had just returned from flying high on an amazing vacation. My calendar was clear — nothing to look forward to on the horizon. Feeling bored and agitated. Getting annoyed at the little stuff that gets in the way of life. And yes, that’s really all it takes. Depression weaves itself back into the foreground whether I am on careful watch or living carefree, riding the hypomanic waves of my bipolar disorder.
Every single time I’m living without it, I think, “Wow, this could really be it – maybe I am in remission!” And every single time, I am wrong. All of my past experiences, all the lessons I’ve learned and all of those helpful tools I keep alive and well in my tool box waste away so easily when it hits. And when the depression does strike, it knocks me off my feet. Every. Single. Time.
So, why then, would this cycle look any different? Why do I automatically expect that I can dig myself out of it with sheer will? Will I ever truly believe what one therapist said to me when I kept blaming myself? This doctor told me over and over that I have a medical condition. If I truly believe this — if this becomes ingrained in my soul — I might stop beating myself up for calling out of work. I might stop feeling guilty when I cancel plans and isolate myself from everyone. And I just might find some much-needed compassion for myself.
Back when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and opted for a double mastectomy and reconstruction, I didn’t blame myself for the small but malignant lump that caused so much commotion. I didn’t expect it to go away on its own. I was diagnosed with a physical medical condition, and everyone knew and understood I had to take care of it. I didn’t feel guilty for being out of work for six weeks while taking time to heal. Because I can assure you, my bout with breast cancer was a piece of cake compared to this invisible illness of depression.
To this day, I handle physical diagnoses much better than mental ones — especially the mental one I know all too well. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 45 years ago, and I think I am still adjusting to living my life with it. I still struggle every single time I’m hit with another cycle. I still cringe every day I call out from work. I still worry about what other people think. And I still find a way to blame myself for a medical condition that is completely out of my control.
Now, if I’m still working on getting my head around this invisible disease, I can only imagine how difficult it is for others to understand and accept. Thankfully, my family, friends, and managers do their best to work with me when a down cycle disrupts my day-to-day responsibilities and commitments.
This latest depressive episode has hit me hard, and I have been out of work for three weeks. My part-time job at a gift store in a mall may not sound like the career of a lifetime, but it does wonders for me. I absolutely love every minute of it. I enjoy my coworkers, the clientele and the wonderful products we sell. I look forward to my shifts and take my job responsibilities seriously. The job gives me purpose and provides fulfillment.
But there’s always a shadow lingering over me, taunting me with doubts about my ability to keep this lovely little job. I was out for depression a few months ago but fortunately was able to return to my position once I felt better. This time, that voice of self-doubt has been telling me that maybe it’s time to throw in the towel. I mean, I’m not bringing home a big salary or seeking advancement. Maybe I should let it go so I don’t have to make the dreaded call to my manager about falling ill once again. Wouldn’t that make life easier for everyone?
Well, that would be the easy way out, and I don’t usually take the easy routes – I somehow find the most difficult paths in life and tackle them the best I can. I may succumb to the depression when it comes around and may not maneuver through it as well as I would like, but I won’t let it dictate my entire life. I am not going to quit the activities I enjoy sitting around waiting for the depression to knock me off my feet again.
Instead, I am going to fight to keep my lovely little job and work as much as I am able. I am going to continue to volunteer when I can, attend my support groups, and keep writing articles about mental health. Because when I’m not depressed, these are the things I do that bring me joy. And even if joy doesn’t hang around forever, I’m going to take every opportunity it offers. Because every single one of these joys help me stay afloat when I am drowning in a sea of depression. These joys make life worth living and make me happy. And I do believe I deserve every ounce of happiness I can find.