I had a completely different post planned for today, a post about things shiny and new. But as I look out my studio window at day four of clouds and pouring rain, I don’t feel shiny and new. I feel old and weary, dissatisfied and disinterested.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath, picturing all the things I have to keep me satisfied and interested. “This’ll pass,” I tell myself. When I spot my furrowed brow in the mirror I stop and force myself to smile. I consider shopping. Or taking a nap.
These are the things I have to do sometimes to get through the day. These are my tools – tools for coping.
Many people are surprised to find I struggle with bipolar disorder. In fact, I bet you’d be surprised at the number of people in your own life who live with some form of depression, anxiety, or other chemical imbalance.
That’s why I felt it was time to pause my normal talk of doo-dads and gizmos to address the tools I use every day for working, playing, living.
I am a huge advocate of talk therapy and happily confess to a weekly session with my psychologist. I think everyone should regularly enjoy some type of counseling. It is an amazing relief to verbally spew all your thoughts at a person who has absolutely no link to the other facets of your life. Just saying things out loud can help you recognize another side to the story or the solution to a problem. Sometimes input is good. Other times a wake-up call is necessary. At no time should anyone be ashamed to ask for a good listener.
2. Flood your system with endorphins.
You’ve heard the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it.” Well, that’s one way to temporarily relieve depression. Even a forced smile sends bio-feedback telling your body you are happy. That feedback prompts a release of endorphins that, in turn, increase your actual feeling of happiness. Re-creating a positive experience is another way to boost your mood. I, for one, do this through shopping. Going to a store I like, buying something inexpensive, and getting good service make me feel better. As a result, I own a lot of nail polish. Other people do this by eating “comfort food,” lighting a favorite candle, or taking a bath – activities that trigger a good memory or feeling of happiness, again, releasing endorphins.* Endorphins are also produced during exercise and – oh, I’m going to go there – sex. I give you permission to get some. You’re welcome.
3. Take a pill.
I actually take four pills. Every morning. What I take isn’t important, but, like therapy, I know there’s no shame in taking it. I am very lucky to have a psychologist and a psychiatrist that work together to provide the right medicinal/counseling cocktail for me. Both doctors understand my desire to constantly evaluate my quality of life and tweak my treatments as I change and new options become available.
4. Be open.
For a very long time my struggle was attributed to hormones, a penchant for drama, or being an only child. I believed these things, too. After all, there is no definitive way to diagnose most illnesses of the brain. Even after I conceded to talk therapy I insisted I could be “cured” without medicine. I was wrong. It has taken six years to find the right medicine for me, but I am not “cured.” I’ll never be cured. My bipolar disease and I are life partners just like all those people living with diabetes, asthma, attention deficit, or arthritis. Also, like for those people, there is no panacea. Sometimes talk therapy is enough to control symptoms, often diet and exercise help, medicine is another of many options. See a doctor, make a plan, execute, and learn from it. Repeat. Medicine will make advances, discoveries will be made, your body will change. Stay informed and remain open to all possibilities.
Actually, that last bit is something worth remembering in health and in life so I’ll say it again.
Stay informed. Remain open to all possibilities.
In my tool bag I also have a supportive husband. He knows the difference between my personality quirks and the symptoms of my illness, some of which I do unconsciously. When he notices certain behavior patterns he very gently initiates a conversation about how I feel, how I’ve been feeling, and whether or not it is time for a change. Neither my husband nor I are doctors. We are not experts on bipolar disorder or depression. We are experts on me, and these are the tools I have found to improve my quality of life. Some might work for you, some might not. For instance, Adam King shares an amazing essay chronicling his journey with depression and offering resources for others “seeking a way out” of suffering. If you do decide to invest in any of the tools I use, I suggest you begin by consulting a trained therapist.
Let me end this rather heavy post with that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Chemical imbalances and mental illness are real. What you are feeling is not a figment of your imagination and it is not abnormal. Sometimes sadness is sadness and drama is just drama, but sometimes they are something more. It is okay to wonder if it’s something more. It is okay.
It is all going to be okay.
*I am by no means advocating binge eating or shopping. Those particular actions signal a form of self-medication and need to be acknowledged as symptoms of something else. I am recommending you enjoy a little bit of something good to make you feel good.