One blue day is all it takes for me to start worrying that I’m relapsing into acute depression. This morning I woke up and felt the tugging sensation of low mood deep in my chest before I’d even opened my eyes. It’s a feeling that always accompanies my depression, as if I’ve swallowed a stone and it’s sitting inside me, heavy and indigestible. It replicates how it feels after something terrible has happened – a bereavement, a relationship break-up – so this morning I lay still for a while trying to remember what the terrible thing might be, before I realised that there is nothing. I feel miserable and there is no “reason” that I can identify. During the past few weeks, my days have felt too short to accommodate all that I want to achieve, but today feels frighteningly empty, stretching out ahead of me. That’s when the thought pops into my mind: oh, no, here we go again.
I’ve had plenty of exposure to cognitive techniques – I use them all the time at work with clients, for goodness sake. I know what I’m supposed to do to control the worry and challenge depressive thinking. Panicked Me is yelling, “You see this? This is just how I felt last time when I was beginning to get depressed. I thought I was past that, but it’s back again, I’m getting ill!” I look to Sensible Me, to see what my Wise Mind has to say about it. Sensible Me is always full of good advice, and today is no exception. “Don’t get carried away! This is just one low day. On the scale of things, your mood’s not even that low. This is absolutely just a blip. You’ll probably be fine tomorrow.”
Trouble is, although I know on an intellectual level that Sensible Me is probably correct, on a gut level I believe that Panicked Me is correct. I’ve had two days in a row of sleeping much more than usual, often a sign that my mood is dipping. Last week I felt clear-headed and “normal” following two weeks of mild hypomania, and maybe I’m due for a pendulum-swing in the opposite direction. My bipolar moods are like a Newton’s Cradle; it may take a short while for the energy to throw my mood in the opposite direction, but it always happens eventually. All I’m clinging onto right now is that just as the balls on a Newton’s Cradle swing progressively shorter and shorter distances, so are my moods since I started treatment. I’m still hoping that sooner or later, I’ll achieve the still point that is emotional equilibrium.
Amazed that you can write so soon about this, and with such honesty and clarity. Maybe the blog is your form of therapy – I hope so. Just getting things on paper/computer screen can be really helpful. Hope this part of the bipolar cycle (if that’s the right phrase) doesn’t last too long, and doesn’t dip too low. As for me, I’m not able to sleep much at the moment, not sure if it’s depression connected or what!
Hi Henry, it is indeed a form of therapy – I literally didn’t know what else to do with myself today, and the more objective, “journalistic” piece I was was working on yesterday isn’t going anyway. I’m hoping this will be short-lived, and not expecting it to be too deep, as my last upswing was really mild. Sorry to hear you are not sleeping, insomnia really sucks. Hope that improves for you soon.
I’ve read a few of your posts recently and am amazed at how well you hit the nail on the head. I suffer from an Anxiety disorder and while this and depression are very different, there are also a lot of similarities. (Plus, I guess they overlap quite a lot. I’ve never suffered from depression but I can understand how an anxious person could become depressed, and of course vice versa.) I don’t get my low mood/worries/anxieties in my chest – I get clouds. I’ve had them since I was small but I’m only now learning what they mean. In my mind, these are real clouds that hover at the top of my nose, right between my eyes and block out my usual sunny self. Sometimes the cloud will stay to the side and something – be it laughter, a distraction or an even bigger worry – blows it away. Sometimes it’s just a little white one, the sort of cloud I believe most people deal with, but other times I wake up and I feels like the planet has decided to store its entire weather system in front of my face. I still haven’t quite got the hang of getting rid of it – a few sessions of CBT have been helpful but not enough – but since my diagnosis I have started to understand what it is, what it wants and what it means. I think sometimes all we can hope for is that we understand these little physical (well, mentally physical?) representations of our “problem”.
Sorry, I appear to have written you an essay. What I really came to say was that I love your blog and it’s so refreshing to find someone who can write about these things in such a clear way. Everyone suffers differently, no matter the problem, but the differences go a hell of a way to showing other people that they can find ways to deal with things. I hope you find your equilibrium soon.
Thanks for leaving a comment, Sophie, it really gives me a boost when someone takes the time to let me know they like my blog. When I had big problems with anxiety after I had my second baby, I used to feel like I wasn’t really in the same dimension as other people – that my body might be, but my actual self was floating far above, connected by a kind of cord. Luckily I had a really good GP who explained that this is quite common and is called depersonalisation. The image was very strong, and if I hadn’t had it explained to me, I would have worried I was really losing it!
That’s a really moving description of depression. It is a really physical sensation – I often feel as if it is actually happening somewhere deep inside my body. I hope it moves on soon for you.
I hate that feeling of dread when you feel like the control is being sucked away from you and you are being turned into a lump of misery. Knowing what might be coming makes it even scarier and I hate that too. However, one of the benefits of medication is that I know that it isn’t my fault, that I’m not weak or flawed, that I am suffering for an illness. This knowledge provides a thread to hang onto. Knowing that I am not alone in the dark provides another thread and your blog helps with that.
*from an illness
What a great illustration! I hope your pendulum does eventually find a balance. Well done for being able to write so coherently, especially during an uncertain time. I wish I could. 🙂
I understand all too well the analogy of depression feeling like you swallowed a rock, and it’s sitting there, pressing down (in my case on my heart). I deal with chronic depression and anxiety issues, and you have put into words alot of how I feel.
I’m not much of a wordsmith today, but I did want to comment on how evocative and powerful a post this is.
I hope you reach your balance; your equalibrium. (spelling)
Feeling very weighed down by my “stone” today…. feels like its brothers and sisters are weighing down my limbs, too. Thanks for your good wishes, really means a lot to me.
Lovely insightful description of bipolar illness.
Hard to hear, in some ways, too.
do you find medication helpful?
Hi Phil, I found antidepressants helpful for almost a decade, before this current episode. I’ve been trying atypical antipsychotics but they haven’t really delivered the stability I’d hoped for, now just started on lithium so we’ll see how that goes!
Hi PP, I haven’t been following you long but I am already identifying deeply with your posts. Although I have only been diagnosed with depression and anxiety I recognise a lot of your symptoms from my own experience. I think all forms of mental illness may follow a similar, if reduced pattern of highs and lows. When I’m down I suffer from hypersomnia and can sleep for up to 15 hours a day and still feel exhausted. This of course means that I get nothing done and therefore hate myself more for being so “lazy” and become more anxious at the list of tasks building up in front of me making me want to go to sleep and bloke it all out again and so on….. When I’m up I’m so excited to be able to do normal things like go to the shops, ride my bike etc. that I feel I should take advantage of the mood while it lasts and again spend no time doing the tasks I failed to do from before. Then I start to feel bad about that and the downhill starts again!
I’ve been on medication for some years now and, while it stopped me from hitting suicidal lows and kept me functioning during ‘normal’ life, it couldn’t cope with the extra stresses I was under while doing a degree at Cambridge Uni. I had a mostly hellish time there but I did see a psychoanalytical therapist (had last session last night) for over a year and I am now “fixed” (as far as anyone can be. I used to suffer the same panic when I felt a down coming on because there was nothing I could do to avoid it, I knew what was coming next and that it was stronger than me. Now I feel differently. The situations I was putting myself in were leading to the huge degrees of stress I was feeling and therefore my depressive episodes. I now know how to avoid these situations and am fiercely protective of my mental health. I refuse to do anything to jeopardise it. Now, when I do feel something coming, I immediately take steps to rectify it. I’m no longer afraid of my depression; it doesn’t control me any more. I feel like I’ve tamed a terrible beast but I still know that if I become complacent it will rear up and tear me to shreds again.
It’s taken a long time, a very good therapist and an immense effort on my part to reach this stage so I am not in any way saying that gaining control of your illness is something you, or anyone else, SHOULD be able to do if you just tried a bit harder (apparently what most people think, as if you are too lazy to do anything about it or something?!) but I am saying it CAN be done with the right treatment and enough time. Don’t give up, you will get there and you will have done something astonishing, something harder than anything most people will ever face in their lives. Be proud of yourself for being brave enough to fight back and say this will not beat me, not everyone does or is able to. We are the strong and we will survive.
Thank you for writing about your experiences and sorry for going on a bit but I think it’s so important to talk about mental health. Big love xxx
Hello Laura, thanks so much for leaving me a comment, really pleased to hear that you like my blog. For most of my life, my diagnosis has been depression and anxiety – I only got a new label this spring. I can really relate to a lot of what you write – I knew that I was putting myself in the way of too much stress in my job, but I’d been so well for so long (10 years) that I had stopped believing that I’d ever have a really bad episode again. And now here I am with over a year of fluctating mood because I didn’t take care of the stressors. I also think it’s important to talk about mental health A LOT and to let people know you can be a high achiever and have a mental health problem, there isn’t a certain “type” of person who gets mental health probs, it can happen to anyone. x
Dear PP, I hope the stones wash into sand soon for you. They do, you know, when the blue day or days pass. Keep writing please – you can see how many chords you are striking with so many people. Thanks 🙂
I know the changes you mention. For me too there is a change in sensory perception; colours become brighter or duller depending on whcih way its shifting.
Keep writing about it. I find it helps me, and your writing helps others.
Wow I thought I was the only one who woke up with a feeling of impending doom. Or the feeling of dread that something awful has happened. Thanks for sharing, I am relatively new to admitting I have mental health issues, and am getting help finally from a psychiatrist. Keep writing it helps me put into words how I feel so others can understand, I seem list for explanations at the moment.