Overcoming Depression: One Step At A Time

I started writing this blog post a few weeks ago when I was really in a low place. Some days it took me until 2:30 p.m. to get out of bed. I spent all day watching TV and I barely ate. Night after night, I was plagued by insomnia. Almost all of my groceries went bad each week because, even though I normally love to cook, I just couldn’t motivate myself to do it. I felt anxious and reclusive and just plain sad.

I’ll say upfront that I much prefer to write about my triumphs on the internet than my struggles. But it’s important to admit that some days (and even some weeks or months), depression and anxiety can smack me in the face out of nowhere. And it’s confusing, exhausting, frustrating and really sucky.

As a very achievement-oriented person, it’s hard not to feel ashamed when I slip into a depression like I did a few weeks ago. I struggled with thinking that if I just worked a little harder or had more discipline, I would be able to fix it and feel better. It’s so easy to be consumed by embarrassment, loneliness and shame. But I slowly committed to a few things that helped me make it through.

  • I made an appointment with my psychiatrist as soon as I recognized the problem and I got a new medication that has helped dramatically.
  • I went to therapy more.
  • I took melatonin at 10 p.m. each night to ensure I was getting enough sleep, which is especially crucial for people with bipolar.
  • I dove into self-help books.
  • I dragged myself to a coffee shop each morning to give me a reason to get dressed and leave the house.
  • I tried to create something each day, no matter how small (more on that later).
  • I reached out to friends as much as I could to keep from isolating myself.
  • I finally cleaned my disaster of a room and forced myself to keep it that way.
  • I spent as much time as possible outside and in nature.
  • I did yoga.
  • I started writing down things I’m grateful for every morning

And little by little, I started to feel better.

Now, a few weeks later, I’m happier than I have been in a long time. I feel like myself again, I’ve re-established my positive habits, I’m exercising, and my drive and motivation are back (I’m finally finishing this post!).

I get really caught up in all the things I’m not doing when my mental health is in a bad place. But I’ve found that I have to be proud of the progress that I do make on bad days, even if it’s just getting out of bed and leaving the house before noon. If I can hold onto that pride, it helps carry me into doing a little more the next day. And then a little more the next. Overcoming depression is all about baby steps. But slowly, one day at a time, I promise it gets better.

Bipolar II: How to Control Hypomania

The first time I experienced hypomania (the kind of “high” that comes with bipolar type II) I honestly thought I’d hit the lottery. All of a sudden I was finishing projects I’d put off for months, organizing everything around me without being prompted to and sleeping less but feeling more alert during the day.

I honestly thought I’d been cured somehow. I’d kicked ADD to the curb!! Woohoo!

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for the fun to stop.

I couldn’t turn my brain off. It felt like I was chasing a tennis ball around my brain about 100 times a minute. I was so scattered I didn’t even make sense half of the time. I made spreadsheets to organize everything in my life. And I hate spreadsheets.

Thankfully, my therapist identified my behavior as hypomania and diagnosed me with bipolar II – a really important breakthrough in my mental wellness.

(If you are unfamiliar with bipolar or would like to learn more, I suggest reading “Bipolar Breakthrough” by Ronald R. Fieve.)

So after going through spurts of hypomania a few times, I figured out the signs that I’d missed going in. So last week when I stopped sleeping and started rampantly cleaning, I knew I was headed back down the rabbit hole. While in some ways I know I have to let it run its course, here are three tricks I’m using to try to keep it from growing into buying-wifi-on-a-plane-because-I-cant-handle-being-sedentary-for-more-than-20-minutes (true story.)

  1. Sleep, sleep, sleep.

This has been the most important thing for me in combating hypomania. If I work to get my sleep schedule really regular it noticeably calms down the circus in my brain and gets it out of my system faster. Check out my sleep blog for my full list of tips on how to get to sleep faster and stay asleep.

  1. Take time to breathe.

Since my brain is so scattered I have a hard time calming down in any capacity. So it’s been really important for me to designate time to breathe and not fixate on getting anything done. If meditation is the trick for you – the Headspace app has proven to work well for me. If you have an Apple watch, the breathe function is also a great way to discretely pause your brain whenever you need it.

  1. Time yourself when working

Being so scattered, I can’t help jumping from project to project. So my therapist suggested I set a timer for 20 minutes and make sure I work on the task at hand exclusively for that time. After my timer I can jump around for a little while and then need to set another timer to work on another project.

How do you deal with hypomania? Let me know in the comments!