What it feels like to experience bipolar depression, and how I conquer it.
6 min read
It rushes in like a mountain of blackness. It smothers and crushes everything in its path. The destruction is overwhelming.
Bipolar depression is a fearsome beast. It steals the best of you leaving you feeling lifeless and worthless. The incessant internal pain can make you want to give up, but you must remember it doesn’t last forever.
I’m no stranger to bipolar depression. Coming up quickly on 50, I’ve got several decades of mental illness life experience. Although I hate it with every fiber of my being, I know the depression is a temporary enemy.
This is what it feels like to sink to this depth and how I survive each episode.
Author Note: I am not a mental health professional. Please do not use this post as medical advice. If you are experiencing bipolar depression, please seek the specialist care you need. This story shares my personal struggle and the things I do besides taking medication to fight the enemy.
‘Apathy’ might not be the right word to express how bipolar depression feels, but it’s the closest word I could find. Bipolar depression makes you feel as if you don’t care about anything. Your heart feels dead making you incapable of feeling any emotions.
The apathy spreads to all areas of your life. Relationships suffer. Hygiene gets neglected. Work may become impossible.
Try as you may, you can’t find the power to care about anything. It may be two weeks since you’ve bathed, but even your increasing odor holds no motivation.
The world melts into a gloomy gray with a heavy mist holding you down. And you no longer care.
‘Unmotivated’ isn’t a powerful enough a label to describe coping with bipolar depression. The part of you that inspires action gets stripped from your body.
Yes, you can see the vacuum cleaner sitting in the middle of the living room where it’s been for three weeks. Putting it away is an impossible task. Using it to remove the increasing amount of debris on the floor is unthinkable.
The dishes piling up around the sink bring no shame. Part of your mind knows you must clean them, but standing at the sink or loading the dishwasher requires may than you have to give.
Some people experiencing severe bipolar depression even stop eating. Self-care becomes overwhelming and unnecessary.
The depth of depression is hard to describe if you’ve never experienced it. It’s more than a matter of not wanting to do something. Rather, you become powerless to do anything.
A prisoner of your own body, you may think you can no longer control your arms or legs. Your cell is a world of inactivity.
Anger is usually a companion of bipolar depression for at least part of the episode. It’s typically unreasonable and unfounded. It requires neither trigger nor rationale.
Bipolar anger is usually worse for me during the last days of a manic episode. With mania, it’s more dangerous because you not only want to break things but you have the energy to do it.
The anger that accompanies bipolar depression is one that reaffirms all your negative emotions. It whispers to you how little people care about you. It lies to you about your worth. It deprives you of any good in your life.
Insignificant things such as the ticking of the wall clock or hum of the refrigerator become so enraging you want to tear your skin off. The wall of rage around you is impenetrable.
Even with the worst of what bipolar depression throws at you, there is hope.
Bipolar depression is temporary. It’s important to remind yourself of that truth often. The cycle can last for a while, but it always ends. Always.
I love spring. I love seeing the world come to life and everything turn green. Yet, something about spring triggers mania in me.
At first, mania is a marvelous thing because it helps me work in the yard and tackle spring cleaning. Mania never comes without bringing its antithesis, depression, close behind. That is not marvelous.
The depression starts in late spring. It can be a brief duration lasting only a few weeks, or it can hang on for months, dragging me down until late summer and even into fall. No matter the duration, it is always temporary.
Bipolar depression is temporary
I survive bipolar depression because I know it will end. Even if it stays with me until the leaves on the trees are golden shades of red and orange, I know it will end.
Slowly, in time, the anger, apathy, and lethargy leave your system. Your heart warms, and you remember how much you love your family and friends. Part of you wants to get out of bed and do things. You finally make an appointment to get your hair cut.
To survive the downturn of depression, I do a four things to prepare.
1. Keep a gratitude list
Gratitude is your best weapon for surviving bipolar depression. Every day, write down at least three things for which you are grateful. Remember to include the minor things such as a text message from a friend checking on you or the gentle rain falling outside.
Read this list as often as possible on your worst days. You’ll want to disagree with the positive message, but some of it will seep through to your heart.
2. Record past triumphs
Keeping a success list is another essential tool in your arsenal. On the good days, keep a record of every success. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. The point is to remind yourself of what you’ve already accomplished. If you’ve succeeded in the past, you will succeed this time, too.
Even on the worst days, there will be some successes. If you take a shower, eat a meal, or stay alive — those are all wins you should record. The better days will have bigger victories to chronicle.
3. Warn loved ones ahead of time
Your support team can best help you if they know what to expect. Let them know if there’s a time of year that’s especially hard for you. Tell them how you might act, and what warning signs spell trouble.
After a depressive episode, think back over the experience and look for new insights you might have gained into how depression affects you. Share these observations with those who love you.
4. Hold on to hope
Always keep hope in your heart. Every storm eventually ends, and so will the tsunami of bipolar depression. Not every day will be bleak and colorless.
The coming dawn needs to be the hope that keeps you afloat in the raging sea of depression. Write your words of hope where you can see them.
Keeping a journal is an integral part of my mental health. It’s where I write my gratitude list, my successes, and keep up with my experiences. Referring to my journals later gives me a basis to tell my family and friends what to expect and when to step in to help.
Reading my own words reminds me better times will return.
The depressive cycle will end. Find mantras to keep that truth front and center. For me, those words are, “This too shall pass,” “Everything is temporary,” and, of course, “Keep fighting.”
If you are experiencing bipolar depression, please hold on to hope. Bipolar depression never lasts forever, and you have survived this part of the cycle before. You will survive it again.
There’s a message floating around on social media I find helpful. It goes something like this: You’ve already survived all the worst things that have ever happened to you. That’s a 100% success ratio.
If you’re still alive, then that is your truth. The knowledge of having conquered your past struggles should continue to give you hope that you’ll survive your current trial.
The bipolar depression tsunami is painful. Its onslaught may make you want to give up, but please keep going. In time, the blackness will dissipate. The weight will become lighter. You will return to you again.
This post originally appeared in Invisible Illness on Medium.