I wrote a couple of weeks ago about being bipolar. I wrote that piece while I was in a manic phase, and I told myself I’d write another one while I was in a depression, just to contrast. If I’m going to share about a binary disorder, it seems important to document it from both sides. The thing is, I went through the depression and was unable to write for the whole week. I queued up a full week of posts while I was manic and just scheduled them to publish over the week I knew I was going to be down. Planning ahead!
Writing about the manic side was easy. It just flowed out of me — kind of unstoppable. Writing about the depressive side is much more difficult. It takes a concerted effort and there’s a whole potential shame spiral involved. Anyone suffering from depression is probably intimately familiar with this.
I always underestimate the depression side of my mood swings. I know what the manic phase will be like. I know how much I’ll get done, how I’ll be full of ideas, how little sleep I’ll get, and how much that will wear me down over the course of it. In my mind the depression will just be a couple of days off, catching up on sleep, getting back to normal. It never is, and I don’t know why I never remember that.
Writing this post is an example of the difference. While I’m manic I assume that people want to hear what I have to say. I assume that people are interested in what’s happening to me, and that what I can share might help them in their own lives. When I’m depressed, it’s the opposite. I assume that nobody wants to hear from me, that nobody could possibly care enough about what I have to say for it to matter. I get down about my readership and listenership numbers — I don’t think there’s any number high enough to make me feel validated in those times. There’s no amount of affirmation that can make me feel like I’m OK.
My depressions are short enough that I can rest assured there’s some sunlight just over the horizon. Sometimes they’re as short as three days. It will usually be at about the middle of the run that I’ll realize that what I’m feeling doesn’t reflect the reality around me. Unlike the manic phases, where I’m immediately aware of what’s happening and am cognizant of my mental state the entire time, depression settles in more slowly and feels more real. At the point I finally become aware of it, I have the good fortune of being able to counter the dark thoughts by repeating “this isn’t real,” and knowing from experience that I’ll be proven right, eventually. I know a lot of people who suffer from depression who don’t have that good fortune. They suffer from it for long enough periods that there’s no way to convince themselves it isn’t real. It becomes real, just by existing for so long. And when I’m floating there in my dark thoughts, climbing into the This Isn’t Real Lifeboat, my heart goes out to all of the people who are feeling what I’m feeling and don’t have that same assurance.
So I’m writing this after the fact, after rising above sea level. The depression lasted a week, and now I’m back to stable. Based on the patterns I track, this will last at least a few weeks before I have to deal with the rise and fall again. During that normal time, I’ll have normal ups and downs like any normal person. I’ll get things done like a normal human adult, day by day. Good things and bad things will happen, but they won’t seem like the greatest thing in the world, nor the worst thing that could possibly happen. They’ll just seem like normal things.
As I have for the last 20 years, I’ll deal with it as it happens. I’ll work with my psychiatrist to stay as stable as possible, and maintain the tools that I’ve developed for getting through the mood swings — the first and foremost being open and honest communication with those around me. As I’ve said before, talking about bipolar (and by the same token depression) is significantly harder for me than talking about ADHD, but doing so can make the difference between keeping and losing friends, loved ones, and even family. Most people are a lot more understanding than you give them credit for, especially when you’re depressed. If you’re having a rough time, talk to someone. Do it for me, and do it for yourself. You won’t regret it.