When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar Type 2 disorder back in 2008 I became very vigilant about taking my medication. I made sure that I took the tablets that I was prescribed and I made sure that I took them at about the same time every day. So rarely would I miss a day’s medication. I was the perfect mental health patient. Or was I? Was I winning the war against my mental illness?
But I’m Taking My Meds
I couldn’t understand why after months of taking my medication exactly how I was told, that I was not getting better. I had definitely had periods of improvement where I would feel relatively stable. These periods might last a couple of days or even a couple of weeks. But inevitably I would fall back into the depths of depression. Back into the pit of nothingness that made me feel that life just was not worth living. The medication did a great job of ceasing my mania. But the depression persisted. What was I doing wrong? I was sticking to my regime of medication. So I should have been getting better.
It took being suicidal, going through electro-convulsive therapy and many hospital admissions for me to realise one truth of mental illness. You can’t fight it with just one weapon. You have to take out an entire military offensive upon it. You have to use every weapon in your arsenal to kick it’s arse. It’s not an easy battle and you have to commit to getting up each day and waging war, but it is possible to reach a point of recovery. With the right weapons and an army behind you, you can keep depression at bay. So what are my weapons? There are so many. Let’s look at just a couple.
The Right Medication
Having good medication and being diligent at taking them is essential (if they are prescribed for you of course). For this though you need a good psychiatrist and general practitioner (part of your army) to work together to get the mix right. It took approximately ten years for me to find the right combination of meds. It’s a long hard road sometimes to find the right mix but it’s definitely where your arsenal begins.
Therapy is Key
Therapy is my next go to. I have spent countless hours in therapy learning strategies and techniques to battle depression. For a very long time I was in therapy learning lots of interesting things and not putting a single one into practise. I was going through the motions of attending my therapist’s office (another army officer) but not engaging into what she was teaching.
Therapy is so much more than listening and talking. It is taking on board the strategies that the therapist teaches you and putting them into practise in your everyday life. It is about being ever vigilant about your thinking and being completely committed to your recovery. Therapy is hard work that you must do every day. Like any skill staying well takes practise and commitment and guidance. But it is possible. After ten years of therapy I still practise the techniques that my therapist gave me on day one.
Movement and Exercise
Movement and Exercise is my next strategy for getting and staying well. To be honest I have never liked exercise. None of it. Never. I hate going to the gym. Can’t stand walking up hills. Detest boxercise. But I have learnt that moving, somehow, some way, forms an important and vital part of my recovery. I know when I am sitting for hours on the couch vegetating and thinking about how miserable I feel, I know that I need to move. And to be honest when I am depressed I feel miserable no matter what I do. I may as well be miserable and move on the off chance that it will help me feel better.
Now I totally get it though, the very last thing that you feel like doing when you’re depressed is getting out of bed or off the couch and going for a walk. I get that. But I know that when I feel that way, that is exactly the time that I need to move most.
And this is where your army comrades come in. Tell them how you’re feeling, call in your support crew, ask them to get you off the couch. Have someone available that can walk with you, even if it’s only around the block. Every little bits makes a huge difference. For me, I go for a walk. I put on some good eighties music and walk out in the countryside. It clears my head and helps me think. And it elevates my mood no matter how low it has been. I don’t walk far and I certainly don’t walk fast. But I walk. And it helps me every single time.
I always need to be mindful of stress. Being able to identify and manage stress is my M16 in my war upon depression. Obviously it’s not possible to eliminate stress from our lives. We live in a world with people who challenge us and situations that occur that are beyond our control. That’s ok. What we can do though is minimise it’s impact. Take an inventory of your life as a whole. Are there parts where you are experiencing a great deal of stress? Are there other parts where you can reduce your stressors? For example, if work is crazy busy right now and beyond your control, can you decrease stress in your home life? Are there things you can take off the table. Are there commitments that you can postpone or decrease so that you can afford some time out?
Putting Your Recovery First
I was always someone who felt a lot of guilt about letting people down. So I would go above and beyond to keep my commitments. My life got busier and busier with work, I had social and family commitments to upkeep. People depended on me. One of the biggest things I’ve learnt is that I depend on me. If I have too much on and don’t look after myself, I get sick, I lose the battle.
So now I limit my commitments and practise saying no. If I’m feeling overwhelmed I take things off the table. For those around us this takes some getting used to (especially when we’ve always been people pleasers). However I love that saying by Dr Seuss that goes ‘those that mind don’t matter and those that matter don’t mind’. For me this is the epitome of how to manage people expecting too much of us. Anyone that loves you unconditionally will understand you taking time out to stay well. It’s just as important as taking that pill each morning.
Often in recovery we feel like we have no control. That we are at the mercy of our depression. I think while that is in some ways true, there are many things that we can control. And that needs to be where our focus is. Know what your weapons are for fighting depression. Make a plan to use them everyday. Make the commitment to fight even when you are feeling you have lost the battle. And most importantly continue fighting even when things are going well. Stay vigilant about your mental health. Continue using your strategies and techniques for good mental health. And that way you can stay stronger longer. Depression is an insidious enemy well versed in sneak ambushes and dirty tricks, but with the right weapons and a strong commitment, you can get depression back in the trenches where it belongs. You have control here. You are the ruler of the this war.