How to Survive Depression

I have lots of practice dealing with depression, and I hope I can help you with what I’ve learned. When you’re depressed, not much appeals. Nothing sounds fun. Nothing seems worth doing. When that happens to me, I know I’m depressed. Losing interest in things you usually care about is a normal and typical symptom of depression. For many very lucky people, sadness passes in a day or so. For those of us whose sadness lasts weeks and expands into full depression, we need a plan. Deep depression can lead to suicide or suicide attempts. If you’re going to stay alive, you need tools to help you do so. Suicide happens when the pain you experience exceeds your ability to cope with it, so if you’re going to stay alive, your options are to lower the level of pain or increase your coping ability. This explanation is not original to me, so don’t credit me for it. I use it because it’s a clear and simple analysis of a messy state of mind.Above the Spiral CC

So. You’re depressed. Time to get to work. Self-care is where you begin. Self-care is easier than all-out self-love, which is often not possible when you’re depressed. Taking a shower, brushing your teeth, or eating something is a good place to start. If you’re severely depressed, all three of those things may be impossible. If those things remain impossible for more than two weeks, you need medical intervention. If that’s where you are right now, then the job I assign you for today is to make a doctor’s appointment. That is the only task you need to do today. You can do one thing. You can spend the rest of the day watching TV and crying if you need to, just get that one thing done. It’s the first step to saving your own life. Continue reading

Sometimes I Can Only Sit And Feel Hard Things

Since my mental illnesses presented 12 years ago, I haven’t been able to do much. This website is the largest thing I’ve accomplished since I was 19, and I’ve only been able to do this by building it slowly, little by little. It has taken me over a year. There are whole weeks when I make no progress. The past year has been more productive than I’ve been in a long time and has been the easiest year to handle since I was diagnosed. For that, I am incredibly grateful. Living well with mental illness takes skills, and I’m working on mine every day. I am making progress.Sunflower CC

In college, I abandoned school in the middle of spring semester four out of four years. Springtime always makes my symptoms more intense and sometimes even unbearable. Most of my time at Oberlin I couldn’t do simple self-care tasks like laundry, or go to class or parties; I basically could do nothing but stay in my room, sit, and try to cope. Sometimes I’d use an episode to make a painting, and god, those paintings born of episodes are the darkest ones I’ve made. None of them are on this site yet, and I burned many of them one night during a manic episode. I thought it would be cleansing. It was just destructive. I get a lot of “great” ideas when I’m manic, and Continue reading

Staying In A Psychiatric Hospital: A Story In First Person

It starts out scary and uncomfortable. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to be there. I was already suicidal, and here I was voluntarily giving up every comforting thing I had in my life: people, places, and things, in order to commit myself to not dying.

Fuck. I should have killed myself, this is going to be unbearable. My soul is on fire and we haven’t even completed the intake interview. Yes, I am suicidal. Yes, I do have a plan. No, I’m not on any medication. Please make my mother my emergency contact. Yes, I understand that I will not be released until the doctor determines that I am no longer in danger.

I’m on the ward itself, and I hurt all over. I’m in a mixed-state episode: irritable, hopeless, suicidal, full of energy, thoughts racing, sad beyond measure. I’ve never felt these things before; it’s one of my first mixed state episodes and I have zero in terms of coping skills, as well as zero self-knowledge of what is happening to me. I pace the hallway for a while, splash my face in the bathroom, spy at other patients from my bedroom door, lay on the bed, try to read a book my mom brought for me. My soul is still on fire.

I’ve been here for three hours, and I’m in agony. I can’t take one more minute of this. I have to get out. NOW. I take my phone charger, tie it as tight as I can around my neck, making sure I can’t breathe, get up on a chair next to the tall bathroom door and wrap the other end of the charger around the hinge. I kick the chair out from under me. Continue reading

How Mental Illness Affects My Life

I am disabled because of my mental illnesses. I have bipolar II, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. I was diagnosed when I first presented my bipolar symptoms at age 19, 12 years ago. I also dealt with major depression as a child.

I am disabled because I have mixed-state, rapid cycling episodes with psychotic features. That means I have episodes with severe depression, mania, and anxiety all at once, in addition to having hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions. What an episode looks like for me is here: What Is a Mixed-State Episode? – The Goldfish Painter

One way my mental illnesses affect me is by reducing the number of things I can do successfully. I cannot work a job, because my episodes are not safe or appropriate for a workplace. I frequently need monitoring if I’m trying to complete tasks. At home, during an episode, there is a long list of things I can’t do, including driving, using knives, mowing the lawn, washing dishes, and lighting any of the gas appliances, because if I make a mistake with any of these tasks I can accidentally hurt myself or others. I have no desire to burn down the house. If I have an episode in public, I need help from a loved one to Continue reading

How to Survive Depression

I have lots of practice dealing with depression, and I hope I can help you with what I’ve learned. When you’re depressed, not much appeals. Nothing sounds fun. Nothing seems worth doing. When that happens to me, I know I’m depressed. Losing interest in things you usually care about is a normal and typical symptom of depression. For many very lucky people, sadness passes in a day or so. For those of us whose sadness lasts weeks and expands into full depression, we need a plan. Deep depression can lead to suicide or suicide attempts. If you’re going to stay alive, you need tools to help you do so. Suicide happens when the pain you experience exceeds your ability to cope with it, so if you’re going to stay alive, your options are to lower the level of pain or increase your coping ability. This explanation is not original to me, so don’t credit me for it. I use it because it’s a clear and simple analysis of a messy state of mind.Above the Spiral CC

So. You’re depressed. Time to get to work. Self-care is where you begin. Self-care is easier than all-out self-love, which is often not possible when you’re depressed. Taking a shower, brushing your teeth, or eating something is a good place to start. If you’re severely depressed, all three of those things may be impossible. If those things remain impossible for more than two weeks, you need medical intervention. If that’s where you are right now, then the job I assign you for today is to make a doctor’s appointment. That is the only task you need to do today. You can do one thing. You can spend the rest of the day watching TV and crying if you need to, just get that one thing done. It’s the first step to saving your own life. Continue reading

Suicide; The Perpetual Question Mark

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The truly tempting thing about suicide is that it’s a solution to pretty much everything. Not a constructive solution or a solution other people want you to use, but still a solution. We can opt out. Once you realize you’re strong enough to end your own life, that knowledge will never go away. When you’re happy and engaged in life, that knowledge makes your life better because of the profound meaning there is to be found in the awareness of death and the empowerment of choosing to live. But when you’re feeling awful and you get to feeling awful enough that you think you’d do anything to change the way you feel, the knowledge that you could kill yourself becomes lethally dangerous.

Suicidal ideation is a very dangerous symptom. It can be caused situationally or purely chemically; by life events or medicine and chemical imbalance. If you’re experiencing suicidal ideation, it can be tremendously difficult to ask for help. If you’re past ideation and you’re fully suicidal, seize any moment of doubt in your plan that you find and TELL SOMEONE. There are way worse things than going to a hospital. If you’re strong enough to kill yourself, you’re definitely strong enough for a 3-day hold. Sometimes those three days is all it takes to restart your life. You see a psychiatrist and a therapist, and they prescribe medicine and evaluate you during your stay to make sure the medicine is working and you are safe from self-harm. You go to the hospital to get better.

I’ve had two failed suicide attempts and three psychiatric hospital stays. The first attempt Continue reading

Helped, but not cured

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With episodes, no matter how many tools I use, I still hurt deeply. I cannot be cured. The goal of medicine and coping strategies in my case is to ameliorate my symptoms, not eliminate them. I do have good days. Sometimes I can string them together for a while, but this is how my brain works, and I don’t get to trade it in. Sometimes the idea of living sick for the rest of my life makes me very, very depressed. It can even lead to a thought spiral, which in its own right can trigger an episode.

I can lessen my pain; I cannot eliminate it. Having to live in this consciousness has the unfortunate consequence of being aware that I’m in pain. It’s deep and broad, and sometimes I get swallowed up and go very far away. So far I’ve always come back.

I’ve tried to kill myself twice. The first was hanging; my neck didn’t break and I got caught and was cut down. The second was an overdose of lithium. I planned that one much more thoroughly, and it was not at all an impulse decision. I had to wait two weeks after I finalized my plan so that I could get my refill and have enough to take ten grams or 10,000 milligrams. Eight grams is the lethal dose. I don’t know why I survived, but I’m sure my liver is shot. The good news for me is that it’s only been two times that I’ve tried to commit suicide in the course of eleven years, and my last attempt was only two years into my diagnosis.

Almost everything is much easier now. I’m able to handle my episodes with more strength and sometimes even grace. There is a steep learning curve in bipolar and mental illness, and you have to master things like pharmacies, insurance, doctors, prescriptions, refills and of course your own survival skills that you build as you grow. I know now that I have to be my own advocate as a patient because getting health care of any kind is not a “customer is always right” situation. You either work the system the way it is, or you go without.

Not being cured of bipolar, ever, is discouraging in the extreme. I have to be vigilant with my meds, my exercise, my diet, my sleep schedule, and my mindfulness in order to stay alive. Then, depending on the day, I throw in some other coping tools to help whatever needs helping. I’ve made it to thirty-one years old and twelve years bipolar. I’m pretty damn proud of that.

By Emily Harrington