Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Depression Recovery "To Do" List (Part 2)

6. Keep a mood chart. While this is a topic I plan on devoting an entire post to, I highly recommend keeping a mood chart. I did this every day for six years and it was an extraordinarily helpful tool for me. The chart I recommend--my own design--is quite different from anything I've read about. It's kind of a combination journal/mood chart. The purpose is to chart every day and I used my Day-Timer to do it. That way I knew how I was feeling from the time I got up until I went to bed, what medications I was taking, how much sleep I was getting, what activities I was engaged in, and how I generally felt. I'll show you an example in the next few days.

7. Do stress reduction and relaxation exercises. While it's difficult to imagine you would need to do this if you're so depressed you feel like a zombie, I think it's really important. What I have learned--after so many years of great suffering--is that every time I felt a depression on the horizon, I was terrified it would be worse than the last time. Or terrified it would last longer. Or terrified that I wouldn't survive it. But...and I believe this is terribly important, I always did survive. So, it would have been helpful to try and dissipate the anxiety by breathing exercises, meditation, or some other method of stress reduction.

8. When the depression lifts, make sure you take care of your family members. For me, even the worst depression usually lifted by 2:00 in the afternoon. At its worst, the entire episode lasted a year, but I was well almost every day after 2:00. (Of course there were months when it never lifted; but that was the exception.) And I believed that once it lifted, it was incumbent upon me to take care of my husband and son. When my son was young, that meant supervising play dates for him. Just because I didn't feel well during the time he was in school didn't mean that he shouldn't have a good day when he returned home and I was feeling fine.

9. Engage in pleasurable activities. Obviously, pleasure can be defined in different ways and is dependent upon your energy level. During my lowest periods, one of my greatest pleasures was watching DVDs or movies on TV. While some people would recommend comedies (and there is research to confirm that laughing makes you feel better), my vice is musicals and westerns. If anyone asks, I'll give you my top list of each.

10. Maintain your highest level of normalcy. Since I have experienced more depressive episodes than anyone I've ever spoken to or read about, I believe I have the right to give you this advice. Chronic depressive episodes can destroy families, and ruin friendships. Since I always hated the fact that my family and friends had to suffer during my depressions, I went out of my way to try and maintain the highest level of normalcy I could achieve.

When I felt like I was dying inside, I made every effort to be there for my son. If I was in bed when he returned from school, before he came home, I went into the bathroom, washed my face, brushed my hair, put lipstick on, and greeted him with the best smile I could maintain. When I could barely speak, I always asked him about his day, and made him a snack.

And it was the same with my husband. Throughout my illness, he has been a saint. So, when I felt well, I tried very hard to do something special for him, whether it was ordering a book online that he might like, buying special cards, or doing my share of household chores the moment I felt better.

Don't be a victim. I am always surprised when I read about people who whine online about their lot in life. Our lot in life is what we make it. While it took years for me to get well, I never felt I was a victim. And I certainly didn't want my husband and son to feel like our home was a place of illness.

Despite being ill, I loved my family dearly, and they needed to know that. Despite wondering how I was going to survive, I never discussed my unhappiness with my son. I felt bad enough that he had a sick mother. So it was ever more important for him to know that despite my illness, I loved him dearly, that I would be there for him when I could, and I would support him in every way possible.

I believe it was tips like these that saved my life. I believe it was my attitude that enabled me to remain married to the same man for more than 25 years, and to continue to have a terrific relationship with my 19-year-old son.

I may not have been able to stave off my illness, but I have tried with a Herculean effort to be the best wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, and friend that I could be. I have been able to sustain most of the important relationships in my life. And for that I am deeply grateful!


Marissa Miller said...

Not helping just family and friends but volunteering also helps. I've found that if I'm focused on helping other people and making a positive impact in their lives, it's tough to dwell on the negatives in my life.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Marissa,
Thanks for mentioning this. I totally agree, and that's why I play the Autoharp at an assisted living facility!

My only problem with volunteering was that I couldn't do it when I was terribly depressed; I had to wait until I felt better. But, maybe you're able to do it when you feel bad. If so, let us know.


Jazz said...

More great tips! When I was depressed it was very important to me to maintain an atmosphere of normality around the house. I pushed myself to do the things that needed to be done every day, no matter how bad I felt. I don't think my husband had a clue how bad I actually felt.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Jazz,
Actually, I felt so bad, physically, that I couldn't hide it from my husband, but since I was diagnosed when my son was five, I could hide it from him.

And because I didn't want him to be "teased" at school, I kept silent about it (only my best friends knew). I was afraid that if other moms from his school knew that I had what was considered a serious "mental illness," they might not let their children play at our house.

And, it turned out, that our house was the place the kids liked playing at most--because I was always around.

What was interesting was that even when I couldn't deal with other adults, I was always great with kids.


iHanna said...

Susan, I agree with you on everything on your list, and I will look forward to see your chart. I'm trying to keep track of ups and downs but I find it difficult to find my own scale. :-)

Thanks for your visit in my blog, glad I found you and can link others here (I hope)! :-)

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Hanna,
Thanks so much! Your site is wonderful and so is your art! Wow! I'll talk about the mood chart tomorrow.


Jazz said...

I'll be interested to hear about the mood charting, too. Something I could work into the journal would be much better than those esoteric lists of numbers and codes most mood charts I've seen want you to use.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Jazz,
I'll write the mood chart post tomorrow! It is a quasi-journal. And best of all, rather than feeling that you have to quantify your day from 1 to 10 for someone else who doesn't do anything with the information anyway, it's truly a helpful tool that helped me understand myself.


Annie said...

Again these basics are worded in helpful ways. The momentum of depression for some folks can take them further down. That is why your emphasis on routine in daily life is so important! Thanks for another great post, Annie

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Annie,
Thank you. I so appreciate the support. As I read blogs in which people are discussing their depressive episodes, I remember what it's like to forget that we all have developed skills to deal with depression, but we forget them when we feel so bad.


bart said...

thank you for this second part of your "to do" list... most of the items i've used at some time or other and still follow many on a daily basis...

looking forward to your approach on the mood chart, i've been trying different angles without all too much succes up to now besides the straight blogging approach...

keep well...