Planning ahead is an important part of my self-care. For example, over the years I have learned that from the first of October through the first of January is my danger zone. It has nothing to do with Seasonal Affective Disorder, I grew up in Southern California, then after 30 years lived in Arizona. It’s purely situational relating to a few key events that have happened to me over my lifetime during that time of year.
Last year I learned that if my brain is not functioning well as I get closer to October, I will start a quick descent into hell. Once January hits, if I don’t pull out of the downward spiral by mid-March (again, situational) I will most definitely crash and burn.
Many people may think of this as defeatist thinking. That type of person believes in the attitude of “If you think it will go wrong, it will.” This is not the case. My pre-planning comes from years of evaluating my cycle. Just like a woman tracking her fertility, I track my sanity. As a matter of fact, there are numerous mood trackers on the internet as well as apps for smarter-than-me phones. There’s an old proverb that is something like “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.”
Therefore, in addition to starting DBT in September (unplanned but fortuitous timing), I will need to cut back on commitments. It’s very difficult for me not to feel selfish about putting my mental well-being first; but as I learned last year, it is vital. Survival of another depressive episode, similar to what I just came out of, may not be possible. I simply don’t know if I (or the people who love me) would be able to handle it again, nor do I want to find out.
This is the year I learn how to say “No.” Apologies and explanations are probably not necessary, but in some cases I will feel compelled to do so.
To those of my readers in similar situations, what type of preventive actions do you practice? Is tracking your moods and episodes an important part of your life, or do you just take it as it comes? Most people who are successful in life, whether or not they have a mental illness, probably practice some sort of self-care. It can be beneficial to everyone.
The beautiful new sweater sits folded neatly on the shelf. The color is lovely and bright, and the buttons are shiny. It’s taken out into the world, often complimented; but when the wearer comes back home, it’s folded and put away once again.
Thrown over the back of the couch, the old sweater is dingy and ugly. Buttons are missing, there’s a hole in the elbow, and the cuffs are stretched out. But it is still worn like a safe cocoon. This sweater is warm, comfortable, and familiar.
Depression awaits, not unlike the old sweater, as I become stronger and happier after this most recent very long and very horrible depressive episode. Most days have been good. I can feel sadness without depression, happiness without mania. But once in a while, the habits of coping I developed while depressed creep back into my life – isolating, crying for no apparent reason, losing myself in a book, sleeping, not interacting with my husband. I can remember this happening before. Being depressed is, in some ways, easier than being mentally healthy. There’s no effort involved, no self-examination, no communication with others. Hide in the dark, curl up on the couch, sleep away the normal stressors of life.
This is not acceptable. I remind myself I am a fighter, a survivor, and I have the tools I need to fight depression. On the other hand, I am also compassionate and learning to treat myself with kindness. So for now, I will fold the old sweater and set it on the shelf beneath the new one. I recognize that the old one will still be needed once in a while; but as I become stronger, the bright new sweater will be worn more often.
If you’ve ever heard me say “Just peachy, thanks,” and really listened, you would have heard sarcasm dripping from every syllable. Hiding my mental illness (although sometimes I do) has nothing to do with this phenomenon, I think it’s possibly human nature. As a society, I think we have become numb to the questions and ensuing answers relating to our health and wellness. “Hi, how are you?” has turned into more of a greeting than an actual question, it usually sounds like all one word, especially when said while the speaker is still walking. It has gone the way of “Have a nice day (ugh)” and “What’s new?” Rarely will I give an honest answer, because I don’t believe the person asking actually cares. Not to say we are an uncaring people, it’s just what it is. On the other side of the coin, I won’t ask the question if I don’t really want to know exactly how you are honestly feeling.
Before memes and the internet, during group therapy I learned that FINE can be an acronym: Fucked-up Insecure Neurotic Emotionally-unstable. Over the years it has evolved into a few different meanings, and quite often used jokingly. That one little word can be weighted with so much emotion just by the sound of our voice.
In my doodle, I tried to think of all the things I’ve said in response to such a query, I’m sure these aren’t all of them, feel free to add your own in the comments.
- Not too bad
- I’m surviving
- I’m still kicking/alive
- No worries
Once in a while I’ll throw in a “I’m feeling quite horrible, but thank you for asking,” just to see what type of reaction I’ll get.
What would happen if we all paused a moment, looked someone in the eyes, and meaningfully asked “How are you?” Maybe we could slow down with our busy lives, take a moment to step out of our own heads and problems, and really stop to listen how a co-worker, friend, neighbor, or family member really feels. Perhaps we could change the current state of humanity into a more caring environment, one kindness at a time.