I lost a twenty dollar bill today. It was the finale to my day of pure numbness. No matter how much I tried to concentrate on any little thing, it seemed impossible. I was also struggling with anxiety and agitation. (It always amazes me that when in a depressed mood, one can experience anxiety. Isn’t that counter intuitive?) All I wanted to do was rest and hopefully restart my brain, but wasn’t lucky enough to have the time. I came home in tears, struggling with feelings of failure, defeat, and worthlessness. “Feelings” is the key word here. Feelings are hard to wrangle into logical thoughts when your mind can’t process much. Especially when fatigue has overcome you and you have no options for self-care when it’s greatly needed.
Who hasn’t had a day like this when dealing with Bipolar? Days of depression mixed with anxiety are common, and difficult to navigate. If your depression doesn’t have you rendered completely incapacitated, wrapped up in bed like a hibernating bear, you might still be able to bumble through the day, but not without incident. Usually something is affected—work performance, maybe an unwarranted argument with a loved one, or losing something important (like twenty dollars!). And when you don’t have “your wits about you”, you just simply wish to hit the restart button.
These are the most important days to pay attention to self-care. Remember that there are a few things that can help: Sleep. Rest. Quiet. Breathing techniques. A hearty meal. A very hot bath. Massage.
What measures do you have in place to protect you when you fall into this grey zone? If you need to rest for a bit during the day, do you have the time to do so? If you work a full time job, are you able to take your allotted break and perhaps find a quiet place to rest your head? If you are a stay at home mom, is there a babysitter you can call to watch your children for even an hour? It’s suggested that just a 20 minute nap can help reboot your brain chemistry.
Make sure to eat and eat well. When we are in the grey zone of depression and anxiety, we tend to eat poorly or not at all. Even if you must call for delivery, or ask a friend to bring you a meal, make sure it’s a hearty, healthy one. Do your best to eat what you can, even if your appetite is lacking.
Focus on your breathing. Breathe in deeply for a count of five and out fully for a count of five. Repeat this for at least one minute or more. This is a great option for any time use, but especially helpful if you aren’t able to sleep or rest when needed.
If your day allows, or at night after work, take a very hot bath. Light a few candles and turn off the lights. If a bath is not an option, use a heating pad or a microwaveable bean bag and curl up with it. You could even use both. Sometimes placing the source of heat on your chest and belly can provide a much needed feeling of security and relaxation. If you’d like heat therapy at work, Thermacare makes heat patches that can be applied and worn for up to eight hours.
If finances allow, go out for a massage. You may not get the best massage on a last minute booking, but any massage is better than none. Make sure to ask before going if they have a warming table. Again, warmth provides comfort.
Last, but not least, if you and your doctor have discussed a plan to take certain medications in times of stress, and none of your other self-care measures seem to be helping, this is an option as well.
If you have other things that assist in your self-care, make sure to have those on your list. Some people have found these helpful to them: saying a memorized prayer repeatedly, rolling yarn into a ball, holding a small soft object in their hands such as a plush animal or baby blanket, drinking warm water with lemon throughout the day. Notice these things do not take much concentration or effort, and they have almost a mindless or meditative effect along with a measure of security and comfort.
When we are struggling through a difficult day, there is nothing more important than taking care of ourselves with understanding, empathy, and compassion. Everyone, even people without Bipolar, have challenging days. Just remember: you learn more about your self-care needs every time you have an “off day”. And that makes you better prepared to care for yourself the next time one comes around.