Celebrate World Bipolar Day by Taking Control of Your Mental Illness

This post appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation website, here.

Are you bipolar? There is a day on the calendar to celebrate your struggles with the disorder.

World Bipolar Day (WBD) is celebrated each year on March 30th, in honor of Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday, as he was posthumously diagnosed as probably having bipolar disorder.

The day–an initiative of the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF), the International Society for Bipolar Disorders (ISBD), and the Asian Network of Bipolar Disorder (ANBD)–means to combat stigma and raise awareness of bipolar disorders.

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that is marked by abrupt changes in mood, energy, and executive function–the ability to accomplish tasks on a daily basis.

Celebrate World Bipolar Day By Taking Control of Your Mental Illness - CassandraStout.com

Bipolar disorder comes in several forms.

People with bipolar I suffer from manic episodes–periods of increased energy, euphoric mood, and decreased need for sleep–depressive episodes–periods of intense, pervasive sadness–as well as weeks of relative stability. People who suffer from bipolar II deal with even more severe and lengthy depressive episodes and hypomania, a lesser form of mania. There’s also cyclothymia, or bipolar III, where people have lesser forms of depression and hypomania, but cycle more rapidly between the two.

Episodes of bipolar disorder are not the usual ups and downs that everyone goes through. This is a lifelong condition which interferes with day-to-day functioning. The prevalence of bipolar disorder has been estimated to be as high as 5% of people around the world.

There are several causes to bipolar disorder, including genetic components, environmental stresses, childhood trauma, and other factors.

International groups like IBPF, ISBD, and ANBD support global efforts from scientists and advocates to investigate causes of bipolar disorder, methods of diagnosis, coping strategies, and medications to successfully treat the mental illness. World Bipolar Day was created to celebrate these efforts, acknowledge the struggles of people with the disorder, and raise awareness and sensitivity.

You can celebrate World Bipolar Day by taking care of yourself. But if you have bipolar disorder, how do you cope with the day-to-day challenges the mental illness brings? There are several strategies:

Take Your Medications

Your medications are there to help you. If you don’t take them on a regular basis, you won’t know if they work. Figuring out the right cocktail of antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety meds–as well as electroconvulsive therapy–requires a lot of patience, as the testing process takes time and a toll on your body.

But there is hope. Bipolar disorder is one of the most manageable and treatable disorders. You can find a correct combination of medications or electroconvulsive therapies to treat you. For a post on how to get a psychiatric evaluation, click here.

Attend Therapy

Talk therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, is one of the best ways to learn coping skills to handle the challenges of daily life. An unbiased, sympathetic therapist can help you understand patterns of your behaviors and help you correct said patterns. Attending therapy is essential for daily functioning when you have bipolar disorder.

For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

Practice Self-care

Self-care is not limited to bubble baths and painting your nails. It’s taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. Self-care involves sleeping enough (but not too much), eating a healthy diet, spending time outside and with other people, exercising, and drinking plenty of water.

Practicing these tenants of self-care on a day-to-day basis is crucial for you to feel better. Even if you can’t do all six everyday, try to eat, sleep, and drink enough water. Your energy levels and mood may improve immensely.

Final Thoughts

World Bipolar Day, celebrated every year on March 30th, is a great time to take stock of the strategies you’ve used to cope with your mental illness. If you have bipolar, taking your medication, attending therapy, and practicing self-care will go a long way towards improving your ability to handle your condition.

There is no shame in having bipolar disorder. It just means your brain functions differently. Make the effort to treat your mental illness on World Bipolar Day.

I wish you well in your journey.

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How to Address Behaviors of a Friend or Loved One with Bipolar Disorder

How to Address Behaviors of a Spouse with Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

Trigger Warning: This post contains a brief mention of suicidal ideation. If you are suffering from suicidal thoughts, please talk with someone from the Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Confronting a loved one about their recent behaviors due to their mental illness can be dicey, especially if the disease is something like bipolar disorder.

If you find yourself needing to confront a friend or loved one about, say, their manic spending spree, approach the person with compassion and empathy. Try to put yourself in their shoes.

Above all, try to separate the person from their mental illness. Attempt to recognize that their unpleasant behaviors are part of the disorder and not a part of them. Most of the time, they don’t want to act out of control.

Here are some tips to help you address the behaviors of a friend or loved one with bipolar disorder.

When They’ve Been Manic

If your friend or loved one is manic and is acting out, do not hesitate in getting them the help they need. Ask them if you can call their psychiatrist or therapist. Ride the wave of their mania, but try not to contribute to their episode by agreeing to help them with wild, obsessive projects.

As tempting as it is to address their behaviors in the moment, they won’t understand you or be able to respond appropriately. The time to confront them is after the manic episode is under control and they’ve become stable again.

If your loved one has been cheating on you due to a hypersexual manic episode, explain to them how you feel about that. You may feel betrayed and unwilling to trust them. You may feel sad, as if you were not enough to satisfy their urges. You may feel a plethora of negative emotions, many of them directed at your partner and not their mental illness.

Again, try to separate your friend or loved one from their illness. It may be difficult to do at first, but do make an attempt. Unless your relationship was already failing, your partner didn’t mean to hurt you.

Dealing with hypersexual feelings can be extremely difficult, especially in the heat of the moment. People on a manic high tend to be pleasure seekers. They’re always looking for the next good feeling. Flirting and sex is just one way to feel great about yourself.

When the manic episode is over, then the remorse sets in. People coming off of a manic high usually feel terrible; the crash of depression often follows manic episodes, and for good reason. They wonder how they ever could have hurt their spouses or loved ones, and wonder how they’ll be able to make it up to them.

Usually, people suffering from bipolar disorder don’t have the tools to help them rebuild trust.

Explain to your loved one how you feel, and also tell them what they can do to help put your mind at ease. Maybe you need them to check in with you at night so you know where they are and what they’re doing. Maybe you need space to figure your feelings out. Try to set parameters that you both are comfortable with.

Similarly, if your loved one has gone on a manic spending spree and blown through their financial cushion or your joint bank account, explain how that behavior made you feel.

Manic spending sprees come from the same place that other forms of infidelity come from: the inability for the bipolar person to see the consequences to their actions when in the throes of a manic episode.

Tell them that you can’t trust them with money anymore when they’re manic, and that you will be keeping a close eye on your shared finances. If you need to carry the charge card rather than your spouse while they’re manic, then do so.

When They’ve Been Depressed

Confronting someone about the things they’ve done when they’re depressed is a difficult prospect. You want to be careful to blame the disease and not the person for their behaviors, as that might set off a wave of remorse and trigger another depressive episode.

Unlike dealing with a person in the midst of a manic episode, you can tell a person suffering from a depressive episode how you feel, but do be careful to separate your feelings about the disease from your feelings about the person.

Fortunately, depression is usually less harmful to spouses than mania. But there are still behaviors that people suffering from depression do that can be difficult to handle.

For example, people who are depressed may engage in self-harm or suicidal behaviors. You may have felt scared and helpless. Explain to your loved one that you would miss them terribly if they died, and that you felt scared for them.

This is the extreme example. Not all people who face depression hurt themselves. But depression is a very selfish disease. People who suffer from a constant barrage of negative emotions, ranging from guilt to anxiety to hopelessness–and even anger–tend to withdraw into themselves and think only of themselves.

Tell your friend or partner that you love them, if you do, but that it’s hard to love someone who doesn’t love themselves. Not that they are hard to love, but that the disease is.

Explain to your partner exactly what you need. Perhaps you need them to ask you how you’re feeling more often, and geniunely listen. Maybe you need a weekend off from their complaining about their anxieties. Perhaps you need to take some time to yourself.

Whatever you need, don’t be afraid to tell the depressed person that you need it, but be compassionate.

But do recognize that even a simple request for space might end up with your spouse feeling rejected. Reassure them that it’s not about them, but your inability to handle the disease for extended periods of time.

Final Thoughts

Telling your friend or loved one how you feel is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship. Communicating with them how you’ve been impacted by their behaviors is the first step towards their acknowledgement that they’ve hurt you. Often times, we need that acknowledgement to forgive them.

Confronting someone in the middle of a manic episode about their behaviors is generally a bad idea, as you will often be rebuffed. Similarly, confronting someone in the middle of a depressive episode may be a bad idea because it might send them on downward spiral of guilt and shame.

So try to address the undesirable behaviors after the person is back to what you consider to be normal–a stable mindset. Tell your friend or loved one how their behaviors made you feel. But do separate the person from the disease.

Communication is one of the most difficult parts of a relationship, but it is crucial for the mental health of both partners. You can support your spouse while making your feelings heard. You can forgive them, and address the disease as a team.

You can do this.

How to Address Behaviors of Friends and Loved Ones with Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: The Future Edition

Hello, hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: The Future Edition! Thanks for stopping by.

How are you doing this week? What parenting challenges have you been facing? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you practicing self-care? How has the coronavirus affected your life lately? I hope you don’t have it! Let me know in the comments; I genuinely want to know about you and your struggles.

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My (Two) Weeks — And the Future of The Bipolar Parent

I didn’t update last week, and for that I apologize. I was waiting on some news that was time-sensitive.

But now I can share it: I have a job! My friend and frequent commenter, author and mental health blogger Dyane Harwood, was approached by an editor at Verywell. Part of Dotdash (previously About.com), Verywell is a website focused on health and medicine that boasts 17 million unique visitors per month.

Dyane was told by the editor that Verywell needed a contributing writer for their articles re: bipolar disorder. Dyane, bless her, said she was overextended, and passed my contact information and blog onto the editor.

The editor contacted me, and asked if I would be willing to blog for them on a regular basis. After discussing the challenges of being a working parent with my husband, I agreed to take the job.

I am so excited! This is a wonderful opportunity to expand my writing resume and add feathers to my cap. A million thank yous to Dyane!

All of this means there will be some changes to The Bipolar Parent, my personal blog. I will be writing four articles per month for Verywell, and I don’t know if I will be able to continue blogging here as frequently.

My children will be out of school for the summer, and my husband is not comfortable with drop-in daycare for either of them. Rather than writing blog posts while they are in school, I will be writing in my very limited free time after the kids go to bed.

That being said, I need to discontinue the Saturday Morning Mental Health Check ins. I apologize in advance, but I already know that I won’t be able to keep posting on Saturday on The Bipolar Parent while writing for Verywell.

I hope to continue posting on Fridays, but I am uncertain if I will be able to keep up the quantity of quality posts while blogging four times a month for the other site.

I will check in with myself in April (next month) and make an honest decision. After that, whatever I decide, I will check in again in August, three months later, and see if I need to reevaluate my ability to post to both sites.

Whatever happens to The Bipolar Parent, I plan to continue blogging for the International Bipolar Foundation, so you can see me both there and at Verywell. If I’m not producing original content here, I will be linking to both my Verywell posts and my IBPF posts.

I appreciate that you’ve all supported me in my writing. The journey from beginning blogger to contributing writer at IBPF and Verywell has been long, but you all have been there for me. Thank you so much.

I wish you well in your own journeys.

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The Bipolar Parent’s (Belated) Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Keto Edition

Hello, hello! Welcome to The Bipolar Parent’s (Belated) Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Keto Edition! Thanks for stopping by.

First, I apologize for this post being late. I completely forgot to write it on Friday, and on Saturday, I was ridiculously busy, which I’ll go into below. Sorry about that!

Secondly, how are you? How’s life treating you? Do you attend religious services? Are you on a diet, like me? How are the kids? What are you struggling with? What are your parenting challenges this week? Let me know in the comments; I genuinely want to get to know you.

The Bipolar Parent's (Belated) Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Keto Edition - CassandraStout.com

My Week

I started the keto (extremely low-carb, moderate protein, high fat) diet with my husband to help us both shed some extra weight we’ve been carrying around.

I am currently 190.4 pounds, and have lost 2 pounds since Tuesday. But, since my weight tends to fluctuate over the day, I am not counting the loss until I lose at least 6-8 pounds.

The last time I tried the keto diet, I ended up with massive headaches and brain fog for the first week. A while back, my sister recommended magnesium supplements for headaches. As I don’t absorb magnesium through supplementation very well, I was elated to find out that pumpkin seeds, which have 0g net carbs due to their high fiber content, give me 50% of the recommended daily value of magnesium for a 1/4 cup serving.

Now, eating the pumpkin seeds, I have had very few headaches, and am snapping out of the brain fog much more quickly. It’s such a relief.

As for being busy on Saturday, I cleaned the house because my husband and I planned to go on a date that afternoon, and I wanted the house to be nice for the babysitters, a trusted couple from our church.

The whole family pitched in to clean the house, and we got it done in time for our date at 1pm. I should have spread the cleaning out over the week, but I’ve been dealing with depression/exhaustion/brain fog from the change in my diet.

But it hasn’t been a bad week, not at all. I’ve been able to maintain a positive attitude, which helps immensely. Hopefully next week will be even better.

How was your week?

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The Truth About Eating Disorders and Bipolar Disorder

People who suffer from bipolar disorder are more likely to develop eating disorders.

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Trigger Warning: This article discusses eating disorders in depth, and could be a trigger for anyone suffering from an eating disorder or related disorders.

This may come as a surprise to you, but the rate of eating disorders running concurrently with bipolar disorder is relatively high.

According to the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, more than 14% of people who suffer from bipolar disorder also suffer from an eating disorder. To add insult to injury, these people tend to have worse symptoms of eating disorders. And people with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop eating disorders.

The Truth about Eating Disorders and Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

Sunday, February 22 through Sunday, February 29 is the international Eating Disorder Awareness week in 2020. T0he week is a time to counteract the myths and disinformation floating around about eating disorders, and to encourage people who suffer them to get help.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, just over 4% of the U.S. population suffers from eating disorders. Bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million adults in the U.S., or just over 3%.

Both eating disorders and bipolar disorder affect people of both genders from all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, though eating disorders tend to affect women more frequently.

The Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Eating Disorders

The eating disorders most linked with bipolar disorder are:

  • Anorexia nervosa. People who suffer from anorexia tend to avoid eating in order to lose weight. When they do eat, they may obsessively count calories. They also often exercise in extreme amounts. Anorexia nervosa is not as closely linked to bipolar disorder, though some studies have associated the two.
  • Bulimia nervosa. As a contrast to people with anorexia, people with bulimia devour food and overeat, then immediately “purge” themselves by puking up the contents of their stomachs. They often also use laxatives to induce a purge. Bulimia is the eating disorder which is the most linked to bipolar disorder.
  • Binge-eating disorder. People with binge-eating disorder are often compelled to overeat, but unlike people with bulimia, binge-eaters don’t purge afterwards. They often feel guilty when they eat, and tend to eat very quickly, and often alone. Just under 10% of people with bipolar disorder binge eat. Some bipolar medications encourage binge-eating. Bipolar disorder also manifests differently in people who binge eat. People with bipolar disorder who binge eat are more likely to develop other mental health issues, including suicidal thoughts, psychosis, and substance abuse..

One study found that people who suffer worse symptoms of bipolar disorder are more likely to develop bulimia or bulimia combined with anorexia.

The Challenge in Treating Both Bipolar and Eating Disorders

Treating both bipolar disorder and an eating disorder can be tricky.

Antidepressants are often employed to treat eating disorders, but tend to encourage manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder. Prescribing mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics is also complicated, as these medications tend to trigger binge-eating episodes.

The best treatment available for people who suffer from an eating disorder concurrently with bipolar disorder is talk therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is known for treating anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating.

Final Thoughts

If you suffer from bipolar disorder and an eating disorder, you are not alone. Developing an eating disorder while suffering from bipolar disorder is very common.

But there is hope. There is no shame in seeking help.

Talk to your psychiatrist about possibly adjusting your medications. It’s possible that with the right combination, your doctor can treat both disorders.

And talk to your therapist about targeted therapies to address your eating disorder and your bipolar disorder. (For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.) You can develop coping skills and start the road to recovery from your eating disorder.

I wish you well in your journey.

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Sunshine Edition

Hello! Welcome to The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Sunshine Edition! Thanks so much for dropping by. 

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How are you? How’s the weather been? How are the kids? What have you been struggling with? Are you managing to perform self-care? Let me know in the comments!

First, I apologize that this post is so late. It’s more like a Saturday Afternoon Mental Health Check in, haha. I forgot to write the post yesterday (Friday), which is what I usually do.

When I signed on to my website this morning, I found it wasn’t working, so I needed to troubleshoot it. I was frantically working on that, and then my kids woke up and wanted to cuddle with me upstairs. I figured my kids are more important than a website (sorry!), and cuddled with them.

Then, at 10am, we had a toddler group (like a co-op preschool, but one day a week) class, as a make-up class for a snow day we’d had in December. I also forgot about that. So that’s why this post is so late.

My Week

My week has been a blend of ups and downs.

The sun finally came out this week, so I spent a lot of time just sitting in sun puddles and soaking it up, like my cat did. The therapy boxes and the higher dose of Wellbutrin, my antidepressant (plus an new anti-anxiety med) seem to be working. So I’ve had more good days than bad this week, a welcome change.

On Tuesday, I felt great, but stayed up until 2am working on my new fantasy story. I thought I would be tired the next day. But on Wednesday, I jumped out of bed at 7:30am, feeling great. I rode the high all day.

Thursday was objectively terrible. I woke up groggy and depressed and stayed that way until 4:30pm, when I finally mustered up the energy to get out of the house. I took Toddler in her stroller to a nearby coffee shop, and we had a mother-daughter date. That was nice.

On Friday, which was Valentine’s day, I felt great again, so I cleaned the house and made lasagna (my husband’s favorite meal, which was one of my presents to him).

Today, I feel great again. So this week has been excellent, and I think it’s because of all the sunshine we’ve been getting. There was no sun for all of January. It rained continuously every day. That was a dark time for me, both literally and metaphorically.

if you are bipolar (or even if you aren’t), I hope that you, too, have been conquering depression lately, or just haven’t had to deal with that part of the disease in a while. Thanks for listening.

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When to Disclose Your Mental Illness to Your Dates

Dating with a mental illness, especially bipolar disorder, can be a minefield to navigate. You need to find someone who will support you in all aspects of life, including your struggles with your mental conditions.

When to Disclose Your Mental Illness to Your Dates - CassandraStout.com

Finding such a person can be daunting. A lot of people who have little experience with mental illnesses tend to think that people with bipolar disorder are “crazy” and out of control. Stigma and awful stereotypes are very real. Some people may bolt as soon as they hear the word “bipolar.”

You have to communicate honestly with your significant other about your disorder, but first you have to disclose to them that you have one. But when do you disclose to your dates that you have more to deal with than a neurotypical person?

Honesty is the Best Policy

You may have a million questions when it come to dating. For example, when do you disclose your illness? Will you be honest on the first date or will you wait until you’ve gotten to know your date before letting them know? If you can’t work and are on disability due to your illness, how do you explain what you do? When do you let your date know if you’re on meds?

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. Dating looks different for everyone regardless of their mental conditions. When you disclose should always be up to you.

If you are just dating casually, disclosing your mental illness isn’t that important. But if you are looking for a long-term relationship, disclosing that you suffer from mood episodes should be your highest priority.

If you can hide your illness and let your boyfriend or girlfriend know months into a relationship that you’ve been keeping something so big a secret from him or her, then he or she might feel betrayed and break up with you, or worse.

When it comes to dating with an illness that is hard to hide and impacts your life every single day, then honesty is the best policy. Letting your date know on the second or third date, before either of you has invested too much into the relationship, is better than waiting until you’ve moved in together.

Tell your date about your disorder before you make any long-term commitments to that person. Explain what he or she can expect when you suffer a mood episode. Let them know what steps you usually take to manage your disorder, and the treatment team you have in place.

This way, your partner won’t be shocked when your moods and behaviors suddenly shift, and may even be prepared to help you through your mood episode.

Final Thoughts

Explaining your mental illness to your dates before you make a long-term commitment is crucial for your relationship to thrive.

Some people may run for the hills when you disclose your struggles. Let them. They wouldn’t have been capable of supporting you or committing to the whole you anyway. Find someone else who you know will be able to remain strong in the face of your mental illness.

Dating with a mental illness can be difficult. But if you are honest with your date about your mental condition before feelings start to grow, then you avoid the risk of alienating them and suffering from a hard breakup.

I wish you well in your journey.

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Appointments Edition

How are you? I genuinely want to know!

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Hello, hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Appointments Edition!

How are you? How’s life treating you lately? What have you been up to this week? Have you been maintaining your self-care routine? How are the kids? What parenting challenges have you been dealing with lately? Please let me know; I genuinely want to hear from you!

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Appointment Edition - CassandraStout.com

My Week

My week has been following the theme of the previous couple of weeks: utterly depressing. I just haven’t been myself lately. I’ve been struggling to do housework and the most basic of tasks, like brushing my teeth (ew).

I missed an appointment with my therapist on Monday. I completely forgot about it. Luckily, I was able to reschedule for Wednesday.

My therapist believes my depression may be seasonal. I have been unusually exhausted lately as well, so she asked me if I would a) get a physical and some bloodwork done with my primary care physician, and b) set up an appointment with my psychiatrist.

I have the appointment with the PCP on Tuesday of next week and the psychiatrist on Thursday. I am blessed to have a treatment team, and decent insurance.

On Thursday, I started potty training the toddler. She’s amazing at it. She only had a few accidents on Thursday; on Friday, she had one. I am so proud of her.

Unfortunately, I was so excited to potty train her, and so focused on asking “do you need to go potty?” every fifteen minutes, that I missed my morning meds (Welbutrin and vitamin D) on Thursday. That threw me for a loop for the whole rest of the week.

Wellbutrin shares a caffeine pathway, which means I can’t simply take it in the afternoon, or the medication will keep me awake at night. No sleep means mania for me, usually. I want to avoid that at all costs, as mania is much more destructive than depression in my experience.

On Friday, I did very little, except to fold 5 loads of laundry that had piled up on my bed. I also, to my chagrin, yelled at my son for making his sister scream. There’s something about a high-pitched, extended, hysterical screaming that goes right to my primal brain.

So that’s been my week. A week of big, stressful changes, that I’ve been experiencing through a thick fog of apathy. Hopefully my PCP and psychiatrist figure out what’s wrong and treat me accordingly. Thanks for listening, and wish me luck!

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How Depression Interferes with Getting Things Done (GTD)

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When you have depression, your natural inclination when faced with a to-do list is to crawl back into bed, right? Trust me, I’ve been there. When I’m depressed, I’d rather stick my hand into a box of tarantulas than load the dishwasher.

It’s rare that you do get the motivation to tackle something on your list. But, when you do, have you noticed that staying focused on that getting that task done is impossible?

Have you tried to complete a task like “pick up the living room,” only to end up staring at the mountain of toys, not knowing what to do next? I’ve been there, too.

Turns out there’s a scientific reason behind the inability to get things done (GTD) with depression. It’s called a “lack of cognitive control,” or, more colloquially, “executive dysfunction.” There’s even a disorder for it: executive dysfunction disorder.

Getting things done, or GTD, is a productivity system developed by David Allen. GTD encourages people to “brain dump” everything in their heads out onto paper, and then file that away into a trusted system. A trusted system involves calendars, your phone, and anywhere you’d like to schedule tasks.

But executive dysfunction interferes with GTD because a brain dump can be overwhelming for people with depression. I’ve written about executive dysfunction and how it relates to bipolar disorder before. But it’s been a while since that post, so I figured a refresher is in order.

What is Executive Function?

Executive function, when things are going well, is the ability to set goals and self-monitor. This means that you can recognize that picking up the living room requires you to pick up one toy at a time, rather than staring down a mountain of them.

Executive function is, in so many words, the ability to break tasks down into compartmentalized parts.

Most of the time, executive function, for people who have learned it (which is a whole ‘nother post), is automatic. But studies have shown the depression (and bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) interferes with executive functioning. Breaking down tasks into parts is extremely difficult when you’re suffering from depression.

Which is why you end up being overwhelmed when looking at that mountain of toys. you literally cannot comprehend the steps it would take to clean the living room.

How to Cope with Executive Dysfunction

The good news is that executive dysfunction can be managed with ideas like these:

  1. Consciously break projects up into steps. I’ve written recently about how to break tasks and projects into steps, so I’ll just summarize here. Next time you’re facing a task, try writing down every step you can think of. Then put them in the order that you need to accomplish. Then tackle the task, one step at a time.
  2. Use time management tools such as colorful calendars and stopwatches. Once you write down the steps of a task, try timing yourself to get each step done. Make a game of it, and you’ll be able to complete the steps more quickly.
  3. Schedule repeating reminders on your computer or phone, using sites like Remember the Milk. Reminders can be extremely helpful. Use a calendar app on your phone to make appointments, and set notifications for thirty minutes ahead (or however long you need to get to the appointment). “Set it and forget it” gets the task out of your head and into a trusted system.
  4. Set goals in advance to coincide with ingrained habits, such as flossing your teeth right after brushing. Setting goals to follow ingrained habits is a great way to build new ones. They’re called “triggers,” and they’re a positive way to  build upon a foundation that you already have. When you do one habit, you immediately follow it with another. If you’re a tea drinker, try taking the trash out every time you boil water, and you’ll never have to remember to take the trash out again.

Final Thoughts

Structure is extremely important for people who suffer from depression. Executive dysfunction is a real problem.

Consciously breaking projects down into steps, using time management tools such as calendars and repeating reminders, and setting goals to coincide with ingrained habits are all ways to improve executive functioning.

You can do this. You can improve your executive functioning.

I wish you well in your journey.

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Apathy Edition

How are you? What have you been struggling with? Let me know!

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Hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Apathy Edition!

How are you? Have you been keeping up with your self-care? How’s parenting going? What have you been struggling with lately? What’s been good in your life? Let me know!

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Apathy Edition - CassandraStout.com

My Week

I’ve just been going through the motions this week. There’s been a serious disconnect between me and everything going on around me.

Except for the basics like pre-scheduled playdates and making dinner, I’ve done literally nothing but sit on the couch and play on my phone, and I’m not even enjoying that. No housework. Not enough engagement with my kids. I’ve had the doldrums lately.

I’ve also engaged in a lot of negative self-talk about my body. I’ve been on my menstrual cycle this week, which didn’t help my mood, and made me feel fat and gross. I’ve put myself down for being about 50 pounds overweight all week, and now I’m putting a stop to that. Negative self-talk has no benefit, and doesn’t help me want to lose weight at all. It just makes me feel bad.

I’ve scheduled an appointment to talk to my therapist on Monday. I called a warmline Friday evening, and the operator I talked to has bipolar disorder, which was very helpful. I could tell she understood bipolar depression, because she’s lived it. I’ll be meeting with my psychiatrist in March, though I might want to call his office and ask for an earlier appointment. We shall see.

So I’m taking steps to address this soul-sucking pit of depression that I’ve found myself in. Please keep me in your prayers.

-Cass

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Apathy Edition - CassandraStout.com

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