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. 

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

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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How to Break Tasks Down into Bite-Sized Pieces when You Have Depression

How to break tasks down into bite-sized pieces when you have depression - CassandraStout.com

Depression can make even the smallest of projects feel overwhelming and not worth doing. When you’re depressed, your natural inclination is to crawl into bed and stay there. You want to neglect what you need to do, from cleaning your home, feeding yourself, and taking care of pets or children.

But what if you could break those overwhelming tasks into smaller, bite-sized pieces? Then you could tackle them one at a time and truly make some progress, incremental as it might be.

1. Examine the Task. Is it a Task or a Project?

The first thing you need to do to break tasks into bite-sized pieces is to examine the task. Is it really a task, or is it a project? A task is something you can do in one sitting, in less than an hour. Whereas a project is a series of smaller tasks leading to one accomplishment. It’s important to make a clear distinction between the two.

Projects aren’t just for work or school. Anything we want to do can be classified as a project.

If you have a task that you want to break down into tasks, continue reading the next section. But if your task is actually a project, then skip to the third.

2. Break Tasks Down into Steps

You might think of something as simple as “load the dishwasher” as a task, and you’d be right. It’s easy to get done in one sitting. When we’re stable, doing the dishes is automatic, and we don’t generally balk at the amount of work the task takes. But there are a series of steps to loading the dishwasher. If you’re suffering from depression, breaking down any task into smaller action steps can be helpful.

To load the dishwasher, you need to:

  1. Gather dishes from around the house.
  2. Set dishes down on the counter, not the sink.
  3. Clear the sink.
  4. Fill the sink with hot, soapy water to aid in soaking stubborn grime off of dirty dishes.
  5. Place dishes that need soaked in the sink.
  6. Open the dishwasher.
  7. Pull out the bottom rack.
  8. Load the large items, like pots.
  9. Load the plates.
  10. Load the bowls.
  11. Load the silverware.
  12. Take the dishes that were soaking out of the sink, which fit on the bottom rack, out.
  13. Load those.
  14. Put the bottom rack back.
  15. Pull out the top rack.
  16. Load the cups.
  17. Load the serving utensils.
  18. Load Tupperware.
  19. Load Tupperware lids.
  20. Take the dishes that were soaking in the sink, which fit on the top rack, out.
  21. Put away the top rack.
  22. Fill the soap holder with soap.
  23. Close the dishwasher.
  24. Set the cycle.
  25. Turn on the dishwasher.
  26. Drain the sink.
  27. Wipe out the sink.

Wow, 27 steps for one task! Seems overwhelming, doesn’t it? And if you have depression, your inclination is to stop at any one of those steps. So often we don’t even start on a task because it just seems like we’ll never get it done.

But don’t think of the task as “27 steps” or a big picture, “load the dishwasher.” Rather, think of the task as the next step on the list.

So if you’re just starting out, gather the dishes. Then set them on the counter. Then…. Surprisingly, if you’re moving quickly (which is hard to do with depression, I know), loading the dishwasher takes 5-6 minutes, tops.

Try breaking down another task, like clearing the nightstand or making your bed. Making your bed is a simple task to break down:

  1. Pull up sheets.
  2. Pull up blankets.
  3. Fluff pillows.

That’s it. There’s only three steps to making a bed, which is why the task takes roughly thirty seconds.

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.

Easy, right?

But what about projects?

3. Break Projects Down into a Series of Tasks

Rather than looking at a project as the entire enchilada, like “plan John’s birthday party,” look at the project as a series of tasks, which you can then break down into single action steps. 

In the party planning example, the tasks can be sorted into different categories, such as food, invitations, or beverages. A task under the invitations category would be to get stamps; another would be to gather all addresses in the same place.

When cleaning your house, you can break projects down into different parts. Your bedroom is one part. The kitchen is another. And so on.

When starting a blog, you can break that project down into different phases. For example, you’ll write posts, edit them, and finally publish them.

These three ways to break projects down can help you see in what order you need to carry out the tasks in the project.

Final Thoughts

You don’t have anything to lose by taking a hard look at your project list. If you can put off some projects until you’re feeling better, then do so. Managing depression is a project all in its own.

But for those you can’t put off, try brainstorming which tasks need done for that project, and then break them down further into single action steps after sorting those tasks into categories, phases, or parts.

This is no small feat when you’re depressed, I know. But just try it.

I wish you well in your journey.

What projects are on your to-do list? Let me know in the comments!

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Getting Support During a Bipolar Depression Episode

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.

Anyone who suffers from bipolar disorder also suffers from depression. That’s just the nature of the beast. Sometimes depressive episodes can be debilitating. I’d like to share what my friends and family around me can do to help support me during an episode, and inspire you to make your own list to present to your family and friends. If you can’t bring yourself to make a list, then please feel free to print this article out and hand it to them.

Let’s dig in.

depression
A picture of a white woman holding her head. Credit to flickr.com user Amy Messere. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

1. Help Me Keep my Environment Clean

One of the major problems I have when I am suffering from depression is keeping my environment clean. During an episode, my house usually looks like a tornado hit it.

The depression-messy house cycle has been anecdotally supported for a long time. In short, the low energy and overwhelming feelings common to depressive episodes contribute to the inability to keep the house clean, and the resulting mess contributes to depression–specifically to shame. It’s a nasty cycle, one which is difficult to break.

At one point, during a very severe depressive episode years ago, I allowed dirty diapers to pile up on the floor of my living room. My mood–and subsequently my ability to keep the house clean–has improved immensely since the time my son was in diapers, largely due to appropriate medication and therapy.

One way my family and friends can support me–or any of their loved ones suffering from depression–is to encourage me to keep my environment clean. When I’m in the throes of depression, I need external motivation to pick up my space. This is best conveyed through praise and validation for my accomplishments. Please, I tell them, notice if I’ve done the dishes twice in a row, and thank me for doing so.

But if I’m in the midst of a completely soul-sucking depressive episode, I may need more help than just encouragement. When I’m that low, I need to be in a clean environment no matter how it happens. I may need my family and friends to step in and actually do the dishes rather than just thank me for them. There is a time and place for that level of help, and it’s okay to ask for that kind of support. Even hiring someone for me is useful.

I encourage you in turn to tell your family and friends what you need, be it reminders to do however much work you can handle or help tidying your space.

2. Encourage Self-Care

When I’m in the belly of the beast, I sometimes need help taking care of myself, including personal grooming. Brushing my teeth is a struggle. During my senior year of college, I suffered a suicidal depressive episode so bad and so lengthy that I didn’t eat or shower for weeks. My mom drove to my college town two hours away from her home and washed my hair for me. Then she took me to a crisis center, which helped me get back on an even keel. Neglecting myself made my depression worse.

If you are neglecting yourself, I encourage you to reach out to those around you. If you feel you have no one and are suicidal, immediately go to a crisis center. Do not wait.

3. Watch My Kids

This is a tip for the parents among us, but one of the best ways to support a parent in the midst of a depressive episode should be obvious: watch the kids. If I don’t get time to rest and recover from 24-hour parenting duty, I start to tune out my children and am not the present parent I would like to be. This is even worse when dealing with depression. I try not to neglect my children while depressed, but parenting while suffering from a depressive episode is incredibly difficult. Being able to briefly hand them off to my husband or a babysitter to recharge my batteries is crucial for my recovery during depression.

If you have children and are suffering from depression, try to arrange alternative supervision for them so that you won’t have to take on all their care by yourself. The best time to plan this is when you’re well, but if you didn’t, then call on your friends and family as much as possible during your depressive episode. If you don’t have friends and family around, google drop-in daycares in your city, or ask members of your church if they’d be willing to babysit. I know internet research and making calls is the last thing you want to do during an episode, but getting some time to yourself is crucial for healing.

4. Listen While Maintaining Healthy Boundaries

One of the stressors on me when I’m depressed is the fear that I’m overburdening my friends and family with my negative feelings. Thankfully, my sister is very good at taking care of herself by letting me know when she needs a break from my negativity. She is a great listener, and often provides me a space to feel vulnerable without being judged.

If you can find people who can listen to you while taking care of themselves, they can be an invaluable resource to you. There’s a certain give and take between a person suffering depression and his or her supporters, and the ultimate goal is for everyone to be healthy.

Final Thoughts

The best ways to support me while I’m in a depressive episode is to help me take care of my environment and myself, watch my kids for me, and to listen while maintaining healthy boundaries. This is what works for me. I encourage you to figure out what you need from your loved ones and don’t be afraid to ask for those things. Certain people will better be able to support you than others, and in different ways. Identify these people and lean on them for support.

I wish you well.

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Does Inflammation Cause Bipolar Disorder?

joint.jpg
A rope-wrapped, rusty pipe bent at an angle with small nails driven into it. Credit to flickr.com user jurek d. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Inflammation, or swelling, is a very important medical condition that affects many parts of our bodies, including our brains. It’s the body’s protective response to infection. In some autoimmune diseases, like arthritis, the body’s immune system triggers an inflammatory response when there are no bacteria or viruses to fight off. This means that the immune system damages normal, healthy tissues, as if they are somehow infected.

But what does all of this mean for bipolar disorder? Several things, actually.

A 2013 study conducted in Denmark posits that mood disorders could be the brain’s response to inflammation. Researchers found that people who suffered from an autoimmune disease were a whopping 45% more likely to develop a mood disorder. The report found that people who were treated for inflammation also had improved moods, and that the effectiveness of antidepressants in these people increased.

Similarly, a 2011 study in the Journal of Neuroinflammation found that high levels of quinolinic acid, a byproduct of inflammation, are associated with suicidal tendencies and chronic depression.

Even lithium,  the gold standard in treating bipolar disorder, might have anti-inflammatory properties in the brain. No one knows exactly how the drug works, but recent studies point towards lithium reducing inflammation.

Similarly, there is some evidence that other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen may improve the effect of bipolar medications, at least in bipolar depression. Mania doesn’t seem to be impacted.

All of this is interesting news, but the causal link between bipolar disorder and inflammation has yet to be fully established. No one knows if inflammation causes bipolar disorder or if bipolar disorder causes inflammation. And mania doesn’t seem to be affected at all, just depression, and no one knows why. There are several possible causes of bipolar disorder, ranging from genetics to environment to childhood trauma. The true causes of bipolar disorder are multi-factorial, meaning that there are many reasons why you might develop the psychiatric condition. Inflammation is just another piece of the puzzle.

So the answer to the question of whether inflammation causes bipolar disorder is a solid maybe. Inflammation is related to bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses, but no one knows exactly how yet. While reducing inflammation is generally a good idea to promote optimum health, it won’t cure your bipolar disorder.

Ways to reduce inflammation include taking turmeric capsules, eating a healthy diet including plenty of vegetables, nuts, and fruits, and getting plenty of exercise. Talk to your doctor before engaging in any dietary change or embarking on an exercise program.

I wish you luck in your journey.

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How to Talk to Someone Experiencing a Bipolar Mood Episode

Trigger Warning: This post contains a brief discussion of suicidal ideation.

Bipolar patients suffering from mood episodes often make no sense. If they are depressed, they may say things like, “I’m a failure. No one loves me. I want to die.” On the flip side, if they’re manic or hypomanic, they might say things like, “I can fly! Let’s deep clean the house at midnight! It’s all so clear now!”

Telling the depressed person that he or she is not a failure and that people love him or her may fall on deaf ears. Similarly, trying to engage with the manic person’s delusions might be futile. So how do you talk to someone suffering from these issues?

Let’s dig in.

How to Talk to a Depressed Person

In order to talk to a depressed person, you need to address the root problem: the illness. You need to offer sympathy, understanding, and possible solutions.

For example, one thing you can say in response to his or her negativity is this: “I hear you. I understand that you’re depressed. This is normal for your bipolar disorder. I know it sucks. I’ve seen you like this before. Maybe you could take a long, hot shower; we know that helps you feel better.” This response addresses the real issue and communicates that you are there for the depressed person.

talking
A woman with very red lips on a cell phone. Credit to flickr.com user Anders Adermark. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Depressed people may also suffer suicidal thoughts, which are dangerous. If they express these thoughts, you can say something like, “Thank you for telling me. You mean a lot to me, and I am here for you.” Then suggest that the depressed person call his or her treatment team and let them know that he or she is suffering from these thoughts.

How to Talk to a Manic Person

Similar to talking to someone suffering from depression, when talking to a manic person, you need to respond with patience and understanding. He or she will try to talk over you, and will not be able to stop talking. Be careful about being swept up into the conversation, as it can be overstimulating for everyone.

If the manic person ends up overstimulated, his or her mania or hypomania might worsen and he or she may become agitated. Despite their confidence, people with hypomania or mania are very sensitive in their elevated mood, and may take offense easily. If you are overstimulated, you might not be as effective at helping them remain calm. Make sure that the manic person is in a safe place and walk away for a break.

When you return, answer questions briefly, calmly, and honestly. If the manic person proposes a project or goal, do not agree to participate. You can keep tabs on them during the project and remind them to eat, sleep, and generally take breaks.

In my own experience, I was manic shortly after giving birth. I clapped my hands repeatedly and demanded that we–myself and the woman from church visiting me–clean the house, rather than let me recover. I was focused on getting my projects done, and ended up devastated once my goal was thwarted. Prepare to deal with that devastation–or frustration.

If the manic person tries to argue, remain detached. Talk about neutral topics. If you need to postpone the discussion, say something like, “I see this means a lot to you. We definitely need to discuss this, but let’s do so in the morning after I am no longer upset and tired.” You can also try to redirect his or her behavior, saying something like, “Would you prefer to take a walk or watch a movie?”

Final Thoughts

Communicating with people suffering from a mood episode, be it mania or depression, can be difficult. They often believe things that aren’t true. So taking care of yourself in the situation is paramount. If the manic or depressive person is critical of you, tell the person that you understand that he or she is ill and upset, but that you will not tolerate being spoken to in that way. Then find a way to exit the conversation and reconvene later. Be firm, but kind.

Above all, as with so many strategies for dealing with bipolar people, be patient. They are suffering from a mental illness that they cannot control. It’s not their fault. If they must deal with the consequences of their actions, try to present those consequences after they come out of the mood episode, when they are back to their rational selves.

Good luck!

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