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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