100 Doable Self-care Ideas for When You’re Suffering from Depression

Self-care is crucial to your functioning. It’s taking responsibility for your own health. When I called a warmline and told the operator my depression was overwhelming me, he told me I “needed a big dose of self-care.”

But taking care of yourself is so much more than bubble baths and painting your toenails. There are so many ways to take care of yourself. Read on for 100 doable self-care ideas for when you’re suffering from depression. Don’t feel that you need to do all of this list; one or two can contribute to a better mood.

100 Doable Self-care Ideas for When You’re Suffering from Depression

100 Self-Care Ideas for People With Depression. Tips to take care of yourself when you're suffering.

      1. Be patient with yourself. Being patient with yourself is one of the best ways you can practice self-care. If you’re mindful and allow yourself to let your negative emotions wash off you like water off a duck’s back, then the depression won’t be able to impact you as badly. If you’re patient with yourself and allow yourself to roll with the punches, then you’ll feel better.
      2. Practice self-care in snippets. Ideally, you’d have more than an hour to spend on yourself. But the busy people and parents among us don’t have that luxury. If you can, practice some of these ideas in 5-minute bursts throughout the day.
      3. Talk and think about yourself in a supportive and positive way. Depression makes you feel as if you can’t control your thoughts. But you can! You can talk and think about yourself in a supportive and positive way. If you do that, then depression won’t make as much of a foothold in your life. You’ll still experience awful, overwhelming feelings, but you can control how you react to them.
      4. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Get mad and punch a pillow. Feel sad and cry. Feel happy, and smile. You are allowed.
      5. Drink water. Hydration is so important to a healthy body and mind. You’re not at your best when you’re dehydrated. Take a day to focus on drinking a gallon of water. Even if you do nothing else but drink, you’ll win the day.
      6. Eat just enough nutritious food to feed your body. When I’m depressed, I either overeat or don’t eat anything at all. I highly recommend pacing yourself, and eating just enough nutritious food to feed your body. For 22 easy meals to make while you’re depressed, click here.
      7. Indulge in some ice cream or another sweet treat. Depression is no time to stick to a diet. You’re in crisis mode. Give yourself permission to indulge once in a while.
      8. Set realistic expectations. I have a to do list that’s regularly 15-20 items per day. Even if I didn’t sleep, I wouldn’t be able to complete the list. Don’t do what I do. Set realistic expectations for your day. If that’s only drinking water (tip #5) or eating a nutritious meal (#6), that’s fine.
      9. Try to think of 5 things that you are grateful for. If you pray, pray a prayer of gratitude. Try to think of 5 things that you are happy to have, like physical health, shelter, food, clean water, sick days at work, or whathaveyou.
      10. Text someone. If you have someone like a supportive friend or family member, text them and let them know that you’re thinking of them. You’ll be reminded that you’re not alone. If you don’t have a friend or family member, then email me, and I promise that I will email you back.
      11. Go outside. Rising from your bed is the last thing you want to do. Trust me, I’ve been there. But staying in bed all day doesn’t help. In fact, that can worsen or prolong feelings of intense sadness. If you go outside and breathe some fresh air, then your mood may lift.
      12. Clean the closest surface to you, like a nightstand. Studies show clutter deepens and prolongs feelings of depression. If you can clean the closest surface to your bed, like a nightstand, then you’ll have both a feeling of accomplishment and a clear surface to look at.
      13. Say “no” to some things. Feeling overwhelmed is common when suffering depression. If you can, say no to some things filling your schedule. Freeing up enough space to let yourself heal is one of the best things you can do for depression.
      14. Say “yes” to things you normally enjoy. Saying “yes” to things you normally enjoy may help lift your mood.
      15. Take your medication and attend therapy sessions. Taking your medication daily is crucial for your mental health. Trust your treatment team to have your best interests at heart.
      16. Get enough sleep, but not too much. Sometimes when we’re depressed, we can sleep too little or too much. Making sure you have good sleep hygiene is so important to your daily functioning,
      17. Play. Playing is a fantastic way to lift your mood. When I’m consciously practicing self-care, I set some time aside to play my favorite video game, Kingdom Hearts. An operator on the warmline I called told me that if killing virtual monsters helps me feel better, “then slaughter away!”
      18. Avoid or reduce caffeine. Caffeine can make you feel wired and awful. Try a cup of herbal tea instead.
      19. Write down your to-dos, but don’t write too many. Setting yourself a few miniature goals during the day will help give you clarity and focus. Just don’t overwhelm yourself with tasks, like I often do.
      20. Cull or avoid social media. Social media is a pit sometimes. People have nasty fights about political issues or curate their “perfect” lives. Try to avoid Facebook and Twitter while you’re depressed, and only friend people you personally know.
      21. Journal. Write down everything that comes to mind until you can’t write anymore. You don’t need to examine these feelings later, just work through them now.
      22. Take a shower or a bath. Hygiene is often neglected during depressive episodes. I know it’s the first thing that goes out the window when I’m depressed. Make sure to take time to shower or bathe and you’ll feel loads better.
      23. Brush your teeth. Similar to bathing, one of the things I struggle with when I’m feeling down is brushing my teeth. Take care of your mouth and it will take care of you.
      24. Read a book. Studies have shown that six minutes of reading a book lowers stress and anxiety. Feel free to indulge in one of the best pastimes.
      25. Write a list of compliments about yourself. Writing a list of compliments about yourself is probably one of the hardest ideas for self-care to put into practice when you’re depressed. But trashing yourself doesn’t help. Try to compliment your bouncy hair, your intelligence, or your ability to keep Fido alive.100 Self-Care Ideas for People With Depression. Tips to take care of yourself when you're suffering.

      1. Stroke a pet. Speaking of Fido, stroking a pet has been proven to increase dopamine and improve mood. If you don’t have a pet, curl up with a cuddly toy.
      2. Paint. You don’t have to be an artist to paint. Painting, like coloring, calms the soul, and is a cheap activity to start. All you need is some paint, some water, paper, and some brushes.
      3. Buy yourself flowers or a scented candle. Don’t wait for someone else to buy you flowers. Show yourself some love.
      4. Bake something delicious. Baking can be calming and meditative, and you’ll end up with a tasty product at the end of it.
      5. Declutter your clothes. Decluttering sounds like a chore, and an overwhelming one at that, but getting rid of excess items can be immensely freeing and satisfying.
      6. Dance. Put on some energetic music and dance like no one is watching. If you get your heart rate up, you’ll probably feel better.
      7. Fix a small annoyance. If something has been bugging you, just fix the problem, or make a plan to fix it.
      8. Listen to music. When I’m feeling down, music tends to lift me up again, or–in the case of energetic music played on my headphones–gets me going. Play your favorite pop songs, classical tunes, or hard rock music. Whatever you’re into, give relaxing by listening a try.
      9. Avoid the news. Take a break from all the negativity on the news. Most news is trying to sell you something, be it a product that will supposedly make you feel better, or a bad attitude which will cause you to turn to retail therapy. Depression and the news cycle don’t mix.
      10. Don some comfy clothes. Putting on comfortable clothes that usually make you feel like a million bucks may help you feel better when in the midst of depression.
      11. Paint your toenails. Yes, painting your toenails is the cliché, quintessential form of self-care, but it deserves to be mentioned because it’s what most people think of when they think self-care. Painting your toenails can be expressive, creative, and relaxing.
      12. Take a multi-vitamin. Taking a multi-vitamin may not seem like it will do much for immediate self-care. It’s true that vitamins require a cumulative effect in order to work well, but even taking one can help your body operate better.
      13. Go to bed at the same time every night.
      14. And then rise at the same time every morning. Good sleep hygiene is crucial for getting good sleep. Going to bed at the same time every night and subsequently rising at the same time every morning are excellent ways to ensure that you sleep well.
      15. Plan out your day the night before. Part of planning your day out the night before is setting to do lists (tip #19). This is a great aspect of self-care. If you set yourself reasonable expectations of yourself the night before, you’re more likely to get the things done on the day of. You won’t flounder without a plan.
      16. Eat breakfast daily. Breakfast is colloquially known as the most important meal of the day. Studies show that eating breakfast daily can lower our chances of obesity and high blood pressure.
      17. Put some lotion all over your body.
      18. Groom yourself. Shave your legs if you’re into that, pluck your eyebrows, brush your hair for a longer period of time than usual. If you’re freshly-groomed, you may feel better.
      19. Learn something new.
      20. Try breathing in some essential oils. Some essential oils, like lavender and cinnamon, have a calming effect on the mind and body.
      21. Blow yourself a kiss in the mirror. You might feel silly showing yourself some love, but just try it.
      22. Watch your favorite movie.
      23. Find a way to give. Being generous to others inspires an attitude of gratitude, and helps you feel better about yourself. Try volunteering at a food bank or soup kitchen.
      24. Drink a hot cup of coffee or tea.100 Self-Care Ideas for People With Depression. Tips to take care of yourself when you're suffering.

      1. Go to the library. Taking a few moments to be among books can be rejuvinating, especially if it’s in total silence and away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
      2. Go dig in the dirt. Digging in the dirt can raise your heartrate and help you indulge your connection to nature.
      3. Play a game of solitaire.
      4. Play a cooperative board game with friends and family.
      5. Stretch. Stretching your shoulders can help relieve tension.
      6. Try adult coloring books. Coloring relaxes many people. Adult coloring books have more complicated pictures to delight the senses.
      7. Double recipes. When you have the energy to cook, try doubling or tripling a recipe and freezing the excess for another meal on another day. If you meal prep ahead of time, then you won’t have to worry about cooking on days when you just can’t do anything productive.
      8. Close your eyes and picture yourself in a place that soothes you.
      9. Take a cat nap.
      10. Make a craft. Engaging in your creative side is one of the best ways to relax.
      11. Stop “shoulding” on yourself. “Should” is, overall, a negative word, which places a lot of undue expectations on yourself. Take “should” out of your vocabulary.
      12. Listen to a podcast or TED talk.
      13. Watch a comedian on YouTube.
      14. Educate yourself on a problem you have. If you are facing an illness or a problem, do some research on what the issue is so you can make a plan of attack. Learn about what you’re facing so you can know what to expect and where to get support.
      15. Browse your favorite blog.
      16. Write a good review of a place or restaurant you actually enjoy going to.
      17. Attend a group or individual therapy session. Therapy is one of the best ways to take care of yourself, provided you have a good therapist. Online support groups can help as well.
      18. Make a Spotify playlist.
      19. Ask a good friend to name three things he or she loves about you.
      20. If you can’t give up social media, dedicate a week to saying only positive things on your favorite platform. Not allowing yourself to engage in negativity will help your mood.
      21. Name your emotions without judging them. Naming your emotions without judging them is similar to allowing yourself to feel your feelings (tip #4), but this time, you identify what you’re feeling. Putting a name to your emotions helps you control them.
      22. Tell your pet your darkest secrets. Your pet will still love you, even if you tell them your darkest secrets.
      23. Take 15 minutes to write down everything bothering you, and your feelings about them. Then burn the paper.
      24. Get a massage.
      25. Walk barefoot on the grass.
      26. Build something with LEGOs.
      27. Play with playdough. You may feel like a kid again by playing with playdough, but that’s not a bad thing. Playdough engages both your hands and your creative side. So do LEGOs (tip #75).
      28. Eat your favorite comfort foods.
      29. Go see a movie at the theater all by yourself.
      30. Plan an extravagant vacation for fun. You don’t need to actually go on a vacation in order to plan out what you’d do. Planning is part of the fun.
      31. Make a homemade facemask. Readers’ Digest has some great facemask recipes for you to use here.
      32. Sing at the top of your lungs. You might feel silly singing at the top of your lungs, but doing so will force you to breathe deeply, which brings oxygen to your brain.
      33. Light candles around the house. Bonus points if the candles you light are scented and the scents are pleasing to you.
      34. Watch old Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood videos online.
      35. Wrap yourself up in a blanket just pulled from the dryer.
      36. Turn down thte lights and give yourself permission to do absolutely nothing.
      37. Ask for help. If you have friends or family or a treatment team, ask them for help. Don’t be shy about getting support during a depressive episode; we all need help sometimes.
      38. Read inspirational stories.
      39. Read positive quotes.
      40. Take your dog or a friend’s dog out for a walk. Not only will walking a dog get you moving, it’s good for the dog, too.
      41. Do a 10-minute body scan technique to check in with every part of your body. Start scanning your body with your feet. How are they feeling? Move up to your legs, knees, hips, belly, and so on, checking in with each part of your body. What is your body telling you? Are you dehydrated? Hungry? Is it time for a nap? Listen to your body.
      42. Intentionally find five beautiful things around the house or on the way to work.
      43. Make a gift for someone.
      44. Pray. If you’re religious–or even if you’re not–praying can help you center yourself. If you don’t pray, try meditation.
      45. Focus on your breathing for 5 minutes.
      46. Soften your expectations of yourself and of others.
      47. What are you good at? Try to use your talents.
      48. “Turn the other cheek.” Be the better person when someone has wronged you. Try to forgive someone who has hurt you personally, whether or not they’ve apologized.
      49. Go on a walk and take pictures of anything that catches your eye.
      50. Listen to meditative sounds, like monks chanting.
      51. Give yourself permission to only do one self-care activity per day. When you’re depressed, the last thing you want is a list of things to do. Give yourself permission to only try one self-care activity per day.

    100 Self-Care Ideas for People With Depression. Tips for taking care of yourself when you're suffering.

    Final Thoughts

    If you’ve made it through the entire list, that’s awesome. You don’t have to do all of these self-care ideas, especially not all at once. You don’t even have to do any of them. If you’ve eaten, drank water, and taken a shower, you’ve won the day. Taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can engage in self-care a little at a time.

    I wish you well in your journey.

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Hiatus Announcement for the Bipolar Parent

Hello!

It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing a two-month hiatus for The Bipolar Parent. For the past eleven weeks, I have been working on personal projects, and have lost all motivation to work on the blog.

I have high hopes that a two-month hiatus–one month to rest and take the pressure off, another to get back into the swing of things–will help me recharge my batteries.

I appreciate all of you as readers. Thanks in advance for your understanding. Please stay safe in quarantine, and tend to your families.

Stay healthy, stay hydrated, stay sane.

Cassandra Stout

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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.

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

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 Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Sleep Edition

The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Sleep Edition – How are you? I’d like to get to know you, so please stop by!

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Hello! Welcome to The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Sleep Edition!

How are you? How have you been sleeping? Well, I hope! How’s your holiday planning going? If you have kids, how are they? How has your week been? Please tell me! I really do want to get to know all of you.

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Check In: Sleep Edition - How are you? I'd like to get to know you, so please stop by!

My Hellish Week of No Sleep

Well, last week was good, but this one started off on the wrong foot and stayed awful. Last Saturday night, I stayed up late messing around on the internet and inhaling articles about how to grow my blog traffic. Quickly becoming obsessed with making my own website (which I did eventually–it’s coming soon!), I realized I needed to sleep, and shut my laptop at 10:35pm. Then I laid awake in bed until 3am with my mind spinning. I ended up having to take a sleep aid, which I loathe. I wasn’t able to wake up at 7am to hang out with my son, as I’d promised him the night before. He seemed to understand, but I hate disappointing him.

That lack of sleep a set the tone for the rest of the day (and week). I was irritable, still obsessed with my blog, and tired. I couldn’t sleep during the rest of the week, either. By Wednesday, I’d had enough. I took a two-hour nap while my preschooler was making Christmas artwork at school, and felt loads better–during the day, at least. At night, I stayed awake until 2am. Ugh.

On Thursday, I attended both a psychiatry appointment and a therapy session, which always help me re-center myself. My psychiatrist and I decided not to adjust my meds and to meet in three months. My therapist suggested that I take the sleep aid at 10pm for the next few days, so I’ll be asleep by 11pm when it kicks in. On Thursday night, I took the sleep aid at 8pm, fell asleep by 9pm, and slept for 12 hours. Friday morning, I was still tired and groggy, but feeling less manic.

I’m still obsessed with growing my blog, but the frantic, urgent nature of the obsession is blunted. I hope I’ll be able to better manage the work/life/mom balance in the future. Wish me luck, and thanks for reading.

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Mental Health Check-in: Mother-In-Law Edition

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Mother-in-Law Edition - Cassandrastout.com

Hello!

How are you? How’s your day going? How’s your week? Do you have any holiday plans? If you have kids or a partner, how are they? Let’s chat!

How I’m Doing

My week has been a good one. My mother-in-law was here, and we all adore her. The toddler especially loves her Grandma. We made cookies on Sunday, and hung out the rest of the week. My family’s holiday plan is to fly across the country in mid-December to visit her where she lives. We’re all looking forward to it!

So please let me know how you’re doing. I do genuinely want to get to know you all.

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Mother-in-Law Edition - Cassandrastout.com

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11 Lessons I Learned from 11 Years of Managing Bipolar Disorder

sky is falling
A black-and-white photo of a man standing in front of a storefront, looking up at the sky. Credit to flickr.com user Neil Moralee. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

I have suffered from bipolar disorder I for decades, but I didn’t know that my condition had a name for a long time. It wasn’t until after a psychotic break following the birth of my son 11 years ago that I was diagnosed, and started managing the illness. Thankfully, my bipolar disorder is not the treatment-resistant type, so I have responded well to medication and therapy.

Here are 11 lessons I learned after 11 years of managing bipolar disorder:

Lesson #1: Take my Medication, Everyday

Like almost everyone who takes medication for a chronic illness, I found myself not wanting to take my pills. Could I manage my disorder without them? Do I have to take my meds everyday? The answers to those questions are: no, I can’t, and yes, I do, respectively.

I learned the hard way that I have to take my medication every day. If I don’t, I end up manic, anxious, or depressed, and sometimes all three at once. Mania and depression presenting at once is called a mixed episode, which I have on occasion. They are the most dangerous of all the episodes if left untreated, because I think awful thoughts and have the energy (and lack of impulse control) to act on them. For me, taking my medication daily is the only way to head off these episodes.

Lesson #2: Take my Medication on Time

Taking my meds on time (morning meds in the morning, night meds at night) is something I still struggle with. My psychiatrist recently told me to take a medication I was taking at night in the morning, which I am not at all used to, so I often forget to take them. But I’ve found that if I take the medication which shares a caffeine pathway in my brain at night, then I’ll be up all night, which can lead to manic episodes. It’s a balance I’ve yet to master.

Lesson #3: This Mental Illness is Lifelong

Until the past several months, I hadn’t suffered a depressive or manic episode in six or seven years. I thought, foolishly, that the mental illness had simply–poof!–disappeared. The fact that I can’t just make mental illness go away has been one that I’ve struggled to accept. I can manage my disorder, but it is always with me.

Lesson #4: Make Peace with my Diagnosis

Like many people diagnosed with a mental illness, I struggled at first with my diagnosis. I couldn’t be bipolar, I thought. I wasn’t crazy, like the people surrounding me in the mental hospital I committed myself to. But I was and am mentally ill. Making peace with my diagnosis only came in time, after I had figured out how to manage my condition. Like lesson #3, I had to realize that this mental illness is lifelong, and I needed to deal with it.

Lesson #5: Take my Bipolar Disorder Seriously

If left untreated, my bipolar disorder will wreck my life. Over the years, I have taken my medication consistently and attended therapy religiously. But when I didn’t, my carefully constructed life fell apart–and how. I have since learned that I must take my mental illness seriously. Like a diabetic, one slip up is enough to send me into a spiral of destruction. I can never stop managing bipolar disorder, ever.

Lesson #6: Honesty is the Best Policy

I’ve found that, when it comes to my moods, honesty is the best policy. When my son asks me how I’m feeling, I will tell him that I am anxious, depressed, fine, or feeling “up.” I don’t ask him to manage my emotions, but he is able to adjust his expectations of me accordingly. He is extraordinarily empathetic and mature for his age, and I have no doubts that’s because of how my mental illness has affected him. In other cases, being honest about my bipolar disorder to people other than my immediate family ends up with the same result. For more information on how to disclose your disorder to friends and family, click here.

Lesson #7: Gather a Support System

For many, many years, I was too depressed to gather a strong support system. I had moved away from all my friends and family for my husband’s job, and felt isolated. Making new friends, especially when I had an infant to care for, seemed impossible. It’s only been fairly recently that I’ve reconnected with my family (and been honest with them; see lesson #6), and made new friends who understand mental illness. This support is crucial to my wellbeing. If I had known how much not having  a system in place affected me, I would have pushed myself hard to make friends sooner.

Lesson #8: Manage my Sleep

Staying up all night for a week is what triggered my psychotic break and first real manic episode. I have learned the hard way that sleep is my best friend. When I don’t sleep, I end up firmly in the middle of a manic episode, depressive episode, or mixed episode. Sleep is crucial for anyone with bipolar disorder, but I need more sleep than the average adult (about 9-10 hours a night vs. 7-8). I cannot function without sleep.

Lesson #9: Trust my Mental Health Team

Like many people who suffer from mental illnesses, I have had upwards of seven psychiatrists, and two therapists. They keep moving on me! Building trust in a new treatment team is so difficult, but I have to advocate for myself and learn to trust every time change upsets the apple cart. The lesson that my mental health team is only acting in my best interest has been a difficult one to learn. I now rely on my current psychiatrist and therapist with my life.

Lesson #10: Know my Triggers

Learning common bipolar triggers took time, and effort. I didn’t do a lot of research about bipolar disorder when I was first diagnosed, and what a fool I was. Figuring out that I needed good sleep hygiene (see lesson #8) took a period of trial and error, during which my husband and child suffered as I wasn’t present for them. Learning what triggered my manic or depressive episodes, and how to manage those triggers, was crucial in learning how to manage my disease.

Lesson #11: Therapy is Awesome

Though I was attending therapy for nine months before my diagnosis, learning coping skills in therapy was invaluable. I have attended innumerable sessions with a therapist over the years, and doing so has helped me: be more present as a parent and wife, learn how to manage my bipolar disorder, and figure out how to deal with family situations like a tense Christmas. Therapy is awesome. I highly recommend prioritizing counseling sessions if you can afford them. Many therapists take clients on a sliding scale.

Final Thoughts

Over the years, I have learned several more lessons than just these 11. But these are likely the most important. Many of these lessons are common ones learned by people who suffer from mental illnesses. If you suffer from bipolar disorder and are newly-diagnosed, take heart. Do research on your condition, take your medications, and never stop fighting.

I wish you well in your journey.

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How to Support a Friend or Loved One Staying in a Psychiatric Hospital

hospital.jpg
A white man reclining in a hospital bed. Credit to flickr.com user JD Harvill. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Sometimes, people just need a little help. There may come a time in your life where a friend or loved one is committed to a mental hospital. When I suffered a postpartum breakdown after the birth of my first child, I committed myself. I was fortunate enough to have the support of a loving, devoted husband, who cared for our newborn and for me while I was struggling with a psychotic manic episode. If you have a friend or loved one spending time in a psychiatric ward, here are some tips on how to best support him or her. If you have a loved one staying in the mental hospital and have other people ready to support him or her but don’t know how, then feel free to print this article out and hand it to them.

The “DON’Ts” of Visiting a Friend or Loved One in a Mental Hospital

  1. Don’t show up unannounced. Make sure you call ahead of time before visiting your friend or loved one in a mental hospitlal. I am sure he or she would love visitors, but being hospitalized is exhausting, and sometimes your friend might not be up for a long visit, or even one at all that day. Also be sure to check when visiting hours actually are.
  2. Don’t be afraid. Mental hospitals may seem like scary places, and it might feel natural to be afraid while you’re there. Patients talk to themselves, are in pain, and are sometimes unpredictable. But your fear contributes to stigma. These patients are normal people who are struggling with mental and/or physical illnesses. The nurses can manage the patients, who are unlikely to be violent. Conquer your fear and don’t worry about visiting your loved one.
  3. Don’t act like you’re going to catch mental illnesses. When I was committed, a fellow patient introduced me to her family. They were very reluctant to shake hands with me, and leaned back from me, presumably so I wouldn’t breathe on them. Their behavior, where they acted as if I were contagious, was insulting and demeaning. You cannot catch crazy. Do not even act as if people in pain are contagious.
  4. Don’t pity the patients. Sympathy is good, empathy is even better, but pity is terrible for anyone suffering from a mental illness. Pity contributes to feelings of low self-worth and depression, and just feels bad. Try to empathize with your friend or loved one stuck in the hospital, but don’t pity or blame him or her for being there.
  5. Don’t abandon your friend as soon as the hospital stay is over. After the hospital stay has concluded, check in with your friend and see if there’s anything he or she needs, be it a cup of coffee or help cleaning the house. Just like a physical illness, mental illnesses take a long time to recover from, especially when a hospital stay is required. Your friend will need you more than ever when they leave the hospital. Continue being a good friend and supporting him or her.

The “DOs” of Visiting a Friend or Loved One in the Mental Hospital

  1. Do visit. One of the best ways to support a friend or loved one who is staying in a psych ward is to show up and be there for them. If you can leave your judgments at the door and offer a compassionate listening ear, you can help buoy him or her and even aid in his or her recovery. Visit as often as you can and the hospital allows.
  2. Do bring something to do or talk about. One of the surprising aspects of the hospital is how boring a stay can be. Patients have very little to do other than color and read old copies of Reader’s Digest, or whatever the hospital has on hand from prior donations. A person staying in the mental ward may face crushing boredom; do your best to alleviate that.
  3. Do write and call. If you can’t visit, dropping your loved one a note or calling him or her up will be very much appreciated. Knowing that people on the outside haven’t forgotten him or her is extremely helpful to a person staying in the psychiatric hospital.
  4. Do offer your loved ones the same respect you give them when they are well. The best way my husband was able to support me was to treat me as if I were the same person he’d always known, and play with me as if I weren’t in a hospital setting. Treat your loved ones with respect; even when psychotic, I was able to tell when other people were mistreating me.
  5. Do acknowledge your loved one’s pain. Validation is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal to relate to your loved one. Rather than responding with something like, “You’ll get over it,” or even “Hang in there,” to their depression, acknowledge that he or she is hurting. Even saying, “That sounds really difficult,” will put your loved one at ease.
  6. Do advocate for your friend or loved one. Ask the person you’re visiting whether they think their treatment team is treating them properly, and keep your eyes open for any problems. The likelihood of your loved one being abused is low, but he or she still might not be able or willing to speak up for himself or herself, even for something as simple as asking for an extra blanket or a clean set of sheets. Keep in mind that your loved one may not be the most reliable narrator; anger at the nurses is common in a mental ward, especially at the beginning of one’s stay, so your loved one might take the chance to rail against their “tormentors.” But don’t hesitate to bring up your loved one’s concerns with the nurses. If the mistreatment is real, you will need to advocate for your loved one and ensure he or she gets proper care.
  7. Do establish boundaries. If you are overwhelmed by your loved one’s negativity, change the subject. Try not to cut the visit short unless he or she becomes too agitated to speak or becomes violent, as some patients might think you’re abandoning them. But healthy boundaries are important when visiting a friend in the mental ward. Take care of yourself and make sure to do something relaxing for yourself as soon as the visit concludes.

Final Thoughts

There are several dos and don’ts when supporting a friend or loved one staying in a mental hospital. Having gone through the experience of committing myself, I can strongly suggest that you visit as often as you can and the patient allows, as that will aid in his or her recovery. The feeling of being forgotten while staying in a psych ward is very real, and is crippling. Try to be in tune with your friend’s needs, and don’t abandon them after the hospital stay is over.

I wish you well.

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Dear Younger Me: You’re Bipolar, and That’s Okay

Dear Younger Me,
If someone were to tell you that by age 33, you would have a diagnosis of bipolar I, you wouldn’t be surprised. You would be surprised, however, at the fact that you have the wherewithal to treat your mental illness, both emotionally and financially.

You wouldn’t be surprised at the soul-sucking depression you feel now. You would be surprised that you haven’t felt this way in years, and that you are a productive, usually happy, stable woman. You’d be shocked at the fact that the meds have worked so well to control your bipolar disorder up until this point, and that adjusting them isn’t a major problem in your life.

You wouldn’t be surprised that you are a writer. After all, you’ve been writing since you were four and knew how to scribble letters, and wrote your debut “novel,” The Fish. You would be surprised that you are a) married to a wonderful man who would die for you, b) have kids, and c) stay home to take care of your kids. You’d be shocked to know you’re an amazing mother, with healthy, compassionate children.

cassandra stout photo
A closeup photo of author, Cassandra Stout, facing left. Protected under a Creative Commons license.

You wouldn’t be surprised to know that you are still attending the same church you grew up in, the church of Christ. You would be surprised at how much closer to God you’ve become. You’d be shocked to recognize how much He has guided your life, and worked out all things for good.

Younger me, you will be happy someday. You’ll escape the narrow-minded bullies of your small town, and establish yourself in a big city 2000 miles away. You’ll survive college–barely. You’ll suffer a postpartum psychotic breakdown, but that won’t stop you. You’ll just write a book about it.

Younger me, you have so much life ahead of you. A good life. Thank you for not giving up. You will face so many challenges and come out on top. Your grit, determination, and prayers will see you through.

Don’t give up. Don’t give up.

Love,
Cassandra Stout

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What is a Warmline, and How do You Use Them?

phone2
A picture of a red, wired telephone on a orange background. Credit to flickr.com user Ant & Carrie Coleman. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

When you’re struggling with depression or other mental health challenges, sometimes you just need someone to talk to. Someone who’s “been there,” someone who will carefully listen to your troubles or help you celebrate a big accomplishment. Why not call a warmline?

A warmline is a number you can call for free to discuss your current struggles with volunteers who may be in recovery themselves. Warmlines are not for people who are in crisis. They are intended to help people manage their issues before the crisis point hits.

Warmlines support people from all walks of life facing all manner of challenges, from postpartum problems to tuberculosis to gambling addiction to emotional and mental health issues, like bipolar depression. Warmlines are meant to foster a human connection.

Unlike a crisis line, the peer on the other end of the call will not call the police on you if you are in crisis or suicidal. Peers on warmlines are meant to let you vent your troubles and potentially connect you with resources in your county which can help.

How to Use a Warmline

But what can you talk about on a warmline? Well, the list includes but is not limited to:

  • Everyday challenges and activities
  • Grief and loss
  • Accomplishments you want someone to hear
  • Medication issues
  • Addictions
  • Resources
  • Relationships with a spouse, significant other, or friends and family
  • The past, present, or future

On a warmline, you can expect that the volunteer will listen to you carefully and non-judgmentally, keep your information confidential, and be willing to connect you to further resources. If you’re in the US, you can find a comprehensive list of warmlines by state at www.warmline.org.

The Challenge in Finding an Open Warmline

Unfortunately, warmlines are rare and 24-hour warmlines are even rarer. As I’m currently suffering from bipolar depression and struggling to get through the day, I called the warmline in my county, but was unable to get through to a human being. That line is only open from 5-9pm, and I called at about 8:30pm, so it’s possible that I’d have more luck calling earlier in the day.

I then searched for more warmlines on the internet, and found one dedicated to parents of children under six years old based out of Bakersfield, CA. I have a toddler who challenges me on a daily basis, so I called the line (1-888-955-9099, https://e-warmline.org), and was directed to an answering service staffed by a human being. She took my number and said the line operator will call me back the next morning, after the line opens at 8am.

After that, I called a warmline purporting to be a 24-hour nationwide service based in Oregon (1-866-771-9276). A recorded message told me that that number is no longer taking calls. After that, I called a few more warmlines with similar results–they were either not open, were county-specific, or not taking calls at all. Finally, I called a warmline run in my state which is open from 4pm-midnight everyday. I left a message at 9:15pm, but did not hear back from them before midnight.

My Experience With the Parenting Warmline

The parenting warmline did call me back at about 9am the next morning, as promised. The female line operator, who I’ll call Paula, was kind and gentle. She listened carefully to my main, current parenting struggle–letting my toddler watch too much screen time while I am depressed and unable to get out of bed–and was compassionate on me. I told Paula that I have made an appointment with my therapist, to discuss coping skills, and my psychiatrist, to adjust my meds, and Paula said that I’m doing everything I’m supposed to do.

While I was on the phone, my toddler repeatedly tried to get my attention, and my conversation with Paula was interspersed with talking to my kid. Paula remarked on that, saying that she appreciated how responsive I am to my child, and that she could tell that I’m an amazing mom. Paula also has a toddler, who spoke up in the background of our call. She is a volunteer who is clearly in the trenches of parenting, and while I didn’t ask her if she’d ever suffered from depression, she seemed in tune with my challenges.

Over all, calling the line was a good idea, as Paula helped me have a good experience. She was an empathetic listener. Paula also offered me some reading materials through the mail, which I am looking forward to receiving.

Final Thoughts

If you need a compassionate person to talk to and are not in crisis, I would highly recommend calling a warmline. Finding an open one may be challenging, but I think being listened to by someone who wants to listen is invaluable.

You might get a lot out of calling a warmline, especially if you don’t have access to a therapist. Pick up the phone today. You may find that you, too, have a good experience.

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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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