What is the key to beating depression before it really takes root?

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I was able to successfully ward off depression my freshman year of college, but I wasn’t able to do so my senior year. What was so different and why didn’t I catch on in time to fix it?

It’s a question that crossed my mind today when I thought about how long it had been since I mindless danced like crazy around the room. I did it a ton my freshman year of college because I knew it made me happy and I needed it, along with a lot of other things, but since then? It’s been a hot minute since the last time I cranked music just to dance by myself. That led me to ponder on the fact that I didn’t do it my senior year of college, which was the year that my depression actually caught me. I work so hard to keep it away my freshman year, why didn’t I attempt to do the same three years later?

It’s a multi-layered question, but I think it can help me understand how to catch my depression in earlier stages in the future. Sometimes pulling out all your coping mechanisms is enough, sometimes you need medication, but the fact is it’s always easier to fix it when you catch it early.

My freshman year was hit with really bad break ups, both a romantic one and one with my best friend. I knew I had every reason to be sad. I acknowledged that sadness and I knew that it was logical. My senior year was different, it shouldn’t have been, but it was. My close college friends all graduated a class before me and I became isolated the same way I had my freshman year, but I still had friends in the area so I dismissed the sadness. It wasn’t valid and I was fine. I kept telling myself that, and it’s amazing what lying to yourself can do. You can convince yourself that crying every night is completely normal, and I did. Was it because my pain was more understandable my freshman year? Was it because I knew college sometimes started out rocky and that break ups were always messy? My senior year I thought I was supposed to be clinging onto my last years of college bliss, but instead I found myself angry I wasn’t done yet. Everyone around me was sad to be leaving, did that make me feel like my emotions were less valid?

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You’re allowed to be overwhelmed by good things.

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There’s a lot happening in my life. 85% of those things are wonderful things that I’m excited about, but every now and then I still find myself completely overwhelmed by it all. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean that I wish it wasn’t happening and it doesn’t mean that I wish it was happening differently. It just means that while I’ve been racing full steam ahead and my engine started overheating.

I think there can be a lot of shame when you feel overwhelmed by good things, but a lot of time it just means that you’re a little too busy and you’re feeling too much. You can be excited about progress and still fear change. You can be happy about a big investment and still be nervous about what it means for your saving account. You can be busy with amazing tasks and still feel overworked by them. Also? You can be excited about too many things and simply get burned out from the force of that single emotion. Emotions are a lot to bare and they can effect us not only mentally, but physically.

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Positive things my bipolar disorder has gifted me with:

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I wrote a post a long while ago about how it’s okay for people to call mental illness a gift. It’s one of my favorite posts. I can’t decide if it’s the bipolar jokes or the fact that it’s about Van Gogh, but regardless, it still stands. It’s is okay for people to call their mental illness a gift the same way it’s okay for them to call it a curse. Both can be true.

I spend a lot of time writing about ways to function with mental illness and to overcome some of it’s trickier parts, but I wanted to make a post about the good things my mental illness has given me. So here’s a list of positives that have come from my bipolar disorder:

  • Creativity: Bipolar and creativity have long been linked. For most the creative streaks come during the manic phases, for me it seems like my creativity hardly sleeps. I’ve been creative for as long as I can remember, which is fitting because I got diagnosed at age six. Over half of my hobbies are creative ones and I fully thrive in the environment they create. I love my hobbies and I love this skill set. There is nothing I would trade for it.
  • Healthy coping mechanisms: A lot of people have unhealthy coping mechanisms, in fact, I don’t feel like it would be a stretch to say that most people do. It’s hard to function with a mental illness without learning coping mechanisms, and unhealthy ones just don’t make the cut, they end up making us feel worse. So to function, I’ve learned healthy coping mechanisms, ones that work and can aid my medication to the point where I can handle most everything thrown at me. It took a lot of work to get them, but I’m so happy I have them and am able to fall back on them whenever I need them, whether those needs are triggered by bipolar disorder or just everyday life.

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Hate is addicting

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I think we have a skewed perception about what is addicting and what isn’t. There are a lot of substances that aren’t addictive physically but can be mentally. It’s very easy to get hooked on a feeling, hooked on emotions. We can crave the endorphins that something releases or the power we feel when we do a certain act. Are emotions technically addictive? No. Do you get emotional withdraws from them all the same? Yes. That makes them addictive enough in my book.

But it isn’t just the good emotions we get hooked on, it isn’t just things that numb our pain, sometimes we can get addicted to the things that fuel it. It’s an interesting thing really, but more and more people are becoming addicted to outrage, addicted to anger, addicted to hate.

Maybe it’s the way we take in our news, maybe it’s that the most outrageous, enraging headlines are the ones to grab our attention. Maybe it’s that social media has acted as a barrier from other people emotions, so we don’t realize when we are treading to far, maybe then we become desensitized to it to the point that we no longer care when we do. Maybe its the fact that we’re taking in so much hate all the time that we start to think of it as normal, and therefore needlessly dish it back out into the world.

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Stop Googling your new medications.

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I’ve heard a surprising number of people tell me they are really worried about their medications side effects, so they read them all before deciding whether or not to go on them. I get the idea, it’s important to be informed, but it can be a dangerous habit to get into. Let me explain:

I understand the dangers of bad side effects, one medication we tried for my bipolar disorder made me suicidal, another one that is perfectly safe for 99.99% of adults caused an abnormal cluster of cells in my brain after I had been on it for a number of years (they went away when I went off the medication). So, I get it, medications can do some terrible things to your body, but a lot of us need medicine, whether for our mental health or for our physical health. That medicine is essential to keeping you alive or living a life worth living. It’s scary to look at all the terrible things that could happen, but it’s also scary to think of all the things that would happen without it.

The thing is side effects aren’t always the norm. Everyone has medications effect them differently. I know people who are on the pill that made me suicidal and it was the one that cured their depression. It’s really a toss up whether or not you’ll have a good or bad reaction, but one thing is for sure, you’ll never know till you try.

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Your mental illness is not the most interesting thing about you.

20181018_110356.jpgYour mental illness is not the most interesting thing about you, and it shouldn’t be. If you find yourself reaching for your disorders name when trying to define yourself you might want to take a hard look at why you’re doing that. I’ve talked about labels before, and one of my bullet points was about mental illness, but I don’t think that covered the topic fully enough.

You are a complete person, full of dreams, hopes, fears, interests, and memories. A lot of them may be tied into your mental illness. That’s fair, especially if you’re currently fighting it with everything you have. Your mental illness is a part of you, and at times it may be a really big part of you, but it’s still not the most interesting thing about you.

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Giving and Taking Health Suggestions: No, you don’t actually know the fix.

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Suggestions normally come from a good place. We want people to feel better, we think we know a way to help, so we share. But lets be real here, every mental or physical illness can not be healed by the latest fad diet or the new “it” supplement and offering them as a cure all can honestly be very rude and condescending.

Of course I’ve tried to heal from Lyme Disease, of course I’m still working on it actively. I’m not better yet, I’m not just going to give in and submit to it. I’ve found that there are some things that seriously work, but they normally aren’t the things suggested to me by everyday people. They are things my doctor suggested or things that other people with this disease had work for them. They aren’t things that your best friend sells (hello oils) or diets that your mother in law did for her energy (hello keto).

Having an endless line of suggestions that probably won’t do anything aren’t helpful, they’re just saying ‘you clearly aren’t trying everything to get better.” That’s normally not what people mean when they suggest them, but that is normally how it comes off. It also comes off as people thinking they know a lot more than your doctors about science and yourself about your body. Neither of these is true.

That’s not to say that all suggestions are rubbish, some of them might help. How does one pick which ones to try and which ones not to?

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