I’ve been speaking and teaching about Mental Health and Mental Illness for the past five years and writing about my own personal experience for six years. The line from one of my talks that rings in my head is, “Physical illness makes mental health worse and mental illness makes physical health worse.” It seems rather intuitive to think of it in those terms. Of course when you have a cold or flu you aren’t ready to change the world. You want to curl up on the couch while you feel miserable and hope the symptoms go away as soon as possible.
In my efforts to learn about how best to manage my own bipolar disorder I discovered almost every single time I got bronchitis, a cold, pneumonia – a depressive episode was getting triggered. It may last for weeks or months. But the episode, as you may expect, would drag my mood further down and in one big cycle my physical symptoms would feel worse.
After years of dealing with this episodic condition I’d happily admit I’ve gotten a bit paranoid about depression. Why happily admit? Because for so many years this cycle would happen and I’d have no idea what was happening or why or what I could do to fight it. I simply muddled my way through and struggled.
On January 2 when I got pneumonia/bronchitis and was told I had a nodule on my lung, my spirits were naturally disappointed. And then this massive cloud of paranoia swept over me about whether or not depression would follow. Was I going to get over my physical illness and then have to deal with a long, tiresome struggle of depression? I worried. I cried. I pouted. I probably even muttered a few “it’s just not fair” comments in there.
Then, I got some good news about the lung nodule–only scar tissue. Relief. Check that worry filled box off. Certainly good for the mental health to get some positive news about your physical health.
Over the weekend my friend Margaret called and invited me to come visit her in Florida. I told her I was sick, tired, frustrated and depressed. She said, “I know. I can tell.” It made me feel really good to know someone cared about me that much to reach out and pick up the phone and invite me into her home knowing I was not in the best of spirits. I was touched. Having a friend is so important. Someone who cares and understands the battle of mental health conditions. Priceless.
Margaret suggested that night I take out a notebook and write down my thoughts. They could even be one word. Write my feelings. I did it the next day. As she mentioned I did feel a little better after getting everything down on paper. But there were words and phrases I picked up on that I knew signaled depression had reared it’s head.
It was actually kind of a relief. Recognizing and differentiating the physical blahs with the depressive filter. Realizing I was sliding down a bit gave me a chance to fight back. What were some things I could do to make sure I didn’t slide further into a dark abyss or as an old friend Julie used to say, “Gamble went to her cave.” The cave was code word for depression isolation.
As much as I’d like to will my chronic bronchitis cough away after six weeks, I can’t. As much as I’d like not to have the flu thrown on top of the cough, I can’t control it. But when it comes to the depression there are some things I can do to fight back. I can balance taking care of myself physically with completely isolating myself. I can listen to meditation and piano music that soothes my soul. I can try not to solve all my challenges and over think everything since I have so much time on my hands. I can burn my clove candle. I can read my BP Magazine and look for other tips. I can keep a positive attitude.
And still…it doesn’t make it fun, easy, or any less difficult to have to deal with a mental and a physical health issue all at one time. I do find value in knowing what is happening to me. I do find relief believing the way I’m feeling will get better. The cough will go away, the flu will reside, I’ll get my energy back and my spirits will lift.
Soon, I’ll be out of my cave and among the living again.
For those of you reading who struggle with bipolar or depression know you are not alone in the battle. Your feelings are valid. Your battle is real. I suggest accepting how you feel and then taking control of the things you know you can do.
I will tell all of you what I tell myself, never give up fighting.
When I was struggling with very severe depression years ago, I wrote a song on the piano. I never wrote a lot of music but I did write a few original songs. The title of the song was “God give me just one more day.”
Here’s to one more day.
Wishing you well,