What are ‘Down Days’?
I follow a mental health blogger, Natasha Tracey, and, while some posts don’t resonate with me every time, most of what she talks about I can identify with completely.
Many people will refer to being ‘down’ and they do not have clinical depression or a Bi Polar diagnosis. Sadly, these comments do not help those with serious mental health conditions as they trivialise what is, for those of us with such disorders, something debilitating and immobilising.
In her latest blog, Natasha talks about someone referring to ‘Down Days’ and she makes the point that hers are not days but more likely weeks and months. You can read her blog here and, if you find it of interest you can follow her and receive updates in your inbox.
I, too, don’t have ‘down days’. I know immediately that my mood has dropped. It will follow a period of busyness, project building, possibly excessive spending which, at the time, seems absolutely necessary but, in the time that follows, reality tells me that I did not need whatever it was I spent my money on.
I used to ruminate about recent spending but have learnt over the years not to take off labels, to keep receipts and seriously consider returning items, if that is possible. If I decide to keep some dubious purchases, I have discovered that a few months or a year or two down the line these items can be used and are not a waste. If you suffer from this behaviour, take heart that all is not lost.
But back to ‘Down days’. I recently had an email from a ‘friend’ who referred to her ‘highs’ and ‘lows’. She does not have Bi Polar or mental health issues. Her ‘high’ was related to a holiday or some success and her ‘low’ was linked to losing a relative to cancer. And this is where the boundaries between what is normal and what is a serious mental health condition become blurred. Hers were the ‘normal life’ happenings with natural emotional responses. Mental illness is something else altogether.
I do wish those who do not have mental health issues would not trivialise the emotional states of those who do by referring to themselves, as if they suffer the same states. They do not. The extremes with Bi Polar are so great that normal living becomes almost impossible. A high state can result in losing sense of reality and psychotic symptoms such as believing you can achieve the well-nigh impossible or drift into some paranoid state whereby one believes the people waiting on the street are police about to arrest you, when in fact, they may be Jehovah Witnesses discussing where next to visit. The ‘crash’ that follows a ‘high’ involves much regret at spending or actions taken and are far deeper than simple ‘down days’.
I know that some people suffer rapid cycling and can experience both high and low states in one day or in a few weeks but most people with Bi Polar will go through a period of wellness when their activity increases, their happiness is unbounded, optimism is high and life is good. That is fine until the mood slips slightly higher and the behaviour is more erratic.
The low period that follows such a ‘high’ period is not just a ‘down day’. It can suddenly envelop you in total inertia, lack of motivation and anxiety which can lead to an inability to get out of bed each morning. Even when up and moving, the brain and body are so slow that taking a shower is a major undertaking and simple activities such as making a cup of tea become increasingly difficult. The weight on my shoulders is so great that, after a cup of tea and a small breakfast, I am so exhausted I have to lie down and this repeats itself through the day as I try to overcome the lethargy and feelings of ‘walking through treacle’. Minor day to day happenings can appear insurmountable.
I dread the warning sign that I am sinking low as, unless I am very lucky and can stop it in its tracks, I know I am in for at least a month, possibly two when normal life will cease. It is, as I have said, more than just a ‘down day’, more like a ‘down month’. Luckily my medication means that I rarely go into deep depression for longer periods and I employ strategies to bring me back to a fully functioning human being. However, I am not complacent. I know that I could sink for longer periods as I did in the past.
But I have had help and advice, counselling and support.
So I know the following:
SLEEP is the key. If necessary I will take a small dose of Zopiclone for a few days to regulate my sleep pattern. I can increase my medication slightly .
RELAXATION is absent but must be reclaimed. I have a reflexologist who also has trained me in ‘tapping’ techniques. One or two visits will set me on the path to recovery.
EXERCISE is vital. Mornings are rubbish so an early lunch and then a long walk in the afternoon is called for. I combine this with sitting in the sun watching the waves roll in – the joy of living at the seaside.
CREATIVITY is absent so I try to write in my notebook each day. The entries make sorry reading later but I do include TO DO lists and the POSITIVES of each day. Re-reading these entries demonstrates how each time I sink low I need to explore why this has happened and how I can reclaim my equilibrium.
YOGA is essential for my wellbeing but is something I have often neglected before this phase. I start with 20 minutes on a blanket and try to increase it each day. This can strengthen the muscles which when we are inactive become weak.
DAYLIGHT is another essential. Sitting outside in the daylight, walking or gardening all helps.
DEEP BREATHING – also used in yoga – helps anxiety and aids relaxation.
LISTENING TO MUSIC is a recent addition to my strategies. Listening to classical music has been found to have positive effects on the brain. Uplifting music and dance tunes can also help. You may find yourself singing or jigging away, perhaps even dancing. Creating your own music ie playing the piano or another instrument can take you out of yourself.
As a writer, I need to WRITE but this is hard at these times. This when I turn to blog posts such as this which I hope will help others. One thousand words is an achievement. Of course, I would prefer it was a chapter in a long abandoned novel but it is keeping the creative writing juices lubricated.
COMMUNICATION – is so important, with family, friends but is one of the hardest parts of the illness. Keep TALKING even if only to yourself while out walking. I try to talk to someone every day when I am out for a walk. It keeps me connected.
Depression is often a state of disconnectedness where we have lost some of our ability to relate to others and the world around us. However, it will return. It will pass.
What helps you cope with these low periods?