Philippians 4 verse 8:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (NIV)
For the rest, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them]. (AMP)
I’m not the only person I know living with depression. Actually, chances are, statistically, that you know at least one person who has been or is depressed. Current estimations are between 17 and 25 percent of the western adult population, depending on where you read. Even if you think that 25 is a little exaggerated, there is still a chance that 1 in 8 people has, does, or will suffer from mental illness in the form of clinical depression or anxiety at some point in their life. In your life, actually. I bet you know more than 8 people.
I recently shared what a Down Day might look like. I looked pretty good, which is why I dared to attach a photo to that article. Maybe someday I might get brave (careless/rash/whatever) enough to publish a selfie of me on a truly bad day. But I think most people don’t want to see that. I don’t want to see that! The thing is, whatever they look like for you, for me, for anyone living with mental illness, Down Days are inevitable. This is something I have to realise over and over again.
I was recently talking with a friend who also is living with depression, and they expressed frustration over the pattern of good days and bad days. You strike gold for a few hours, have higher energy, feeling more capable, and so you do more. You expend more energy, more mental stamina, and you do things that you’ve wanted to get done. You wash that mountain of laundry. You rough and tumble with your kids. You write a few articles online. You take an extra shift at work and finish that stack of filing. You walk the dog for an extra hour. You make more than scrambled eggs on toast for dinner. Whatever it is, you do it. You enjoy it, you feel accomplished, and you are grateful for feeling better. You start thinking, “I’ve got this! I’ve finally got this. I’m getting better. I’m coping, I’m doing, and I love feeling free and able and strong today.” Maybe the good streak even lasts a few days, or a week. You love it. You soak it in. You feel hopeful. And then the crash comes.
“I feel stupid,” you say. “I should have seen this coming. I did this to myself. I overdid it. I should learn to hold back on the good days so I don’t crash and burn like this.” And you feel frustrated, limited, chained down by that very heavy ball which feels about the size of the globe on Atlas’ shoulders. Where did the hopeful, happy, free feelings go? The euphoria is utterly replaced by a thick fog of self-doubt, frustration, recrimination, exhaustion, and aloneness.
Here’s something I’ve learned. You pattern your brain by how you think. A book which has helped me, Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong by Dr. Tim Cantopher, explains this process. The bible also touches on the same idea. When you tell yourself a ‘truth’ about yourself, calling yourself stupid or dumb for feeling happy one day and crashing the next, you do more than pattern your emotions. You actually hard wire your synapse connections and make it easier for your brain to return to that negative place over and over again. Similarly, when you speak good things into your life, even on a down day, you help to heal the physical part of your brain that is patterning synapse connections.
Do you see? It’s not stupid to allow yourself to feel happy and hopeful. It’s actually damaging to tell yourself you’re stupid for feeling those good feelings.
I am working on speaking positive truths aloud to myself. After a couple of weeks at home, I went back to part-time work last week and did my Thursday-Friday-Saturday afternoon shifts. And then I had a really hard time on Sunday. I had to inform my family how bad I was starting to feel in the afternoon. They need to know these things. You can’t just disappear on people, even if they do pick up the slack, and especially not when you have a kid. So I had to tell them. But after my mother’s encouragement, I followed it up like this: “I’m not doing so well. I’m struggling today and it’s getting worse. But I am coping.” And then I went and took some Me Time in my room. I need to learn to re-pattern my brain into healthy connections, to speak ‘truths’ into my mind even if they don’t feel like truths, and help myself to rewire negative thought patterns. This a mysterious thing about mental illness. It is physical, and it is emotional, and each one affects the other.
Something I have to remember is this: Down Days are inevitable. Yes, you can make things worse by overdoing it on a regular basis; but NO, you cannot prevent down days from happening. You need to accept that they are a way of life for a while. You need to heal and down days are part of how you do that. It will probably not be an easy adjustment but it is possible. It is helping you.
Enjoy every good hour, morning, day, or week that God gives you. Achieve, pace yourself, and enjoy the freedom. Live in today, for tomorrow has enough worries of its own. And then, when that sinking feeling in your head and stomach starts in, as if you are taking an elevator down 40 flights a bit too quickly, don’t beat yourself up. Remind yourself, “I am feeling worse again because I am unwell. But I am getting better, and I am coping.”