Depression and Season Holidays

HolidaysYear end and the New Year is a difficult period. I dread the annual year-end holidays, parties, family-visiting, they are like going through the motion of living. The challenging degree goes up a notch when the withdrawal symptom of depression prevails. I have not enjoyed Christmas and New Years for almost 35 years. I remember these many moments of anxiety when I had to make my appearance. There were about two to three years I was completely MIA (Missing In Action), the withdrawal symptoms conquered and consumed me. I was home-bound, living under the false sense of security of my home. My relationships have turned sour; the sense of ambivalence has been felt strongly.

Recovering 2016

My recovery began in 2016. For the first time, I enjoyed the New Year celebrations, yes including the spring cleaning tasks to be done yearly. The sense of connectedness with the world in a celebrating mode was exhilarating, it comes with a sense of calmness that was assuring.

So, what now?
How to be at least interested in the holiday seasons should I have a relapse and slide down to depression?
Am I to be home-bound and be MIA again?
How to at least feel a minimal sense of joy for the holidays celebrations.

Challenging but …

It’s no easy feat. I will take the day in portions, morning, noon, afternoon, evening and the night. These shorten spans of time help me to focus on the ‘here-and-now’ and the question what can be done on my part?

Again, it’s no easy feat to persistently counter my negative thoughts. An example, they gave me silent treatment after a courteous ‘Hello’, I felt bad. To unburden the negative feeling, I will say “Well it’s not the first time to experience their indifference.” They have their loads of problems weighing them down. Also, if they are happy with what they are doing, is good enough for me.

Harrowing Symptoms

Anxiety, another symptom I sporadically experience it. I do deep breathing or simply walk away from the situation that is getting on my nerves. With a calmer mind, I may be able to reflect and pinpoint the situation or thing that trigger my anxiety.

Motivation is low always especially getting up in the morning. This has been my biggest rock on my path, the inability to kick-start the day. Very likely I would be lying horizontally, parallel to the ground and sleep the day away. Inevitably, by late afternoon, my mood sours, irritation sets in. Unfortunately, I’ve no magic spell to push up the ‘motivation-gear’ from neutral to level one.

Habits Counts

It’s challenging but I try to break up the day into morning, afternoon and night. These time frames have specific and regular daily tasks that I am supposed to do. Watering plants and sweeping the dead leaves in the garden is one thing need to be done in the morning. Playing my usual online game in the afternoon is something I can do though most of the time I am not interested to have a bit of fun. In the evening, doing the laundry as in loading the clothes into the washing machine. The trick, though taxing is to persist regardless how numb I feel for the day. Soldier on with these regular tasks, focusing one task for one section of the day is setting myself up to be consistent, it is injecting a slice of normalcy in being a living person during the depressive cycle.

This form of regularity has its merits. It tells my body and mind that normalcy is the way to live, the specific task for different timespan is a good disruption for low-mood behavior patterns. More importantly, it creates a momentum, once ignited, it may bring about an upward trend from the cycles of Bipolar Depression.

Bipolar DisorderSo far so good, I’m enjoying the seasons holidays. More importantly, I have an action plan in place should Depression weigh me down during these celebrative events. I am happy that I can be a ‘living’ person, enjoying the way of life .. Cheers!

Understanding and Awareness Part II

When I google for the meaning of awareness, I notice common terms like knowledge, perceptions, understanding, consciousness. Its online definition is “knowledge gained through one’s own perceptions or by means of outside information.” By that, it means I know I would need to see my Doctor if my daily functionality was severely compromised by depression. This knowledge came from my perception of past experiences. So I am aware . But awareness did not come to me easily.

Awareness and Me

Awareness The Knowing

Awareness is essential and to keep an open mind for the element Awareness is much needed. As awareness is elusive and spontaneous, I never see it coming and it arrives unannounced. Perhaps another term to describe the moment and feeling is ‘Ah Ha! So that it is!’ the case. Awareness is elusive, either I have it or not. Most of the times being aware is about learning more about myself. Not all awareness is well-received. There are times when being aware is a brutal awakening and an end of being in denial. It took me donkey years to be aware and convinced that I had been ill mentally. I seemingly know that I am sick but I could not understand the-how, as I have been physically all right.

The knowing that I had been anxious and worried on the eve of a major exam, skipping schools for days to weeks, speaking rapidly with racing thoughts, first attempt of suicide at a young age 12 years old — these behaviors blatantly glaring at me, I know and yet the least aware that I have been sick when I was a child. The knowing is present but the level of awareness is almost none. Perhaps awareness and denial are both ends of a continuum on each end. I know but I am in denial or I know, and I am awakened, conscious of its full impact on my life. I can say too, with understanding, awareness becomes more ready to befriend me. So what is the role of awareness on managing my Bipolar journey?

Managing Bipolar With Awareness

Being aware means knowing beforehand and knowing what steps to take for the next course of action. On a bipolar-depressed day, negative thoughts were unrelenting and I would show contempt and behave unreasonably. Often it comes with an abrupt emotional outbursts, loud shouting and screaming on top of my voice, directed at my siblings. At this point in time, it is obviously late to say I was aware as damage had been done, relationship had been scarred. However with awareness it can alert me when I have negative thoughts, I will be able to ask “is this a valid thought supported with evidence?” Should I get a Yes-answer, I can ask again, “do I want and/or need to act on it?”

Similarly on a bipolar-hypomanic day, I would encounter thoughts like “Am I spending too much for this grocery shopping trip? Buying too many biscuits, stocking up too many cooking oil?” Other thoughts like getting a party dress and a pair of new shoe to go with it, buy a new smartphone, a new labtop and a labtop bag, a luggage. Thank goodness no car nor a house loiter into my thoughts. Knowing beforehand, I’m aware of the symptom of hypomania has surfaced, I can act accordingly by asking “I seem to be experiencing hypomanic symptoms, I better not buy this item now? How about take a wait-and-see approach?”

My Ally AwarenessBest Ally


Awareness is a powerful tool to aid my thought processing and search for the underlying emotions. With awareness I have more autonomy to make responsible choices on my behavior. It certainly ease the pain of regrets should I not be aware of my thoughts and emotions on day-to-day happenings. On a wider scope, awareness allows me to be pragmatic on frustrating life issues like “Why am I unable to hold on to a job like any other normal being?” The emotions of envy and sadness can be overwhelming. What I perceived has limited my confidence and ability, I have drawn a circle that I walked into it, believing I am unable to deliver and perform. I become aware that I have subconsciously blame my inabilities on my Bipolar illness, using it as an excuse to hide behind my fear of failure or rejection.

In the nutshell, it is fun to ally with Awareness as at any instant one may have an ‘Ah-Ha!’ moment. My two best friends Awareness and Understanding (Part I) will be my lifelong companion. They help me to recover, manage my illness, and grow into a better person I desire to be.

Habits Its Relevance With Well-being

By Mahatma Gandhi, “Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits.” Habits, what is its relevance with wellness?

I was advised to draw out a schedule and follow through it faithfully. And practicing Gandhi’s saying, I make sure my behaviors are positive, first to ward off Bipolar-depression, next to keep to my schedule. In my case, cultivating positive behaviors with a schedule in place is challengingly difficult especially when I was in the midst of depression.

TimeAs said schedules would lessened the likelihood of a Bipolar relapse. Time, which everyone has, is a fixed component of a schedule. It is like we have three meals a day breakfast in the morning, lunch at noon, and dinner in the late evening. Human beings plan their behaviors along the time-line to get things done. So I go to work from 9am to 5pm on a daily basis, I do my grocery shopping on a weekly basis and I visit my dentist once every year, are plans I made. Ideally, with schedules, positive behaviors becoming good habits, should be able to counter my depression.

More often than usual, I observed I could not follow through the schedule. The list of tasks planned to be done in certain blocks of time would be interrupted, at worst disrupted. Unable to complete whatever that was scheduled, could turn on the tap of my anxiety, or discourage further my already depressed mode to a state of inertia. Schedules seem not to sit well on me, yet I need them as it is a helpful tool to fully optimize it. Time efficiently used is a form of well-being.

I was delighted to enjoy a shift in perspective from drawing up a schedule to cultivating habits. They work hand-in-hand for my sanity and effectiveness. More often than not, schedules do go awry and habits do not, however they are different concepts in cultivating wellness.

My job scope includes taking care of the plants and keeping the garden neat (at least no falling leaves). Should I schedule it before breakfast, I would find myself skipping it to breakfast directly. How about after food, the likelihood of getting it done seems higher but not foolproof. I always find the garden strewn with falling leaves at the end of a day. That upsets me as I have not followed my plan nor honored my promise to be a good worker. Schedule is apparently not working to my advantage.

Should I change my approach and schedule a time allotment of 30-45 minutes, I am to do the garden tasks on a daily basis. There’sPotted Garden no fixed time to do it. I can choose when to do, as long as I complete it before I knock off for the day. Here I have a daily schedule that develops a habit, not bound by time but aided with flexibility. What I find it attractive is I have begun to enjoy the work – taking care of the garden. My motivation to water plants is not out of sympathy (Oh these plants, poor souls, they’re unable to move to reach out for water). I am more proactive in caring for them, removing fallen leaves in the pot (that block off sunlight and hinder the soil from breathing), removing weeds or creepers to prevent them from encroaching the plants.

This change in perspective smooths out the rough edges of Bipolar disorder. It has empowered me, given me opportunities to enjoy being, as a living person with an illness, meeting my goals on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. As time unfolds, I get to focus on the task, not about having to do this by 12 noon nor get the report out in an hours time. Schedules are there to give us a framework of how time need to be spent while cultivating habits gives me confidence, freedom, a sense of well-being.

Understanding and Awareness Part I

Understanding and awareness are two powerful ‘tools’ on my journey in managing Bipolar disorder, I am fortunate to own them.

Why Why Why Me?

At the start of my journey, I have asked the sky, the trees, the One Up There ‘Why Me, Why am I ill mentally?’. Searching for the answers has been a futile endeavour, as the knowing is not a practical coping strategy for my Bipolar condition. Rather I have gotten enmeshed in a web of possible answers that makes me feel more lost and dejected, and the act of finding answers gives me a false sense that I had been problem-solving. This is not genuine understanding, the least for awareness.

Hypomania and DepressionShould I ask the question what causes Bipolar-disorder, I’m likely to find that there are several factors attributing to this physical yet invisible illness. Scientists explain that certain brain circuits and brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) is responsible for the mood swings along the bipolar mood spectrum.A person like me either experience the high of hypomania (or mania) or the lows of mild to major depression. Genes and biological differences (significant physical changes in the brain) are the usual suspects (for almost all mental illness), and risk factors like stressful life events either develop or trigger the onset of Bipolar disorder. Seemingly I have a better understanding. So how now?

Admittedly I am curious about the concept of Understanding and its role in helping me manage my Bipolar condition. How much I understand as in having a sharper visual of the malfunction in brain circuits and neurotransmitter, gives me clarity. With this piece of information, I am more willing to accept the inevitability that I need medication (Thank Goodness there are medicine for this illness). For how long? Do I really need to know? With medication, I can function productively on a daily basis. That overwrites all other thoughts, perceptions, and biases.

With better understanding, I can differentiate recurring negative thoughts and energy consuming emotions from being the real me. In the past, I was misled into believing that I was always an angry person, not the least a grouchy one under the facade of Depression. I doubted my intentions, did I become mentally sick so that I could get attention and support, and also shirked off house cleaning tasks at home. Rather, I am able to say “Depression is not me”, what really happened was by-products of being ill with Bipolar-disorder. The understanding and the perception of myself gives me strength to move on, and be not in the dumps of depression.

The Way
The Open Door

Understanding opens the door to compassion. Knowing how impactful my life has been disrupted by the illness, and how much anguish, worthlessness, the “pain syndrome”, recklessness, the job opportunities I miss, this sense of injustice is intense. How am I going to reconcile and move on? Compassion is a gentle partner to my recovery. Have I not understood that these injustices I had lived with it for donkey years, is like the spilled milk, gone and irretrievable, I would have bolted my gate, close all windows, and sunk into a deeper and dangerous pit of depression and/or hypomania.

In the nutshell, this sympathetic awareness and tolerance of my intangible physical illness, understanding, like a key, has opened up the door to recovery. How it intersperses with awareness brings about countless “Ah Ha” moments, and serves me a strong, sturdy walking-stick on my journey. I am and will count my blessings.

In my next sharing, I will be writing on awareness, what exactly it is and how it helps me in managing Bipolar disorder. In the meantime, I will part with a question for you, “how does understanding serves you?” I hope it brings about “Ah Ha” moments, the point in time that let you understand yourself.

Am I hypomanic?

Yes, I am concerned.

And I am always worried when would be my next relapse, it is like there is no tomorrow, as at anytime I could be down in my dumps or high on Cloud 10 (yes, not cloud 9). Both ends are unwelcoming, they disrupt my work, sour my relationships, demoralize my spirit. Often, relapses challenges my resilience to get better.

In The Tunnel

It took me a very long while to begin charting my mood. I am reluctant to write and record my mood status on a daily basis. It is simply too troublesome to make out whether I am in the mood brought about by a full throttle of energy and a act on impulsiveness, with racing thoughts, delusions that all things are possible. Or I am in the deep trench of low mood, when holding a pen to record how depressed I am is as challenging as climbing the Mount Everest.

But mood tracking is essential for recovery. With my mood data on records, it provides a realistic overview of how my mood journey is in the weeks and months, how in a period of six months, the mood fluctuates. Which part of the year my low mood surfaced or could the season festive periods say around December to February, bring me to the hypomania level. Sometimes, the tangible graph line depicting my highs and lows, provides
mood trackingassurance that my mood is manageable. It is like ‘Hey, you came out of your lows pretty quickly’ or ‘not bad, this time you have kept your elevated mood in check’. Mood charts and records are my managing tools and they are vital to my mental wellness.

On shorter time frames, mood charts provide information to assess my day-to-day mood status. Am I heading downhill or in the midst of being hypo-manic now, what interventions can I garnered to counter my bipolar condition? Knowing my current mood level, I am able to find out with a set of criterion whether a relapse has presented itself.

So am I hypomanic now? I will ask myself a set of questions should I feel my mood is on the down or up side.

The Questions I ask when depressed

  • Am I depressed for most of the day, nearly everyday?
  • Are you feeling no pleasure for most of the activities most of the day, nearly everyday?
  • Am I eating more or less than usual?
  • Am I having insomnia or sleeping excessively?
  • Am I feeling fatigue or loss of energy nearly everyday?
  • Do I have recurrent thoughts of death and suicide?

And Questions I Ask When Hypomanic

  • Do I sleep less hours than usual?
  • Am I more talkative than usual?
  • Do I feel energized and not feel tiredness?
  • Do I experience irritable mood?
  • Do I have inflated self-esteem or feelings of grandiosity?

Keeping check of my responses, I can make good guesses that my mood is in an upward, downward trend or in the normal range. In a case when I observed I was leaning more on the hypomania mood range, my responses could be sleeping on average three to four hours daily, very chatty, easily irritable, and no sense of tiredness. Out of 5 questions, I had 4 positive response, indicating a moderate level of elevated mood (on a scale of none, mild, moderate, and severe). Moderate level means orange signal (the 3-color system) implied that I had to make sure not to overstretch my pace of living on the day-to-day basis.

This color system is an alarm signal, which meansTo Alert

  1. green, mood in normal range, daily functionality able and acceptable
  2. orange, mood in hypomania or mild depression range, daily functionality not impaired, and less acceptable
  3. red, mood in very high elevated or severe depression range, daily functionality disabled.

In another words, the answer to my question of whether I have been in the hypomanic range is yes, a positive indication to take note and exercise caution for my Bipolar disorder management. This illness management recovery system is my intervention tool to counter my illness, an essential and vital strategy to actualize and re-position my action plan for a sane way of living with Bipolar Disorder condition.

Therefore, what is Action plans, and what is its relationship to awareness and understanding. With this question, I will conclude my concern and worries about “Am I hypomanic?”. And to sincerely invite you to find out more about my next topic on Awareness and Understanding.

Mental Illness