I am so sick of constantly relapsing. Most people experience at least one period of depression in their lives, but it is often situational. My depression is cyclical, and has affected my life up to several times a year since the age of fifteen. It can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months at a time.
I am sick and tired of relapsing again after I feel like I am finally getting better. I honestly feel like I am stuck in an endless cycle of depression. Since changing the dosage of my medications in late March, my mental health had been at an all-time high. I woke up motivated and excited about my day and my life in general. I re-found my creative roots and found an outlet in the form of this blog. I started to feel like a functioning member of society again. But this has all been changing over the last two weeks.
I can feel the familiar depressive feelings settling in. Waking up feeling tired and unmotivated, crying more easily, feeling desperately insecure about my appearance, and believing that I am a bad person are all sneaking back into my daily routine. It feels so crushingly disappointing that I truly believed that I was recovering in a big way, and relapsing has brought me back to reality. I heavily resent that I live with chronic mental illness, and that it means that I can only be truly productive for limited periods of my life.
I can’t just put a complete stop on my life and hibernate in my room, as much as I would like to. So these are the strategies that I use to cope when I am in the middle of relapsing.
Create a daily list of productive activities and complete them.
The easiest tasks can feel like a chore when you are in the middle of a depressive period. It can sometimes feel like there is no point to doing anything, and that any tasks that you complete are meaningless. When I started seeing my psychologist, she recommended designating tasks for each day, and taking the time to acknowledge and reward myself when I complete them. They can be as simple as doing a load of washing or going for a walk.
You don’t need to achieve everything on your to-do list or make major life changes to reward yourself for still being productive. Depression is so consuming and pervasive that little successes are truly important. Remembering to value your achievements when you are struggling is imperative to keep up your levels of optimism.
My suggested activities are household chores, going for a walk, cooking a meal, socialising with a friend, or making a conscious decision to do a relaxing activity like reading or meditating. These are all low-energy tasks that will contribute to your overall well-being and help your life run smoother, even when you are relapsing. You don’t need to do every activity every day, but pushing yourself just a bit to complete some helpful tasks is really beneficial.
Take time to write in a journal.
When you are relapsing, it can sometimes feel like you are drifting in a pool of negative emotions that threatens to pull you under. They swirl all around you and stop you from being able to see anything other than the depression and anxiety that consume your waking thoughts. Pouring out your feelings into a journal so that you can purge them from your brain is a helpful way to keep on top of your emotions.
I also use a journal to keep track of the good things that are still happening in my life, even while I am relapsing. During a major depressive period three years ago, I used to write every little thing that I accomplished every day. Most days looked like a list of:
- I ate food even though I didn’t want to.
- I went to work even though I felt like shit.
- I thought about hurting myself but didn’t.
- I went for a walk.
Even though these may seem like tiny achievements, they were a really big deal in a time when I just wanted to lie in bed all day and do nothing at all. Having my achievements written also helped me to be able to physically see my mental state over time and track any improvements in my mental health. You can use a journal like this to keep tabs on how your mood is progressing and how much you are succeeding despite relapsing.
I spoke to my psychologist recently and told her that I am relapsing and consequently waking up in a state of anxiety and general dread. I don’t know what events my dread concerns, only that I am sure that something is going wrong and I need to fix it. She suggested that every night before I sleep, I make time to write all the things that happened during the day that I am grateful for.
If you take time to visualise and document the events that you are grateful for, no matter how small, it can slightly pull you out of your loop of negative feelings and force you to evaluate the true nature of your days. It also serves as a reminder that you can look back on if you are feeling extremely depressed and telling yourself that nothing good ever happens to you.
Do mindfulness exercises.
Mindfulness is one of the most important skills that you can hone to cope with chronic feelings of anxiety and depression. Mindfulness is performing activities that keep your brain engaged in the present moment and not worrying about the past or the future. This can range from traditional activities like meditation, to counting breaths, and fully engaging in listening to music.
Mindfulness is one of the core components of dialectical behavioral therapy, which is the therapy specially designed for borderline personality disorder. It is also a major feature of cognitive behavioral therapy, which I engage in for my depression and anxiety. It is incredibly difficult at first, especially if you have a brain like mine that likes to race between thoughts and dwell on past failures and future anxieties. However, practising the art of pulling your attention back to the present moment and present exercises helps you to train your brain so that you can distract it when you are losing control of your emotions.
These are the main mindfulness activities that I find helpful:
- Sitting in the shower and focusing on the sensation of the hot water running over my skin.
- Spending 5-10 minutes meditating and focusing on the sensation of my breathing and how it affects my diaphragm.
- Listening to a song that I emotionally engage with and focusing on all the sounds and the lyrics, and singing along.
- When I am in a state of distress, sitting there and listing all the uncomfortable physical sensations within my body.
There are countless activities that you can do to keep your attention in the present moment and away from the distressing feelings in your brain. It’s all about finding activities that work for you and come more naturally.
It is really difficult when you live with chronic mental illness and go through cycles of relapsing and recovery. It can sometimes feel like there is no end to your suffering and that you will never feel good again. However, the period of depression will always lessen or come to an end for a time, and there are ways to not feel so despondent about your situation. These steps that I outlined can be helpful to keep your mind in the present moment and not dwell on the chronic nature of your mental illness.