Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bipolar Depression Triggers: A Patient's Example

Things That Trigger Bipolar Depression
Today hasn't been a stellar day for my mental health. The morning flipped my switch from relatively normal mood to depression, crying and negative thought cycles. I have pulled out of it for the most part. Just feel a little down. But I thought that I would record the experience here, while it's fresh in my mind.

In this post, I will be honestly describing my negative thoughts, and sometimes that type of description can trigger depressed thoughts in others prone to depression. I don't want to flip your switch. So if you are currently struggling with depression, or are triggered into depression by other peoples negativity, best not read the rest of this post for now.

A Typical Morning
There was nothing unusual about how the day started. I felt a little disappointed in myself when I woke up because I hadn't abstained from alcohol (2 beers, 2 glasses red wine) the previous night. I even felt a little run down from the alcohol consumption. But I wasn't beating myself up over it.

My husband suggested that the family go hiking in the morning, while the temperature was cool, and we all got ready. But right before leaving, our youngest started up a tantrum--decided she didn't want to go with us after she and her brother had a minor squabble.

The Tantrum Heard Round the World
Both youngest kids are prone to illness and are currently sick and on meds that impact their behavior, making them less patient and more teary. With both sick, there have been a lot of tantrums lately.

After my husband and I each tried to talk to our daughter about going hiking, and the fun we would have, my husband finally picked her up and put her in the car. She was not going to dictate everyone's morning. In the car she wouldn't buckle up, or stop screaming, crying and trying to get out of the car (thank goodness for the lock setting inside the door of cars). It got so bad that my husband did finally turn the car around. We gave her another chance to shape up, she wouldn't comply, and we went home. 

She got balled out on the way home by both of us, but one of the things I said set her off again and my husband immediately said to me, "That was not helpful," which was also not helpful. I very often don't think before I speak, say the wrong thing, put my foot in my mouth...all of that.

Triggers for Today's Downward Spiral
All of this stress presented the perfect depression trigger trifecta:
- incessantly screaming kid
- saying the wrong thing, yet again
- husband criticizing me

And, I suppose, there were actually two more factors, last nights drinking, and my oldest daughter leaving. She is probably going to go live with her dad. She has some spectacular opportunities out where he lives (1/2 way across the country), and she really seems to want to go. But it hurts. I love her and don't want to only see here a few times a year. Plus all of the legal garbage that we will, yet again, have to wade through to make the arrangement official.

Back to the car, and the screaming kid...This is when my intense downward spiral of negative thoughts began: "I always say the stupidest things. I am a social idiot. My husband is a much better parent than I am. I'm a drag on the family. They'd be better off without me. I want to die. I can't die; it would hurt my kids. So I'll be alive, and just suck at being a parent." I quietly cried on the way home, while my kids loudly cried. 

When we got out of the car, my husband was defensive about my reaction. I just said, "My head is not right. I can't talk now," and withdrew to do some cleaning in the basement.

The Zombie Numb Catatonia
When I get emotionally overwhelmed like today, a couple of things can happen. I can slip into debilitating depression and spend the day in bed, or I can function, but I get kind of numb and wooden; where feel like I am removed from the world, kind of looking out from inside my head. I plod along and stare a lot, but at least I can get things done. The latter is what happened. 

After a while, my husband came downstairs to talk to me and hug me. He told me that I was a great parent, and we each have our own strengths that work together. It was very sweet. I was still out of it, not really engaging, but his reaching out to me helped bring me back.

Once I feel a little emotionally stronger (like I did after the hug), I can sometimes think my way out of a negative spiral, recognize the thoughts as being unbalanced and not helpful, and start thinking about positive things in my life. That's what I did, and now I'm okay.


  1. Glad to hear that you were able to think your way out of the negativity with positive thoughts. I have been using the Depression free method and found it very helpful. :-)

  2. Thanks Stuart! Not sure what the Depression Free Method is. Googled and found a lot of useless YouTube links, but I assume it is a behavior-based therapy. Give us some info!

    Just a reminder for those with bipolar disorder, getting prescribed the proper meds for managing this disorder is the most important first step. Once meds are on board, and the major mood swings reduced, that's a good time to try behavioral approaches to furhter manage symptoms...like what I did today (a behavioral tactic that has taken me a very long time to learn to successfully utilize :)