13 Things to Remember When You’re Having a ‘Down Day’

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down day |daun dey| Noun

A day of emotional distress, in which activities mostly include thinking terrible thoughts about oneself or one’s life, either eating too much or not eating at all, and hiding under blankets. This mostly takes part in bed, as the bed acts as one’s personal island and hiding spot that isolates one from the world and any responsibilities one cannot face.

This type of day can happen on any day of the week, and is most common for those who suffer from depression and/or anxiety.

Best known cures are: being looked after by a loved one, watching your favorite movies, eating comfort food and drinking tea.

During days like this, here’s what I want you to remember:

1. You are worthy enough. You are worthy enough to live and live well. You are enough.

2. These days are survivable, they will pass. This is not the end of living for you.

3. You’re allowed to have days like this. Everybody needs self-care, especially when one is suffering from a mental illness. This is just you letting the illness take control of your day – which is nothing to be ashamed of, seeing as you have to fight it every day to just do regular things. One day of defeat is nothing compared to how well you’ve been doing.

4. You’re not alone – plenty of people have had this kind of day.

5. Some people won’t understand, and that’s OK. Not everyone can empathize because not everyone has the same experiences as you. If someone says the wrong thing, try not to take it to heart, especially if you know they have good intentions.

6. Kids movies are always a comfort, if that helps.

7. You’re really not alone – there’s people you can talk to, if you feel up for it. The Samaritans helped me once, and they can help you.

8. Things will get better – maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, but soon. There’s no time limit for healing, you can’t rush it. Give yourself the time you need to feel better. It’s a steady process.

9. Your head may feel like it’s in overload, which is normal. Write it down to get it out of your system, or if you’re brave enough, tell somebody about how you’re feeling.

10. Please do eat something, even if it’s a bit random because your cupboards and fridge are a little empty. Once I ate some new potatoes in butter and garlic salt because that’s all I had.

11. If you start to feel numb from the crying, that’s OK too. It seems a bit scary but it does go away. Just let it sit and you’ll soon start to feel better.

12. These feelings you’re having are not your fault.

13. Because it’s important, I’ll say it again: You are worthy enough. You are worthy enough to live and live well. You are enough.

Follow this journey on This Stuff Is Golden.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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What I Can't Tell My Friends About My Agoraphobia

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Agoraphobia.

It’s a cruel thing to live with. More so because even those who seem to want to support and understand never quite understand the symptoms if there’s something they want you to do.

It’s agonizing. The fury at myself when I can’t make myself do even the fun things. My world gets so incredibly small incredibly quickly.

Imagine this: Your phone is ringing. It’s a number you don’t recognize. You stare at it, you pick the phone up and will yourself to answer. You start to shake and that panic starts to hit in earnest. They hang up, you drop the phone like it burns. You call yourself names in frustration. But you can’t hide that relief from yourself.

Now imagine it’s ringing, and it’s one of your dearest friends. Perhaps you were even expecting a call, knowing they were having a bad time or you were expecting them to contact you with some exciting news. You pick the phone up then freeze. Panic bubbles up through the core of you, that feeling that the oxygen around you has suddenly gone away, kicked in the stomach and gasping with it. Guilt and rage and frustration join the pure panic as you watch the phone like it’s going to bite you or worse. Then the messages… “Why won’t you answer? I tried to call you.” It goes on. Each message brings more panic, more guilt. More fear and more frustration. Why are they still calling? Why don’t they remember it terrifies you?

Same for being invited out. I have one friend who picks me up and takes me out about once a week. It takes every bit of my strength to go to the car and I lay back in the seat of the car with relief. I made it this far. The time goes fast as we chat together, but the oppressiveness of the surrounding light noise and people are constantly forcing me to control my panic. I get home and I’m exhausted and cranky and fearful, as if I used up every last bit of brave and now I am empty.

They say it’s OK, you can come to my place, it will be fun. You find yourself already panicking about an outing that is not even confirmed yet. You get upset. Why don’t they understand that this applies to them, too? I know they aren’t scary! It’s the doing it that terrifies me. If I can’t bring myself to go to the doctor (or now, realizing I have too much panic and anxiety to try to see the psych specialist after finally getting referral), why do they assume I will cope with that?

Of course they would be a comforting presence. Of course they will be mindful of me during the event. That’s just not the issue! It’s me. I’m the issue. I get smaller as my world does. But that’s cold comfort.

Please be kind, be mindful, and be open to the cues, both nonverbal and verbal, those with agoraphobia give you. It really helps, I promise.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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What Taking Care of a Hamster Taught Me About Taking Care of Myself

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I often feel silly when I say my hamster saved my life — how can something so small be so important, someone actually thinks twice about taking their own life?

But Neville did exactly that.

I’ve never owned a hamster before, and getting one halfway through university on a bit of a whim turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. She helped me get grounded, she listened to all my rants without batting an eyelid (do hamsters have eyelids?) and was a non-judgmental presence when others around me were.

By looking after her I learned how to look after myself. Taking on the responsibility of nurturing and caring for a helpless animal really does bring home a lot of truths. Through this I learned the basic day-to-day things were enough, and I shouldn’t beat myself up for not being able to do more.

Neville passed away in November 2015, and I recently drew a piece of artwork in his memory. I wanted to show what he meant to me and how he saved me because it’s hard to actually put into words. But I now have another hamster called Mollie who’s doing a fine job!

drawing of a person taking care of a hamster
Drawing by Stookie

I don’t think size matters when it comes to therapy pets. Yes, I’d love a dog — but my arthritis means I wouldn’t be able to walk it. A hamster is a manageable size. They are super easy to look after, and I’d highly recommend a furry hamster companion to someone going through a low point in their life.

I’ve said it before, but size really doesn’t matter — something very small can make a huge difference.

The Mighty is asking the following: What was one moment you received help in an unexpected or unorthodox way related to disability, disease or mental illness? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Head of School Responds to Criticism After Claiming Fantasy Books Cause Mental Illness

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After his blog post claiming fantasy books contribute to poor mental health in children went viral, Graeme Whiting, headmaster of The Acorn School in England, responded to critics who said — in fact — his opinion was the fantasy.

Whiting wrote:

I am not making a judgement (sic) of literature that has dark or difficult elements; I am claiming that exposure to such themes should be age appropriate. I am not attempting to pitch modern bestsellers against old classics nor am I discouraging children from reading; I am concerned with the exposure of young children’s minds, to things that are scary and dark. A child’s view of the world is much smaller than that of an adult, and I believe that emotionally charged impressions have a lasting effect in their subconscious minds.

I am aware that I included some sweeping statements in my blog and I apologise for my lack of eloquence there. I am well aware that mental health is a huge and multi-dimensional subject and I am not claiming that there is a direct link between literature with dark themes and mental illness. I am merely pointing out that young brains are especially sensitive and therefore vulnerable to strong personal experiences that may create or amplify a sense of insecurity.

My mission has always been to protect the sensitive minds of young children from negative experiences that can create deep, lasting imprints in their subconscious minds.

His original blog post, “The Imagination of the Child,” sparked controversy after claiming fantasy books such as “Harry Potter,” “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hunger Games” contain “deeply insensitive and addictive material which I am certain encourages difficult behaviour in children.” He added literature of this nature can “damage the sensitive subconscious brains of young children, many of whom may be added to the current statistics of mentally ill young children.”

According to the most recent data available, one in 10 children between ages 5 and 16 have a a diagnosable mental health disorder in England. This number is one in 5 for children ages 13 to 18 in the U.S.

The causes of mental illness in children, like in adults, are a combination of genetics and biology — which can influenced by psychological traumas such as severe emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

Author Ben Galley, in a blog response to Whiting’s letter, quoted a fellow fantasy writer Joanne Hall about the issue:

As someone who’s suffered from a number of mental health issues over the years, I’d like to say that the times when I have felt the healthiest, and the lease anxious and / or depressed, have been when I’ve been immersed in a fantasy book (either writing or reading). Fantasy has helped me recover from mental health issues, and to suggest that a child who might have, say, depression or anxiety should be prevented from reading something that might make them feel better, or more connected to something, is not only stupid, it’s irresponsible.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments below:

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The Dos and Don’ts of Visiting Someone in a Psychiatric Hospital

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I’m writing while I’m recovering from a manic episode. This means I’m no longer psychotic or severely manic. I’m still in hospital because we’re in the process of changing back to my old medication regime, my sleep cycle needs work and there’s the risk of “manic misadventure.” We’re “fine-tuning” everything so I have a successful and long recovery/remission out in the community.

During my past hospitalizations, I’ve identified some “do’s” and “don’ts” when it comes to visiting (or not visiting) loved ones in hospital, and I’ve put them together in a rough guide. As everyone is different, I would like to point out this is how I like to be treated, and it’s always important to gauge the patient’s individual situation when visiting them.

Don’ts: 

1. Don’t show up unannounced. Like with physical illnesses it can be tiring having visitors. Particularly if you’re depressed and just need time to yourself.

But…

2. Don’t make yourself scarce. Don’t be afraid to message or ring the patient if you can’t get to the hospital. Send cards or flowers to let them know you’re thinking of them.

Psychiatric hospitals can be intimating and visiting someone in a psychiatric hospital can be confronting, but this is not an excuse not to visit (besides psychiatric hospital aren’t scary, they’re just normal hospitals with normal patients). During my first manic episode, two of my good friends hardly visited for two months, which really hurt. The hospital can be lonely and boring, so getting visitors is always the highlight of the day. (I would like to point out that those two friends have been fabulous during this manic episode.)

3. Don’t pity the patient. I don’t want pity. I want empathy and at times I want sympathy, but I don’t want anyone to pity me. Pity can feed the ruminating spiral of depressive negativity and puts a wet blanket on resilience. Yes, having bipolar can be difficult at times, but it is manageable and I normally live a rich and fulfilling life. So please, no pity parties.

4. Don’t act like the patient is a different person or what they have is contagious. This is very insulting.

5. Don’t blame the person for being in hospital. No one wants to be so unwell they have to be in hospital. It’s no one’s fault, but the guilt of this can still be crushing.

Dos:

1. Do visit when you can, but always ask the patient if they’re up for it. Visitors are a source of support and they break up the monotony of the daily hospital routine. I love getting visitors.

2. Do send flowers and cards. Not only is it a nice gesture and brightens the room, but is normalizes the experience of being in a hospital as a psychiatric patient (in this day and age there should be no difference between how psychiatric and physical patients are treated, but that’s a whole other blog topic).

3. Do ask if they need anything while in the hospital like magazines, a favorite snack or if a simple job needs to be done around the house. Continue that care when they’re initially out of hospital like you would for someone with a broken leg. It’s hard getting back on your feet and into your regular routine once you’ve been discharged, so a little extra help is often needed. You don’t need to spend all of your time caring for the person, but little thoughtful gestures go a long way.

4. Do bring fun activities into the hospital. As I said, hospital can be pretty boring. I don’t know how many hours I whittled away playing monopoly or cards with friends, or just coloring on my own. These help to pass the time. Of course, some patients may not be up to playing games, it just depends on the patient’s current situation.

5. Do validate! Never underestimate the power of validation. If someone is depressed, instead of responding with pity or an upbeat (and often corny) saying, say: “That sounds really tough” or something similar. If someone is psychotic, then their psychosis is as real to them as whatever’s going on in your life. Don’t dismiss it. Listen to them and take what they have to say seriously.

6. Do treat the person the same as you would when they’re well. Your loved one is still in there and no matter how unwell they are, they will know if you’re treating them differently. When I’m psychotic, although I lose touch with reality, I still retain my intelligence and empathy and I can tell if people are treating me differently. When they do, it makes you feel misunderstood, isolated, paranoid and alone.

7. Do acknowledge we’re unwell, stay in touch and offer to help out. The biggest detriment to us when we’re unwell is silence — like our mental illness is taboo. Silence adds to stigma and prevents people seeking early treatment, or stops them from seeking it at all. Ask how we’re feeling like how you would ask someone who has pneumonia how they’re feeling. Ask genuine and honest questions with interest. Sometimes questions are all that’s needed for us to open up. Again, just simply talking about mental illness normalizes it. We don’t want our condition to be swept under the rug it when it flares up. We want to talk about it with the people we trust.

And finally…

8. Do treat mental illness the same as physical illness! After all mental illness is a physical illness – it just occurs in the brain. If you treat the patient with compassion, unwavering love and support, humor (again, gauge the situation) and show genuine, non-judgmental interest in what they’re experiencing, they’ll feel supported and loved. And in the end, that’s what we all want when we’re unwell.

a woman sitting on her bed at a psychiatric hospital
Sally, during one of her hospitalizations.

This piece originally appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation’s blog.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the Child Whose Mother Has a Mental Illness

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author holding child Dear sweet child,

You bring the brightest light to my darkest days. I wish there were words you would understand to tell you Mommy is always going to be sick. I go to the doctors every week (my therapist), and your eyes widen because to you that is so scary. Don’t be scared, my child. I am OK.

I also want you to know it’s OK to not be OK. Some days I spend laying in my bed and Daddy tells you I “don’t feel well, Mommy is resting.” I wish I had the energy to be up and about. I wish I could take you to the park, or the aquarium, or the mall, but my OCD/depression/agoraphobia/emetophobia stop me in my tracks. I wish I was a “normal” mom. I wish we had play dates with kids with runny noses. I wish I wasn’t immediately pulled into panic mode when you want to touch the carriage at the grocery store. I’m sorry you ask me if I’m sad. I’m not sad; I’m just constantly worried.

Daddy does all of these things with you no problem. You two have so much fun. I hate to say I’m jealous of the bond you share. He is my knight in shining armor.

I’m sorry that when you are sick, Mommy wants to hide. I’m sorry that sometimes when you cough or gag, I cry. You see, Mommy is afraid of throw up, but it’s nothing to be afraid of. My brain just works differently than yours because, like I’ve told you, everybody is different. I’m sorry the doctors office scares me more than it scares you. I’m sorry you have started opening doors with your sleeves because you look up to me and I’m shielding us from germs. You are so brave. Please remember that.

I’m sorry I get snappy when I am depressed or anxious because my mind is going a mile a minute and your little voice gets mixed in the tornado inside my head. I’m really snapping at myself, but it comes out to you (and Daddy).

Please know I love you with all of my heart, and the sickness will never take that away. Please remember if any of these sicknesses are passed on to you, I will do anything to help you slay them like the dragons in your fairytales. Some day you may need your very own fairy dust to cast out the bad guys and help you fly just like Tink. Just like me. My fairy dust comes in pill form, but it does the same thing.

Always remember that whatever comes our way, we will conquer it. I may always be sick and you may see it some days, but I will always be your mother. I will always love you. You are my happily ever after.

Love,
Mom

The Mighty is asking the following: How would you describe your disability, disease or mental illness to a child? If you’ve done this before, tell us about that moment and the child’s reaction. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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