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Giving Myself a Permission Slip to Feel Depressed or Anxious

Depression can be so riddled with guilt. Why am I not able to fake being OK? Why do I isolate when what I need is interaction?

Sometimes what I need is to give myself permission to be depressed. I have bipolar 2 disorder with a heavy depression component. It has overwhelmed me many times. I have fought against it, given in to it, tried to make compromises with it, tried to ignore it – almost any reaction you can imagine.

Then I learned how to give myself permission to be depressed.

This is not quite the same as giving in to depression. It involves acknowledging I am depressed and allowing myself to feel the feelings I have. Of course, I don’t give myself permission to be permanently depressed. In a way, it’s more like giving myself permission to practice self-care and not force myself to smile and fake my way past the depression. I recognize I am depressed and do what I need to do to get through it. That may be staying in bed. It may be crying. It may be wallowing in sad music. These are things I’m likely to do anyway when I’m depressed, but giving myself permission to do them is surprisingly freeing.

I tried this probably for the first time when my husband and I went on a “barefoot” cruise vacation. It was something we both enjoyed and both want to do again someday.

But I knew from the beginning my depression might – well, probably would at that time in my life – overtake me even while I was doing something enjoyable. Naturally, I didn’t want the depression to ruin the whole vacation, so I decided to give myself permission to do what I needed to do to cope with those feelings.

Most often that involved retreating to my bunk for a nap. This allowed me to get away from other people when I was feeling overwhelmed and unable to socialize. Sure, I missed some of the onboard and shore activities, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed them anyway while still in the metaphorical fog and darkness. I enjoyed what I could and then let myself not do what I didn’t feel up to doing. I didn’t try to make my husband stay with me and miss the fun. There wasn’t anything he could do for me anyway. If the other passengers thought it was odd – and they did – they barely mentioned it to me. My husband told them I was tired. Seasickness was also a believable excuse.

In a way, having bipolar depression at that level is like having the flu. I feel bogged down and logy and I am inclined to cocoon, rest and stay away from other people. I realize this is not always possible, but if it is, I can allow myself to do it. Fortunately, this spell of depression wasn’t so bad that it completely debilitated me as it has at other times in my life. I was still able to feel joy at some times, though not at others.

At other times, I’ve had to give myself permission to have anxiety. If a situation makes me anxious, I acknowledge I am nervous and do what I need to do. I can’t “think away” my anxiety, but sometimes I can get myself out of the situation at least temporarily. I do not have to sit and be anxious while people around me argue or shout at each other — one of my anxiety triggers. When I recognize how I’m feeling (which takes practice) and give myself permission to feel the way I feel, I’m better able to come up with coping mechanisms, such as leaving the room to get some fresh air or making myself a cup of tea.

You may notice that when I give myself permission to be depressed or anxious, part of my solution involves avoiding other people. That’s sometimes a hard thing to do. Isolation can certainly make depression worse, but it can sometimes also be necessary if pushing through, trying to smile, mingle and socialize will make the depression worse in the end. And I have learned that if I try to do that, the depression comes along with me. A friend described it to me as having a separate person with me, a person called Misery. I’ve found it’s better to give myself permission to stay home and practice some self-care.

What I can’t do is give myself permission to stay depressed or anxious. Giving myself permission is a very limited-time offer. It doesn’t work for my lingering, midnight-dark depressions that last for weeks or months on end. Those, I have to fight. And while I’m depressed, I don’t give up on my medications or therapy. Those are necessary to alleviate the depression instead of resigning myself to feeling it.

Getty image by DonnaDiavolo

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