The Mighty Logo

When the River That Is Bipolar Depression Threatens to Pull Me Under

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I know I’m in a downward spiral. Doesn’t that scare me? You bet it does. I’ve come to think of the downward spiral and the depression that follows as a river. I’ve been down this river before. I know it well. I don’t like it. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s incredibly lonely. It’s winding and confusing. The current is so strong, it’s hard to come up long enough to take a breath. There are so many low hanging branches to watch out for. Fear. Hopelessness. Despair. Suicidal thoughts. If you don’t duck fast enough, you can get bruised and battered by them. Because I’ve been down this river before I know that eventually you just stop ducking. Ducking takes a lot of energy and you know there’s another one right behind it. Why duck? If this one doesn’t get you the next one will.

Pessimistic? Fatalistic? Yes. Or is it? If you’ve been down the river before and you know that eventually the current gets too strong to fight, is it pessimism? Or just realism? As I write this I’m thinking about all the times I’ve been stronger. When I was able to be the encouraging one. To offer assurances: It won’t always be this way. You’re more than this illness. Sharing the wisdom that comes from riding the currents of that damn river so many times. Part of me says, where’s that wisdom now? It’s buried under the fog of distorted thinking. It’s lost in the noise of the rushing current of that awful river. I just can’t hear the wisdom right now. Another part of me says, you need to be the one listening now. You need to let others who have also ridden the currents of that river speak softly to you. The ones who have made it to the smoother, more gentle currents of the river. They know the wisdom. They can hear it and speak it to you.

That’s another thing I know about this river. The rapids don’t go on forever. They sure feel like they will sometimes, but they don’t. Realizing that, I think it might be easier if I don’t duck. If I don’t fight the branches. I could find a raft. The raft can be cobbled together out of any number of things. A friend. My dear husband. My loving God. My therapist. The raft can be a safe voice. It can be the soft, wise words of the others who have been down this river too. The ones who have reached the more gentle currents.

A banner promoting The Mighty's new Bipolar 1 Support group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Join the Bipolar 1 Support group to connect with others who understand what it's really like to live with hypomania, rapid-cycling, depression and more. Click to join.

No doubt, the raft will still go through those rapids. It will still take me through the dark and the cold and I’ll still get hit by the branches. But on the raft I can hang on. Let the water rush, it can’t drown me; I’m safe on the raft. Let the dense forest block out the sun. The sun is still up there. I just can’t see it right now. But if I hang on to the raft, eventually the water will get calm again. I will see the sun again. So I can either fight the rapids and beat at the branches in madness and fear, or I can stop struggling. Let it run its course. It’s going to anyway. It isn’t going to take my life. It may hurt like hell, but it can’t take my life. It may even harshly suggest I give it my life. But I don’t have to give it. Because I know. I know there are calmer waters ahead. I just have to hang on until I get there.

Getty image by Jorm Sangsorn

Originally published: October 8, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home