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When Depression Means You Can Only Look One Step Ahead

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I wandered into a pretty familiar place today — one well-known to fellow mental health patients. I call it “The Place of One Step.”

The Place of One Step is a state in which my everyday activities must be broken down into individual steps to complete. Normally I might say to myself, “OK, I’m going to get over to the library today and return some books.” However, in The Place of One Step, I will say, “OK, maybe I should try getting out of bed at the moment.” And although it will take me much longer than usual, getting out of bed happens more often than not.

It’s a place I’ve been to many times. I do my best to simply focus on the One Step, as opposed to analyzing the reduction of my goals. It’s wiser that way — infinitely less chance of overwhelming my depressed brain to The Point of Howling Chaos (which incidentally, is not that far from The Place of One Step).

The Place of One Step is actually a decent coping mechanism, and one that helps me overcome the constant litany of my treatment-resistant bipolar disorder mind. It allows me to be a functioning person for a while, since getting out of bed is a definite move. It is a place where I get out of bed. Then I think about that for a bit. Then I ignore some junk my depression throws into my path. Then I decide what the next One Step will be. Then I think about that. Then I do that one. The Point of Howling Chaos doesn’t allow for such movement. It’s not a place of coping. It’s more of a place of holding on by your fingernails until you can manage to whimper for help.

While neither one is my favorite state, The Place of One Step is a hard-won location, developed over years of battling the symptoms of depression. My depression stops me from functioning. It prevents things like library trips, or you know, going outside. Cleanliness. That sort of thing. Since I’ve been in a fairly impressive relapse for about nine months at this point, there have been many One Step days. I consider them a great improvement over Howling Chaos days.

I read a quote online a few days ago, and it felt very accurate. It said, “I am not defined by my relapses, but by my decision to remain in recovery despite them.” Since I found this in the rabbit hole of the internet, I’m not at all sure who said this in the first place. But I’m thankful to this internet mysterious person.

Healing from a relapse is not a straightforward upward climb. It is not a The Hills Are Alive “Sound of Music” kind of push. I never really end up spreading my arms out at the top of the mountain. And since I’m afraid of heights, I’d be much more likely to just peek over the top of the mountain, with my hands firmly on whatever else is up there. One doesn’t need to dance up there or anything.

Instead, it’s more like herding cats. I start out with group of very unruly animals. You could give them names such as Sadness, Numbness, Anxiety, Medication – you get the drift. I corner a couple of them and start making shooing motions behind them, in order to push them in a more productive direction. I might get Anxiety and Sadness headed the right way, but Medication is hellbent on slipping off on a private detour. Numbness might currently be in the litter box, while I haven’t even seen Mania in at least a year. Eventually, you can make enough frantic motions and loud sounds and barking noises to drive the majority of these cats onward, but it takes some practice. And that’s where I am at the moment – herding cats, one step at a time.

But it’s not Howling Chaos. And that’s a good thing.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

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Getty Images photo via Thomas_Zsebok_Images

Originally published: January 11, 2018
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