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How I Stay In Touch With Who I Am When Depression Strikes

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In January, after a year of feeling depressed with chronic stress at the workplace, I had what most would consider a “nervous breakdown.” My psychiatrist put me on medical leave and I was placed in an intensive outpatient program. The program included daily group therapy, weekly individual therapy and doctor sessions.

Everyone’s depression looks different, so I will describe mine briefly here.

When I am depressed I stop showering. I stop doing laundry. I’ll eat fast food a few times a day, which makes me feel worse. I can’t cook, exercise or leave the house. I feel a physical burden that overwhelms me, and the depression makes attempting the tiniest bit of housework seem like I’m climbing a mountain. I lay down too much. I watch sad movies, like “The Hours,” repeatedly. If left unchecked, I’ll begin to consider suicide as an option. I don’t let it get that far. Not anymore. I call my doctor immediately.

It’s important to recognize one’s kind of depressive behavior. It’s also important to recognize one’s “happy” behavior. Which is what I want to talk about here.

I am a high school teacher. I am required to be “in my head” each day, thinking, reading, writing, creating lessons, anticipating students’ responses and then assessing their answers. It’s very cerebral. That is why at the end of the day, I like to make things with my hands. I enjoy cooking meals, baking, soap-making, candle-making, playing with clay, snipping herbs from my garden and petting my poodle. I “make” my dog happy when I pet her. These activities are my kind of creativity. They keep me in touch with the Earth, on the ground, where I live. Touching stuff of the Earth makes me feel alive.

I don’t do these activities when I am depressed, but these activities are my bright beacons to happiness in a raging sea storm called depression. They are reminders of my true self.

I tell my story not to encourage soap-making or baking cookies, but to share what I’ve learned about my mental illness, my bipolar disorder. I have learned when I use all five of my senses — when I use my whole body to make something — that is who I truly am. I am not the depression, and the depression is not me.

In depression, it’s so difficult to remember what I love and what I love doing. So, when things are going well, I create something meaningful to my life. I leave clues around the apartment, on tables, on counter tops, in the fridge. Because when depression strikes, I’ll forget who I am. I’ll forget that I’m on the Earth, that I live and belong here.

I hope you find something that keeps you here and reminds you of who you truly are.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.


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Unsplash photo via Jared Sluyter.

Originally published: June 7, 2017
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