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How I'm Living Through My 'Dark Days' With Mental Illness

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On the “dark days,” I can’t breathe. Everything swirls above my head, just far enough away. I see some things I want — like a boyfriend or to graduate college — but I can’t reach up and grab them because the water above me is moving too fast and it’s too black outside to see things around me. I’m too cold. I don’t have any energy.

And if all of those things were excuses, I guess they were all I had left.

I was out of people to run to, out of people who would listen, out of people who would take their time to care. I was out of treatment center options — I was out of hope.

When the dark days come back, I try to run as fast as I can. But we all know that some days, trying doesn’t really cut it. They’ll still end up tracking me down. Swallowing me. And I’ll sit there, in the belly of the beast and cry. And then scream. And then cry. Because, oh man, I am in for it.

I didn’t know if I’d ever get far enough from the darkness to call myself free. It felt like everybody else was going to better places and I was just… there. I believe in recovery from my eating disorder, but I don’t know how to define recovery when it comes to depression or bipolar disorder.

I remember letting myself rot in my bedroom, only getting up to feed my cat. And being alright with that. When the time called for me to leave my apartment, my world felt like it was shattering. My safety bubble had been popped open and I was forced out into the real world — out of my bed that had become my only safe space. I didn’t want anything to do with the “real world.” I didn’t know how to become a functioning human, and at that point — I didn’t have enough energy to figure it out.

And at some points I liked to think I was better off alone, but I know I’m not. I have myself, but I need other people in my life to care for, and for me to be cared by. I’m always trying to get enough — be enough — and I can’t always quite figure out the right combination. I am trying to get rid of enough of the dark days, but I can’t always control my world in the same ways other people in my life can. My decisions are sometimes made for me, with little thought behind them, with great impulse.

So how do I deal with my “dark days?”

1. Write, write, write. I think that above all else, that has helped me more than any other coping skill. Write in journals, word documents, scribbles on random pieces of paper. Get it all out until you feel even a little bit better.

2. Find a friend who is willing to listen to what you need support with. Even if you don’t necessarily want to dive into your whole life story, even just talking to someone or hanging out watching Netflix may help. Sometimes conversations that don’t revolve around mental illness or treatment may help even more.

3. Get a stuffed animal that has lavender in it and that’s microwavable and use it. Snuggle with big, comfy blankets

4. Fuzzy socks! They may not cure my depression by any means, but they do help add comfort to uncomfortable times

5. Try and find new music. Listen to as many songs as you want, as many times as you need.

I have given advice like this to so many people, and that’s because I truly believe it helps. But if you have some other healthy ideas that work for you, definitely do those too!

The most I wish for today is that I’ll be able to breathe easy. I’d like everything to stop swirling, or at least somewhere besides right above my head. I’d like to warm up a bit and get some more of my energy back. I don’t know if I’ll ever deem myself “free from depression,” but I’d like to. I think that it’ll probably pay me some more visits off and on, for a long while. Who knows, maybe it will keep swallowing me and spitting me back out. But my wish is for it to become less intense, and less frequent as the days go on.

All I can hope for — for today — is that depression spits me out again soon. I hope I won’t need the help of the hospital again, but completely ruling it out would be unrealistic. I hope I won’t have to drop out of school and waste more money on credits I will never get. I hope that I can live life without the impending doom of the clouds and the rain and the darkness I’ve been seeing more often than I’d like. Maybe I’m not supposed to be able to figure all of this out. If this path has a meaning beyond what I can comprehend right now, I believe I will find it in time.

My friend recently reminded me that, “There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not always an oncoming train.”

Recovering from bipolar disorder, specifically the depressive episodes, is really hard to say the least, and sometimes feels unmanageable because it’s so silent when it lets itself back into my life. It’s hard to tackle something that seems to have no cause and sometimes even no triggers — something that’s basically invisible besides its side effects, from crying to not getting out of bed even though its 4 in the afternoon.

If you were to look back to where I’ve been in the past, compared to now, the differences you’d see are tremendous. I may be having some hard days, but I am also thankful I’m not back at square one anymore and that things aren’t necessarily always as bad as they might feel in the moment. The water in the sea of tears I began creating years ago has diminished over time. The storm always passes. I just need to give myself time and permission to find the shelter I need and take cover until I can get it to pass. Because for me, depression sees its way out, it’s just a matter of waiting for that time to come.

Some ways I can tell I’ve made progress and that I’m not at square one?

1. Even just changing the room I’m in makes me gives me some relief.

2. When people tell me I’m going to be OK, I don’t immediately get angry. I sometimes even believe them/

3. I know how to distance myself from those who may be negatively impacting my recovery.

4. I eat even when I’m not hungry just because I know it’s time.

5. I’m able to successfully complete homework without entering panic mode.

6. I am now able to go some places alone.

7. I don’t use my anger toward myself in harmful ways anymore.

8. Some days — on bad days — even though I may not see the light at the end, the thought of it being there gives me reason enough to move forward into the next dark day.

9. Therapy isn’t the only highlight of my week.

10. Always, on the dark days, I still fight for better ones to come. Some days — on the dark days — I still have hope.

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Thinkstock photo via panic_attack


Originally published: October 31, 2017
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