It’s a dreadful place.
Maybe you had hoped you’d never go there. Or maybe you stay awake fearing you will. It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to stay there for long. You’ll be on your way shortly.
I prefer to use the term “set back” when I get sucked back into the Black Hole — bam! — stuck inside a brain that covets relief, any form of relief, and will do just about anything to get it. Because it’s certainly not the end of recovery. From depression or any addiction. A relapse merely gives you a new starting place.
Since I’ve been struggling with this recently in my own life, I’ve laid out seven strategies to get unstuck … to recover from a relapse.
1. Listen to the right people.
If you’re like me, you’re convinced that you are lazy, ugly, stupid, weak, pathetic, and self-absorbed when you are depressed or have given into an addiction. Unconsciously, you seek people, places, and things that will confirm those opinions. So, for example, when my self-esteem has plummeted to below-seawater status, I can’t stop thinking about the relative who asked me, after I had just returned from the psych ward and was doing everything I possibly could to recover from depression: “Do you WANT to feel better?” Indicating that I was somehow willing myself to stay sick in order to get attention or maybe because fantasizing about death is so much fun. I can’t get her and that question out of my mind when I’m pedaling backward. SO I draw a picture of her, with her question inside a bubble. Then I draw me with a bubble that says “HELL YES, DIMWIT!” Then I get out my self-esteem file and read a few of the affirmations of why I’m not lazy, ugly, stupid, weak, pathetic, and self-absorbed.
2. Make time to cry.
I’ve listed the healing faculties of tears in my piece “7 Good Reasons to Cry Your Eyes Out.” Your body essentially purges toxins when you weep. It’s as if all your emotions are bubbling to the surface, and when you cry, you release them, which is why it is so cathartic. Lately, I’ve been allowing myself 10 to 15 minutes in the morning to have a good cry, to say whatever I want without cognitive adjustments, to let it all out, and not to judge it.
3. Ditch the self-help.
As I wrote in my piece “Use Caution with Positive Thinking,” cognitive-behavioral adjustments can be extremely helpful for persons struggling with mild to moderate depression, or struggling with an addition that isn’t destroying them. With severe depression or a crippling addiction, though, positive thinking can sometimes make matters worse. I was so relieved the other day when my psychiatrist told me to put the self-help books away. Because I do think they were contributing to my self-battery.
Right now, when I start to think “I can’t take it anymore,” I try not to fret. I don’t worry about how I can adjust those thoughts. I simply consider the thoughts as symptoms of my bipolar disorder, and say to myself, “It’s okay. You won’t feel that way when you’re better. The thoughts are like a drop in insulin to a diabetic … a symptom of your illness, and a sign you need to be especially gentle with yourself.”
4. Distract yourself.
Instead of sitting down with some self-help books, you would be better off doing whatever you can to distract yourself. I remember this from my former therapist who told me, during the months of my severe breakdown, to do mindless things … like word puzzles and reading trashy novels. Recently, I’ve been going to Navy football games, which does take my mind off of my thoughts for a few hours on Saturdays. Not that I understand football … but there is a lot to watch besides the cheerleaders. Like my children trying to score all kinds of junk food.
5. Look for signs of hope.
The little, unexpected signs of hope kept me alive during my mega-breakdown, and they are the gas for my sorry-performing engine during a fragile time like this. Yesterday, a saw a rose bloom on our rose bush out front. In October! Since roses symbolize healing for me, I took it as a sign of hope … that I won’t plummet too far … there are things in this life that I’m meant to do.
6. Say yes anyway.
In her book Solace: Finding Your Way Through Grief and Learning to Live Again, author Roberta Temes suggests a policy whereby you always say yes to an invitation out. That keeps you from isolating, which is so easy to do when you’re grieving or stuck in a depression or off the wagon in a big way. I’ve been following this piece of advice. When a friend asks me to have coffee (and I really hope she doesn’t!), I have to say yes. It’s non-negotiable. Until I feel better and get back my brain.
7. Break your day into moments.
Most depressives and addicts would agree that “a day at a time” simply doesn’t cut it. That’s WAY too long. Especially first thing in the morning. I have to get to bedtime? Are you kidding me? So when rear-ended in the depression tunnel or fighting one of my many addictions, I break the day into about 850 moments. Each minute has a few moments. Right now it’s 11:00. I only have to worry about what I’m doing now, until, say 11:02.