You have depression, or bipolar disorder. And on some days, you feel like you’re treading water—at best. You’re tired of struggling. You’re tired of regularly feeling tired. You’re angry that your to-do list just keeps getting longer and longer. You’re angry that you have to deal with so much darkness day in and day out.
Some days are just hard. Some days you feel so overwhelmed.
It is on these days that you probably feel like the only person on the planet who’s struggling with persistent symptoms.
Thankfully, you’re not. And thankfully, it will get better.
We asked individuals who live with depression or bipolar disorder to share what they’d like others who are feeling overwhelmed with these same conditions to know. Most of the individuals are speakers from This Is My Brave, a fantastic nonprofit organization that hosts live events and aims to “end the stigma surrounding mental illness through storytelling.”
Get treatment. T-Kea Blackman, a mental health advocate and speaker who lives with depression and anxiety, stressed the importance of seeing a therapist who can help you identify triggers, learn healthy coping tools, and set boundaries, along with a psychiatrist if you need to take medication. (For bipolar disorder, both medication and therapy are vital.)
Blackman emphasized not getting discouraged if the first or third medication you try doesn’t work, or the first or third therapist you see isn’t a good fit. “It can take time to find the right dosage and medication, and therapist for you.” This can be frustrating, but it’s common—and you will find the right help.
Focus on small victories. Sivaquoi Laughlin, a writer, blogger, and mental health advocate with bipolar II disorder, has good days, bad days, and sometimes great days. She underscored the importance of realizing that it’s OK not to be OK, and acknowledging small victories, which are actually “huge.”
Some days, those small victories might be getting out of bed and taking a shower, she said. Other days, they might be excelling at work and going to dinner with friends. Either way, it’s all important and worthwhile.
Forgive yourself. Fiona Thomas, a writer who has depression and anxiety, stressed the importance of not beating yourself up when you don’t do everything on your list, or when you have bad days. One of her friends always says: “Remember that your best changes when you’re not feeling well.”
Thomas, author of the book Depression in a Digital Age: The Highs and Lows of Perfectionism, suggested not comparing today’s output to your output from last year or last week. “It all depends on how you’re feeling mentally, and if you’re not 100 percent, then just do what you can—the rest will come later.”
Thomas also suggested doing one small thing every day that makes you feel better. This might be anything from drinking a few glasses of water to walking around the block to talking to a friend, she said. “There are so many ways to boost your mood little by little, and over time, they become habits and make you feel better without even really having to try.”
Do one enjoyable thing every day. Similarly, Laughlin encouraged readers to find one thing that brings you happiness, and try to incorporate that into your daily routine.
For Laughlin, it’s many “one things.” That is, she loves being with her grandson and her dogs, meditating, hiking, reading, and writing. “Start small and build upon it. Forgive yourself if you miss a day or days.”
Remember you are not broken. Suzanne Garverich is a public health advocate who is passionate about fighting mental health stigma through her work on suicide prevention as well as telling her story of living with bipolar II disorder. She wants readers to know that you “are not damaged, but [instead] so courageous and strong to live through and fight through this illness.”
Document your OK days. This way, “when you are having an off day or month or series of months, you can go back and remind yourself that you have felt differently,” said Leah Beth Carrier, a mental health advocate working on her master’s in public health, who has depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and PTSD. “You are capable of experiencing emotions other than the numb, black hole you reside in at the moment. There is hope.”
Surround yourself with support. “Surround yourself with people who can support you and find an online community who can relate to you, such as the Buddy Project or my community, Fireflies Unite,” Blackman said. She also noted that the National Alliance on Mental Illness offers free support groups.
Teresa Boardman, who has treatment-resistant bipolar disorder, attends weekly therapy sessions, but sometimes, she said, she needs more. “It’s OK to talk frankly with someone. I like to use the crisis text line because I do not have to break my cone of silence. Expressing yourself truly makes you feel less alone.”
Living with a mental illness can be hard. Acknowledge this. Acknowledge your overwhelmed, exasperated, angry feelings. Remind yourself that you’re not alone. And remind yourself that you are doing an incredible job, even on the days it doesn’t feel like it.