Am I depressed or am I just lazy? Most people would see the fact that I do so little as being lazy, so how do we explain what it is we are actually experiencing?
It is hard enough to get people to take in that we have a mental illness, but trying to get them to acknowledge and understand the physical impact on the body is even harder. How many of you have been treated like you are using your illness as an excuse not to have to do anything.
Yesterday I slept for over 17 hours; not in one hit, a few hours here and a few hours there, with a little time up and about in between. My brain was only in first gear, slow thoughts, unable to comprehend what was being said to me, it was like I was in a fog. My body was like led, weighing me down, making my movements slow and uncoordinated. You know those padded Sumo fighting suits you see where people have fun trying to walk and fight in them, bouncing off of each other? Well I felt like I was wearing one of those, but filled with water so that I could barely move for the weight and burden of carrying it around. Everything ached and moving took a monumental effort, getting more and more tired with each step, until I had to go back to bed to rest and sleep to recover.
In the past my husband WallE has tried to keep me awake when I have been like this, believing I was sleeping too much. But he was not victorious. In the middle of a conversation my eyes would close and my brain would shut down and he would have to shuffle me back off to bed.
Back then WallE didn’t understand and would become very frustrated with me. For him, it was a lonely life because whilst he was married, there was little interaction with me and he began to resent it. He discussed with me what he was feeling and we put some strategies in place for the periods I was awake so that we could maximise the quality of and time spent together, satisfying his need for interaction and attention. This open and honest communication literally saved our marriage.
I explained to WallE what I was experiencing when I was like this and he took it on board. Whilst it helped him better understand my experiences, until I went into a catatonic depression and had 12 ECT sessions, he didn’t fully understand how bad it could get. My treatment team at the Swanston Centre in Geelong were very supportive and open with him about my symptoms, that I had no control over my brain shutting down and took great care and consideration when explaining to him the effects of depression and strategies he could use to assist me in recovering from such a deep depression.
Having rapid cycling Bipolar, even when I am functioning fairly well I still have to pace myself, as the fatigue sets in quickly requiring me to acknowledge and accept that unless I am Hypomanic my ability to function to the level of the average person is not achievable. As frustrating as this is I have had to accept my limitations and enact my self-care strategies. Because I now know that if I do not, the symptoms worsen and the recovery period lengthens.
This unfortunately sometimes includes having to cancel or postpone commitments I have made with others to visit, prepare documents, attend meetings and appointments etc. Yes, I too go through the guilt at not having lived up to my commitments and the expectations of others. But I have found open and honest dialogue about what I am experiencing, along with a sincere apology, goes a long way to helping others better understand the situation and the importance of self-care.