After the Fall

So, it has happened again.

Anxiety has hit so hard that you can’t leave the house, or worse, the panic attack was so bad that it landed you in the hospital. Or, you spent the night in hell; depression pulling you under so deep that you nearly took that step past your life. Maybe you are crashing after a bad manic phase or gripping paranoia; feeling shame over the choices you made or your behavior or just flat out crawling through the mental and physical exhaustion. So, now what? What do you do after the fall?

The Wind-up

Recently I actually put myself into a particularly bad manic phase. In fact, I am still in the process of hauling myself out of the resulting ker-splat at the end. Triggering mania isn’t that hard to do. In my case, all I have to do is set myself up with an unrealistic amount of things to do in an equally unrealistic amount of time. Then add a healthy dose of anxiety about getting it all done. Add a dash of self-care neglect and, voila, I have successfully switched my brain into mania.

Over the years I have learned how to manage my manic phases with varying degrees of success. Managing the anxiety and depression that is also a part of bi-polar disorder has been more of a hit or miss proposition. It’s a constant challenge to keep myself on some kind of even keel and, just like now, I regularly fail. This time of year is also a trigger for me. I have so many things going on in my life and I set myself some pretty unrealistic expectations that inevitably leave me disappointed in myself. I often think I am not making much progress toward better mental health…and then I remember how bad it used to be.

When I was in my twenties I would have these incredible sprints of manic energy. It was an exhilarating time of creative productivity. For three to seven days, I would just do. I hardly ate; almost never slept. I was brilliant and unstoppable…until it all stopped.

The Fall

Coming off of a manic phase isn’t like a gentle slide into darkness. It’s a cliff dive into the abyss. You start noticing the barest twinge of fatigue, go to sleep and then can’t get up again for a month…six weeks…more. The fall is just as deep as your high. As energetic as you were is how disabled you become. The feeling of “I can do” shifts to “I am useless”. The black blanket of depression settles over your head and you almost welcome it.

Despite this, I feel fortunate that my manic phases manifested primarily in creativity. I knew a woman who, every time she went manic, would clean something in a consuming germ panic; I mean, molecular clean. She once cleaned her entire kitchen, every inch, with bleach and a toothbrush. I thought, “Hey, a spotless kitchen isn’t so bad!” until she told me that she stayed up for 48 hours doing it and ended up with bleach burns on her hands. Another acquaintance went into a reckless abandonment of self-control. She said she felt invulnerable. She would drink until she was wasted, do drugs, and sleep with a series of random men and women. Often she would find herself in the hospital or in a hotel miles from home or even in jail when reality came crashing down.

These are challenges I have never faced in my manic phases. I hear these stories and think that I really shouldn’t have anything to complain about. I have to remind myself that every mental challenge is unique and every single one is just as valid as another.

The Crawl

Bi-polar sufferers aren’t the only ones who have cycles in their mental health; depression and anxiety also wax and wane. When we have a bad episode it seems like we will never get passed it. Like this time we won’t be able to function in life again.

From the point of view of those close to me, I have gotten significantly better at managing my mental illness over the years. My counselor often points it out to me. My husband recently told me that I had no idea how much better I am now than I was when we were first married. Kind of a backhanded compliment, in a way, but I will take it. And, if I really think about it, I can admit that I have made progress in my quest for better mental health. Hell, I can even tell myself that I love who I am. Try to get my 25 year old self to say that.

With that in mind, when I recognized that I was crashing this time, I tried to focus on the methods I have learned to pull myself together. Actually, it’s more like a crawl to sanity. You would think that I would be able to recognize when I am in a manic phase and head it off at the pass, but it never seems to work that way. So, analyzing the crash is what I’ve got. Since this fall was one of the worst I have had in a long time, it gave me plenty of opportunity to look at what I do after the fall.

Baby Steps:

 

  1. Recognize and give yourself permission to crash. This isn’t like wallowing in self-pity. This is a conscious effort to recognize that you have been through something traumatic and give yourself permission to do what it takes to heal.

 

  1. Give yourself time. You are not going to get over this episode in a day. This time I lightened my responsibilities for a week at first. It was nowhere near enough time, so I am trying to limit obligations until I feel like I can handle them again. This may take weeks or longer, so don’t hold on to expectations of when you “should” be over this. There is no should. (I have to make this a mantra because this is a hard thing to accept.)

 

  1. Be kind to yourself. Treat your crash like you have just come out of surgery. Mental recovery is very much like physical recovery. It will be painstaking, it takes perseverance and there will be scars. Take it slow and steady. Let yourself sleep, even if it is for long periods of time, without berating yourself. Eat the foods you love without guilt. Ask for help when you need it.

 

  1. Let people close to you know you are having a tough time. I usually have to wait a couple of days before I can open up about what I went through and how it is affecting me. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to start reaching out. Even a text to a friend about how I am feeling is a validation that I am aware of the struggle and trying to move forward.

 

  1. Forgive yourself. Mental illness is often a blame game. Don’t play it. Don’t fall in to the trap of beating yourself up for what has happened. You have an illness. Try to do your best to learn from what happened this time around and come up with strategies to help yourself in the future.

 

Please know…all of this is easier to write than to do. It’s also easier to keep all of this inside rather than write about it. I have been slogging along with this article for weeks now. I know. This is hard. Recovery is hard. But each little step forward, each word I type, is me flipping off my mental illness. It’s me screaming, “Screw you! I have fallen before and gotten back up! I will do it again!”

 

For more help on what to do after a mental health breakdown, check out these links:

5 Steps to Taking Care of Myself After a Panic Attack

https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/strategies-for-dealing-with-depressive-episode#1

 

 

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While the articles are written to inform, entertain and support those who visit the site, the Anxious Artist is not a licensed medical professional and the information on these pages is not intended to replace regular medical care. Research and testimonials may show promising results with alternative treatments for mental illness, but these should always be discussed with a qualified medical practitioner before being implemented.

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