I Don’t Know What to Do When Depression Triggers Cannot Be Avoided

Being bipolar can be tough at times. And for me, the worst part of it is the depression. My depression gets so deep and dark that I cannot function for days, weeks, and even months at a time. And what is especially hard is when I know certain things will likely trigger a depressive episode but I can’t do anything to avoid them. This happened to me recently, specifically in my trip to see my grandparents and subsequently my dad.

My relationship with my father is not nor will it likely ever be close. He has not and will not give up drinking in order to have a healthy father-daughter relationship with me. This makes me feel horrible, to say the least, but I have to accept it and walk away as much as I can. However, he is my father and I cannot avoid him completely when he is in the same small town of 600 or so people as my grandparents.

I went up to help when my grandfather was recently hospitalized which is triggering enough for depression, seeing a strong, proud man like my grandpa in the hospital bed fighting pneumonia. Add to that my grandmother, who is the sweetest woman in the world, worried about my grandfather and suffering in her own right. These are tough things to deal with in and of themselves.

I have no problem helping care for my grandparents. In fact, I value the opportunity and every minute I get to spend with them. But when I am there I feel guilty. Guilty that I cannot do more, that I am not a good enough granddaughter, that there should be something more that I am doing for them. I drive myself crazy with self-doubt, self-loathing, and worry.

And then there is my dad, a constant source of anxiety any time I have to deal with him directly. While his attitude changed when I left to come home (earlier than I planned, by the way) and he was nicer to me, I still did not feel comfortable around him. He kept bringing up the letter I wrote to him and how we need to talk about it.

All of these factors together are a recipe for depression for me. The extreme guilt is something I have always had to deal with as long as I can remember. It leads me down a dark path where I feel as though I am worthless and should not even bother getting out of bed. On top of that, when my relationship with my father is thrown in the mix, my emotions become devastatingly low.

And so, what can I do when I know that I have to face my triggers like I did recently? So far, there is not much that I can do. I cannot always avoid my father’s side of the family. At the very least, my grandparents do not deserve that. They are kind and caring people.

But now that I’m home, I am tired, feeling foggy and fuzzy, and generally down and sad…the usual suspects when I start to get depressed. I am trying to push through it and turn things around, but I am stuck in this mood. I hope that one day I can better handle it when I have to deal with my dad. I hope I can get rid of my constant guilt one of these days. I hope, I hope, I hope. But for now, I have to ask what should I do when I cannot avoid triggers? Do any of you have effective coping mechanisms to share? Leave your comments below if you suffer from bipolar or unipolar depression and have options that work for you (besides medication, which I already take).

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My dad continued…

So, in my previous post, I mentioned that my father and I are estranged. The reason for this is his drinking and a step that I took with the help of my therapist to distance myself from the toxic situation and relationship that I have with my father. His drinking scares me and when he drinks I never know if the mean drunk will come out or if he will just drink to the point of being a bit jovial. It usually ends up being the meaner side that comes out in my experience.

Anyway, yesterday, I found out that my grandfather is quite ill and I decided to drive up to see him and to stay with my grandmother while he is hospitalized. The only issue is that my dad lives in the same small town and obviously will be around his parents during this time. In fact, he is the first one that told me about the situation.

I got here and things are, of course, normal between me and my grandparents, but not between me and my father. He didn’t hug me hello and kept his distance…acting cordial for the sake of my grandparents.

At one point when we were alone, I told him that my diagnosis has changed to bipolar. Why I did this I am not sure. I guess I thought it would be better if he found out from me directly since I am here. He did not really react and when I mentioned it again, he said something about it being hereditary and how it must be from my mother (it is not).

Then, when he was leaving my grandparents’ house for the night, he mentioned the letter I had sent him. I confronted him about his drinking behavior and other issues we have had over the years in a letter because it was the only way I felt safe to express myself without immediately being argued with or shamed for how I feel.

All he said to me last night was that we need to discuss this letter sometime, but probably not on this trip because he is already stressed and upset. He also said, “all I will leave you with is that it was pretty cold” and just walked out of the house without another word. However, the tone with which he said it was full of rage and hatred.

Instead of considering my words and knowing that he has hurt me my entire life, he blames me for being cold. Instead of dealing with his drinking and stopping (he hasn’t even considered it), he passive aggressively threatens me. I am in a toxic environment away from my support system and I know that when I finally do get home I am going to probably have a crash into depression which always happens after dealing with my dad. Not a great start to the week in my bipolar life.

My Father Shamed My Mental Health

When you have a mental health disorder, no matter what it is, you may experience what I did with my father regarding my mental health issues. But before I can get into the most recent of the events that occurred with my now estranged father, I want to go back to my youth.

My relationship with my father wasn’t always contentious. In fact, when I was very young, we got along great. He taught me to play board games, would read to me at night, and generally was a good dad in my eyes. However, eventually it changed. I became a person with opinions. I started to think for myself and I did not always think in the same way that my father did.

He didn’t like that. I was too much like my mother. I needed to be put in my place. Whatever, his rational behind it, he became more of a source of fear for me than a loving father. Part of this was because of his drinking problem. My father is an alcoholic (though he would never admit that to be true, which is the source of our estrangement today).

His drinking is, in my mind, his defining characteristic, which is sad and disturbing at the same time. The other characteristic is his emotional and mental absence from my life, from childhood through the bulk of my adulthood. And considering we are not even on speaking terms now, I doubt that will ever change.

Okay. Enough background. Now to the part about my mental health. As my post, “My Diagnosis” revealed, I have struggled with mental health issues pretty much all my life. At an early age, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I was in therapy for about six months and then stopped going. But what I did not mention was why treatment was so short-lived.

You guessed it. My father was the reason. It was a fight for my mother (a school counselor with extensive psychological education) to even get my dad to agree to a short stint in counseling. He didn’t believe in therapy and counseling and thought it was all worthless. I can only imagine what my life would have been like later if I had had the opportunity to stick with those early sessions with my therapist (who was amazing and who did help me quite a bit).

Fast forwarding now to my teenage years and my eating disorder. I was sickly thin. I had inflammation in my pancreas and spleen (signs of organ damage and possible failure), and if I stood up quickly, I almost passed out. But my dad was against treatment for my eating disorder. He didn’t think I had a mental health issue. He didn’t think there was an issue at all. I was fine in his eyes. Nothing to worry about.

You can see how all of these points in my life were defining moments and how a different course of action would have changed my life in significant and lasting ways. If I had gotten eating disorder treatment, maybe I wouldn’t have a binge eating disorder today instead of anorexia. If I had gotten early treatment for my anxiety and depression, maybe my bipolar disorder would have been diagnosed and treated long before I was 32. If only.

When I recently started therapy as an adult and began also getting medical treatment for my anxiety and depression (before I was diagnosed with bipolar) and I finally told him after a few months in treatment, he acted okay with it. But, then the sideways shaming started. I went to visit my grandparents and he told me that he didn’t tell them I was struggling with anxiety and depression, all he said was that I was having a hard time with a physical condition I was diagnosed with (PCOS – polycystic ovarian syndrome). He didn’t want them to know I was in therapy or had a mental health diagnosis.

I was so hurt by his actions, I have no words. It was shameful to him that I was getting help for mental health. But if I was struggling with a physical health ailment, that was okay. It was literally easier to talk to my grandparents about my ovaries than my brain. His actions showed me that he would never accept me for me and would never accept that mental health conditions are legitimate and treatable through therapy and medical management.

That was the beginning of the end of our relationship and now, he doesn’t even know I have bipolar II, unless someone on that side of the family has read this blog and told him. I wish a lot of things about my father and our relationship, but most of all I wish that he hadn’t been so against counseling and therapy in general and that his opinions on those matters hadn’t so greatly shaped the course of my life. I can only imagine where I would be if I had an earlier diagnosis or long-term treatment for the mental health issues that affected me over the years.

Let me know what you think about my experiences. Do you have similar stories about people close to you? Have people in your life let you down? Leave comments or feel free to share this post if you like it! Thanks!

My Dog Saved My Life

Only around three years ago, I was in a very dark place. I was in a horrible situation with my romantic relationship, I was extremely depressed, and I was experiencing what I now know are mixed episodes (hypomania and depression mixed together). I didn’t know how I was going to get myself out of the situation that I was in and I felt lost to say the least.

Some of what went on was a blur of emotions. I was in tears multiple times a day. I got angry, sad, happy, and then sad again all within a short period of time (we are talking minutes in some cases). There were moments where I was so sad and so full of an overwhelming feeling of total despair that I would pick up the butcher knives in my kitchen and hold them to my wrists, ready to cut as soon as my hands would steady enough to do so, and I got up the nerve.

I don’t say any of this for pity or even for the shock value. It is just important to know my mindset at the time. In spite of the sadness and despair, I decided to adopt a dog. I thought that having a pet around would make me happy somehow. Little did I know that I was actually more right about the benefits of having a dog than I could have ever known.

I went to the humane society and immediately saw a dog that spoke to my heart. He was a beagle mix and when I looked at him in his kennel, he was curled up in a little ball looking so deeply depressed and forlorn that I felt an instant connection to him. I asked to meet him and he was brought into a visitor room. His entire demeanor changed in the room. He was excited and spazzy, running and jumping all over the place. And this made me relate to him even more.

I felt as though his moods and my moods were in sync. He was sad when he was neglected, ignored, and the like but happy when people were paying him attention. Max was my dog and I knew it without thinking. So, needless to say, he came home with me that night. Now, Max is not and never technically has been my therapy dog. But the therapeutic benefits of having him in my life have been unprecedented.

Max saved my life that day. I had a reason to live. I had a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I could breathe again. There was something in my life to fill the void that my relationship with my then boyfriend had created inside of me. That is not to say that Max doesn’t have issues. As a rescue dog, he has his quirks and even some mental health issues of his own.

When I got him, he had behavior issues related to scratching. He would rub his back near the base of his tail on people and furniture all the time. Several trips to the vet and hundreds of dollars in tests revealed that he had severe food allergies and had to be on a grain-free and chicken-free diet. He is also an anxious dog and is quite jumpy and is especially scared of men unless he has been introduced and allowed to get to know them on his own terms. Max has issues, but I can understand them.

He is a kindred spirit. And he turned my life around. I couldn’t let things get too bad because he didn’t deserve that. I couldn’t end my life because Max needed me and he would be harmed by such an action. It was like he was a symbol for everything good inside me that I could not see. Max has been my savior and he is still my heart. He is so happy to see me every morning when we wake up. He comforts me when I am sad and literally tries to lick away my tears which makes me laugh and stop crying if only temporarily.

Before I had a therapist, Max became my own personal form of therapy. Pets as therapy or as therapeutic tools may not work for everybody, but the unconditional love Max showed me got me through the darkest time in my life. And I will never go a day again without a pet in my life. Oh, and I now have 3 pets, two cats and Max. They all bring me joy and keep me going on my worst days. I couldn’t be more grateful.

If you have thoughts on my post or have your own pet-related stories to tell, leave me a comment below. And as always, thanks for reading!

My Diagnosis

I have been living with mental health issues all my life. As a young child, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. However, I only went to therapy for a few short months (more on that later) and in my childhood mind, I thought the end of therapy meant that I was cured.

While there is a lot to this story that I will go into later, I will briefly summarize the rest of my mental health treatment up until now. As a teenager, I developed an eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, to be exact. I went from being slightly overweight to being dangerously underweight in a few short years. I was only treated by my pediatrician during this time and all she did was have me come in a few times for checkups. No mental health treatment was given.

The eating disorder pendulum eventually swung and now I have a binge eating disorder rather than full-blown anorexia, but I do still go through periods in which I starve myself. Fast forward to now, my early thirties, and I basically had a breakdown of sorts. I was suicidal, so depressed I couldn’t even get out of bed for days and weeks on end, and had engaged in a wide variety of reckless behaviors including causing myself repeated severe financial problems through overspending.

And finally, I put myself in therapy and found a primary care physician that worked with me to find medications to help me. Of course, I was being treated for my original diagnosis, anxiety and depression, along with some PTSD that we can also discuss another time.

I found treatment difficult, especially at controlling my moods. The anxiety medications seemed to reduce my panic attacks and helped me get some sleep, but the antidepressants had no effect on my depression. So, I took to the internet in search of answers. Through a variety of online self-assessments, I found that I more than likely had bipolar disorder, specifically bipolar II.

My next therapy session, I told my therapist about my continued severe depression and mentioned that I believed I was suffering from bipolar rather than unipolar depression. We went through the diagnostic criteria for the manic side of depression and my therapist agreed that I have bipolar II disorder.

At 32 I finally had a diagnosis, a diagnosis I should have received in adolescence or my early 20’s when my symptoms began to escalate. That is my diagnosis story. I am now aware that I have been living with bipolar II for most (if not all) of my life and I am beginning my journey of understanding.

If you have your own diagnosis story you want to share or have something to say about mine, please feel free to leave a comment. Otherwise, I will catch you next time as I continue to learn what it means to live with bipolar II.