A Day in the Life of Bipolar Depression

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When I wake up in a depressive bipolar fog, I have to be very careful and gentle with myself. Last Monday, I woke up feeling horrible. Super fatigued (despite sleeping deeply all night) and depressed. Getting out of bed felt impossible. I got up anyway. Fed the dogs. Painted for a little while. Made the twins’ lunches. But that was all I could manage. I went back to bed and slept. Matt made breakfast and got the kids off to school.

Later that morning I got up again. Showered. Dressed. A little makeup.

I had a goal: make dinner. I didn’t want my family to have to eat take-out again. I wanted to make dinner. Even if it was the only thing I did all day, I just wanted to make dinner for my family. Small goals are sometimes all I can handle when I’m in a depressive bipolar fog.

I research a casserole to bake and take my time writing the ingredient list. Then I drive to the grocery store.

I’m always uncomfortable in a grocery store. The lights are so bright. The music piped in over the speakers is always too loud. There are so many options and so many aisles. There’s always the chance of running into someone I know and then I’ll have to force myself to smile and engage in small talk (which feels impossible when I’m in a bipolar fog). It’s overwhelming to me. This is why a list helps. It keeps me on track. I keep a pen in my purse at all times and I cross off my items as I go along.

I get a deep sense of satisfaction in working my way through the list, crossing off items. It makes me feel like I’m being productive, accomplishing something tangible. When I’m in a bipolar fog, it’s important for me to DO things even though I don’t feel like I can. Because when I DO things, I always feel better afterwards.

I get anxious in checkout lines. The person behind me watches me unload my groceries onto the conveyor belt. I feel like I’m going too slow. They want me to hurry up. Another twinge of anxiety ripples up my spine. And then, paying. Will my credit card go through? Will it approve the amount? I always hold my breath, even when I know there’s enough money in the account. One can never be sure.

I finish at the grocery store and make my way to the car. Parking lots are scary for me. I’m always on edge in parking lots. So many people don’t look behind them before backing out of their parking space. I’m always afraid I might get hit. What if someone hits an empty shopping cart? Why don’t people return their shopping carts instead of abandoning them next to other cars? But I made it to the car without incident. This, too, felt like a victory.

Back at home, unloading the groceries feels like another Herculean task. I have to make sure and keep the dogs inside while going in and out of the front door. Unloading the groceries takes time. I should have cleaned out the fridge before I went to the store. I make a mental note to do this next time. I’m running out of energy as I finish unloading the groceries. But I don’t stop. I need to do the meal prep otherwise it might not get done.

I chop an onion and two cloves of garlic. I brown the meat. Add tomato sauce and spices. James is home from school because he’s developed a bad cough. He sits at the table and eats some soup I bought at the store. I like having his company even though he doesn’t talk to me. He has his ear buds in and is watching YouTube. I don’t mind. I’m just glad he’s there. Sometimes being alone all day isn’t good for me. The thoughts in my mind get too loud. Being near another human being reminds me that the thoughts in my mind are just thoughts. They aren’t reality. I can ignore them. I sing a little song to myself.

I make a white sauce and add Parmesan cheese. I pour the cheesy sauce over the Ziti noodles. I transfer the noodles to a 13x9 baking dish. Pour the meat sauce on top and spread mozarella cheese and breadcrumbs over it. It’s ready to bake. I cover it with foil and pop it in the fridge. Now all I have to do before dinner is bake it.

By this time, I’m utterly spent. I feel as if I’ve run a marathon. I need to lie down again. I crawl under my covers and put a pillow over my head. I need to block out everything. I sleep again.

It’s time to prepare a snack for the twins arriving home from school. I heave myself out of bed and stumble downstairs feeling for all the world like someone hit me over the head with a 2x4. The negative, racing thoughts are back. I push them aside. Sometimes I repeat little made-up songs and ditties just to keep my brain busy, just to keep it from thinking all the thoughts. I am so tired. So very, very tired. I feel like I’m dragging a 200 lb. bowling ball around with me. I just want to go back to bed.

But it’s important for me to be present for my kids. I don’t want their primary memories of me to be mom in bed, mom tired, mom not present. I plaster a smile on my face as they walk in the door. They don’t need to know how hard I’m trying. I want home to be a place they love returning to every day.

I kiss and hug them. I sit them down at the table and serve snacks. Today it’s a cup of chili and crackers, a glass of milk. They like a good, hearty snack after school. They come home ravenous. I feed them and we talk about their day. They fill me in on everything that happened at school. Who got in trouble, who didn’t finish their homework, who they played with at recess, how they’re practicing for an upcoming school musical. Then they start their homework. I go back upstairs to my bedroom.

All I want to do is lie down again and put a pillow over my head. But I don’t. I force myself to sit up and crochet. The twins come in and out of the room to ask for help with their homework. This is why I don’t lie down: they might need me.

After their homework, they go outside to play. Now I can lie down again. I crash. This is my last chance to rest before final dinner prep. Soon it’s late afternoon and I call the twins inside. It’s time to get dinner ready. The twins set the table. I put the casserole in the oven. I think about making a salad but I’m too exhausted. The casserole will have to be enough tonight.

Matt arrives home. I am so thankful and happy to see him. Now I have some help. We eat dinner together as a family. The older boys tell us about their day. We talk politics. We talk about world events. My eyes are getting blurry and I feel like my mouth is full of cotton. I need to go to bed. I can’t do anymore today. I just can’t. Matt sees the look on my face and gently suggests I go back to bed. I drag myself upstairs. I feel like the world is ending. I have a combination of regret (because I’m missing some of the conversation downstairs), exhaustion, guilt and an overall sense that I’m not doing a good job. I hate having bipolar. It affects everything in my life. I start crying in bed.

After finishing the dishes, Matt comes upstairs and checks on me. “Don’t feel bad, little Moesh. You did a good job.” It’s hard to believe him but I tell my brain to shut up and just believe.

“Don’t try to do any thinking right now,” Matt says. “I think you need to watch a show or listen to one of your podcasts.”

I turn on Netflix and watch Parks & Rec until my eyes grow heavy. I’m asleep by 7:45pm. This is my day with bipolar.