I learned this from my 10-year relationship with a man who has bipolar, as well as living with my own depression for many years. Love is important, and those of us with bipolar need it, but it can only go so far in helping us find a management plan that works.
The answer—and, believe me, it works—is planning ahead with a specific strategy you can use when the depression shows up. My book Getting It Done When You’re Depressed has 50 of these strategies.
Here is how YOU can use such strategies with a loved one.
Be aware: This process usually takes a YEAR or more. I know. Humans want everything to be fast. It’s not fast. It’s a process. You create a foundation by educating yourself and then slowly and surely introducing the strategies into your life. Then, and only then, can you introduce them to a loved one.
YOU CAN DO THIS.
“Be Your Own Drill Sergeant”
Let’s start with one of my favorites, Strategy #6, “Be Your Own Drill Sergeant.” (If you don’t have the book, you can read more here.)
This strategy teaches the idea that a person who is depressed still has an inner guide that can rise up and help them even when they feel hopeless and helpless.
What follows is an excerpt from my book:
Even if you’re the type who responds well to softer language, you probably have days when talking to yourself in a calm and gentle way won’t work. It might be that the depressions won’t lift and getting things done is impossible, even if you use a certain approach that has helped in the past. These are the days when you must step aside and let someone or something else take over. Sometimes you need to call upon your inner drill sergeant and let him or her take over and get you back on track. This takes imagination and a willingness to be slightly silly, but you can do it.
I use this technique every day when I’m depressed. I created it in the ‘1990s, when I realized that what my brain was saying was not my reality.
I am in bed. I can’t move. The depression cascades over my head. I feel hopeless and helpless.
My thoughts: Not another day of this! I can’t go on like this! Why is my life so hard! Other people have it so much easier! What is wrong with me! Why am I so unhappy!
All of this before I even get out of bed!
In the past, I lived this so completely, I didn’t know it was serious depression. It enveloped me. I was often in bed for weeks.
One day, I thought to myself, People in the army have to get up. People who are in a marching band or those who have others depending on them have to get up. How do I get up?
And then I heard my inner drill sergeant voice:
Julie! Get Out of Bed! Just get up, young lady! Throw off the covers! Put those feet down! You did it!!! Next step is to brush your teeth, wash your face, and get dressed. Come on, woman! You can do it!!! Now get dressed. Come on! Come on!
As I got better at this, I could picture others telling me what to do:
Scarlett O’Hara. My grandmother!
Once I got the energy from the drill sergeant–type words, I felt my own thinking change:
I think I can! I can do this! I will do this! Get up! Get out! Get things done!
How to Use This Technique with a Loved One
I am NOT suggesting that you say these things to a loved one. Not at all.
Here’s a script you can use to introduce the idea of the inner drill sergeant:
Honey, I know there are days when getting up is hard. I know that there are struggles that I can’t even imagine. Julie Fast has an idea that works for her. When the low mood is keeping her down, she finds what she calls her “inner drill sergeant,” and lets it talk to her on the days she feels she can’t move. If you want to read about it. I left the book on the kitchen table. It’s Strategy #6.
bp Magazine has many resources on how you can help a loved one who lives with bipolar depression. Love is very important, of course! But we do need more than love to help someone manage an illness.
You can learn the strategies that work, practice them yourself, and then introduce them to the person with depression. This changes lives!
Julie A. Fast is the author of the bestselling mental health books Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner, Getting It Done When You’re Depressed, OMG, That’s Me! (vol. 2), and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. She is a longtime bp Magazine writer and the top blog contributor, with over 5 million blog views. Julie is also a researcher and educator who focuses on bipolar disorder prevention and ways to recognize mood swings from the beginning—before they go too far and take over a person’s life. She works as a parent and partner coach and regularly trains health care professionals, including psychiatric residents, pharmacists, general practitioners, therapists, and social workers, on bipolar disorder and psychotic disorder management. She has a Facebook group for parents, The Stable Table, and for partners, The Stable Bed. Julie is the recipient of the Mental Health America excellence in journalism award and was the original consultant for Claire Danes’s character on the TV show Homeland. Julie had the first bipolar disorder blog and was instrumental in teaching the world about bipolar disorder triggers, the importance of circadian rhythm sleep, and the physical signs of bipolar disorder, such as recognizing mania in the eyes. Julie lives with bipolar disorder, a psychotic disorder, anxiety, and ADD.
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