TRIGGER WARNING: Bipolar, depression, suicidal thoughts mentioned
I feel low, sad, depressed and have barely got the energy to write this article. As soon as I’ve finished putting finger to key I’ll be implementing stop, drop and roll, but first I want to share this technique with you in case anyone else out there feels like me.
I have bipolar, which means my moods, with various levels of severity, slide up and down like a yoyo. In my darkest hours, I am suicidal and in my mania, I am a god. The moods come and go, seemingly as they please, but can also be set off by life events.
COVID-19 has seen many people lose their jobs and I found out a few days ago that I am joining the masses and being made redundant from a position I loved. It’s not always life events that set off my unstable moods but I’m sure this happening hasn’t exactly helped the funk my brain is currently in.
It’s difficult to describe how I feel. Numb I suppose and extremely tired. It’s four in the afternoon and I could happily go to bed. I want to. Shutting the world off and freeing myself from the waking sad, numbness I feel seems like a relieving option. Sometimes I go to bed early because I don’t want to be awake anymore, I don’t want to live anymore. My husband finds these moments particularly challenging to deal with as it makes him so sad. We have a great life. We’re blissfully happy together, but mental illness can hit at the happiest of times. It doesn’t always make sense and it’s not always life event triggered. For me though, today perhaps it is.
Stop, drop and roll is a concept I developed with the advice of my psychiatrist and it helps these dark feelings. When we are overstimulated our moods can become erratic and if you are bipolar over stimulation can set off episodes of mania or depression.
My psychiatrist taught me that the first step in managing these sliding extremes is to reduce all stimulation. Step away from work, put your phone down, turn off the television and sit quietly; stop.
I know now that if an extreme mood kicks in, and particularly if I slip into a depressive state, the next step is to fall onto the nearest comfortable sofa or chair and focus on my breathing; drop.
The final step really refers to self-care and can be viewed as an analogy or taken quite literally. If I’m down I need to tell myself that the feelings will pass and roll myself up in a blanket; roll.
We don’t feel when we’re depressed that the intensity of the sadness, numbness, exhaustion, or all three, will pass, but it will. It always does. All feelings are temporary, including depression and mania.
Stop, drop and roll has become my coping strategy for the particularly dark or manic days. These three simple tasks, or, perhaps we should call them non-tasks, are now so engrained into my self-management practise that as soon as I notice I’m manic or depressed, or if someone points out I’m in one of these states, I immediately implement this strategy. It’s not a quick fix, it’s not happiness medicine, but it allows my mind to calm and gradually through doing this I will eventually come back to myself and return to stability.
As a tackle for the highs I often don’t want to do it as the peaks of my illness are frankly so enjoyable, but for the sake of my overall health I know now that I must come back down to earth or risk a more extreme counter low, so I do it. And you know what, I always feel better for it. Instead of rushing with anxious energy and feeling like I’m about to explode, stop, drop and roll calms me down to a manageable level.
For the lows it can ease the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness as, in that stop, drop and roll scenario, I am comfortable and feel myself start to relax.
Most of us are fighters and you may think when you feel sad that you need to fight it and get on with life. I don’t necessarily agree. Yes, there is a time for fighting but there is also a time for switching off and if you’re overstimulated I believe this technique can soothe anxiety, depression and the symptoms of bipolar. It works for me.