Dealing with the December Depression
Posted by PurpleMoonbeam
21st Dec 2012

How I wish the title was Dodging the December Depression instead, but no. This has happened to me a few years in a row now. Midnight strikes on the 30th of November and WHAM! I am slammed into a solid wall. Stunned and dazed, I wake to find myself wearing the Gravity Suit again. You know the one … the one that doubles your body weight and multiplies gravity x2. Yes, the Gravity Suit! Try getting out of bed in the morning when you are wearing that!! If this description doesn’t immediately create an image for you, try imagining a deep sea diver at the turn of the century ….

Each day of this December I have focussed on avoiding a Christmas crisis. I’m a bit wiser this year, having learned from the mistakes of previous years. I now fully accept that my already diminished coping mechanism can be destroyed in a heartbeat; broken apart by the most minor of triggers. So, this year, I am doing what I was taught by a famous actor, the Scottish icon: Rikki Fulton. At my leaving party in the theatre, where I had the honour of working with him for a couple of months, he taught me “to always think A priori” as he primed me for life in the Army. All these years later, I am turning to his wise words again. The reality of a priori knowledge is that I really do know, without the presence of any evidence or advice that I will be in the dangerous depths of depression by the 5th of December, never mind the 25th, unless I take action. It cannot be ignored.

So I have hatched a plan, a cunning plan it may be, but it’s the best I have come up with yet, so here goes: I am going to take each day – one day at a time – no forward planning, no creating lists, no more than one thing to do per day, no Christmas jingles and false festivities; no reminders of the life I once had. On a good day, I don’t know what the day after tomorrow will look like, so with the added pressure of the gravity suit, not to mention the general Christmas pressure we all put upon ourselves, I can really only focus on one day at a time. I must stick relentlessly to my routine to ensure the bipolar depression won’t become dangerous. I am in the lucky position that I live alone, so I can take much more control over my fate than some of my fellow sufferers who have it all to plan and make it happen.

Another crushing challenge I need to deal with, even more so at this time of the year, is acute sensory overload. Sound and smell are the worst, but sight comes in at a very close third. I will try to explain what I mean:

1. Sound overload is just exactly that – someone cranked up the volume tenfold. Sometimes, when people talk to me, it sounds like they are shouting. If a child bursts into a temper tantrum or screams in floods of tears within 500 metres of me – my grey matter starts tearing apart, neuron by neuron. If I am in a room with more than two people and they are holding separate conversations with others, I am stuffed. I want to put my hands over my ears, as I just cannot deal with the combined sound that the voices create. Basically, I hear each and every individual sound – my brain doesn’t discard irrelevant sounds; instead it soaks in and processes every single sound – with the volume cranked up. It has me jumping out of my skin and eventually leads to my blood boiling, or a panic attack.

2. Smell overload is just exactly that – I can smell every single individual smell separately, and they will all jostle for supremacy. Eventually they will all combine into the most repugnant smell imaginable. I want to vomit.

3. So what could possibly be wrong with sight, you might ask. Well, first there are large brightly coloured shapes that are stationary, like signs, shop displays and so on, but the hustle and bustle of people moving around in colourful clothing creates a blurred kind of kaleidoscope inputting all the images around me, above and below me; but worst of all, in my peripheral vision. My eyes soak in every single shape, colour, object, cloth and sign. Nothing is discarded. Add flashing lights to the mix and I am in agony, blinded by sight, and my head screams. I want to crouch down and hide from it all.

So, I need a plan to manage the gravity suit, and a plan to deal with the sensory overload. The gravity suit is becoming easier to manage in an odd sort of way. I do little things. I avoid having big tasks to do and finally, I am listening to my body; I need to let it be in control instead of going into ‘push mode’ and burning out in a day. That means sleeping when my body says sleep, even if that is all morning. It’s part of the illness and if I try to fight it – I will fail – and it will hurt.

The sensory overload is a lesson in motion so to speak. I am learning ways around it so I can stay sane. Town centres are amass with sights, sounds, and smells. The sensory experiences are above and beyond every other time of the year. It is hard for many people to deal with, let alone me. So cunning plan part 1 is – don’t go into town – period. Don’t think I can just pop in quickly and get back out again unscathed. No chance; full blown panic attack will occur, so just don’t do it.

Supermarkets are just as bad, if not worse. But I need to eat goddammit! So, cunning plan part 2 -only go to the supermarket during quiet periods (if such exists). Cunning plan part 3 is music! I have soothing music on my phone; earbuds are pushed firmly in place with the volume at a manageable level to block any other sounds. It’s not perfect, but it is 100 times better than without. Cunning plan part 4 is simply rub Vaseline into the lining of my nose – that helps dumb down the smells. I also carry my lucky piece of Amethyst which I can rub between my fingers to create a soothing effect. But the best of all cunning plans is one of military precision - I write a very carefully planned shopping list - written in exactly the order that I need to move around the store. I focus on this list and the contents of my trolley, and nothing else. This minimises my time and helps me avoid store psychology luring me into putting unwanted stuff in my trolley! But most of all, it helps me filter out the sights around me. It’s not perfect and sometimes I am overwhelmed and become dizzy or nauseous, but mostly I manage.

I eat the same food every day. Fresh food, but simple, as cooking is a step too far for me. I have managed to do this for a few months now. It helps me live one day at a time with minimal fuss, effort or challenges. It has become a big part of my daily routine.

More cunning plans – I’m not done yet!! I don’t watch live TV. Any programs I want to watch are recorded and watched later. Adverts, Jingles and Christmas cheer between programs can simply be fast-forwarded. And, no radio as they are just pumping out jingles and carols all day long now.

The last, which may be the saddest of all to some, is that December 24/25/26 just becomes normal dates on the calendar, no different from any other month. I continue to treat each day, one day at a time, sticking to my routine without deviation. I will watch only the programs I have recorded and eat the same food as I eat every day. This is what I have to do to get by. And prevent a Christmas crisis. I know this sounds wrong to family and friends – many people think that I shouldn’t be alone or that I shouldn’t deprive myself of the Christmas experience. But, in reality, I’m not fit to get on a bus into town, let alone travel the length of the country to be with family. And that would also throw me out of my routine and threaten my coping mechanism. Many months of recovery conditioning would be lost. I have learned from my mistakes of previous years; basically I need to be cruel to be kind to myself. It has to be done. I am a bit wiser now and have finally learned that if I get smart and deviate from my important routine, I am quickly defeated and may succumb to the full horrors that bipolar disorder can throw at me.

My new cunning plan for next year ….. ensure that I keep learning from mistakes and identify triggers – so I can continue to grow stronger, and wiser perhaps. Maybe one day I will be able to ditch all the cunning plans and finally sit round a Christmas tree with all my family and my family’s family again. I will keep a firm hold on hope!

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