bipolar parent

My Top 8 Personal Needs During a Bipolar Depressive Episode

Photo by Fernando @cferdo on Unsplash

Depression is a needy disease.

The illness takes and takes and takes from you and your loved ones. But if you can find out what you need when you’re depressed and meet those needs, then you may feel a bit better and come out of the slump faster.

Like most people suffering from depression, when I’m dealing with a bipolar depressive episode, I have quite a few personal needs. I don’t feel selfish for having these needs or getting them met; that wastes time and the needs themselves aren’t selfish, they just exist.

Some of the time, I can meet these needs myself. But during depressive episodes, I often get overwhelmed and must call in my supporters (my friends and family) or my treatment team (a therapist and psychiatrist).

As of this writing, I am a stable–and happy!–woman with bipolar who has managed my mental illness for 13 years. So I am willing and able to share tips with you.

From reading my personal list of needs and learning how I meet them, you, too, can learn how to craft a list of needs of your own and figure out whether you can meet those needs yourself or whether it’s time to call in for help.

Here are my top 8 personal needs during a bipolar depressive episode, in descending order of importance:

8. Food

Food is a basic human need. We all need food to function. But oftentimes, when I’m depressed, I forget to eat or worse, I am too apathetic to make myself food or even order pizza.

Sometimes, all I need is a reminder to make food and eat. I have daily alarms set at 4:15pm, 4:30pm, and 5:30pm to remind me to check the mail and start mentally preparing for dinner, prepare dinner, and serve and eat dinner with my family. Sometimes, these alarms are all I need to force myself into making dinner.

Other times, I need someone to pick up dinner for me and my children, and that task usually falls to my husband after he’s finished with his workday. I try not to rely on him too much because eating out is expensive and he, too, is tired, but there’s just some days I absolutely cannot make dinner because the lure of my bed is too great.

So food, and the making and eating of food, is one of my very important personal needs, despite being at the bottom of the list.

7. People

Like most people who are depressed, when I’m in the pit of despair I tend to isolate myself. I withdraw from the world because interacting with people takes too much time, energy, and mental headspace, and I just… I can’t. I can’t do it.

But I am a social creature, as all humans are, and my need for people is especially important because I am an extrovert who sinks further into depression if I don’t talk with people on at least a daily basis.

Often, talking with my online friends is enough to get me through the day, but I frequently speak in person to my children and husband as well. Sometimes the kids are draining rather than energizing, because they need a lot from me in turn, but I do like teaching them about crucial topics like consent.

6. Time to Myself to Process

On the flip side of needing people, I also need time to myself to process my emotions. When I’m enduring a depressive episode, I frequently suffer from a running commentary in my head saying I’m worthless and no one will ever love me.

So I often need a break from raising children and dealing with hungry spouses to counter those thoughts.

One of the ways I do so is to accomplish something small, like taking a shower. Which leads into my next need…

5. Smaller To-Do List

When I’m stable–or especially when I’m hypomanic–I run around like a chicken with my head cut off, accomplishing things. My to-do list easily has 10-12 items on it, almost all of which I at least try to cross off.

For me, a to-do list is a set of expectations. I expect to get a certain amount done in a day, and I don’t write down the big rocks of my day like meals or studying. I also don’t write down the innumerable little tasks I perform to make sure my children–13-years-old and 4-years-old–are happy, healthy, and sane.

I have a problem with to-do lists, however. I have deep-seated issues with equating being productive and useful with my value as a person. If I don’t get enough done, I often feel I’m worthless and unlovable. I’ve been trying to conquer these issues, but sometimes my brain is cruel to me and catches me flatfooted, and that’s especially true during my depressive episodes.

So when I’m depressed, I force myself to set lower expectations for myself. I absolutely cannot get done my standard set of things that I can when I’m stable. I give myself grace and a smaller to-do list.

And the items on this list are smaller things as well. When I’m truly in the depths of depression and cannot accomplish anything, I write down only things like, “eat breakfast,” “brush teeth,” and “take a shower.” If I get all three of those things done, I count that a win for the day.

For a post on how depression interferes with getting things done, click here.

4. Clean Environment

Clutter and depression are intrinsically linked. Having a dirty or cluttered environment around you worsens depression because every object out of place is a decision you have to make: put the item away or ignore it.

And the more often you make these choices, those use up your bank of decision making power for the day, leading to something called decision fatigue.

When I’m depressed, putting things away feels like a Herculean effort. I’ve existed for weeks with dirty diapers strewn across the living room floor because picking them up and taking them to the trash was one too many steps.

Most of the time, I can force myself to put the dishes in the dishwasher and make sure things are where they’re supposed to be–and in the case of the diapers, that’s the trash.

But sometimes, I’m so far gone into depression that I cannot pick things up. Then I need to call in my friends and family for help–or simply live with the mess, which worsens the depression.

Fortunately for me, my family has been willing to help me conquer the mess. When pregnant and suffering a depressive episode, my mother and sister decluttered my absolutely packed closet and set up a nursery, to which I am eternally grateful.

3. Clean Body

Concurrent with a clean environment is a clean body. One of my early symptoms of depression–that actually worsens the slump–is not taking the time to shower.

When I’m suffering a depressive episode, showering takes far too many steps: walk into the bathroom, shut the door, strip, step into the shower, turn it on, stand under the spray… And so on and so on. I get overwhelmed looking at the big picture because I deal with the inability to break tasks down into smaller pieces. “Shower” is one huge task with too many steps in my head.

But if I don’t keep up with my hygiene, that’s just asking for problems. Like most people, when I’m feeling sweaty and grimy, I don’t feel good mentally.

Most of the time, as with a lot of the items on this list, I can force myself to shower. But there was a time when I was in college when I just couldn’t. My mom drove two hours from her home to my university apartment and washed my hair–and then took me to a crisis center because, yeah, I was that bad off.

There’s no shame in asking for someone’s help with showering. Whether you need someone to remind or encourage you to do so or you need someone you trust like a friend or family member to wash your hair, get the help you need.

Having a clean body is worth it because hygiene may make you feel better.

2. Reason to Get out of Bed

When I’m depressed, I absolutely need a reason to get out of bed. If you’ve read the rest of the list, I’ve touched on a few of those:

  • I need to accomplish things to feel useful
  • I need a clean environment–and so does my family
  • And I need to practice self-love by showering.

But my main reason for me to get out of bed is this: my family needs me. I have two children and a husband that I can’t let down. They need me to make dinner, chat with them about their day, and ensure that their own emotional health is protected.

If you have someone or something relying on you, you can use that as a reason to get out of bed. Even an animal, like a cat, that requires you to clean their litter box or feed them, can be enough. Sometimes even a plant that you need to water on a daily basis can be enough.

These are all external motivations. But when I’m depressed, I have absolutely no internal motivation. It just gets sucked into a black hole along with my self-worth. But external motivations work for me. They may work for you, too.

Once you find your own reason to get out of bed, don’t allow yourself to lie down again. I understand all too well the allure of the mattress. Just this morning, I laid back down after turning off my alarm and played on my phone, and before I knew it, 30 minutes had passed with me doing nothing but mindless scrolling. And I’m not even depressed!

So find your reason. You won’t regret it.

1. Grace and Understanding

Above all, when I’m suffering from a depressive episode, I require grace and understanding.

I need people to at least try to understand that I’m incapacitated. That my to-do-list is smaller, that I need help making food or a clean environment, that I desperately need encouragement to shower.

Fortunately, over the years, I have surrounded myself with people who understand all of that.

Building up relationships with people takes a long, long time, and I know you’re not in the mood to do so while depressed. But it’s so important to at least try to reach out to people who might understand what you’re going through, and ask for grace from your existing supporters.

Finding people who just “get” your depression is a valuable blessing. They can give you advice and support in a myriad of ways.

Try. You don’t have anything to lose and everything to gain.

Conclusion

You can get your needs met while you’re in the midst of depression. You just need to know what they are so you can communicate them.

Now that you’ve read through my list of my top 8 needs while I’m suffering from a depressive episode, I encourage you to make your own list. Share it with your supporters and open up a conversation with them so you can see about getting those needs met.

You’re not alone in this. People want to help you. You can get your needs met.

And please, if you find yourself in crisis, visit this post for domestic crisis numbers for the U.S. or this post for international crisis numbers.

I wish you well.

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