Bipolar Depression: A Day in the Life

Monday morning. The alarm jars me awake. It’s 6:45 — my regular time — but it feels like that time I woke up at 2:30 AM to catch an early morning flight. I groan, hit snooze on the alarm, and pull the covers over my head. So those two days over the weekend sleeping eleven hours a night weren’t a fluke: I’m really depressed again.

Depression makes everything harder. Getting out of bed is harder. Having conversations is harder. Walking around, concentrating on work, and cleaning the house are all harder. My whole body hurts. People notice I’m not my perky self, and most just assume that I’m being a jerk. It’s especially apparent since I’ve spent the last three months on a bit of a hypomanic high with tons of exuberance and energy. The last time I was depressed, it lasted from July through November. Praying to God I won’t have a repeat of that.

The alarm goes off again and I hit snooze without even thinking about it. Can I call in sick today? No, I need to save my sick days in case things get worse or I actually get sick. And anyway, I don’t want to let my depression beat me, so to speak. It’s hard trying to feel like a normal person with this disorder, and any day I don’t participate in life makes that ten times worse. I don’t want pity or emotional charity. I just want to feel like a normal person.

The alarm goes off a third time and I know I have to get up to get my son to school. (I feel the whole “I was sick, please excuse my son’s tardiness” excuse only works once a year before I turn into an irresponsible father.) I get dressed and head downstairs. He’s woken up without me and has, thankfully, gotten himself mostly ready. I stumble into the kitchen to make coffee and get breakfast for him, frantically reminding him to put his socks and shoes on. He beats me to it and spends a few minutes waiting for me to finish everything up and get my shoes on. I almost walk out the door without my laptop. It’s a small miracle, but I manage to leave the house with everything I need and on time.

Drop my son off at school and I consider stopping by that Quick Trip to get an energy drink, but that can turn into a nasty (and expensive) habit pretty quick. One time back in 2013, I needed an energy drink just to make it to work every day for over a month. The acid wore a hole in my lip. Am I there yet? Let’s not start down that road. I can pull my shit together today.

I get to work and say good morning to everyone, but immediately sit down on the couch with my laptop, where I hope to work the whole day. I do really enjoy my coworkers, but I don’t want to burden them with my mental disorder. Also, even though I hate to think of my coworkers this way, everyone’s got a threshold for how much depression they’ll accept. And you don’t know that you cross that line until you’ve crossed it and it’s far too late to recover. I don’t want to let my coworkers know that I’m depressed unless I absolutely have to.

Thankfully, I’ve got a day when I can just sit down and work quietly. One coworker reaches out to me for feedback on an article she’s writing (which I happily give), but other than that, it’s a pretty quiet day for me. I neglected to prepare a lunch, so I go to lunch at 11:00 to avoid social interaction. A short walk to a Mediterranean place down the street — no more than a half mile total — but by the time I get back to the office, my body is shaking, partially from the cold and partially from depression-induced exhaustion. My legs are sore, like I just ran a 5k. I sit back down on the couch, silently wishing I had a blanket and me curling up in it would be professional, and get back to work.

I leave an hour early. I have a job where I can work from home occasionally, so I’ll work an hour when I get home. And anyway, 5:00 traffic would be soul-crushing for me today.

I get home and gather up the trash in my car to try to keep some semblance of order. My wife’s on a work call and my son’s playing video games. I grab my laptop and retreat to the spare bedroom to finish up the work day. I’m exhausted, sore, and numb, but I manage a small bit of pride in the fact that, based on the amount of work I got done today, it was statistically a normal day.

As I’m finishing up, my wife drops in to say hi. We chat for a bit and my son calls me from downstairs. He just wants to know how my day was. It’s all very sweet. I have a very loving family. Today, I feel almost nothing. I make sure to tell my son how nice it was to check in on me and listen to my wife’s stories about her day. They shouldn’t have to suffer when I’m depressed.

Everyone’s hungry. I haven’t cleaned all weekend and we’re out of food anyway. I trek back out to the grocery store to pick up a few staples and something already cooked for tonight. We eat dinner while watching a comedy show on Netflix together. I secretly want to lie down in the other room, but I stay as long as I can to spend some time with them.

Eventually, I just need to lie down. I retreat to the other room and curl up in a recliner chair with my laptop, aimlessly checking social media sites that I can’t bring myself to care about. I’m laying there, sore and exhausted, and I hate myself for it. I’ve been putting on weight recently. I also know that exercise will help. I’m miserable, but I need to take a walk. I force myself outside and walk about a mile. I’m more miserable. This hurts so much. Why am I doing this?

I get home and question whether I really need a shower. I really do need a shower. I just really don’t want to take one — I just want to lie down. I take one anyway, then collapse back into my recliner chair. I open my laptop. Oh shit. I have a notification that I have a blog post due tonight for my church. You see, manic me likes to make all these commitments for great causes, and it’s really great to get all of this stuff done, but then I have to deal with all of those commitments when I unexpectedly cycle into depression. And I don’t want to drop commitments. What if I’m feeling better tomorrow? And am I really feeling bad enough to let people down? I churn out a blog post, and it’s actually a good one.

I say goodnight to my wife as she goes to bed and get my son to start winding down for the night. He’s happy for the attention. We stay up a little late because his teenage appetite kicked in right before bedtime, but it’s a peaceful night and he goes to bed with no issue.

There’s a Catch 22 that goes along with depression. I’m exhausted. Then, when a reasonable bedtime rolls around, I’m so numb I can’t go to sleep. Last night, I forced myself to go to bed around midnight and got up after a sleepless hour to take a heavy dose of melatonin to finally get to sleep. Tonight, my son is in bed by 10:30, and I’m exhausted — but I’m not tired. And I know that no amount of sleep will stave off the exhaustion if I’m still depressed tomorrow. Do I go to bed and lie awake for hours, or do what I can to get a little peace before I go to bed and lie awake for hours? I choose to get a little peace, and tonight, that means writing.

I’m always a bit worried about opening up about depression because it changes how other people think about you and treat you. Some think you’re weak or less capable. Some think you’re fragile like a piece of glass. Some think you’re just attention-starved and trying to con some sympathy out of them. And mentioning depression opens the door for people to lecture you on alternative treatment options they hear about on talk shows. Have you tried yoga? What about this herb that Dr. Oz is peddling? Are you sure you’re getting enough exercise? (Joke’s on you, because I need regular exercise and a dose of antidepressant that’s 50% higher than normal.)

It’s close to midnight now. In a bit, I’ll go up, chew on some melatonin, and try to get some sleep. Maybe I’ll feel better tomorrow. Maybe I’ll feel worse. Maybe I’ll feel bad for the rest of my life. With this condition, I just don’t know, and any of those options are plausible. But I will not let this disorder beat me. I have a life to live, and nothing will stop me from living it.