Facing an Early Indicator

In regard to bipolar swings and episodes, there are times I like not knowing what is going to happen next. Being uncertain, for me, brings hope to the situation, because any particular mood-swing could stop at any time. 

Sometimes I get lucky, and things will feel hellish for a few hours, or a few days, and then I’ll be allowed to come up for air.

Every so often, though, I become suddenly aware that I know what is about to happen. That I recognize something larger than the odd, sporadic mood swing, is happening. There is something familiar about where I find myself, because I’ve been there before.

My intense rapid mood swings happen fast. They often seem to come out of nowhere, punch me in the face, and then disappear (if I’m lucky) as quickly as they arrived. Big episodes, though, come on gradually for me. Each day is more like stepping up or down a flight of stairs one stair at a time each day. They don’t feel significant, initially, and it isn’t until I’ve skipped up or down five or six before the staircase begins to look familiar.

I’ve been here before…

This realization allows me to see what seems like it is inevitably coming -the top (or bottom) of those stairs.

Then, panic. Seeing (or feeling) a glimpse of that not so distant future means the hope I held that things might suddenly turn around has vanished. Can I go back, please? I’m afraid of heights. And, I’m not afraid of caves, but I know deep down that they are full of nothing but torture and creepy-crawlies.

I admit, I have fallen a little behind with my… err… healthiness the last couple weeks (hey man, I had the remnants of an 8 lb ham to devour after Easter!) so I might have been opening a trap door of some kind into the world of a big, episodic shift. Or it could be me. Or the dozen intense stressors that popped out of nowhere the last week or so.

Really, all that matters is that I’m descending again into what appears to be a big episode of depression, and yesterday was when I realized it was a descent I’ve experienced (several times) before and I know the end game.

For lack of a better word, it is a bitch. 

I also understand that recognizing this shift can be considered worthwhile, and useful, and something to be praised. I would say I am about 7 steps down my depression staircase, so I was able to recognize this within a week (give or take a day or two). Soon enough to catch it and re-direct myself back up the stairs? I sure hope so.

There were a few things that tipped me off to what’s happening, a few things that caught my attention enough yesterday for me to get that “light-bulb” over my head to light up with recognition, and I thought I would share a couple of the big ones.

Here are four of the indicators that alerted me to the fact that a big shift is happening:

  1. I turned off my phone. I didn’t all day, but at one point, I did. Honestly I don’t even remember the last time I turned it off (maybe when I was flying??), so the fact that I felt compelled to isolate myself enough to turn off my phone (even when expecting important calls) is a huge indicator that something isn’t quite right.
  2. Violent nightmares. I have a lot of dreams normally, and I tend to have nightmares on and off, but as soon as I start having dreams about serial killers (granted I’m reading a book right now about psychopaths) it is a pretty good indicator that my mind is going someplace dark. Violent nightmares, for me, are almost always exclusive to a big episode of depression.
  3. Random episodes of crying. I wouldn’t even say that I feel particularly depressed right now, just off, so when I started crying for no real apparent reason (for two hours, no less) I knew that is a huge indicator for me. I’m not a crier normally, I have to watch something incredibly sappy for the most part to cry, and it usually needs to involve animals.
  4. Feeling overwhelmed. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that for me, feeling overwhelmed is usually the staging area for a big depression. Feeling overwhelmed means there are stressors involved, which also means there are big, stressful things I have to deal with as opposed to chilling out, making myself feel better, and relaxing enough to shrug off the depression. Like I said, I don’t even feel particularly depressed at this moment, but feeling overwhelmed acts as something of a yellow brick road to my depression.

I would say that if you experience big episodes of depression (or mania), it might be worth your while to think about how those episodes come on for you. Do they seem to happen the same way every time? Is there anything you can pinpoint as an early indicator before things get too out of control?

Sometimes it is difficult to think about until you are actually experiencing an episode, but I would really encourage people to take the time to think about what happens first. The quicker you can identify big episodes, the more likely you’ll be to be able to take steps to avoid them getting too severe.

15 responses to “Facing an Early Indicator

  1. Sarah, I do applaud you for recognizing this descent. It must give you a sense of fearful dread. Please keep us posted about whether you are able to use this knowledge and coping skills to turn around and ascend or stay on that particular step for now. I’m very interested. Thank you.

  2. Awesome read! I too applaud you for being able to recognize an episode was coming on and even more for taking the steps you needed to in order to try and curb it! Awesome!!

  3. Well done you! It’s so difficult when you’re on your way to state to even realise you’re there. A really good read.

  4. strugglingwithbipolar

    I am glad you were able to recognize an episode early on. My psychiatrist has me keep a mood diary to help find mood patterns so that we can catch a mood shift early. It sometimes helps if we can make a quick med change to resolve it, but, as you know with depression, it is not that easy. Plus, like you, my mood episodes can sometimes come on fast and furiously. I hope that now that you’ve noticed the episode you can do something to keep it from becoming that big awful depression.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      I hope noticing this shift will make a difference in the long run too, and I am glad to hear you are keeping a mood diary (because that is a tool that has helped me notice these shifts as well!). Thanks!

  5. I like how you differentiate the slower big mood shifts and the quick sporadic mood episodes. I’ve tried to explain this to psychs and felt like they thought I was making things up to sound crazy.

    I need to figure out what my early warning signs are. I just haven’t really been in a state where I can observe what’s going on without being consumed by it, at least since I realized that I really need to do it.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      You make a good point -something happened this time around where I think I was just distracted enough to see what was happening without being incredibly obsessed about what was going on… and I really hope that means that for the most part I have been dealing with just the right amount of responsibility in my life right now. Enough occupy my thoughts and keep me from being caught up in myself entirely, but not enough to distract me from noticing the bigger picture.

      How it happened? I am not sure. Careful planning, or dumb luck perhaps??

      And my psych. looks at me like I am crazy no matter what I tell him, so I am not sure if he has taken anything I’ve said seriously, let alone the big shifts vs. small swings information.

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  7. Thanks for the food for thought. I’ve not really thought about what precedes “episodes” since I always feel so caught up in the tide. A mood diary is an interesting idea. I have started keeping a sleep diary because then I know when I am definitely manic or depressed (because I find myself doing a lot of rationalizing a la “of course I don’t need to sleep today”), but I think I will try to add moods.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      Just a guess, but I think you will be totally shocked at what you learn when you start tracking moods. It seems like the most simple task, but I’ve found it to be one of the most helpful tools I’ve got!

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