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In the post on Depressed ISN’T Sad, I wrote that the two most critical symptoms about Depression were the Inability to Focus and the Inability to Get Things Done.
On a practical level, the Inability to Get Things Done is the more pressing of these two symptoms. It’s kind of obvious why – the more we get done for ourselves, the better we feel about ourselves.
However, the Inability to Focus brings with it a damaging effect, especially when in tandem with that other symptom of depression, forgetfulness.
We don’t usually think about our consciousness – we just are who we are. In fact, we pretty much never question who we are. But our self – the who we are – can be thought of as a combination of our memories / feelings about the past and our plans for our future based on those memories and feelings.
That sounds very simplistic, but if you think about it, that’s what we are. Who we are.
Depression throws a huge wrench into our sense of self. The obvious problem is our forgetfulness – we lose our memories about the past. It’s a bad problem, but it’s not a terrible one because generally we lose snippets of time, not whole days or weeks. So we can reconstruct most of our past. Not everything, but a past that has enough detail and contains enough of our experience that we can use it to make plans for the future.
Unless of course, when you can’t Focus properly and so you can’t actually make plans for the future.
My posts generally talk about trying to Focus to do specific and usually small or well defined tasks, and so I’ve inadvertently made it appear as if that’s all the Inability to Focus affects.
But the Inability to Focus affects the really big picture as well, and we have trouble making plans for the near or medium or far future or deciding where our lives should be heading. We might realise that this is happening, but we don’t really pay it much attention because dealing with immediate specific problems usually take priority.
We also don’t pay attention because, like all people, we tend to take it for granted that we will be able to plan our future or that our future will take care of itself.
Except that we often can’t properly plan for the future when we don’t have the Ability to Focus. We walk around in a haze, maybe just patching the most critical problem of the moment, but not heading in any particular direction. If we have low to medium level Depression, we can walk around in this haze for months.
And then suddenly, our Ability to Focus snaps back into action and we wonder what the hell we’ve been doing for the last few months. And we try to get our lives back onto the track that we want.
At best it’s frustrating. I sigh, think to myself “Here we go again”, and try to put things in order. At worst, the whole episode is absolutely terrifying. I can feel the gaps in my memory, knowing there is stuff missing but not what. And I can feel my inability to plan or chart a course into the future, but know I’m unable to do anything about that.
It’s like being in a twilight zone. My past has holes and I can’t plan for my future. So what is my self then? Who am I? I start feeling that I am losing who I am, losing my self. And the best I can do is flail around, pretend to know what I’m doing, and hope that everything comes back into Focus soon so that the ‘real me’ comes back into existence.
Yes, it does feel like that.
There are a few oddities that accompany this process. When I’m coming out of Depression and I get back my ability to Focus, the things that I continue doing are never quite what they used to be. My interests change slightly. I may pick up new interests completely or I may change the way I did the old ones. My day to day habits get adjusted – not necessarily better or worse, but different. I may drop interests and topics that I was interested and into before the Depression episode. The changes are usually small, but they DO happen. And it happens consistently after each Depression episode.
So my sense of self changes slightly. My personality changes slightly. When I think about it, it’s pretty disconcerting – my personality changes for no other reason than I’ve had a Depression episode.
Oh. There are one other set of changes that happen when I’m coming out of Depression and I get back my ability to Focus. Relationships can get odd. Because my interests change slightly and my personality changes slightly, I may no longer be quite the same person in a relationship. And I may no longer feel quite the same way about my partner in the relationship. Again, the changes aren’t major, but they do happen.
For the people around us, I gather we act a bit strangely. Well, let’s go with ‘bit’. After a Depression episode, we seem unable to settle down to do the things we usually do and we seem to adjust our minds frequently. I gather this constant adjusting can be quite annoying – what is it that we really like? – what is it that we really want to do? – can’t we just stick to one thing?
For those of us who are coming out of Depression, we can’t really change what this subtle change of self that is happening. But we can set up coping mechanisms that mitigate the headaches they cause.
One mechanism is Setting Goals. If we write down the things we want to get done, both now and the future, we’ll be able to fix them in place. And we can post these goals on the fridge where our parents, friends, partners, etc. can see, so they can help us keep on track as we drift.
The second one is about Relationships. We do drift, so on one of those occasions when we are mostly stable, we need to sit with our partner and explain what can happen and how the both of us can develop strategies to mitigate the problems that will occur. I’ve written one set of mitigating mechanisms in Relationship Falling Apart: Do Not Give Your Partner Space. [I have others to write still]
And we need to be aware of the drifting of our sense of self and our personality after Depression episodes. By being aware, we can take action to not have our personality / sense of self drift too much. In that way we can remain close to the person we dream to be.
I’ve recently realised that one of the symptoms of Depression can be pain – usually in the form of headaches, but also in the form of generalised aching or tiredness.
You might think I’d have realised this before, like sometime over the last twenty years. But we aren’t always that observant, especially for things that we take for granted or which are so normal and everyday that we don’t really pay attention to them.
Anyway, it seems like pain accompanies Depression, and significantly, if we reduce or remove the pain, it can help with the Depression. I don’t think painkillers makes the Depression go away, but they help us feel better. And feeling better is a good thing.
In addition, if we reduce the pain of the headaches or general tiredness, we can focus better, which helps us organise to get more things done than we would otherwise do. And that’s also a good thing.
Well, actually, I have somewhat known about the pain – Depression connection. For many years I knew that if I started back to exercise after a period of doing nothing, or if I have a hard workout, then the tiredness or the aching could trigger a depression episode. And that if I took painkillers for the next day or so, I could avoid the depression episode.
While I have anecdotal evidence, I don’t have much hard evidence about whether the painkillers do anything, and I would suspect that even if they do, the amount of help would vary from person to person. But over the counter painkillers like Panadol are relatively safe and can be taken for a few days – that’s what we do when we have the flu.
If you are Depressed and still functional, but you are nevertheless finding it hard to get through the day because of tiredness or headaches, it may be worth trying a painkiller to see if it helps out.
The usual cautions apply. Take any drug only as directed, and check first to make sure it doesn’t interact with any other meds you might be taking, and that it doesn’t interact with any medical issues you have.
Note that I’m not using any complicated painkillers – I’m using Panadol (acetaminophen) and I won’t recommend any stronger painkillers, and I won’t recommend doses higher than that recommended on the box.
One of the problems with being bipolar is it’s hard to describe what depression or mania or mood swings are.
We commonly get annoyed when friends misunderstand us. But it is also hard to describe to YOURSELF what the hell is going on even as the depression is happening to you. Think about that. You can’t properly describe what depression is to your own self!
Here’s the problem.
If you can’t come up with a correct description of what depression is and what it is doing to you, then you can’t come up with a correct plan for dealing with it.
In life, I always say that if you ask the right question, the answer is obvious. Asking the right question is hard, though.
Let’s start at the beginning. The biggest problem is that the word depressed has two meanings. If you check a dictionary, ‘depressed’ means ‘in the state of unhappiness or despondency or in low spirits from loss of hope or courage’. Yes, I looked it up.
But then there’s the term ‘Depressed’ that is used to describe the medical condition Depression (note the capital D). And depressed and Depressed aren’t the same at all.
When us bipolar persons say “I am Depressed”, what we mean is “I am exhibiting all the symptoms of the medical condition Depression”. We don’t mean sad. We mean a whole lot more than sad. In fact here are 18 Depression symptoms that I know of. Most of these symptoms are not simple or easy to deal with.
If a friend asks me how I’m feeling, and I say “I am Depressed”, and my friend hears “I am feeling unhappy / sad”, then there’s an immediate problem. There’s a huge disconnect – my friend and I aren’t talking about the same thing at all.
That’s why us depressed or bipolar persons frequently get annoyed with the suggestions from well meaning friends. We understand that you are trying to be supportive and helpful, but….you aren’t helping at all.
Because of the disconnect in understanding, while you try to provide support to make us feel less sad (which doesn’t help), you don’t provide us with the specific kinds of support that would actually help us deal with Depression.
By the way, because of the nature of Depression, trying to cheer us up doesn’t work, irritates us, and makes us want to escape from you. Just saying. In fact, efforts to cheer us up actively makes things worse because in addition to all of our real Depression problems, we now have to also worry that we are failing you by not responding the way you would like us to.
[Yes, I’m aware that here should have the list of activities that you can do to help, but I’ve not written that yet]
It’s nice for our friends to be properly understanding, but for Depressed people, what do WE do? How do we help ourselves?
Depressed persons run into exactly the same problems as our friends – we don’t properly understand what Depression is, so we get the critical problems wrong, and we then apply the wrong solutions to coping with Depression.
There are many symptoms of Depression. But over the years, I’ve found that the defining features of Depression are (1) the Inability to Focus, and (2) the Inability to Get Things Done.
Notice I haven’t included sad on that defining list, or panic attacks, or the difficulty in dealing with people, or the loss of self worth, or despondency, or etc..
I’m not saying that these Depression symptoms are nice or easily solvable, because they’re not. They’re pretty awful and they can be hard to cope with or solve. But they don’t bubble up to the top of the critical symptoms.
Here’s why. If you can Focus and Get Things Done, even a little, then you’ll feel as if you have some control over your life. And you’ll feel that perhaps slowly and eventually you’ll learn to manage the other Depression symptoms and you’ll get to where you want to be.
But if you can’t Get Things Done…well, you feel helpless, because you won’t get around to fixing things, or you’ll start then stop halfway. And nothing will be fixed. And you stay feeling helpless. It’s a terrible terrible feeling.
That’s why I put the ability to Focus and the ability to Get Things Done as the most critical problems of Depression, and the ones to fix first.
If you think you might be getting Depressed or if you are not sure if you are Depressed, ask yourself first (1) Am I able to Focus? or (2) Am I having difficulty Getting Things Done?
Do NOT think first on how awful your life is, or that you are a terrible person, or that you don’t want to see your friends or answer the phone or go to work. Do not think about the fact that you have no self confidence and how much everything hurts. These are the wrong things to be thinking about first. These are definitely symptoms of Depression, but they are not the most important symptoms.
Remember – if you ask the right questions, the answers become clear.
Here’s how to know if you are able to Focus:
Pick a straightforward task that has a number of steps. It doesn’t have to be a complex task – I think about putting out clean water for the dogs.
Now try visualising the steps of the task. I think about the order I will fill each of the four bowls of water, and steps I need to fill each bowl (empty the bowl in the garden, add new water). Or I try to do the task – I go ahead and fill the bowls with clean water.
If you can visualise the steps you need to do, or if actually doing the task is easy (because it’s obvious what the next step is), then you can Focus.
If you are having trouble visualising the steps of your task, or if you try doing it but you have to stop to think what the next step is or if you get distracted and do something else, then you’re having trouble Focusing.
Notice that having trouble Focusing can affect even simple tasks, or things you regularly do, or habits that you do daily. You’ll find if simple tasks or regular habits are difficult to focus on, bigger plans for the day or the week will be difficult to focus on too. And you’ll find yourself getting frustrated.
Difficulty in Getting Things Done is related to Difficulty in Focusing. Obviously if you can’t Focus, it’s hard to get anything done.
But Difficulty in Getting Things Done is a more physical thing. It’s the I just can’t get out of bed, or I just can’t brush my teeth, or I just can’t make coffee this morning, or I just can’t get ready to go to my nephew’s birthday party.
You know what to do, but it’s just not happening. Somehow, you aren’t getting around to actually doing it. It’s the famous “I just can’t“ depression symptom and it’s probably the most obvious signs that you’re Depressed.
Together, the inability to Focus and the inability to Get Things Done will shut you down. You’ll be sitting there unable to get anything done and unable to focus your mind on what you should do next to get you out of your frozen state.
When this happens to me, I usually end up surfing the internet, or reading trashy Science Fiction or Victorian Romance novels, because that’s all I can do.
But here’s another complication. The inability to Focus or inability to Get Things Done doesn’t have to be at a 100% shutdown. In milder Depression, you can run at say 40% or 60% shutdown. So you can focus, but not too good, so things are harder to do than usual. And you can get things done, but you aren’t as competent or efficient as you usually are.
The partial shutdown doesn’t sound terrible, but it is. You’ll find that tasks remain undone, meetings with friends don’t happen, etc., and a whole heap of tasks start piling up. This is enough to throw a major wrench into how your life is going and can substantially derail it.
If the mild Depression continues for a week or a few weeks – which is very possible – the sheer number of things that you have failed to do can overwhelm you. You feel as if you aren’t in control of your life, you feel frustrated, you feel nothing is going your way, you feel embarrassed for letting others down, and you feel your self worth slipping as nothing you want to do gets done properly.
The medical term Depression better maps onto ‘really really frustrated that I can’t Get Things Done’ than it does onto ‘sad’.
If you think you are depressed, what can you do?
The first thing to do is to ignore for a while the things you aren’t doing or how badly you feel. Analysing these will not provide the most necessary solutions.
Remember the idea of asking the right questions? Well, the right questions are: 1.
“How well have I been doing in Getting Things Done in the last two days (or two hours, or two weeks)?”
If you’ve not been doing that well, then ask yourself:
“How well can I Focus?”
If you are not able to do that well either, then you are probably Depressed.
What Do You Do Next?
Step 1 is to stop and take care of yourself. You currently are undergoing a medical problem that is as severe as a very bad migraine, or a broken leg, and it’s happening now! Just because Depression shows no physical signs does NOT mean it’s not severe.
Step 2 is to ask for help. Get your partner / housemate / parent / friend to tell people you can’t make it to the Thanksgiving dinner, have them organise to get the kids to school and cook dinner, have them call in sick to your office, etc. Assume you won’t go for your afternoon run, or stop to pick up groceries. Get your parents / partner / roommate to make sure you take your meds. And this is all ok. You’re not well at all.
These days, I know enough not to worry about all the things I’m not getting done. And I am lucky enough that over the years, the people in my support system have learned to work around me when I get Depressed and I am having difficulties Getting Things Done.
Step 3 is to try to alleviate the symptoms. Use whatever mechanisms or medications you have that allow you to Focus, and to Get Things Done. Some of us are lucky and will be able to use meditation, or yoga, or relaxation techniques to acquire the necessary Focus and the ability to Get Things Done.
A lot of others, like me, will NOT be able to use such techniques – they simply don’t work and we will require medication. For example, it is necessary for me to take drugs that calm me enough so that I can Focus on the steps of a task I want to do and to concentrate to Get the Task Done.
It is usually necessary that someone else give me my medication, because among the things I can’t get done is the inability to get around to taking my meds.
Remember, the techniques for Focusing and Getting Things Done do not work instantaneously – you may find it takes hours or days to get everything in place to jump start your Focus and to start to Get Things Done again. That’s normal – it is not a failure on your part.
Finally, remember that no matter how you are feeling, Depression isn’t about your abilities, or your ability to cope with stress, or how good a person you are. You aren’t sad. Depression is a medical problem that interferes with your ability to do things and it’s a real illness. If you can figure out your solution to being able to Focus / Get Things Done, whether using medication like me, or meditation, or running, or whatever works reliably for you, your life stabilises. And that’s where you want to get to.
[Yes, I’m aware that I should be providing more practical activities that you can do to help yourself, but I’ve not linked to those posts yet.]
I’ve found that if you are somewhat depressed and still able to function, or a lot depressed and forcing yourself to function, then one of the manifestations of trying to get things done is pain.
When we say depression hurts, this is not some existential, woe is me, hurt. It’s real pain that occurs when we are making ourselves, forcing ourselves to do things. And it’s pain that is, well, painful.
For me it’s an ongoing bad headache that just doesn’t stop. And the more that I try to do, the worse the headache gets. It can be bad enough that I think that I’d rather do nothing rather than deal with this level of headache.
Today I’m taking a page out of my parent’s handbook and I’m taking Panadol to see if it will work against this type of headache. We’ll see. I’ll let you know later today.
Took two 500 mg tablets Panadol (1,000 mg acetaminophen) at 9:40 am on 29 Sep 18. The pain did mostly go away within one hour, although many of the other symptoms (focus and coordination problems) remained and did not go away. I was still Depressed, but not having the pain made getting things done easier and so the rest of the day went better. At 6:00 pm, I’m still able to function pretty well.
One day’s worth of experimentation with Panadol isn’t enough to make claims of any kind and in fact, I really have no proof that the Panadol even helped. Still, the correlation between taking a painkiller and being able to function better is suggestive (and this is from someone who is extremely skeptical about correlations).
At around 5:00 pm on 1 Oct 18, took my regular daily meds which help with general stability, but by then I was already exhibiting Depression symptoms. At 6:00 to 6:30 pm, it felt hard / painful to focus on what to do next. At 6:30 pm, I took two 500 mg tablets Panadol (1,000 mg acetaminophen). The pain did mostly go away in less than one hour and by 7:30 pm my ability to focus had already returned.
Again, there are too many medications and variables involved. Still, Panadol / acetaminophen is relatively safe as drugs go. I’m therefore still willing to suggest that if you’re Depressed and you’re experiencing pain of any kind, even the type that feels like it’s just in your head, consider taking a painkiller to see if it will help you cope with Depression.
Remember to use the drugs as directed and remember to check first to make sure they don’t interact badly with any other drugs you might be taking or other health conditions you may have. And more is not better.
Items in red are relatively new. Items in green are fairly new. Items in black written a while now.
Coping with Depression
• Depressed ISN’T Sad
Why thinking about Depression as sadness is a bad idea.
(rewritten substantially 1 Oct 18, originally written 25 Jan 18)
• Depression as Pain
Some of the effects of Depression are pain. Can we use painkillers to help with Depression. (written 29 Sep 18)
• Inability to Focus and Self
As we come out of Depression, our inability to Focus can create problems with our sense of self and our personality (written 3 Oct 18)
• Panadol (acetaminophen)
Panadol and other OTC painkillers may help with Depression by reducing pain. (written 1 Oct 18)
Yeah, I’m redoing the site. One of the hardest things I’m doing is linking related information so that it’s easy for you, the reader, to find the information you need at your fingertips. It’s a particular headache when I need to design the site so it’s as easy to read on a cell phone as on a desktop or a tablet.
I’m experimenting a bit, so please pardon the inconvenience.
I’ll be adding some new stuff, like what happens when I try marijuana (spoiler – nothing), or my college years (pretty awful). I’ll also be cleaning up and rewriting some of the posts which never quite looked proper when I switched over to WordPress.
And a lot has happened to me since I blogged last time, so maybe I’ll hold everything together to write it all down this time.
Thanks for bearing with me.
Just got out of a depression episode. It lasted about 2 1/2 to 3 weeks, which is long enough for all the my activities to unravel substantially (or completely). Since I had gotten back from a vacation just a week before, it also screwed up reconnecting with my friends and family. So my activities and my networking are a pretty mess at the moment.
However, this has happened so often over the years that I don’t worry much. I just find it annoying, and I try to pick up whatever pieces I can and move on. My friends and family have gotten used to this and take it all in stride.
But every now and then I meet new people and I get the “I haven’t seen you for a while” comment. These days I’m frequently honest about my mood swings and I say
“I just had a depression episode that lasted 3 weeks. I don’t communicate with people when I’m depressed”
I’d like to note that the following is NOT a good response to me
“You know that if you need me [when you are depressed], all you have to do is call….I am here for you!”
I know you are there for me and I trust you, but when I’m depressed, I can’t call you, because, you know, I’m depressed and can’t reach out to people. I know you’re willing to support me, but I can’t actually pick up the phone to call you.
You are asking me to do something that’s impossible, and although your comment is well meaning, it’s also annoying.
Here are better responses for someone coming out of a depression episode:
“Depression is a bitch, isn’t it.”
I’m good with some sympathy from you. And having a depression episode really is a bitch.
“Good to see you back.”
A non-judgmental comment and maybe even a hug make me feel welcome. I don’t feel as if I’ve dropped off your charts or your interest.
“Is there anything that I can do NOW to make you life a bit easier?”
There is SO much that I need to catch up on! Maybe I won’t take you up on you offer, but I really appreciate you asking if you can help me out now that I’m no longer depressed.
And after the first two questions, don’t ask about the depression any more. Just continue what you were doing before I showed up and include me in it. I’ll fall in line with what you are doing. Being able to do what you do, being normal like everyone else, is the best help I can get.
Hey Mr. NRA guy and others. Can you leave us mentally ill people out of your politics? Assholes and bullies threaten and do violence to other people. Give them a machete and they’ll chop someone. Give them a gun and they shoot someone. Duh!
STOP DRAGGING US INTO YOUR STUPIDITY!! Us mentally ill people already have enough day to day problems without you making us scapegoats for your asinine policies.
Fix the problems without pointing to us.
Parents get most of the headaches when dealing with bipolar kids. They almost inevitably are the ones who have to pick up the pieces when their child has a meltdown, are often the ones who have to deal with a troubled child through the teens and twenties and thirties, and possibly later.
And in all the scenarios, parents feel the guilt. There is always the feeling of “I don’t know what to do” or “Why didn’t I do something sooner” or “If I had done something differently, my child wouldn’t be bipolar”.
All of the above have come up in discussions with my parents over the years. And in spite of everything I have told them about this not being true, and in spite of the amazing support they and my brother have provided to me, my parents STILL somehow think my being bipolar is their fault.
I suppose it’s a parent’s thing.
To parents who are struggling with this, here’s what. When I was growing up, there wasn’t a lot of information easily available out there. There’s more information now that being bipolar has increased in awareness. But it’s still not fingertip information, the way information is available on what to do if your child has measles or food poisoning.
More importantly, the symptoms that your child might be bipolar aren’t obvious – they look like lots of other things. Very often, you have to rule out those other things before you can say, well, maybe my child might be having mood swings.
When bipolar symptoms start appearing doesn’t help either. Most people start manifesting signs of being bipolar in their teens (I was 15-16 when I started getting the mood swings – but see below). The problem is that teenagers are, well, teenagers. They always act weird and different from week to week. How is a parent supposed to tell the difference between their teen child being bipolar and their teen child being a teen?! You can’t really say “My kid is acting strangely, OMG, they’re bipolar!”
In practice, the only way to tell is by evidence over a period of time – measured from months to a year or two. And yes – it can take that long to collect enough evidence to even decide to go to a psychiatrist or to get a decent diagnosis.
Here are some of the things that happened to me that you can look out for. While none of these alone say anything, together they can form a pattern.
- Complaints of vision and hearing. From the age of 11 to the age of 15, I persistently complained to my parents that in school I could not see the blackboard or hear the teacher properly if I was placed in the middle or back of the class. And yet each time I went for vision and hearing tests, they always came back normal.
Eventually both the school and my parents gave up and let me have a desk in the front of the class. Or later on, when I could select where to sit in class I always chose a desk at the front.
Although I only definitively remember getting mood swings from about 15-16, I now mark these complaints as the first of my bipolar symptoms.
- Grades drop. From about the age of 16, I found it becoming harder and harder to focus to study. I managed to just make it through high school without my grades actually dropping, but my university grades were abysmal. I dropped out of or failed a lot of the courses I took, and I even had to take a semester off because I couldn’t cope. All in all, I just barely scraped through getting a Bachelor’s degree at all.
I was lucky that my grades didn’t drop in high school, but if your kid’s grades start dropping for no obvious reason or after you have talked with the school and ruled out any other typical reasons (bullying, relationship issues, hanging with the non-studying crowd, etc.), this might be a reason to start thinking about possible mood swings. Especially if your child is as confused as you are – they will not understand why they are suddenly starting to do badly at school either.
This is especially so if you ask what is happening and you get responses like (a) I don’t know why, (b) I can’t seem to concentrate, (c) I can’t seem to focus, (d) I get distracted easily, (e) I can’t seem to settle down to study, (d) The work got a lot harder recently, (e) I can’t memorise the information, (f) I can’t remember what I studied.
Or their response is the next point.
- Your child has this sort of blank look when you are talking to them. You’ll feel like you are talking to a wall or a zombie. The official term for this is ‘having a flat affect’.
This is very different from them not paying attention. Not paying attention is your child being there and choosing to not listen to you. They may be annoyed at you, or they may feel as if standing there having to listen to you is wasting their time, or they may glaze over because they heard the same talk from you 3 times this week already, but regardless, they are present. You can feel that they are present. This blank look feels like they are not even present at all, that you are talking to just a body which says yes and no and is mostly polite but which feels as if there is nobody inside or nobody there at all. That you are perhaps shouting down an empty well.
The flat affect is very disconcerting. I used to teach and one of my students had this and it was very different from any other thing I had ever come across. I’d have a hard time believing that an annoyed or upset teenager could pull it off.
If you get this sensation when talking to your kid more than a few times, I’d say it’s a good time to chat with the school counselors, or your doctor, or a therapist.
- Your kid wants to be left alone / wants to be quiet. You’ll find that they don’t want to go to large or noisy family gatherings / parties / weddings, or they don’t want to go to places with lots of people or loud music or loud groups, like busy shopping malls or downtown or parties. Usually the explanation will be “It’s too loud / has too many people” with the usually unspoken “and I can’t cope with all the stimulus”.
This has happened to me, and since I come from a very large family, Christmas and family gatherings and weddings were very much a chore. I often hated to go and I hated being there if I had to go, and I could often be found in a quiet area far away from the music and people. At which point I was told I was being unsociable. I hated being introduced to new people too, which didn’t help.
You might also find that your kid likes to find quiet spaces to be alone and that they like being alone a lot.
All of this could be attributed to being a teenager, so this type of behaviour is not in itself a thing to be worried about. However I do remember my mother telling people fairly often “He’s very moody and he likes to be alone”, and I look back and I think “Aha! – there was an early sign of my mood swings”. If you find yourself saying this about your child / thinking it frequently, this may be a sign something is wrong.
You might find that in spite of the dislike of large numbers of people, your child may be perfectly fine with small gatherings of three to six people and they may behave perfectly fine in these settings.
- Your child may become unusually irritable, and prone to outbursts of anger way out of proportion to the triggering incident. If you ask their friends, they will also have noticed that your child has been having bursts of anger toward them or other people and they’ve found it somewhat odd as well.
This also can be a teenager thing, so it’s hard to use this alone as a symptom. But if you are seeing some of the other symptoms, this one can act as support.
- Your child becomes messy. Your kid used to be fairly neat, and now you find they have started to become pretty messy. Or they used to be pretty good about doing chores, and now you find that they have gotten pretty erratic / bad about doing the chores, and shouting at them to do it doesn’t seem to work.
Again, this can just be a teenager thing. But this can act as a supporting symptom, especially if the timing of when it starts to happen matches up with some of the other symptoms.
- You child doesn’t want to get out of bed. For the whole day. For a week. Or stays at home and watches 14 hours of television a day. For days on end. They don’t want to go to school / meet friends / have friends visit / exercise / and sometimes not change out of their clothes for a few days.
Teenagers can be superlatively lazy on occasion. But it usually doesn’t go on for days. Once activities like the above start going on for a few days, it’s perhaps time to take notice, and if it happens more than once or twice, it’s perhaps time to talk with a counselor / therapist to find out what is happening. They may not be bipolar, but something is going wrong that needs to be sorted out.
- You find cut marks on your child’s forearms, upper arms, thighs, chest or elsewhere. Certainly ask your child about it, but organise to see a therapist or counselor or psychiatrist soon. For me, the cut marks were the tryout to see how much it would hurt if I were to attempt suicide. Other people make cut marks for other reasons, but generally the reasons are of the kind that therapy would help.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The above are NOT a collection of symptoms for diagnosing a person as bipolar. Only a psychiatrist can do a diagnosis. All the above are signs that I exhibited at the onset of becoming bipolar. There are probably other signs that I did not exhibit (and please feel free to write them in the comments).
If however, have reached to my website, then you are already worried about your child. I would suggest that if your child is showing many of the above signs, then you should contact a counselor or therapist or psychiatrist, because something might be wrong. They in turn will be able to tell you if something is wrong or not, and provide a proper diagnosis.
I will always hope that it will work out that there is nothing wrong with your child except teenage emotions.
If it turns out that your child is bipolar, or has depression, or any of the very similar diagnoses, it’s going to be difficult. You’ll be needed there to support them. I can’t tell you not to feel somehow responsible, because that’s what parents do. But being bipolar is a medical thing, like diabetes or short sighted vision. And it is extremely difficult to diagnose unless things have gone very wrong. It’s not your fault that your child is bipolar, and it’s not your fault that you are only now thinking it might be mood swings.
Don’t worry about what has gone by. Just focus on how you can help your child now.
Yup. After twenty years, I’ve finally got meds that stabilise me. Well, I’ve been stable for the last 3 1/2 months, which is far longer than anything else has ever worked.
I’m currently taking Carbamazepine (Tegretol) – about 200 mg in the morning, 100 mg twice during the day and 200 mg in the evening.
I have no idea why the meds are working. But it is working for me, and I’m not going to complain. I’m just happy that my mood swings have stabilised, and that I can get on with my life.