If you are a permanently happy person, move along. For the rest of us, it ain’t sunshine and roses every day.

I have a Bipolar II (BP) diagnosis and live in the depressive state more often than not. It sucks.

Photo by Carnaby Gilany at Unsplash

Before we go any further: Every person with a Bipolar Diagnosis is different. This is not medical advice. See your doctor for that.

I fight with my condition every single day. Somedays I win, but on the worst days, I lose. On the worst days, I live on the couch with a blanket and my dogs on my lap. I scroll mindlessly on my phone, not able to focus on any one thing. Insomnia is my companion.

I spend every day beating back the depression, at least enough so I can function. Functioning might mean going to the grocery store and cleaning house. Or maybe all I get to do is attend a Zumba class. It varies. Some days I can have a full day of activities, and then on others, I consider it a win because I’ve completed the most basic task.

Each day, I feel fortunate if I’m able to write or draw. That’s my thing.

I’d be lying if I said that no matter the day, I stand on the neck of my BP and create no matter what. That’d be a dream come true. The truth is that on more days than I care to think about, I don’t create if I’m in a depressive state.

While I’m not always successful in having a productive day, there are a few things that help IF I do them. I say if, because it’s not always easy to take the most obvious action to help yourself. If only.

“It is exercise alone that supports the spirits and keeps the mind in vigor.”

~Cicero

Nobody wants to hear this one.

Exercise helps.

It really does. I can’t tell you it completely erases the depression, but it gets pretty damn close on some days. And remember, exercise can come in different forms, depending on what you enjoy doing and your fitness level.

I mention different forms of exercise because my own routine fluctuates. In addition to my BP diagnosis, I also have a problem with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). So my year has a predictable cycle.

I love summer (and yet I live in the mountains of Colorado where there is currently two feet of snow. It’s just wrong.) In the summer I jog – running is too ambitious of a word for what I do – I do Zumba classes outside at the park, hike in the beautiful outdoors of my community, and jump into the local pool. I’m all in and I have good days.

Around October everything shifts, and it’s not uncommon for snow to hit us. As Halloween rolls around, I’m housebound.

And then, I just try.

I try to run but the ice and cold discourage me. The Zumba classes get moved indoors and in recent years I’ve opted not to attend due to Covid concerns. I try hiking the trails but don’t like sliding around on the ice. And no way will I be headed to a cold pool. Eventually I get frustrated and the depressive states become more frequent. By December 1st, I’m in complete shutdown mode.

All this is just to say, I get it if you feel that exercise is an impossible chore. I feel that way too sometimes.

In recent years, I’ve shifted my attitude about Winter. Yes, I hate it. But I look at it as the time when I need to withdraw from the world for a while. Remember those cute little animals in story books that burrow in for the winter with quilts and hot tea in their underground homes? That’s what I do. Try it. Be like the animals. I know it’s goes against all of our societal norms to slow down but listen to your body and your mind. Maybe you need it.

That’s not to say exercise isn’t important during the winter, but it looks a little different and not so much in your face.

YouTube is your friend on snow and ice-packed days.

Pilates, yoga, HIIT, strength training. It’s all there on YouTube. I’ve dialed in to a favorite Pilates instructor from a long time ago. She’s got videos on YouTube and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed doing them. I’ve found a new person who has a 10-week strength program. She has workout videos for five days a week, different each day. I’ll let you know how that one goes. I would be so monumentally proud of myself if I could complete the entire program.

Exercise is my friend and helps my mood and activity level. After a bit of exercise, I find it easier to get going on a story or pick up my markers and sketch pad.

Sunshine and the Outdoors keep me functioning.

Photo by Gina Tigere on Unsplash

These two aspects of my wellness routine are sort of attached to my exercise routine. And like my exercise habits, they vary depending on the season.

In the winter it’s hard to get outside if you hate the cold. I feel ya. Remember, I’m the one that wants to sit with blankets on me and drink hot tea.

Just go for a walk.

Trust me on this one. Just go walk around the block. Close your eyes and tilt your head upward toward the sun. In the winter, bundle up as it makes the experience more enjoyable. You’ll come back inside and feel toasty warm and your cheeks will be numb. It might even give you the push to sit down at your desk and write.

Now in the summer, sunshine and outdoor activity are a piece of cake. You can get sunshine just from sitting on your porch. But for bonus points, take yourself on a long walk, preferably in a nature setting. You’ll be surprised at how you will start to look forward to doing it. And you might find that it’s easier to get in the creative zone when you come home.

Let food by thy medicine.”

~Hippocrates

Surely you knew this one was coming.

Food is fuel.

My favorite food in the whole world is a big bowl of pasta with a puttanesca sauce. I’d eat not one, but two bowls, every night if allowed. Sadly, this does not work for me, and I’m envious if you’re able to do this and still function properly.

By “properly”, I mean, not having aches and pains, or not feeling sluggish. Because when I feel aches and pains I find the depressive episodes come around more.

I’ve spent weeks, maybe months, eating all the comfort foods to, well, comfort myself. Eventually, they make me hurt. It’s an awful cycle. I hope for you that you don’t do this. It never works.

Regardless of the season, eating nutritious foods more often than not is a sound strategy.

I’ve been experimenting to find new comfort foods, ones that don’t hurt me. For example, I’ve recently decided that sauteed mushrooms, any type of bean, and brown rice are quite satisfying. It’s been my go-to for breakfast and sometimes lunch.

When I tack on healthy eating habits with the exercise, sunshine, and outdoors, I’m almost as close as I can be to living a life where I’m content, function well and dare I say, happy on most days.

There’s one super obvious thing that I can do that helps me create during depression:

I create.

Yes, it’s that simple and also that hard.

For a long time I put creating at the bottom of my to-do list. After I did household chores, ran errands, attended to my family’s needs. Sort of like Cinderella. I can go to the ball after I’ve completed my chores. Wrong attitude.

I’m sitting here in my pajamas, uncombed hair, unwashed face and I’m writing. Because it’s the start of my day and if I can get this one creative act completed, I win. I win for the entire day.

Creating is important to me, so I say. Well, if that’s the case, then it needs to come before housework or errands. Dig me. Bein’ all creative.

So recap with me, people:
Exercise – it’ll elevate your mood.

Sunshine and Outdoors – again with the mood elevating.

Food – eat the healthy stuff more than you eat the bag of chips.

Create – you’ll feel so much better about yourself than if you did the laundry.

So next time you’re beating back depression, try some of these ideas. Let me know if they help!