Many people who have experienced depression (of any sort) know what it feels like when you start slipping. That’s how I’ve always described it – it generally isn’t really one giant, fell-swoop sort of crash, but more like that feeling you get when you’re sitting in your car and you realize the parking brake isn’t on and you’ve taken your foot off the brake and you’re rolling. For one split second you think, “ACK!” Except of course in the car scenario you can just put your foot back on the brake or yank the parking brake up and hopefully prevent any serious damage.
That’s not always the case when depression starts to take over.
To be fair, sometimes it is. Sometimes catching it early enough makes it possible to reverse the backwards slide enough that depression doesn’t take hold. And sometimes, you’re actually not slipping at all. Sometimes it’s just a bad day.
How to know if it’s just a bad day
Learning to recognize when it’s a bad day versus an ongoing issue was one of the hardest lessons for me to learn. At any sign of my usual symptoms I used to panic. I’d think ahead to the next few weeks or months and what I had on the go and assume that none of them were going to happen and wonder why me and let in that little bit of self-loathing that seems to always come along with a new bout of depression. It took wise and experienced friends and supporters asking the same question over and over for me to start asking it of myself: “Is this really a sign of a problem or is it just a bad day?”
When I was really caught in the up-and-down of recovery from PPD, it was actually “just” a bad day relatively often. Not always, of course, and that’s not to say that a bad day doesn’t really and truly suck. But recognizing a bad day is such a huge part of managing depression and not letting it throw you into the deep, dark spiral.
I was talking to a friend about this the other day. “I feel like I’m sliding backwards,” she said. I knew the feeling well, but also knew enough to poke a bit. “Do you think it’s just a bad day,” I asked, “or something more?”
Let me be clear: Answering that question isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s really hard to be objective enough about our own mental health to be able to realize that it’s a bad day and tomorrow might very well be better. But sometimes it really is as simple as asking that one basic question. And if the question makes you think about specific things — a disastrous morning getting the kids out the door to school, a medication change, being overtired thanks to a child who decided Wednesday night was a good one to test mom’s fortitude — chances are you’re in the Bad Day Zone and needn’t worry about the backwards slide.
That was the case for my friend in our recent conversation. She thought one particular thing might have triggered it, “but it’s definitely a bad day,” she said. “I’m going to try to start over tomorrow.” Sometimes it’s the simple strategies that are the best ones of all.
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