When you have bipolar disorder or any other mental health disorder, you may gain a lot of momentum and experience peak productivity at certain times of the year — “seasons” if you will, though they do not have to correspond to spring, summer, autumn/fall, and winter — and deep slumps when you do not produce much, if anything for several months. At least, this is the case with me.
If you have read The Bipolar Kitty for awhile, you have seen that I have gone silent for months at a time, a few times since I started this blog in March 2019. I have a lot of plans for The Bipolar Kitty, but my periods of moderate depression definitely set me back. Depending on the “flavor” of mania I have when I experience it, I can produce content like nobody’s business, but when I experience depression, my progress tends to screech to a halt. For many years, I had been unsuccessful in getting off the treadmill of mania and depression. But beginning this year, I believe my experience will be different after realizing a few things. Here is how you, too, can use your moods to your advantage, and even be productive year-round.
When you are in a period of mania or peak productivity, roll with it. Plan out your work in advance, and work as much as you possibly can. You need to take breaks, though, or you will burn out more quickly and hit a period of depression sooner than you expect. I have begun to use the Pomodoro method of productivity, where I work for 20 minutes, and then I take a break for five minutes. After four “Pomodoros,” I take a 15-minute break, and then I begin the process again. I find that I get at least twice as much work done in a day when I use the Pomodoro method.
The advantage of the Pomodoro method is that you only have to be productive for those 20 minutes, so you maximize the work you produce. By giving yourself a time limit, you take a lot of pressure off yourself and your creative mind can flow freely.
It is also imperative that you get enough sleep — generally seven to nine hours a night, depending on individual needs and circadian rhythm. Otherwise, you will burn out quickly, and if you are driving a vehicle at all, getting less than five or six hours of sleep per night is equivalent to driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.1%. You are literally putting your own life and the lives of others at risk. I will most likely write a blog post in the near future about how to get enough sleep, and how to fall and stay asleep without the use of sleep medications.
When you are at peak productivity, you may believe that you will maintain that level of momentum forever. When you have bipolar disorder, that may not be true. There may be an inevitable crash, and you may find it difficult to even get out of bed. But it is possible to remain productive when you feel depressed.
In times of depression, it is important that you get up and do stuff, or else you stay depressed. Depression begets depression. If you are going through a period of loss or mourning, or you are in physical pain, then it is important to honor your struggle and focus on healing. In this case, being productive may not be at the top of your list of priorities. But by leaning into your struggles and taking time to recover, you will be in better shape to be productive later.
If you are feeling mild to moderate depression and you do not have any external circumstances keeping you from being productive, then doing something — anything — will help you gain momentum. Start by doing one small thing — sitting on the edge of your bed after you wake up, drinking a cup of water (keep this by your bedside so you have it ready when you wake up), and mentally preparing for your day for a minute or so. When you feel like you can take the next step and actually get out of bed, then do so. But if you have had enough sleep, then do not go back to sleep. You will only wake up more tired.
Next, brush your teeth with minty fresh toothpaste. The mint taste will invigorate you. Then, wash your face with cold water. The cold water will definitely get you energized because it takes you outside your comfort zone of warmth.
If you wish to be highly productive when you feel depressed, then determine what you can do with a low level of energy, and focus on those things. If you can only handle manual tasks, and not creative, then do those. When I hit my next bout of depression, instead of painstakingly trying to write a bunch of blog posts and kicking myself when nothing gets accomplished, I will do something in which I can thrive when I am in a period of depression: drive. Ideally, I will get a weekend job where I can drive all day in a company vehicle (not my own). Then, I can make money doing something that requires very little emotional effort, and I can listen to podcasts while driving.
If you can walk, then go on walks. You will get oxygen flowing throughout your body, which will give you a higher level of energy to get stuff done. If going to the gym does not sound like something you can muster when you feel depressed, then do some stretches instead. Stretching also energizes you.
Find out what healthy eating regimen works for you. I, myself, need to stay away from too much refined sugar, and eat plenty of protein, fruits, and vegetables. Drinking smoothies is a nice and sneaky way of getting fruits and vegetables into your diet. If the effort of sticking foods in a blender, blending the foods, and pouring the liquid out seems emotionally daunting to you and like too much effort, then tell yourself that you are showing yourself some love. Getting enough healthy foods to eat is crucial when you are feeling depressed.
Drink enough water. Water is good for the mind. It improves cognitive function when you drink enough water. Eight cups a day is a good place to start, but definitely drink more if you are overweight. I try to drink at least 16 cups of water a day. I know that is one gallon of water and may seem like a lot, but it really gets me feeling good and like I can take on anything. If you find it hard to drink a lot of water, then keep a water bottle beside you at all times, and take sips when you find yourself idle. It all adds up.
Engage in some self-reflection. This applies both to periods of depression and mania, but it is especially important when you feel depressed. Journal about what is important to you in your life — people, accomplishments, anything. If you feel that you have lost interest in everything, which is common with depression, then think back to a time when you were interested in things, and recall how you felt when you engaged with them. When you have figured out what is important to you, then prioritize. What do you want to get accomplished soon, and what is feasible to do with a low level of energy? If you think getting a high energy task done is more important, then still tackle a low energy task first so you get used to working on something and you do not burn out when you take on the high energy task.
If you do everything I have laid out when you are depressed, then you most likely will not see results overnight, but they will happen in a reasonable period of time — within a week or two, perhaps even sooner. If you feel you cannot do all of these things at once, then take them on one at a time, one day at a time. The results will come if you are consistent.
You probably will not get so much stuff done when you feel depressed as you would if you were hypomanic/manic. That is more than OK. Your brain is meant to have periods of rest. The objective here is to use your depression to your advantage. You can get a lot accomplished when you feel depressed, but they may be different things than when you do when you feel manic. I think the take-home here is that you are more capable than you realize when you feel depressed.