Low mood takes me away from light and love. It makes me love the dark side of life. It makes me love distress and anxiety.
‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ – Socrates
Back in the days before I was diagnosed, I can recall periods of low mood where I would withdraw from social situations. I didn’t pick up on these early warning signs. Young people can also feel low and withdrawn, and they often miss out on the problem. Our powers of reflection can help us. Developed through journal writing, mindfulness, and honest conversations with friends, reflection gives us wisdom to detect a mental health breakdown. My identical twin, for example, has not developed bipolar which is arguably as a result of his reflective skills.
During my periods of low mood, there can be a creeping tendency to ruminate. It is a never-ending cycle of negative thinking that only leads to more problems. While on a trip abroad, I was in a bad head space. I was on my own and worrying about putting on weight. This thought filled my mind and took me away from living in the present moment. I came across a quote from the Dalai Lama: ‘If something can be done, there’s no need to worry. If it cannot be done, there’s no use worrying. Finished’. So simple and so true! Once I identified that I could go for runs and eat healthily, I started to stop worrying. Moreover, I started to let go of what could not be done in my life, which led to the realisation that most of my days were filled with the same unhelpful thoughts after the same unhelpful thoughts. And I eventually stopped the cycle!
Responding to low mood
How we respond to low mood is very important in the recovery process. We can cause damage to ourselves if we engage in risk taking behaviour such as risky sexual behaviour, use of alcohol, street drugs or other health risks (BPS, 2010). It is vital to seek immediate help if self-harming and/or suicidal ideation is on your mind. A good response is not to escape low mood but to get through it. Saying that you are “low” to yourself and to those you trust can make all the difference. Be with those who want to be with you. Low mood is not meant to be experienced alone but rather in community. You will need to fight your inclinations to retreat and escape. You can do it!
When you return to a balanced mood, now is the time to look at ways you can strengthen your resources. You want to do what you can during this time to ensure that you live a balanced life as far as possible. Keeping a shoebox of helpful tools is a great way to do this such as writing up a list of what got you through your low mood; how you are stronger now than ever before; and suggestions for detecting and intervening should a low mood occur again. Although many people may experience similar indicators of low mood such as irritability and sleep problems, each person may have their own specific signs. You may also consider going to a psychological therapy which will give you that extra hand for optimal mental health.