The Elephant on Your Head

Or, “How I Fight My Mood Disorder Every Day: An Article in Three Parts”

I was originally going to complete my site makeover before I made this post,Child and Elephant hugging but I keep having great ideas about points to make in it. Because of a few conversations I’ve had with more than one friend lately, I think it’s time to get these words out into the world!

I’ve been diagnosed with a mood disorder of one kind or another since 1992 or so, when I was first diagnosed with situational depression due to trauma. In all honesty, I believe that my mood disorder is partially genetic and partially due to repeated life trauma (i.e. both nature and nurture).  Since that time, I’ve been diagnosed with chronic depression, ADHD, and finally bi-polar disorder. Before I was properly diagnosed, and even for a couple of years afterward, I could have been named the poster child for “How Not to Properly Manage Your Mood Disorder.” I abused alcohol, stayed up all night and slept all day, went on and off my medications without advice from my doctor, and was non-compliant with my therapist. I was housebound for six months and ate a terrible diet when I ate at all.  I missed appointments and stopped going to the doctor altogether. I withdrew from my friends and family, couldn’t keep a job, and was actually evicted from my apartment not once, but twice. I actually spent some time living in my car. I seriously considered suicide at least once a day. To this day, part of the reason I lack what other people call a true “support system” is because I couldn’t maintain a decent long term relationship to save my life. More on support systems will come later in this series, by the way.

I have been so high that I really believed some of the stupidest things I’ve ever done in my life were good ideas. I have been so low that I couldn’t see the point of even getting out of bed. I would imagine all of the steps involved: sit up, put your feet on the floor, stand up, walk to the bathroom, turn on the shower, step into the shower… I just couldn’t actually complete any of the steps. I was secretly convinced I was going to hell for an entire year, even though I wasn’t sure I believed in any hell but the one I was living. In 2007, I spent a month seriously convinced that I was the victim of demonic possession. I was accepted into every one of the PhD programs I applied for with funding and assistantships, but I couldn’t go because I was so depressed I was sure I wouldn’t be able to do quality work. This list could go on forever.

If you’ve come this far with me, you may be wondering, “But what does all of this have to do with me? And more importantly, what does all of it have to do with elephants? You promised elephants!”

I was talking to a friend of mine who also suffers from a mental illness and she expressed her frustration with the lack of understanding that her family and friends sometimes exhibit when she is having problems. Sometimes they behave as if they expect her to “shake it off,” which anyone with a mood disorder can tell you is next to impossible. In a moment of empathy, I said to her, “Well, it’s easy for someone to tell you to get out of bed when they don’t understand that for people like us, getting out of bed involves first chewing through the leather straps and then removing the elephant that’s sitting on your head before you can even think about getting up.”

She laughed and told me that that was exactly how she felt. Imagine having to expend energy like that before you can even start your day, and then sometimes that day is filled mostly with despair and hopelessness.  Or you’re so wound up you can’t even sleep in the first place, and then you’re too tired during the day to get up and do anything.

If you have a mood disorder, you’re probably all too familiar with these feelings. So how do you get that elephant off your head? The shelves at the bookstore are full of titles like “Beat Your Depression!” and “Four Superfoods to End Mental Illness,” but the fact is most sufferers of mood disorders will fight their illness for life. There is no way to beat your depression, bi-polar disorder, or other mood disorder.

So if you can’t get the elephant off your head, what do you do with it? In order to fight your mood disorder, you must first make peace with your elephant.

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2 comments to The Elephant on Your Head

  • Rae (http://mooditis

    This is a great post, I can totally relate. I have been diagnosed with many different disorders and simply say I have a mood disorder now if anyone needs to know. I have never heard it described as having an elephant on one’s head, but now that I think about it that way, that is exactly what it is like. Difficult to work, get out of bed, convince yourself to do anything…house is a mess…hmmm…thank you for this :)

  • Two great Mental Health Resources | Mooditis (http://mooditis

    […] Elephant on Your Head- AKPC_IDS += "127,";Popularity: unranked [?]SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "Two Great Sites", url: […]

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