Mental Health Series: Depression and Bipolar – 13 Ways To Push Back At The Dark Side

image courtesy Andrew Mason, Creative Commons

This is part two of our series on creative people and mental health issues.

Read part 1 How To Harness Your Creative Temperament and Stay Sane, Married and Sober

I want to say I am not a medical professional, only a fellow creative interested in exploring this subject. Nothing in this post should be considered medical advice. Please see your health care professional for advice concerning a diagnosis of clinical depression or bipolar disorder. Please don’t self-diagnose.

*Depression: a severe sadness, feelings of guilt, hopelessness and lack of self-worth for a period of time

*Clinical Depression: a depression so severe as to be considered abnormal, either through no obvious environmental reason, through an intense reaction to an unfortunate situation or circumstance or through biochemical imbalance

*Bipolar Disorder: Affective disorder characterized by periods of mania (energetic, talkative euphoria) alternating with periods of depression, usually interspersed with relatively long intervals of normal mood

Depressives who in spite of their depression struggle led/are leading very creative and productive lives include Winston Churchill, Hans Christian Andersen, Agatha Christie, Abraham Lincoln, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Janet Jackson.

Comedian Stephen Fry, singer Britney Spears, media innovator Ted Turner, actress Patty Duke, kickboxer/actor Jean Claude VanDamme, author Virginia Woolf, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, author Graham Greene and possibly Vincent Van Gogh are a few of the more famous people who have struggled with bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression

Depression and bipolar disorder can be extremely disruptive to the sufferer and his or her spouse, family and friends. Manic episodes can allow for lots of productive work and creativity or it can be episodic chaos. Depressive angst can drive creativity or bring it to a standstill. The most important thing to know is that you are not alone, don’t be afraid or ashamed of your struggle, and seek medical, psychological and spiritual advice to stay on the healthiest path you can for yourself.

As creatives, we worry that our creative path will be stymied. How can we protect our creative practice if we are in a cycle that seems unmanageable?

“I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow, they fail because of my foes….Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish…Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorry, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction and my bones grow weak…” (Psalm 6, 25, 31, NIV) 

There is a lot of speculation that the Biblical King David was bipolar. I won’t address that, but he captures in his sacred poetry the drowning pit that is depression. I think through the Psalms we not only see him crying out to God in his anguish, but doing something that counselors and psychologists now call positive self-talk.

“My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

Whether it is a scripture, a positive thought, a mantra, or a happy melody, speaking positive words will help you refocus.

Read 7 Steps To Positive Self-Talk

Speaking positive words won’t ‘fix’ things, but combined with a program that is moving you towards being your best you, it will help. If you tend to depression or depressive episodes, don’t overdo it and let your tank go empty.


If you are struggling, eradicate self-judgment. Some days accomplishing one thing is an accomplishment. And that’s okay. Be patient with yourself. If not, tomorrow is a new day, a new slate. Add one thing if you can. Reject the pressure, especially the pressure you put on yourself.

Here are 13 actions that can help you refresh:

  1. Exercise – oxygen cleans the blood and clears the brain
  2. Meditate – think on good things, accomplishments
  3. Simplify – declutter your life in all areas
  4. Wait –  patience with yourself is a skill well worth learning
  5. Avoid – triggers: people, places and things that trigger depressive thinking, especially alcohol which is a depressant
  6. Create – art, pottery, craft, fingerpainting, whatever brings passion. Creating brings a positive outlook.
  7. Freewrite
  8. Talk – to your spouse, safe friend, professional counselor, spiritual advisor, to yourself with positive self-talk
  9. Listen – to positive feedback, self-talk, inspiring speakers and sermons, through books, happy music, learn behavior coping mechanisms from counselors
  10. Pray – strengthen your belief system, whatever that happens to be. If you believe in God, reach out. If you believe in yourself, reach in.
  11. Detox – clean out your diet and clean out your relationships. Ask a doctor or nutritionist about the best foods to help you
  12. Sunbathing –  Depression has been linked to vitamin D deficiency. Gentle sunbathing supplies a good dose of vitamin D. Consult a doctor before taking any supplements.
  13. Laugh – makes feel-good endorphins Laugh with family and friends. Read a funny book. Watch a funny movie or tv show. Atttend live comedy show or theatre. Read a kid’s joke book. Even the groaners will make you smile.

Writing and journaling especially helped me as I dealt with a depressive episode. Freewriting let me take my thoughts and create the start of  an essay:

“The dilapidated aluminum siding walls matched my buckling confidence. I stared at the ceiling fan above me, each wide blade caked with mold and neglect. It didn’t cool the steamy stale air that hovered like my depression, a cloud that threatened to suffocate me.”

Need more ammunition to eradicate the blues? Check out these great links:

Question: What do you do to help you overcome ‘down’ times?

8 thoughts on “Mental Health Series: Depression and Bipolar – 13 Ways To Push Back At The Dark Side

  1. I LOVE this series, Kristin. I have struggled with depression since youth and have found several of the things on your list helpful to pulling me out of the funk. Coloring always makes me smile. Especially in something like a SpongeBob coloring book. And Play-Doh, particularly the smell, reminds me of easier times in my life. Reverting back to my childhood, back to days before depression, helps me see the good. That or I’m still a kid. 🙂

    Thanks again for sharing this wonderful series.


    • Thanks Heather! I agree that when activities are simpler and child-like they can be very soothing. Coloring is one of my favorites. Also stacking wooden blocks is a surprisingly relaxing activity. Of course stacking blocks with Destined-To-Be-A-Musician Grandson helps keep it uplifting as well. 😉


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