5 Tips For Being Reliable When You Are Depressed
I have bipolar disorder. When depression comes, it often makes it hard to function. When I’m depressed, every task requires more energy than usual. It’s a lethargy that overcomes my whole body, made more complicated by pain and fatigue from myasthenia gravis and polycystic ovarian syndrome. When my depression flares up, my psoriasis also flares up. Over the past month, I’ve been struggling with a depression that comes and goes. Thank God—I have been able to function at work. But even when people with bipolar are productive at work, sometimes we are not able to function in other areas like relationships. Sometimes, when we are perceived as unreliable, our relationships are strained.
It takes so much energy to do my job during depression. My job-job is being a high school debate coach. Last weekend, three of my students won at a debate tournament. One freshman came in third place and another came in first place. My coworkers can’t tell that I am depressed. However, the past few days, I realized that I wasn’t functioning as well in other areas. For example, I am working on a very important mental health project with my friend. We’re almost done. What she needs from me is pictures. I needed to scour through photo albums and my computer to find these. I told her I’d get the pictures to her by Friday. Friday afternoon came and I can barely get out of bed. I told myself that I would finish it that night. But I didn’t. I was tempted not to tell her anything. I reasoned: This depression will end soon. I don’t have to talk about it. I’m too tired to have this discussion. I’ll get the pictures to her soon. But I realized that in the past when I rationalized this way, things did not turn out so well. However, when I bit the bullet and opened up to people (example: talking to professors in college when I was depressed and had a deadline coming up), they understood and gave me more time.
Mental health discrimination, or what some people call “stigma,” is definitely real. But sometimes we don’t give people a chance to understand. Essentially, we forget that they also have stress and deadlines to meet. Saturday, I still didn’t have the mental and physical strength to complete the task. But I felt much better knowing I had texted the night before. When we’re depressed, it’s so hard. We can forget how our actions (or inaction) affect innocent people. There have been times in my life when mentally ill friends let me down. Because of my own experience, I was able to forgive them even when they didn’t tell me they were depressed. But, in the moment, the lack of communication did make my life harder. On Monday, I was finally able to send her all the pictures she needed. When things are rough, be honest with yourself: Do you really know when this depressive episode is going to end? Can you really finish what you need to do? How do your actions, however unintentional, affect other people? Pick up the phone. Make that call, send that text message, or write that email. Being reliable not only helps other people but it also reduces our own stress. Honest communication helps us maintain support networks that are essential in managing illnesses like bipolar disorder.
5 Tips for Being Reliable:
- Ask yourself, “How would I like to be treated?” We’ve all been in situations when we were working on something with someone and did not hear from that person for months or in some cases, that person stopped communicating altogether. How did it make you feel? Empathy is a two-way street.
- Send a brief update. You can say something like, “I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you; I have been really depressed lately. I’m working on it.” Or if you’re not that close to the person, something less intimate like, “Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you. I have been sick lately but I promise, I’ll get back to you ASAP.” When I don’t hear from someone altogether, it’s very upsetting and stressful. When someone gives me a brief update—even if it’s just to say they’re trying their best—I feel better. Also, I can help my friend. I find that most people are understanding when I’m honest instead of avoiding them.
- Give as much information as you need to. It’s not necessary to tell everyone in your life about your illness; I know that discrimination is real. But when I’m working with someone who is a good friend, I allow myself to be real. In return, I find crucial support that lifts me up.
- Just start. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. When I’m not feeling well, I take it one minute at a time. Not one day at a time—but one minute at a time. I start an article by writing one sentence at a time.
- Prioritize the most urgent tasks. Do you have a deadline? As I’ve discussed in my TEDx Talk here, one strategy I use for being productive with depression is classifying all tasks according to urgency (4 **** = due today; 1 * = not anytime soon) and I focus on finishing the 3 and 4**** tasks first. Also related my article, 6 Tips: How To Get Stuff Done When You Are Depressed.
–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno
9 thoughts on “5 Tips For Being Reliable When You Are Depressed”
I really love this piece, Jessica. Though thinking about the headline and the word ‘unreliable’ triggered painful memories of the many times when people have treated me as ‘unreliable’ or ‘unreasonable’ even after I have taken all those steps, and told them why we had had to cancel plans or rearrange such as when people told me off for not sending Christmas cards when they KNEW I had been in hospital after a miscarriage (!) it is a really helpful piece for making these steps a solid and active part of our illness management.
Your aim of this blog as partly ‘a window ‘where able-bodied people can learn- albeit at a distance- what chronic illness is like, really highlights how often we do things on instinct based on what we need right then and how this can be misunderstood by able bodied people. Thinking of our lives as a separate culture where new rules apply but reminding ourselves that able-bodied people won’t know unless we let them know how things have changed.
Last month a stressful patch and a PTSD flare up made me completely forget that another chronically sick friend was working on a project about students with a particular condition. As she was quite interested in looking at CP we had chatted about a general absence of research on adult CP and that she might find the material did not exist or was hard to access. Having CP myself, I promised I’d look up my computer files -and then I just plain forgot – so totally that until we spoke on the phone I didn’t even recall her project.
A genuine sign that I’m not planning or focussing well, and totally forgetting, now that’s what I call -unreliable!’. But would I have put it off deliberately for some folk out of fear of criticism? Who knows? And trying those 5 steps and seeing what reaction you _truly_ get will teach you whether it is just a fear or whether the person you are working with is toxic.
Rebecca, so glad you like my article. It’s a tough subject, isn’t it? Sad that someone would not be more empathetic towards you after a miscarriage. I know the feeling when you remember what you forgot to to do (aha! I’m supposed to call so-and-so…) Being sick has made me recognize my own fallibility. Everyone–able bodied or not–is fallible. In that way, sickness has made me extend grace more towards others. Thanks for sharing part of your journey with CP. <3, Jessica
I gotta say Thanks. You found a way to tell us about your obstacles, and responses to them, that was cheerful and strong. Very impressed. Gave me some energy to read this. Please keep writing.
Dear Greg, I’m so glad to hear my article resonated with you! Thank YOU for being so encouraging with your feedback. I’m really passionate about helping people with mental illness pursue their dreams–I’ve written a book to help students with depression and bipolar disorder finish school and am proposing to publishers soon. I’m also working with Rutgers Univeristy on a manual that would help young adults with severe mental illness find meaningful employment. If you’re interested in updates and receiving a free Depression Tool Kit, you can subscribe to my newsletter at http://www.fashionablyillgift.com. Keep in touch, Jessica
Hello from Bangladesh, I came to know about you from TEDx talk. Thanks for your instructive and inspiring speech. Recently, I completed my undergraduate degree in pharmacy and want to graduate myself from an US top level university. I want to proof myself by obtaining a Phd degree and serving people, I am very interested in public awareness in health related field as you doing. So I want to decide myself to research in health related field and obtaining an phd degree. As an international student is there any help you can do for me for completing my phd such as managing scholarship and building a beautiful career and serving the other who are seeking help as I am doing. By the way, I was diagnosed as bipolar 5 year earlier and now I am fully productive and self managing. Thank you for your wonderful and humanitarian job.
Jessica so glad i found your s ite. from my bipolar support group…I look forward to the stories and videos you share. i am wracked too with autoimmune arthritis fibromyalgia osteoarthritis high blood pressure bipolar disorder bulging disc IBS and other probs….my 3 children have a life threatening neurological disease causing numerous painful symptoms called intracranial hypertension 8 yr old also anxiety and depression 14 yr old also bipolar adhd add heart valve prob 17 yr old bipolar adhd odd fibromyalgia and had spinal fusion for scoliosis…we all have weakened immune systems too so LIFE IS HARD ESP. SAD FOR MY CHILDREN! As we go into this new year I just hope I can find more answers for helping their pain and deteriating brain probs…thx for sharing your story I feel a connection to you being you deal with the mental and physical junk as well…thanks!
WOW, Cyndria! thanks for sharing – sounds like we were meant to meet. I’m sorry that you have all been through so much. I write a lot about living with multiple diseases – and pain and fatigue and autoimmune on top of bipolar disorder because I do not think we discuss this enough. Looking forward to record some videos in the new year–short ones about depression and getting stuff done. Let me know if you have any subjects you’d like me to discuss. Here’s one article I wrote about juggling all of the above: https://jessicagimeno.com/living-with-bipolar-disorder-chronic-body-pain-6-dilemmas/
what about when i can’t be reliable for my job?
Hi Megan, two questions: What do you want? What do you need? I’m not a lawyer so don’t take this as legal advice. However, if you are living in the U.S., you can apply for disability – here’s a background on the different types: https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/does-depression-make-you-eligible-for-disability#applying-for-disability Related to that is this blog “How To Get On” https://howtogeton.wordpress.com/social-security-disability/ I wish the system weren’t as difficult to navigate but I hear it varies state by state.