By Kurt Sass
Coping Strategies for Dealing with Relapse Fears
Back in 1998, I began a two year, long-suffering battle with major depression, which included, among other things, daily suicidal thoughts, self-abuse (cutting myself up to 70 times a day), numerous hospitalizations, 22 ECT or “shock” treatments and a period of 11 months in which I could not leave my bed on my own—not even to take a shower or go to a doctor's appointment.
Fortunately, I have not had to endure anything even remotely close to that in the 16 years since that two-year ordeal ended in the year 2000.
One might think that it would be easy to be grateful that the “past” is behind me and that it is easy to go on. However, I think most people who have gone through the trauma of a major psychiatric episode would tell you otherwise.
While I am extremely appreciative and grateful everyday that I have not returned to that horrible state, the fear of it recurring is always there. My belief is that most people who have endured a major psychiatric episode, especially a long-term episode, suffer from a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result. I still get flashbacks of when I cut myself and when I was hospitalized for attempting suicide. And when those flashbacks occur, the fear of the episode recurring also resurfaces.
This cycle occurs most often when my body is in a weakened state. A few years ago, I was confined to a bed for a number of days when I had a virus with a high fever. With my physical body feeling so weak, my thoughts began to shift. I started thinking that this was the beginning of a new depression and that I would not be able to get out of bed, even after the fever lifts. Another time this occurred was when I started a vigorous exercise routine and ran eight miles a day, without building up to that level. I wore out my body, and was almost too weak to fight my thoughts of oncoming depression.
I noticed that whenever I feel either tired or sad, I immediately start to panic and wonder if this is possibly the beginning of a major psychiatric breakdown.
The good news is that I have discovered many tools to successfully cope. The first is cognitive thinking. Whenever I start to feel any inkling or thought at all that I may be going into a deep depression, I sit back and analyze the situation. I ask myself questions: Are you physically sick at the moment? Are you tired because you didn't get enough sleep? Are you sad because of something that happened at work or with family? The answer to one of these questions is almost always yes, and that usually explains it. Meditation and yoga are two great ways to help get into a nice, relaxed state before asking yourself these questions.
Unfortunately, however, I sometimes go through unexplained periods of complete panic and fear which can last anywhere from a few hours up to seven to eight days. There seems to be no apparent trigger. When this happens, I must be continually cognizant that this is not going to end up being a two-year depression and that eventually it will fade away. It always does.
Finding the right therapist, one you can trust, is an important piece of the puzzle, as well as finding close friends whom you are able to confide in.
If you have suffered through a major psychiatric breakdown, and you are often afraid that it may recur, you are not alone. If you think you see any signs of a possible recurrence, please take a moment to step back and analyze them first.