Some years ago I found a 4 inch coaster with a saying on it that has become so meaningful to me I keep it in a prominent place on my desk. A very similar quote has been attributed to Thomas S. Monson. The verse is
We cannot direct the winds but we can adjust our sails.
Think about this for a minute. It has so many applications to our lives, whether we are depressed or not. The underlying message is that many things happen in our lives that we might not prefer and that we cannot avoid or change. The “winds” here represent the external influences, other people, mother nature, and what life throws at you. Sometimes it’s a loss of a loved one or a job, an illness, or when things just don’t go your way. They all can have a powerful impact and contribute to the course of our lives. Sometimes we can’t do anything about the wind, these forces in life, other than adapt to them and adjust our approach. When things happen that are challenges, we can take steps and “adjust our sails” to modify the circumstances in our own behalf or better cope with them. It reminds us we need to be flexible in life, constantly adjusting ourselves and our path in response to the world.
That all sounds nice and theoretical, but how does this apply to your depression or bipolar disorder?
Well, to begin, depression and bipolar disorder are illnesses that come to you, a “wind” or force of nature you then have to contend with. When it happens you have several choices. You can do nothing, be passive, and let the effects of the illness happen to you. Or you can take small steps to adjust to having a mood disorder, learn how to manage your illness and engage in relapse prevention strategies. Gather the skills to get you through the ups and downs of each day. Be an active participant in your treatment decisions. You might not want to go to doctor’s appointments or take medications, but you do. At first it might feel constraining to have to pay attention to the basics of mental health (taking meds, getting regular sleep and exercise, healthy diet, keeping a routine and structure to your day, avoiding isolation). After a few weeks that will be your new normal and it will feel better.
Adjusting your sails might mean that you make life choices that put some things on hold for a while, or take you down a slightly different path than you had imagined for yourself. You might have to scale back or take a leave of absence from school or work, or ask for assistance from others. You might decide to take a different career path, which would mean different skills training. You might decide to keep a distance from those people who are not understanding or supportive, or with whom you had fallen into bad habits with. In these ways you “adjust your sails” to the forceful winds of depression.
A version of this article was published on Psychology Today.