Circling the Drain

SpiralI am not sure if other people feel the same way that I did about sinking in to that deep and dark hole of depression, anxiety, worry, suicidal feelings or even all of the above. I would suddenly be in serious trouble and when asked why? I had no idea. In my eyes? I was fine and then I wasn’t. Sometimes I would actually realize that I was slipping down but I usually caught it when I was already in a free-fall. I rarely, if ever, caught it BEFORE I started to sink.

The good news about us as human beings is we tend to be habitual. What we did yesterday tends to be a rather clear indication of the choices you will make today, tomorrow, the next day and so on. Knowing this about ourselves can really help us with this sinking in to a hole phenomenon.

Stage One
Things in your life are good here. You have good day, bad days, some of your coping strategies are working great and you are able to tweak the ones that are not. Your time is fairly balanced and you are not isolating but you do give yourself permission to have time alone to refresh and rejuvenate. If you are in therapy, you are still going and working towards your healing. Addictions are in the maintenance phase and you are keeping on top of them. You are eating well, sleeping fairly well and keeping a decent schedule. Life is not perfect here but it is good and you are handling the ups and downs without a lot of trouble. It is not about doing every single thing listed here, every single day. It is about balance and making healthy choices more often than not.

Stage Two
This stage in the most important one and the one that will get the bulk of my attention today. I have spoken to many other trauma survivors (although this is not limited to that group of people), I have realized that everyone has something they begin to do or something they stop doing that can signal the beginning of this spiral downwards. It is in realizing this “trigger” is there and being able to understand that it is a sign to you that you need to really step things up and take good care of yourself or you will begin to sink.
Some examples…

  • If you’ve always been good about getting together with friends or family, you might even be participating in a group or going to a dog park on a regular basis. One day you notice that you just don’t want to see anyone or go anywhere. One day turns in to two, then two in to three… 
  • Perhaps you are quite good about eating healthy meals but start to notice that you are choosing very poorly and not taking time to make the quality meals that you made in the recent past…
  • You might have been excellent at keeping a fairly tight schedule. Waking up around 7, going to bed by 11, doing a few things throughout your day that are regular events and then suddenly you are sleeping until 12, not going to bed until 4, and your daily schedules events begin to drop like flies…
  • Then there are those of us (this is my trigger area) that take good care of their needs on a fairly regular basis, do not overbook their time, make sure to schedule self-care and self nurture then suddenly realize that a whole week was packed with nothing but “must do’s”. Another week runs the same way and fairly soon there is very little time for anything rejuvenating. It’s all about everyone else.

I am sure that there are many other triggers and examples but I am sure that you get the idea.
If you can catch yourself when these changes are beginning to occur? You are really going to be able to stay ahead of the game. Refocus your attention and then get back on track. 
There is no need to be upset or angry at letting yourself fall in to old habits. Just pick up and move forward again.

Stage Three
If you have missed the slow decline noted in Stage 2 and your trigger or triggers went ignored? You slip to stage 3. The one or two areas that began to slip in Stage 2 becomes more profound and other triggers are likely popping up. While one or two areas of your life my be somewhat unbalanced in Stage 2? More of your life begins to be affected. If you do not catch yourself here? Things are going to start to get far worse for you. This is a stage where you REALLY need to work hard and get back on track. Asking for help in some way is almost a necessity.

Stage Four
Yikes! Things are getting really rough now and a way out begins to look impossible. “Everything” is going wrong and you are “suddenly” feeling like crap. Depressive feelings can get worse, anxiety is heightened, coping skills are not being used to their full advantage. This stage is overwhelming and it is almost certain that professional help will be needed to get out of this stage. You have just fallen too far. It is worth repeating that making yourself feel badly for slipping so far will not be helpful. Try to just accept that you missed the signs or things got too bad, too fast. Needing help should carry no shame. It is the people who refuse to ask for help that will suffer most here.

Stage Five
DANGER!!!!!!! Severe depression, overwhelming anxiety, suicidal ideation, life looks unlivable and feels as though it will never get better. Even if there were things that you could do to feel better? You don’t have the energy to do them. Getting out of bed and having a shower could be too much to handle within a day.
Help is necessary here more than ever. Your life is in  danger. Get help.

I know the decline can be scary but it can happen to anyone. Knowing what to look for can help you avoid spiralling downwards. If you pay attention and catch yourself at Stage 2 or Stage 3 at the worst? You still have the energy and ability to pick yourself up and get to a better place again. If you need help doing it? Ask for it. I tell my therapist if I ever notice any of the phase 2 symptoms and we make a plan of what to do between that day and my next appointment. I have gone to many appointments in a row where every time I have fixed one area in my life, another has crumbled. Eat better, sleep worse. Sleep better, toss my schedule. Get back to a healthier schedule, stop socializing… It happens but there is power in catching each one before it gets to a point where it is really hard to turn it around. Plus, who cares if you need a month or two of getting yourself back on track? You are saving yourself months if not years of misery.

I falter in my self-care and I am in Stage 2 most of the time but that is okay. I was never taught how to be a healthy person so it will take a while for it to all click together. The good part of all of this is that I know I am in Stage 2 and I am mindful to keep working on all the pieces needed to be a healthier person.

I hope this will help you in some way and perhaps help you to think about your triggers so you can catch yourself at the beginning rather than falling the whole way to the bottom. No one should have to live there. It’s awful. With some attention and care, you never need to be there again.

6 responses to “Circling the Drain

  1. This is absolutely BRILLIANT Heather. It should be made into a poster and stuck on a wall in every doctor’s surgery, pharmacy, hospital, school and community centre. It doesn’t matter how tough, rich, happy or sad you are – depression can hit ANYONE. Stage One is so subtle and the downward spiral is often so gradual you don’t even know you HAVE a problem. Seeing this COULD prevent people from ever getting any further down the “Drain” and help professionals and relatives to recognise the signs too. Another really great blog! Hugs my


  2. Heather! This is exceptionally helpful. The trauma or depression spiral is one I am intimately acquainted with. It is a soul sucking, energy robbing experience. For years I would wake up and wonder how things got so bad, so fast. Then I learned the importance of daily recovery behaviours.
    I have a daily checklist that includes things like showering, meditating, making phone calls etc. it really helps me to see when I slip to stage 2, or 3. THANK YOU for the reminder 😃


  3. Thanks for sharing this Heather… it’s good to know what to look for to help me not spiral too far down.


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