Like many of us on Sunday night, I was glued to the TV in awe of two fabulous teams of football players who showed us how to work very hard and never give up, no matter how bleak things may look. Both teams played skillfully, yet neither side resigned themselves to the outcome that seemed so apparent mid-game. The New England Patriots continued to remain focused, re-strategize, and plug-on in the fourth quarter to the thrill of many fans. This is not to dismiss the awesome effort of the Atlanta Falcons, who excelled to the end. All in all, they both gave us a life lesson in resilience and not giving up. It reminds me of the often quoted old Danish proverb which goes something like “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”
You might wonder what the outcome of a football game has to do with you or me, your depression or bipolar disorder. Well, there are a few thoughts that I’d like to share with you.
First, all of these players came to the game physically and mentally prepared. They knew that the process of preparation is key to a successful outcome. That’s something that you can do in managing your illness and dealing with everyday life. If you can take a moment to prepare yourself for the ups and downs of your depression or bipolar disorder, you have a better chance of having an episode that is less severe or prolonged. How do you prepare? You do this by attending to the basics of mental health, by taking your meds, keeping regular sleep hours, a healthy diet, regular physical exercise, avoiding isolation and having a structure and routine to your day. You can be sure that these award winning football players follow a similar plan in their active season.
The next thing is to have a goal and purpose to your days. These players had one – they wanted to be in the play-offs, ideally to win the trophy. Having a direction and plan that gives you something constructive to do, whatever it is, is a positive step. Endless hours of empty alone time without purpose or direction is not healthy for anyone, and will only make your mood disorder worse.
The biggest life lesson we have just learned from these players is the value of hard work, resilience, and in not giving up no matter how bad things might feel to you. They didn’t give up. The New England Patriots were behind by 25 points in the fourth quarter, with precious little time, which viewers saw as a grim picture. Yet they remained focused and persisted, working in small steps yard-by-yard down the field until they achieved one, then two, then three goals. It was an example of perseverance, of believing in oneself. The Atlanta Falcons did not give up either – they played extraordinarily well throughout.
Carry this over to your experience in living with a mood disorder. It’s hard work in just getting through the day with depression. It’s easy to want to quit, to give up during those times when life is dark gray and bleak and hopeless, when life feels really bad. But what if you did what these players did? The Patriots were unquestionably in a bad position, where others might have just stopped trying and resigned themselves to the loss. What if, during your deepest depression, you didn’t give in to it, didn’t let this disease get the best of you. Would your own persistence and perseverance make a difference in your outcome, in the way you feel? Could you take a series of small steps, as they did, towards your wellness goal? Could you look at this as an illness that you have to manage, just as they managed the game? Yes, there are obstacles. Yes, you’ll get knocked down. More than once. Just like them. And you’ll get back up.
These are just thoughts. I don’t have the answers. I know firsthand that it’s not easy, but it’s perhaps worth a try.