Do I Have Catatonic Anhedonia Depression? 

There is a type of depression where nothing satisfies, nothing tastes good, nothing pleases and human contact is too much work. It’s a brutal, mind numbing mood swing and I want us to plan ahead for this type of depression so that it no longer takes over our lives.

Depression has many forms. Some depressive episodes are weepy and sad. Others are irritated and agitated. Did you know there is also a type of depression that takes away your ability to feel pleasure or move your body? I call this Catatonic Anhedonia Depression and it’s a beast.

 

This is the depression where you feel stuck. You can’t move. You’re glued to a bed or a couch or a chair. You scroll through social media or eat mindlessly. This depression is in your body and soul and it sucks the life out of you to the point that you feel like a shell of a person. 

 

Anhedonia is defined as lack of pleasure. It’s the opposite of hedonism and in our world, the exact opposite of euphoric mania. It’s a deadwood feeling depression. 

 

Catatonic means a perceived inability to move the body. You feel lifeless and static. There is no desire to get out and see the world. You can stay in the same place for hours while your brain feels empty and miserable. 

 

In many cases, there isn’t a hopeless or sad feeling when we are in this mood swing, so it’s easy to miss that this is actually a type of depression. It takes over the mind so completely that you can spend days, weeks and even months doing nothing and yet wondering why you can’t move. There is often a profound lack of insight with catatonic anhedonia. You don’t feel good, but you can’t figure out why. You just don’t have the energy to even think about getting help for yourself. 

 

Nothing satisfies. Nothing tastes good. Nothing pleases. Human contact is too much work. It’s a brutal, mind numbing mood swing and I want us to plan ahead for this type of depression so that it no longer takes over our lives. 

 

In the past, before I wrote my books such as Getting it Done When You’re Depressed  I had years of off and on depression.  I remember months of being sick every day. I had trouble getting out of bed and it felt like my body was made of concrete. I lived with a person who has bipolar disorder one and saw similar symptoms in him when he was depressed. The lack of interest in what normally bought pleasure was a confusing and upsetting symptom to witness in him and yet, I had trouble recognizing it in myself.

 

Isn’t it interesting that we can easily see symptoms in others and yet have such a hard time swimming through the brain fog when the symptom is actually in our own body! I remember the day that I realized I needed a specific plan to help myself through this kind of depression. 

 

Here is my plan to recognize that signs of catatonic anhedonia so that you will be ready the next time this mood swing tries to take over your life: 

 

Think now of what it feels like to be depressed to the point that nothing feels good. Remember what your brain felt like and what your body felt like. Memorize this. You will then be able to recognize the symptoms of this depression and do something about it before it goes too far. You can teach yourself insight. 

Image your body as a car and your brain as the engine. In this kind of depression, your brain needs a jump start. So no matter what, the ONLY thing that matters once the lack of feelings and the inability to move starts, you will NOT let it happen. You will get out of bed and force yourself to get help for the depression. I know this sounds a bit intense, but it’s the only way I know to stop this insidious mood swing. 

Examine your meds. Anhedonia is a common side effect of medications, so make sure that you are not actually experiencing side effects. 

Look at triggers. My last depression of this kind happened from cranial sacral therapy. I often get depressed if my central nervous system is affected and cranial sacral therapy is very powerful. I know that I can’t tolerate many treatments, but I often get them for headaches or back pain. This last one put me into a deep depression. 

Ask for help BEFORE this episode starts. Tell the people in your life what to do and say if they see in you in bed all day. Tell them what will work for you and promise yourself you will listen to them even if what they say feels unreasonable or worthless. Getting it Done When You’re Depressed has scripts you can use in this situation. 

 

I use the above system to manage my deadwood depression. I talk about this system in all of my books, but I still have to remind myself that my depression can take over very quickly and change my thinking and behavior so profoundly that I have to be ready for the episode before it even begins. There is good news- preparing ahead like this can prevent the mood swing. And in my case, I have taught myself to reduce the intensity and the length of my depression mood swings by using these strategies. 

 

I will always have bipolar disorder. My brain is not stable and it still gets depressed. I’m now ready for the moments when life lacks pleasure and everything feels bland. I’m ready when my brain takes over my ability to move. I now do all I can to prevent the catatonic anhedonia depression from taking over my life like it used to do in the past. 

Julie 

 

 

Bipolar Holidays! How Saying Yes and No Helps Create A Stable and Joyful Holiday Season 

We can start this year and create a holiday plan that serves us for years to come. Let’s focus on what we need and how we want to feel during every holiday season. It’s possible to have stable and joyful holidays when you have bipolar disorder. (This plan works for family members and partners as well. You simply become the observer and come up with a plan that works for you.) 

What do you want to happen this holiday season? Do you need less hustle and bustle or more contact with people? Now is a good time to look back on past holidays and think ahead to the next few weeks of the festive season as you create your plan.

Think back to what worked in the past and what didn’t work? This helps you get clear on what is related to bipolar in general and what is circumstantial.

  • Who makes you happy?
  • Who drains you?
  • What have others said about your own behavior that you can change?
  • Where do you want to be for the holidays?
  • What is the financial plan for the holiday season?

Knowing this information helps you focus on what you can and can’t change starting this year.

Once you examine what worked and didn’t work for you in the past, make a list of what needs to change and make this the year you get started on creating a holiday experience that promotes stability. Make this your year of observation instead of trying to make big changes all at once. 

Change isn’t always easy. Others might be confused or upset at what you need to do in order to be stable, but if you’re clear on what you need and you clearly share why you’re making certain decisions, you can find a balance between stability and still being a part of the festive season. 

Julie’s Story 

As a person with bipolar, it’s easy for me to get overwhelmed and upset by too much activity and yet, if I’m not a part of the social aspect of the holidays, I tend to get lonely and depressed. It’s a vicious circle that takes a lot of thinking and planning to organize every year. I’ve had SO many bad holiday experiences that were due to my bipolar. It’s frustrating to never get a holiday from this illness, but I have learned to plan ahead and make my holidays as stable as possible.  

Over 25 years ago, I decided to change my holiday experience and even today, I’m modifying what works and what doesn’t work for me during the holiday season. 

A Big Change: Buying and Giving Presents During the Holidays 

My first decision to change my holiday life made the biggest difference. I decided to stop giving presents to everyone in my life and asked that no one give me presents. I made it clear I would still buy presents for children, but in terms of my friends and family, I opted out. This is a bit more common now, but when I did this in the mid 90s, it was definitely different! My reasoning? I was spending money I didn’t have and receiving gifts I didn’t need. I remember sitting on a couch one year surrounded by presents that were nice and thoughtful, but did I need them? No. It was just too much. And I had spent weeks trolling the stores trying to find gifts for the people in my life. I spent more money than I wanted to and ended up buying stuff that no one needed. I found all of the buying stressful. 

When did buying an excessive amount of presents become a necessity for the holidays? That was my first question. Why should a person spend money on presents when the money is needed for personal survival?  Is it a present if it’s bought on credit? All of this went through my head and I just one day said, “No more.”

It changed everything. At first, I took my no present plan too far and felt left out during secret Santa and elephant gift exchange, so I modified my plan over the years. I now participate in small gift giving. Times are different now and not buying everyone a present is the norm. It wasn’t always like this!

When my nephew was born, I definitely had a great time buying him holiday gifts, but I kept it simple and he knew my plan. I explained that my attention would come from dinners together, movies and having fun all over our city, but it would not be expressed in extra presents. This helped my bipolar disorder greatly.

How to Stick to a Holiday Plan when Kids are Involved 

I just called my nephew David who is now 20 and asked what he remembered. “You were really open about it. You said that shopping was stressful for you and the bipolar and that I would get one present and everything else would be hanging out and having sushi. You said that presents felt like a big task. It didn’t bother me. We always did a lot of stuff together anyway.”

I then asked him about his friend group and how Gen Z handle the holidays. “Not everyone has money to buy presents for each person, so we just buy a few then have a big party at my house where there’s food and a lot of games and hanging out with each other. We keep the presents simple and if someone doesn’t have a present, my mom always has one ready. The party is the present.”

Interesting. I wonder if my plan actually helped David step away from the excessive gift giving that can cause stress if money or mood are a problem. Please note that I’m simply talking about my own holiday experience… you might be different.

But Julie! I like giving presents! I want to get presents! 

Please know that I’m NOT telling you to stop giving presents. Instead, I’m suggesting that you examine what makes you happy during the holidays and what drains you emotionally and financially. Then change what you can.  For myself, it is was presents and cooking holiday meals. It might be something different for you! I’m using myself as an example. What you decide to change depends on your circumstances.  I want to teach you a system that can be used in any situation to make the holidays more stable.  Here are three changes you can make to create more stable and joyful holidays. 

  1. Say no when you need to and create a script you can use when you say no.
  2. Say yes when it’s in your best interest. Focus on socializing instead of isolating. 
  3. Be ready for pushback and ask for support from those who understand your desire to be stable.  

1. Saying NO: Depending on your situation, you might have to get comfortable with saying no to people who ask a lot of you during the holidays. I have an example of this in Getting it Done When You’re Depressed. A person is asked to bring their ‘excellent food’ to the company party. It’s a lot of work and every year it creates frustration and a lack of joy during the party itself. In the example, the person anticipates being asked to bring food and has a script ready that kindly says NO. (A script in this case is a kind and firm response you create in anticipation of being asked to do something you don’t want to do.) Here is an example:  “We would just love it if you would bring the cookies for the holiday party this year! You’re such a good baker!”

And a scripted response…

“Thank you so much for complimenting my food. I’m glad people enjoy it. I’m not cooking this year, but I will definitely be at the party. I can bring drinks.” 

Getting it Done When You’re Depressed is a good place to start if you need strategies for making it through the holidays while you’re getting help for depression. 

I promise that it gets easier each time you say no without overly explaining your reason why unless you want to explain why!  You don’t own anyone an explanation. You can be kind about it, but you can also be firm. This is about your health. It’s not selfishness or unkindness to search for stability. 

What about going up against the ‘family tradition’ where you’re expected to do a lot during the holidays? How do you get out of these situations without making people angry? Well, sometimes you can’t do this without upsetting a few people, but over time, families understand. The goal is to explain that the reason you’re making the change is for your health and not due to any problems in the relationship.

Having a script ready for certain situations definitely helps:

Here are a few examples:

We know how much you love cooking. Your holiday dinners are legend! We would love to do dinner at your house this year!

Script: Oh, thanks so much for letting me know how much you like my food! I have had a lot of fun in the past making dinners for everyone. I decided to stop doing this as I want to just enjoy everyone’s company. I would love to meet you somewhere for dinner, so just let me know what works for you!

The goal is to say what you need without making it about the other person. Make it all about you and your needs in a way that is supportive and loving, but very, very firm.

Practice really does make a difference when it comes to saying no.

Here is another example:

We want to do an office party this year and need someone to coordinate the secret gift program. Can I put you down for this? You’re so good at organizing. 

Script: Thank you for thinking of me. I am not able to do this project this year. I would love to do something to help that doesn’t involve coordination. 

You might notice that I acknowledge the offer in a kind way and then say no without giving someone any wiggle room.

Saying no is so much easier now than in the past. You can learn to say no without causing stress to yourself or others.

 

Maybe it’s different for you and you actually need to say yes more! 

 

2. Saying YES: What about saying yes if you tend to say no too much and then end up lonely on the holidays?  This year, choose an event that you normally say no to and say yes this time. The only goal is saying yes and going. You can then relax when you get there as you have already made the change needed.  Nothing else has to happen except turning up. The less pressure you put on yourself to have a good time, the better.

Ask yourself,

  • “Do I really want to be alone this year?”
  • “Do I need to be with people?”
  • “What are my options? What can I set up now?”

Once you choose something, make a pact with yourself that you WILL SAY YES no matter what and then go to the event whether it is in person or online. That is the only goal. It will get easier each time you do this. Here are my articles on avoiding isolation. These strategies help at any time of the year, but are especially important during the holidays. 

The End of Bipolar Depression Isolation

Ending Bipolar Depression Isolation

It’s so important that we don’t let bipolar make our decisions for us. Think now of what you want. Think of where you want and need to be during the holidays that you celebrate. 

Life online means that you CAN be with others all over the world no matter what is happening in your life. 

And finally… make this year about transitioning into holidays that work for you…… 

 

3. Be ready for pushback: I remember when a few of my friends also decided to stop giving presets to everyone and instead toned it all down with just a few present exchanges or gifts for children. One friend told me her in law actually said, “Do you hate your family! Are you trying to punish us!?” 

This is the pushback that you might face. You’re smart enough to think about this ahead of time and figure out who might be the one who doesn’t want you to change. This is the person you talk to first and share why you’re making changes- it’s for your health. We don’t control the behavior of others, but we can plan ahead for potential push back. 

Ultimately, the holidays are about you and your bipolar stability. 

Is this helpful? Do you need to say no more or yes more? Are you thinking ahead of where you want to be on specific dates and who you want and need to be with?

You’re the one who experiences the holidays. You’re the one who needs to be stable to handle all of the stress and expectations during this time. My goal is to give you a few options that might work, but ultimately, I want you to think now of what you need in the next few weeks. This year it can be different. You can decide what you need and figure out what you want for your future holidays as well. 

I will be here during the holidays. Join me on my JulieFast Instagram page for support and love during the festive season. 

Julie 

 

Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Getting it Done When You’re Depressed and OMG! That’s Me! Vol. 2.

What to Do When Managing Bipolar Disorder Is Really, Really Hard

If I buy into the idea that bipolar disorder is easy to treat and one day I’m going to magically be better, I will be upset every time I get sick. I have to accept my bipolar reality.

 

What My Bipolar Reality Looks Like

I’ve had mood swings while sleeping.  I can tell that my eyes are closed and that I’m dreaming, but the symptoms of the day are still present even though my brain has supposedly gone into a different state. I’ve experienced panic attacks during a nap and have been so depressed I’ve rolled in a ball, promising the people around me that I would NOT hurt myself. This is my bipolar reality. I want to be honest about what I experience so that you will not have to feel alone if it happens to you as well.

We have a mental illness. This is our reality. It doesn’t matter what we call it. It doesn’t even matter if we deny we have it. The reality is our mood swings are there for all to see. I often experience depression, anxiety, mania, and psychosis in the same day. I hide as much as I can, and I know what to do for help, but reality is reality. My brain is not my friend.

You Are Not Alone in Your Struggles with Bipolar

You are not alone if you haven’t found a magic pill that takes away the mood swings. You are not alone if you struggle in school and work. You are not alone if bipolar profoundly affects your relationships. You can’t put lipstick on a piggy wiggy, and you can’t perfume dog poop. Sorry to be so crude. But bipolar is bipolar. It is a brain-based illness. Despite all of this, I am still an incredibly positive person, and I am hoping you can also find a way to love life, too, despite the pain caused by this illness.

Why am I being so honest? It is how I survive. If I buy in to the idea that this illness is easy to treat and that one day I’m going to magically be better, I will be upset every time I get sick. I’m a realist and it helps me move forward in life despite my mood swings.

When you look in the mirror and say to yourself, “Well, gosh darn it, I’ve got a genetic mental health disorder that affects my ability to manage my moods,” it clears the brain for getting help.

Denial, refusing to accept my limitations, thinking I will wake up one day and my brain will have righted itself and listening to people who say that mental illness is a sham or shameful take up valuable time and brain space that I need for my management plan.

I need strategies in place for staying alive when the life-threatening thoughts shows up simply because someone writes something rotten about one of my blogs. I need the space to put something in my brain that is going to help, from medications, if needed, to meditative time alone, and supportive friends. This can also include exercise and having fun. Managing this illness has to be my job or I will not be able to reach any of my goals.

People often ask if the illness gets worse as you get older. There is no evidence for this that I know of, but I can tell you from my experience that it gets harder to manage as your body changes and life gets more crowded. When you’re 20 and don’t have as many worries, the illness may be the same, but it will affect your life incredibly differently than when you are 40 and have kids and a mortgage.

Choosing My Perspective for Optimal Bipolar Treatment—and Living

My attitude is one of realistic positivity.

If I know what I’m up against, I can be ready for the mood swings when they inevitably appear. I’m going on year 22 of my diagnosis and year 37 since my first bipolar symptoms [at the time of writing]. I am ready for this illness.

I have to remain fascinated with my own brain. I have to remain vigilant and kind to myself when I get sick. This is an illness. It’s not emotional instability. It’s not a personal choice, and it’s not something created by my childhood. Bipolar disorder is genetic; it’s strong, and I have to be ready for what it throws at me, even if I’m sleeping.

I am up to the task and I know you can be as well.  When my bipolar disorder gets really bad and I feel I am too sick to function, I know that I am going to be ok. It’s an illness.

I am strong, and you are, too.

Julie

Originally published December 13, 2017 for Bp Magazine. 

Bipolar and Restless? You are not Alone.

Bipolar took everything from me before I was diagnosed. I left everyone and everything during my out of control mood swings.

I didn’t care that I hurt people… simply because I was too sick to think of other people!

When I was manic, I had no empathy.

When I was depressed, I was so focused on my own pain, I couldn’t think clearly.

Bipolar is not psychological. It’s chemical. You can’t talk yourself out of something you don’t recognize. You have to learn how to manage this illness.

When bipolar is in control, you WILL crave change. It will feel good to leave everything and everyone.

You will hurt others.

Ultimately, it hurts you the most.

Stay where you are and manage the bipolar.

Focus on stability and staying in one place while you learn to recognize and manage mood swings.

Your family, coworkers and especially your partner will thank you.

Learn from me.

Looking at your partner one day and saying, “I don’t love you any more. I’m going to China. I already bought the ticket,” is not healthy.

This was my last manic episode before I was finally diagnosed with bipolar in 1995 at age 31.

I still have bipolar restlessness, but I sit with it and work through it. Before I was diagnosed, I averaged three to four jobs a YEAR.

I have now been in the same career for 19 years. Miracles happen. 😎

Manage the bipolar. Ask for help. Read Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder. Tell the people in your life what to look for when you get restless. Let them anchor you to the stable world.

If you want help with bipolar restlessness, send me a DM and I will send you an article on the topic.

Julie

 

 

Bipolar Mood Swings are….

I’m often asked how we can tell the difference between bipolar disorder and the typical ups and downs of everyday life.

One of the best ways to figure this out is to remember that bipolar is unexpected.

It is not… and I must emphasize this…. bipolar is NOT a reaction that makes sense.

Bipolar behavior is off kilter. Too loud. Too quiet. Too weird. Too difficult. Too open. Too closed. It is excessive.

Bipolar mood swings don’t match the mood of the room. They don’t match the mood of the event that they are reacting to. They don’t match how regular people behave.

And for the majority of the time, the moods have NOTHING to do with anything. They are what I call free form moods!

Mania is all about energy so the manic mood swing is over the top in terms of body movements, brightness of the eyes, loudness of the voice, expansiveness of the body and lack of preparation for how our behaviors will affect ourselves and others.

Depression can be agitated or weepy, but it almost always has a negative view on any situation whether the situation itself be negative or positive. In other words depression clouds the situation instead of being a reaction to the situation.

The list of words on the graphic can help you determine if you or a loved one are having a mood swing or a regular response to every day life.

Bipolar is not normal behavior.

Bipolar behavior will stand out from the norm.

Yes, we do have a norm. And bipolar is not normal. Our stable selves are the norm.

Julie

If you’re new to my work, start with Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder and then Getting it Done When You’re Depressed.

Partners can start with Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder. This is a great book for family members and health care professionals as well.

My book of essays on life with bipolar,  OMG! That’s Me  Vol.2 is available on Amazon.

I have an article from Bp Magazine on the BoHope webpage called ’‘Does My Teenager Have Bipolar?’ that can help parents and health care professionals decipher typical teen behavior vs. the behavior of a teen with bipolar.

Julie 

Partner with Bipolar? Join Julie A. Fast on The Stable Bed on Facebook

Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner.  She runs a group for partners on Facebook called The Stable Bed. The post below is an example of posts on The Stable Bed. 

 

Hello dear reader! I am still on my self imposed break for a few weeks from daily social media and writing. This is an essential part of my bipolar management plan.
 
I don’t like it!
I feel ridiculous to need breaks just because something normal is happening in my life such as an upcoming move.
My goal on The Stable Bed is to show you how a partner with bipolar manages the illness and what you can do to help you partner.
One of the biggest mistakes we make as partners is expecting a person to be better than they actually are….
We need time after a big episode and we often need time in order to prevent an episode.
This is inconvenient and at first, quite upsetting for the relationship.
But once this is accepted- and once this idea is incorporated into a relationship, you will find some relief. The more your partner learns to manage bipolar, the easier it becomes to take this kind of break.
Nothing about bipolar is fair. Nothing about bipolar is reasonable. It is an illness. It’s not personal and it’s not psychological. As you learned in the Triggers chapter of Loving and Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, this illness lives in us and shows up when change is a part of life. SO…… considering that change is inevitable, those of us with bipolar must learn to manage change and manage the inevitable mood swings that come with big changes.
In 2020, we had covid. That was a big trigger for rapid cycling bipolar. My research showed that rapid cycling was more common than depression. I find that very interesting.
For some, not working was a huge relief and the bipolar got better. If this was the case for your partner, finding work/bipolar balance is essential. We don’t get to manipulate bipolar. We don’t mess with bipolar and then hope for a good outcome. It is an illness. We have to learn what bipolar does to our brains and make accommodations.
 
If you’re new to my work, welcome! Start with Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder for my basic management plan. There are many strategies for partners in the book. Then Loving Someone with Bipolar. This was the first book ever written for a partner and has sold over 400,000 copies. So, you are not alone in needing this book! Then, I suggest Getting It Done When You’re Depressed. It is an incredibly helpful book to memorize so that you can use the strategies when your partner has a down swing.
 
There are over two years of posts on this page. None of them are date specific. They will answer the majority of your questions. I would start from the bottom and read to the top! I suggest reading the comments section as well. I answer many partner questions that you might have yourself.
 
My break is due to a move from Oregon to Alabama here in the States. It is a good move, but disruptive to my bipolar. I had to process all of the change and get my bipolar in check. It is working so far, but it means I am not here as often. I do read all of your comments and it is my plan to be back to work in the next few days.
 
I know how to manage bipolar as well as anyone in the world. I am an expert… but bipolar could care less about my ‘expertise.’ It affects me the same as anyone. If I don’t respect my brain’s need for a break, I will get very sick. This is hard on me emotionally and very difficult financially, but it is what keeps me stable enough to do this work.
Welcome to our new members. I will have videos and workshops soon, but for now, I hope you will peruse this amazing page and find answers to your questions.
 
Julie
 
Here is an article from Bp Magazine that talks about healing time after a bipolar episode.
 
I highly recommend a subscription to Bp Magazine. It’s a wonderful resource.
Parent or caregiver? Please join me on The Stable Table on Facebook.
My work for those of us with bipolar is mainly on Instagram. I hope you will join me on my JulieFast Instagram page.
Health care professionals are welcome on The Stable Table and The Stable Bed.