That might sound a bit dramatic, but it’s true. This past winter, I was in the midst of a terrible depression. I was unmotivated. I couldn’t make myself do anything — no household chores, not visiting anyone, I could barely go to work. I had the most atrocious therapist at the time, but she did finally hear me as I tried to tell her how bad things were getting, and she put me into a group at the local mental health center.
I don’t recall the name of the group, but for all intents and purposes it was a DBT group, because it was based on the DBT idea of “building structure.” Building structure is the idea that, by putting tasks and events into your life, you can improve the quality of your life by things seeming less stressful, less depressing, and you isolate less.
With bipolar disorder (as with many other disorders), having a routine is important. As I have mentioned before, getting out of my routine or not having enough things lined up to do can really get me out of whack. The DBT-ish program at the mental health center was intended to do just that.
It started out very simply. Week one, you take a grid that you label the day at the top, and it goes from 12:00AM — 12:00AM. The first class, you simply write in the things that you did that day. As the classes progress, you begin to pick out goals and insert them into your schedule. For example, one of your goals might be to knit more often, so you would write “knit” at 3:00PM for the next day.
There was and is no punishment for not meeting your daily goals. Sometimes you have to cross things out and put them at another time or another day. The important thing is that you just keep working on inserting goals, events, appointments, and daily activities into your schedule.
I did not initially think this class was going to be helpful for me, but it turned out that it really was. I bought the cutest little (PINK!) day planner for $3 off Amazon, and I each night, I would write down my goals for the next day. As the next day went on, I would check things off that I had accomplished, or move things around, or even add things to the list that I hadn’t anticipated doing.
It became a routine for me. A part of my evening routine, writing and checking and reminding myself of things. It felt really good to check things off and it felt really good to write things down, knowing I had the ABILITY to get these things done, because I had done it before. When we are depressed, we question our ABILITY to do almost anything. With this system, you had already proven to yourself that you could.
As the class ended, I was back to feeling like the old Rosa. The happy Rosa. The goal-oriented Rosa. And I wasn’t missing any appointments, either, with the help of my planner, which is just another side-benefit of this exercise.
After DSB and I called it quits, the day-planner got moved here and there, and now it’s sitting in my desk. Having felt quite unproductive (with good reason) for the last six weeks, I think it’s time to pull it out and start the exercise again. Building structure isn’t just for people with mental health issues — it’s for everyone. Everyone can learn and make gains with this skill.
The planner is out of the drawer and so far I have written laundry, clean kitchen, blog, and have ice cream with Dad. What would you write down for tomorrow?