Sitting Small

Some rough days may be coming. Paula sits on her couch pulling a pillow to her chest. She makes a mental list:

My sleep hasnʼt been so great for about a week.

I just want to lay on the couch during the day.                                                                    Thinking in jeans

Iʼm not walking Charlie (her collie).

I felt super awkward at the potluck with friends and couldnʼt connect.

She feels worried and guilty about all that is not getting done and at the same time wants to watch old sit com reruns for about a year and forget everything. Oh man, it looks like itʼs time for some mood management skills. Looks like it’s time to sit small.

Paula has lived with bipolar disorder for a number of years. She recognizes that she is moving into a period of depressive symptoms. Paula does well most of the time, but stress, a new relationship, seasons and light changes- who knows maybe even the alignment of the stars- can throw her moods off balance. She has learned over time, and painfully, that these mood changes weave in and out of her life. She used to hope that she would simply one day be cured. She still hopes that deep inside.

In the meantime she has strategies. Paula has become a master of recognizing these changes and putting her sitting small mood management skills into action.


What is Sitting Small?

Sitting small for Paula is catching a significant shift in mood state (for Paula hypomania or depression) and putting a proactive plan in place to ride it out. It generally takes practice and mastery over time. It includes first and foremost, recognizing the signs and symptoms.

Weʼll use the analogy of a bad case of the flu. Not because it is an an accurate and comparable illness, but it is a simple example that most of us are familiar with. For instance, we might note to ourselves, “Iʼm not feeling so hot- I wonder if Iʼm coming down with something.”

There can be many aspects to sitting small. Weʼll look at four key areas.

Bubble of Time: our physical state demands our attention. The usual schedule is suspended

Soothing Environment: are there groceries in the house? Is the environment tidy?

Team on Call: a core person or group of people to lend support and maintain contact with.

Mind Practice: disciplines for directing the traffic of thoughts


Letʼs look at them one at a time…


Bubble of time

When Paula is experiencing depression she feels low energy and paralyzed. The smallest tasks can feel herculean. In this state, she experiences waves of worry and concern and becomes increasingly self critical about her inability to perform the most basic tasks.

The Bubble of Time is marking a boundary, much as most of us would if we woke up with a nasty case of the flu. I give myself permission (because I have little choice) to have the flu, and put all other concerns aside until I feel better. There is a shift in perspective to everything can wait. I donʼt have to make decisions, show up. I might even need some help. Depending how severely one is ill with the flu or depression the time frame might be one hour at a time or one day at a time. It is surrender to what is.

Soothing Environment

Soothing Environment is chicken soup for the soul. Is there food in the fridge? Is my bedroom warm and comfortable? Do I have some movies to watch?

One of the tricky parts with depression is riding the mood changes that color everything you do see and think. That can be a challenging pathway. As mentioned above there can be a desire to shut down, sleep it off. But often this is not advisable in the midst of symptoms. Too much sleep, too many naps can further distort nighttime sleep patterns. Paula knows from experience that if she gives in to the depression, she canʼt focus herself.

Paula knows she needs a rhythm of gentle activity, restful activity, contact with trusted others. She has her sitting small activities at the ready.

Her all time favorite is coloring books. She has beautiful books of mandalas and stained glass and tropical fish. She also loves music and will use her sitting small time to reorganize her music collection and to create unusual mixes of cds. Sitting small is when she repairs clothing and hems skirts. She has sets of dvdʼs of one hour episodes of shows she likes. She knows from experience to stay away from violence, intensity and sorrow in her viewing material.

Team on Call

Paula, through trial and error, has developed a team. Her tendency when she is depressed is to isolate, to gut it out alone. She now knows she needs a small core group to know that she is depressed, to stay in contact with her, and to support her. Initially her parents were the team. Mom would bring groceries and meals. Dad would schedule visits and bring his own sitting small books to read and quietly keep company.

Over time, Paula has been able to expand her circle of support. She has a friend who walks her dog, Charlie, when she is unable. A girlfriend makes short visits and brings nail polish to paint Paulaʼs toes. The people in Paulaʼs life have found simple quiet ways to be available and connect without overwhelming. Paula has become a master at saying what she needs.

Mind Practice

Mind can run wild when we are sick and this is especially true with mood disorders. Negative, self critical thoughts can overwhelm. There are fundamentally two aspects to Paulaʼs mind practice. She names the negative thoughts; “oh I am experiencing those awful thoughts that come when I am depressed.” Sometimes this countering voice is loud and clear,sometimes it is a whisper. Her other practice is to give herself permission to distract herself with the simple activities named above. She has learned to be patient with herself while she rides out the symptoms.



At this point we can almost see the pieces coming together. Paula has recognized her symptoms and most importantly has named that she needs to break out her mood management skills and sit small. She has set up her environment to support her. She has notified her team that she is sitting small. And she has a discipline to work with her mind as she rides these changes in mood and functioning.

For Paula, sitting small has given her a sense of knowing how to take care of herself, positive action she can take in the face of what is often a difficult storm to weather. Her sitting small practice helps her to move through and out of depression sooner and with more resiliency.

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