So. I’ve done posts on my past mental illness experiences, particularly my experiences with mania and depression. But how do I manage my bipolar disorder? For those who are struggling, here are some tips I’ve found for keeping stable.
Read. Read magazines, books, periodicals, everything. Read everything you can get your hands on. I’ve read several books and I have a quarterly subscription to BP Magazine. Having done that, here are some things I learned that have really stuck with me:
Bipolar people may have trouble keeping their circadian rhythm balanced. The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour clock that balances not only your sleep-wake cycle, but also other things like what time you, for example, eat your dinner. It’s helpful to keep the circadian rhythm as balanced as possible. I, for example, wake up and have a cup of coffee every morning at 8 AM, have dinner every night at 6 PM, and take my meds and go to bed every night at 9 PM. I struggle with that a lot, especially the “sleeping at 9” part, so I am by no means perfect, but I do try to do it whenever possible. I am trying to be better about it, I really am. Mentally ill people who go to bed earlier have even been found by research to have higher cognitive functioning.
To help with sleep, I have a whole bedtime ritual. Some hacks and tips: A cup of milk every night before bed. A sound maker, which plays soothing, repetitive sounds to help you sleep at night. Guided meditation and ASMR videos. After that, if you still can’t sleep, consider talking to your psychiatrist; insomnia can be a symptom of bipolar disorder and there are medications you can take to help prevent it. Lack of sleep can even cycle a person into a manic episode.
Bipolar people also can’t achieve what’s called resting state neural connectivity. This is the calm, zoned out state someone is in when, for example, they’re binge watching on Netflix. I have great trouble sitting still and doing nothing for too long, and if I am forced to, I can start to exhibit symptoms of clinical depression. I can’t even meditate properly. So I try to find creative ways around this. I listen to guided meditations, which give my brain something to focus on. I read a book instead of watching TV. When I do watch TV, it’s either in short spurts or in movies. I’m creative a lot. I’ve become an expert at finding something to do with every minute of my day, because that is the only way I keep happy and healthy.
At the same time, I wouldn’t recommend trying to take on too many major projects at once. Right now I’m trying to get through a book and do well in school, and that’s enough for me. I’m still trying to suppress the urge to tackle a million extra writing projects on top of that – I know that’s the quickest way to feeling overwhelmed and despairing.
I find little ways to relax and feel happy: a hot shower, a cup of soothing herbal tea, a guided meditation or an ASMR video, a standup comedy routine. Small things can make a person’s day a lot brighter.
One golden rule: stick to other people who know and are compassionate toward what you’re going through. Living with someone else can give you emotional support, and they can let you know and stop you from ruining yourself if you start acting bizarrely (it all just feels right to you at the time). If that doesn’t convince you, consider this: isolation is the biggest factor in any and all forms of heavy addiction, which bipolar people are particularly prone to.
I take my damn meds. Even when I don’t want to. I have an alarm to take them religiously at the same time every night, and you wouldn’t believe how much better I feel when I’m on them. At the same time, I didn’t just accept the first thing the psychiatrist handed me. It was an ongoing conversation between us, until we found a set of stabilizing medications whose effects we both could handle. (And by “effects” I do also mean “price.” There is almost always a cheaper option. If your psychiatrist insists on making you spend hundreds of dollars, it might be time to find a new psychiatrist.)
And finally, therapy. I hate to even recommend this, because I despise therapy. I despise it with every fibre of my utmost being. I am horrible at therapy, mainly because I don’t like talking about my feelings. But a couple of solid years of cognitive behavioral therapy, which focused less on “you’re sad because your Daddy didn’t love you enough” and more on “here are the techniques you need to become a functional human being again,” really did work wonders for my state and mental health.
Be honest. I’ve gotten into some trouble occasionally because of my upfront honesty, but in my experience people will really only know what you’re going through if you tell them. Bipolar disorder is a potentially fatal disease as well as a documented mental disability, and never let anyone shame you into keeping silent about it and not standing up for yourself. At the same time, don’t just blurt it out to everyone you meet – stigma is a real thing, so if you don’t feel they need to know, don’t tell them.
I hope this was helpful in some small way to anyone out there struggling with bipolar disorder. This is just me, giving my experiences to you.