According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance website, there are nearly 6 million people in the United States diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And to those with the diagnosis, it can seem like a tremendously heavy burden to bear. Bipolar disorder isn’t something that can be cured. It doesn’t go away. It is a long-term condition that must be dealt with throughout a person’s entire life.
That being said, a bipolar diagnosis doesn’t have to mean the end of life as you know it. It is something that can be managed, and people can absolutely live healthy, productive, successful lives while also living with bipolar.
The worst part about bipolar living, for me, is the way I “tense up” when I’m worried that a bout of depression or mania is about to latch onto me. I think of all the times I’ve gone through the dramatic swings of mood and energy in the past, and I panic. But just as those of us with bipolar disorder learn that there are specific ways to keep our condition in check, we must also realize that a great deal of its management involves having foresight. Basically, there are ways you can tell when an episode of depression or mania is coming your way, and there are ways to prevent it from reaching its full strength. Although it may seem like the terrible ups and downs come out of nowhere, there are warning signs. And when those show up, rest assured you can prevent your symptoms from worsening.
You have more control than you think!
1. Make the most of your treatment
In addition to therapy, medication is part of almost every treatment plan for people with bipolar disorder. Mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, anxiolytics, lithium, and even anticonvulsants are among the medications sometimes prescribed. People with bipolar may take just one or a combination of a few. But even simply reading the names of these meds might seem scary to people; it can be confusing and overwhelming and overall just a lot to process. This often leads to med noncompliance, where people don’t take their pills as they should. Further factors leading to this include resenting having to take the medication and discontinuing the medication upon cessation of symptoms. It’s important to be honest with your treatment team if you’re struggling to take your pills the way you should. Your psychiatrist can’t help you if he or she isn’t aware of your concerns and doesn’t know the full extent of what’s happening. Similarly, your therapist can’t utilize the appropriate tools in his or her therapy toolbox if you aren’t truthful and upfront.
2. Do the things that are proven to help
If you don’t know already, there are quite a few things that help to tame what can be a wild and debilitating disorder. Proper sleep hygiene is a big one. As you know, bipolar disorder is all about cycles, as seen in dramatic fluctuations between the ups and the downs, the high energy and the low energy, the mania and the depression. The sleep-wake cycle plays a big role in the other cycles taking place in the bipolar mind and body. It’s important to get to bed at a regular time each night and wake at roughly the same time daily. Routines are of equal importance; bipolar life is chaotic enough, so having a structured routine is immensely helpful and allows for some sense of control. My therapist has also recommended getting an adequate amount of sunlight each day since it helps my circadian rhythm. This 24-hour cycle of living beings tends to be disrupted in people with bipolar disorder. Sunlight has the most power in regard to regulating it, signaling to us the difference between daytime and nighttime.
3. Take care of your physical health
Our mental health is heavily related to our physical health and it isn’t hard to imagine why. Basic things like eating healthy and drinking water can do wonders for your body and mind in the face of a struggle (or a struggle you feel is coming). Even slight dehydration can impair brain function, not to mention that your brain needs certain nutrients to function properly. So basically, when your body feels good, your mind has a better chance of feeling good. Physical activity goes along with fueling yourself. The endorphins (brain chemicals that boost happiness) released while exercising can fight depression and give you the confidence necessary to tackle the difficult times that you fear are heading your way. Caring for your physical health also helps manage your weight. Bipolar episodes are often accompanied by changes in weight, and for some people, those changes feed into exacerbated depression. It’s best to stay on top of the, issue before it begins to affect you in this way.
4. Understand and utilize the power of your mind
We’ve all heard it before: the mind is a powerful thing. So why not harness its power? Meditation, or clearing your mind and being fully conscious of what you feel in the present moment, is empowering for many of us with bipolar disorder. It provides moments of calm in the midst of a fast-paced and tumultuous life. If meditating isn’t for you, just making time to take deep breaths is helpful. Inhaling and exhaling slowly and steadily alleviates the symptoms of anxiety that often coexist with bipolar. It slows a racing heart and promotes self-awareness that we all need to have. Additionally, it’s helpful to remember that by simply breathing, we possess the capacity to help ourselves in stressful situations.
5. Do what makes you happy (engage in self-care)
Self-care seems to be a trendy undertaking these days, with tons of us getting involved in it and posting how it benefited us on social media. Instagram is full of self-care hashtags on posts with fancy face masks, lit scented candles, beautiful bubble baths, and aesthetically pleasing lavender-infused relaxation. And having moments such as those is never a bad thing. But self-care involves a great deal more than Instagram-worthy photos. Sometimes caring for yourself involves putting some clothes away and doing minor cleaning. Clear your space to clear your head! Or maybe your self-care is taking a nap when you need one, not denying your tired body and mind what it needs. For me, the few minutes in the morning where I sit and sip my coffee is the best part of my day. So I allow myself that time and count it as self-care.I also use apps on my phone to keep track of my mental health, like the ones here.
6. Stay away from alcohol
Alcoholic drinks are known to worsen bipolar symptoms, making the risk of depression greater and making mania more severe. Furthermore, alcohol and psychotropic medications (the ones that alter the way your brain functions) definitely do not mix well together. It’s always good to steer clear of excessive alcohol, especially when you feel like an episode is approaching.
7. Reach out for support
If you’re concerned about your mental health, it is incredibly important to tell the truth about how you’re doing to those you can lean on. There’s no shame in needing extra assistance. It’s just part of bipolar life, and life for those without mental health issues. I’ve gotten particularly good at asking for what I need, whether it be a pep talk, a giant hug, or even just some extra care and attention. Sometimes I just need to complain, and that’s okay too! It is so helpful to have people on my side. And even when I feel alone, even when I’m isolating myself, it doesn’t change the fact that there are plenty of people who love me. We have to remember that we are never as alone as we think we are and that there’s no use suffering in silence.
8. Be honest with yourself
Finally, when things are tough, we have to be real about what’s happening. It is of no help to hide what you feel or how you’re acting or what your moods are. You can’t work to fix something if you are in denial about what that something is.
For more information, check out this article.
(n.d.). Bipolar Disorder Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.dbsalliance.org/education/bipolar-disorder/bipolar-disorder-statistics/