Anyone who lives with bipolar disorder knows life is filled with unexpected ups and downs. After I was diagnosed with bipolar 2, it took me some time to figure out what my triggers are and what I need to do to stay well. The more I have learned about the illness and myself, the easier it is to manage day-to-day. Everyone is different, but these are some things I have found helpful.
1. Know My Limits I used to try to do everything and please everyone, but I shortchanged myself by not addressing my needs. I had to learn when to say “no,” even if it causes disappointment. I finally realized nothing is worth compromising my health and sanity for. I only turn into a person nobody wants to be around.
2. Keep Alcohol Consumption to a Minimum When I was depressed, I couldn’t wait to have a glass of wine or three at the end of a hard day to escape my mind. I paid a big price for those moments of “peace” because the next day was usually filled with feelings of hopelessness, sadness and lots of tears.
3. Bite My Tongue Anger and agitation are common during my mood swings. It doesn’t take much to set me off. I never thought twice about saying what I thought. However, saying what you think when you’re in an irrational state of mind usually leaves behind a trail of hurt feelings because everything seems worse than it is. I’m not perfect, but I have tried to tone down my temper and wait until I cool off to talk about anything that’s bugging me.
4. Food Is Not My Friend I never considered myself an emotional eater, but during my last period of depression, I gained weight. That’s when I realized I was eating my feelings in chocolate, ice cream and cheese. I guess I did that all of my life, but my metabolism no longer supports this coping mechanism. Now I am left with pants that don’t fit and lower self-esteem, so I am currently working on improving my habits.
5. I Need to Move One of the most annoying things to hear when I’m depressed is how great exercise is. When I can barely get off of the couch and I have the energy of a sloth, do you think I’m going to find it in me to sweat it out at the gym? Once I got on the proper medication to pull me out of my depression, I joined a Pilates class. And, yes, it does make me feel good, but the medication is what gave me the ability to walk in the door. Exercise is tremendously helpful, but is not a cure, at least for me.
6. Don’t Sit for Too Long I struggle with afternoon fatigue. If I get too comfy on the couch during my son’s naptime, I fall asleep. When I sleep during the day, I can’t sleep at night, which only leads to trouble. I now try to save the couch for nighttime relaxing and tackle something on my to-do list during the day; even if it’s something simple like folding the laundry or weeding the garden. When I accomplish something, I feel much better and less overwhelmed.
7. Remember I’m Not a Failure I had dreams of being a high-powered marketing executive, making a six-figure salary. I had visions of living a glamorous lifestyle. It didn’t take me long to learn that stress is a major trigger for bipolar disorder. Guess what? That high-powered life I thought I wanted is exactly the opposite of what I need to stay healthy. Instead, I rewrote my vision of success. I am a stay-at-home mom and a marketing consultant. I am able to make my own hours and be my own boss, which allows me to work around any bad days that arise. I’m healthy and my family is happy, so that’s my new definition of success. Money and power don’t equal happiness.
8. Think Before I Act When I start to get a flood of ideas in my head or feel like signing up for classes or volunteer work, I take a step back and give myself time to think. If I still want to do it a week later, then it’s OK; I just try to avoid impulsive decisions. I once joined a kickball team during a hypomanic phase; I hate sports! Although my intentions are good, I know I can’t overextend myself or I will get stressed.