This is another long post about bipolar so feel free to skip on by it if your aren’t interested!
Usually when people are diagnosed with an illness they want to know what they can do to help themselves. It was no different with me - after the initial shock I wanted to know what things I could do to minimize the hold of bipolar. Luckily I had a doctor who was all about treating people with more than just medications. Dr. Beck showed me many different things that I could do to minimize the effects of my illness. Sure, there will always be times when depression or mania push their way through my defences, but at least I could push back. Here is a list of my strategies, maybe they can work for you:
1. medication compliance
This is perhaps the most important one. It seems self evident, but there are times when it seems that they just aren't worth it (they are). The side effects of these medications vary from weight gain (who needs that!), brain fog, cogitative problems, tremors, dizziness, fatigue, high blood sugar, kidney damage... and the list goes on. Oh I almost forgot - fatal rash. And then there are the times when I'm pretty sure I don't have bipolar at all - I must have been misdiagnosed... ha. Then I remember back to a few times when I was really bad - the deep depression, the times when I couldn't sleep for days on end, instead spending my nights organizing, online shopping, and other activities. Yes, there is no doubt about it - I need to keep taking those meds!
Going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day, as well as getting enough sleep is VERY important. I have found that mismanaging this aspect of my life can tip me over into hypo-mania (which is almost always followed by some depressed days). I think one of the reasons that I have been so well since retiring is my ability to successfully manage this - I almost always get enough sleep. During my working days I'd go to bed by 7:30 (yes, you read that right) because I had to be up at 5am and that still wasn't enough sleep (I seem to do best with 10 hours). Then on the weekends if we were out with family or friends and I got to bed later than 7:30 (as if!) I'd run the risk of being messed up. Even being asleep by 9:30 was a 2 hour shift. People didn't always understand this and I felt stupid for leaving so early. Now that I'm not working I go to bed later because I get up later which means I can have a more normal social life!
3. omega 3's, vitamin b's & d's
Here's an easy one to do - studies have shown that omega3's, especially those from fish sources have a big effect on mental health (not to mention the heart heath benefits). Vitamin D as well as the Vitamin B's have been shown to be beneficial as well.
This is a toughie. But it is really important. Sometimes I don't do it though...
5. manage stress
This can be easier said than done. I try to keep my schedule simple with a lot of down time in between commitments. As soon as I start rushing around from one event to the next my mood spirals up and hypo-mania arrives. When I was first diagnosed I worked full time, bred parrots, and bred horses. Talk about rushing around. I had to rethink this. With the support of my doctor I reduced my work week to 4 days, I rehomed the parrots (keeping Grace of course), and then the horses. These were some of the hardest things I've ever had to do, and many tears were shed (and still do) - I was giving up some much loved animals, and my dreams. But despite that I know it was the best thing for me.
6. spend time in nature
This is easy for me because I have nature at my doorstep. I also know that it is very important for mental state. I combine time outside with exercise by going for a brisk walk in the morning and early evening. Going outside to feel the sun and wind, and to see the trees and stars helps me to feel connected to nature. If I am mindful (see next section) I feel a calming presence and feel connected to the earth. Some people get a similar benefit from gardening but as much as I love looking at beautiful gardens I just can't get interested in creating one.
7. meditation and mindfulness and noting the pleasures in life
Meditation helps to clear my mind. This is a good thing, especially when my mind is spinning out of control. Both depression and hypo-mania involve out of control, unhealthy thoughts so practicing mediating is good (even if some times I can't slow my thoughts at all).
Being mindful (to me), means living in the moment. Again, the brain can't run every which way if I am being mindful. When I am living in the moment the small things are noticed and appreciated. Simple things like the way the sun dapples through the leaves, the taste of a freshly cut pineapple, the cool feel of a spring rain. Noticing and even journaling these things reminds me that life is good. Living in the moment also means that I am not living in my head.
8. cognitive thinking
By being aware of my thoughts I can interrupt unhealthy thought patterns. We are a product of what we think - for the good or for worse. Practice self-affirmations and study cognitive thinking books. I have to be careful not to think myself into a depression!
Some other thing you can do: social attachments (keep in contact with friends, get out and see people, notice and connect with the people around you, including store clerks, the delivery man); good nutrition; avoid too much sugar (although a little treat of sugar can boost my depressed mood!)
I'll be the first to admit that all of these efforts don't always work (as evidenced by the last few weeks) to stop a mood swing, but I suspect that they do dampen the severity of it.
If you've made it this far it is a miracle cause I sure went on and on! But I just want to show people (maybe someone reading this is at the beginning of their journey to wellness) that there are things you can do to take (some) control of your destiny - don't just give up! If you want more information about managing mental health I highly recommend the book "Spontaneous Happiness" by Dr. Andrew Weil. It is a compendium of bits and pieces I have learnt over the years. I think it is a book that everyone, mental illness or not, can benefit from.
“One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon-instead of enjoying the roses blooming outside our windows today.” – Dale Carnegie