Advocacy and education seem to go hand in hand. When it comes to Bipolar Disorder, I feel that a part of advocating is to educate people on ways to cope with living with the disorder. So I went ahead and came up with a list of essential things to help live with Bipolar and not against it. And, yeah, some of these things I’m still learning myself.
Try to bring yourself to the present moment. Take a mental note of your surroundings. Look at your current situation. Look at whom you are with. Listen to what you are conversing about. Think about how it makes you feel. Take note of any potential triggers in your situation. Doing this helps with your personal awareness and allows you to gain knowledge of your own patterns.
Education is Key
Learn everything you can about your disorder. All mood disorders have distinct qualifiers and variances. Read about the types of Bipolar. Learn about triggers, mood swings, mania, depression, and what a mixed episode is. Go online or to the library. You can even ask your psychiatrist for recommended literature. The more you know, the more confident you will be and the better you can manage your disorder.
Don’t F**** with Meds
As frustrating as it can be, it is so very important to be consistent with your medication. Often, finding the correct med and the correct dosage can be trial and error, but you have to trust your psychiatrist and communicate with him or her about how you feel on the medication. Also, the number one reason we tend to stop taking our meds is because we “feel better”. I know. I’ve done it. Many times. This is NOT a reason to come off of them!
Routine and Structure
Establishing a routine and finding structure help to maintain stability. This means go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Most of us know BP and insomnia go hand in hand, so committing to a set schedule can really help control that. The same goes for taking meds at the same times each day to stay regulated. It is also recommended to eat your meals, exercise, and do leisure activities all in a set routine. Personally, I eat when I’m hungry and exercise when I feel like it, but hey, that’s why this is all a process, right?
Build Your Support System
This includes your family and friends, your significant other, your therapist, your psychiatrist, and anyone who you feel you can depend on. These should be supportive and caring people who understand your disorder at least enough to be able to contribute to your life in a positive way. Other forms of support are peer support groups, such as DBSA (www.dbsalliance.org) or online support groups such as Bipolar Disorder Connect (www.bipolardisorderconnect.com) and other groups found through Facebook.
I cannot stress it enough- learn to recognize your triggers. How do you do this? It starts with self-acceptance and accepting the fact that you have Bipolar Disorder. If you’re anything like me, it was (is?) difficult to accept this and acknowledge that it will never actually go away. Once you do cut yourself some slack and allow yourself to claim your diagnosis, you will need to start paying close attention to your mood swings. It helps to have someone observe your moods with you. Pay attention to seasonal changes. I know that I definitely trigger from weather changes and often the seasonal switch puts me right into an episode. Watch all environmental stimuli, such as loud noises, social settings, traffic, and anything that may be out of your normal routine. A big trigger for those with mood disorders is toxic people. I’m not saying to cut off your loved ones, but you need to recognize how others in your life may be affecting your mental health. Learning some coping techniques may be a good idea if there are triggers you may not be able to remove completely. Another factor to pay attention to is your consumption of alcohol or drugs. It is not recommended to use substances because they will affect your brain’s chemicals, as well as any medications you have been prescribed. If you do have a drink, observe how it affects your mood, not just while you are drinking, but for the next few days as well.
Establish Coping Methods
It is important to keep a Bipolar brain healthy. It is also important to establish your own personal methods of coping in order to maintain mood swings and episode triggers. Take your medication as directed by your doctor, maybe consider talking to a therapist, journaling and writing are often helpful, prayer and meditation, artistic endeavors like photography or painting are great options, and of course, exercise is so good for you mentally and physically. During your management, some important elements to practice are goal-setting, positive self-talk and affirmations, practicing good hygiene and self-care, and utilizing your support system and groups.
Have an Emergency Plan
Be prepared in case you do enter into either a depressed or a manic episode. If you are anything like me, you have spun into some epic manias and you know how intense and out of control it can become. Have your psychiatrist’s number on hand, know the names and dosages of all of your medications, have a hospital picked out in case you need to be admitted, and keep open communication with your support system.