Have you ever heard a person with bipolar disorder describe their life?
“Which of my feelings are real? Which of the me's is me? The wild, impulsive, chaotic, energetic, and crazy one? Or the shy, withdrawn, desperate, suicidal, doomed, and tired one? Probably a bit of both, hopefully, much that is neither.”
In this quote, Kay Redfield Jamison, American clinical psychologist, and the author of An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, closely describes how a person struggling with bipolar disorder feels. Kay got diagnosed with bipolar during her early adulthood.
Double the trouble
Bipolar disorder is a mental health issue; you will often come across the terms “manic-depressive illness” or “manic depression” that describe the same diagnosis.
People with bipolar disorder, just like Kay, go through sudden, severe mood changes. One moment, they feel energized, incredibly happy, confident and “up.” They might even be physically fast or agitated. Such a state is what we call a manic episode. Following the elevated moods and extreme emotions comes a “low” state of sadness, desperation, guilt, feelings of worthlessness, emptiness, depleted energy, and sometimes suicidal tendencies. A so-called depressive episode. (1)
Two complete opposites are coming together to form a picture of a bipolar personality. Concealed within one's mind and shifted more often than anyone can handle, such mood changes accompanied by many other symptoms severely affect life balance. Individuals who don’t receive proper treatment often lose their jobs, fall out of school or fail to maintain romantic relationships.
If we are well aware of all of this, the question is, what do we do about it?
The first thing to do is, of course, provide necessary health care. However, when a person dealing with bipolar disorder gets medication and therapy, there is still a lot that can be done for the improvement of their overall well-being. Regular and relevant self-care is by far the most critical factor in that improvement.
How to take care of yourself when you are dealing with bipolar disorder?
Here are some essential self-care tips that can improve your life with bipolar disorder tremendously:
Establish and stay on track with your daily routine
When you are dealing with bipolar disorder, the key is to prevent future episodes, notice early signs and stop them from developing into full-blown incidents. Keeping a regular schedule of getting up in the morning, brushing your teeth, showering, getting dressed, taking medication, doing your Intention Inspired session, eating, exercising, going to work, doing your chores, socializing can take you a long way.
It might sound too simple at first, but it is effective. The stable routine usually equals stable environment and therefore more stable moods. (2)
That's why we create our Intention-Certified® Courses. They help you establish new habits by giving your day Intentional focus on achieving your goals. This helps you approach life proactively with you at the steering wheel instead of reactively as a scared passenger in the back seat of life. It's proven that it takes at least 21 days for something to become a habit. That's why most of our courses are 30 days. They not only get you to the good new habits, they firmly place you in them for awhile.
Being responsible when it comes to your medication and therapy is the wisest choice you can make. Don’t skip or change your dose without consulting your doctor. When medication is taken irregularly, it can cause a relapse, withdrawal symptoms or both.
Be involved in your treatment. If you think your medication is ineffective or the side effects are too severe, talk to your psychiatrist about changing it. There are alternatives, and they might be able to provide you with a better treatment.
Set an alarm that will remind you to take your meds every day at the same time.
Ensure good night’s sleep
Both sleep deprivation and too much sleep can trigger mood episodes. (3) To avoid this, adults should make sure they get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
Practice good sleep hygiene. Use your bed exclusively for sleeping and sex. Keep the room dark and fresh at night. Relax before going to bed and avoid caffeine, alcohol and screen time.
Have a healthy diet
The food affects your mood. If you want to keep it at optimal mood levels, you should eat plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, while limiting the fat and sugar intake. Make sure to space your meals out through the day and follow the schedule. Your blood sugar level shouldn't dip too low.
Eating a lot of carbohydrates can cause mood crashes, which means you would be better off without them. Caffeine, chocolate, and processed foods also fall into this category. (4)
However, make sure to get enough Omega-3 fatty acids. They may decrease mood shifts. Eat a lot of cold-water fish (salmon, sardines, and halibut), soybeans, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts and canola oil. You can also go for Omega-3 supplements if you like.
Stay away from alcohol and drugs
Stimulants such as ecstasy, cocaine, and amphetamines can trigger mania. On the other hand, depressants such as alcohol and different tranquilizers can easily trigger depression. Substance use will interfere with your sleep, and at the same time, it might cause dangerous interactions with your prescribed medications. (5)
Moderate social drinking is also NOT advised because it can upset your emotional balance.
Build a strong support system
Even when you are not having any severe symptoms, bipolar disorder is a burden. Having people to talk to face-to-face can be extremely beneficial for you. It could relieve your depression or boost your motivation. A few good listeners are all you need. However, the larger the support system, the more likely you’ll manage your mood.
Even when you feel like it, make sure you don’t isolate. It’s important to have people you can count on. Loneliness, social withdrawal, and isolation can often trigger depression. Regular contact with supportive family members and friends can be therapeutic.
However, your closest friends and family might not be enough. Many people dealing with bipolar disorder choose to talk to people who had been in their shoes. Consider joining a bipolar disorder support group. You can benefit from the advice and shared experiences of the group members. At the same time, you are likely to get a greater understanding of the specific challenges you are facing.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to build new relationships. Take a class, volunteer, and attend events in your community. Don’t stop having fun because you have a bipolar disorder. The disorder you have doesn’t define who you are. You are a whole, loveable person no matter what you are struggling with.
Mindfulness could help you reduce the stress, prevent your “extreme mood” episodes or to deal with them once they start. Through practicing mindfulness, you will develop an ability to stay in the present moment, observe yourself and your surroundings, notice your feelings and moods. Once you connect to your physical and mental reality of the present moment, you will be able to acknowledge what is happening, without judging yourself or characterizing your experience as good or bad.
Create an emergency action plan
No matter how much time and effort you invest in your self-care, the relapse with severe manic or depressive symptoms might still occur. Fortunately, you can think ahead and take control over these situations by creating an emergency action plan. Even though your loved ones or doctors may have to take charge of your care in such circumstances, you can preserve a certain level of responsibility for your health and treatment.
When making a plan of action, these are the things you should do:
- Make a list of emergency contacts – include telephone numbers of your closest family members, therapist, and doctor;
- Make a list of all medications you are taking – including your schedule and dosage information;
- Define the symptoms that indicate you need other people to take responsibility for your care – include information about any health problems you might have, other than bipolar disorder;
- Write down your treatment preferences – who would you like to take care of you, what medications and treatments do and do not work, the name of the person authorized to make decisions on your behalf and so on.
Once you implement all of these self-care measures into your life, living with bipolar disorder will become more simple. However, you should be aware that even if you do everything right, a relapse might happen at some point.
Keep in mind that this is not the end of the world. You lived through it once, and you will get out of it once again. You are strong enough to deal with this. However, don’t hesitate to share the burden, seek help and support when you need it, that's the best way to stay well and safe.