11 Ways I Found (Some Semblance of) Stability Living with Bipolar
After living with my bipolar diagnosis for over three and a half years now, one thing has become the focus, and at times, obsession of my life. Am I stable for the time being? Or is it okay to calm down a little bit and trust myself more? At the risk of sounding like I do not know what the hell I am talking about the next time I go through a major mood swing (not if, but when in all likelihood), I do finally feel a little confidence that I have set myself up to live somewhat stable and be prepared to ward off or limit the effects of any impending mood swings.
I want to justify why I feel okay writing about this even more or further delving into the overwhelming sense of impostor syndrome that seems to follow my brain around every step of self-improvement and confidence, I'm going to try to trust myself just a little and jump in (or get in the shallow end cautiously).
Here are the 11 ways in which I have found some stability living with bipolar. I did a video on this as well that is in the previous post. Also important to note, I did not take these steps in order, but wish that I had.
***Remember, this has worked for me, but does not mean it will work for everyone or everyone else. Everyone living with a severe mental illness has different starting points, capabilities and hurdles and their experience will be different!!
1. Get Help/ Medication
This is the imperative first step, one that I would argue that I didn't know that I actually needed. But, this is also where I stopped for two years. I continued to drink and gamble and exit family chats and make many other poor decisions. The last time my Dad pulled me out of a bar I was hammered and lost $1200. I still wasn’t doing well. This shit is hard.
But, the medication helped. I no longer constantly thought about a way out and I was drinking slightly less and less often. I was slightly more stable than without medication, but anything helped.
2. Accept Diagnosis, Share Diagnosis, Ask for Help.
I was really lucky in this respect in that I had a family that was as open to a diagnosis and getting help at that point in my life as I was. I will say this; try to get them to learn about it with you. Most of my (and my family's) pre-conceived notions about bipolar disorder were terrifying and completely wrong. The more that we collectively know, the more they are able to help me and the more I am able to put into words exactly what it is that can help me the most in that scenario.
Here is a great example of something I wish I had done sooner. I am only comfortable asking for help as of 6 months or so ago after my most recent bout with major depression. I understand why I wasn't, I wanted to be able to do everything myself and not be a burden. Turns out the opposite its true (see My Support Team & Asking for Help).
3. Educated Myself on all Things Bipolar and Myself!!!
Eventually, I started to find out as much as I could about bipolar disorder disorder and over time how it is that I react differently than others, but most importantly, how I reacted differently than how I wanted to. I found websites like the International Bipolar Foundation with plentiful information on bipolar disorder itself as well as a ton of personal stories of acceptance and growth living with bipolar.
The second part of education was and is learning as much about myself as I could. With medication and a changed outlook and goal in life (from pure survival to hopefully enjoying some of it), I needed to find out who I was, while changing the way I thought about and reacted to every single situation of life. This is exhausting at times, but unbelievably rewarding in that often times, even if my initial reaction is wrong, I am able to stop that thought process and adjust almost immediately.
4. STOPPED DRINKING /Significantly Reduced Caffeine
I should just scream this into a bull horn on the streets. Drinking with or without medication for me is like transforming myself in to a Roman god with a passion for debauchery OR opens the ninth layer of Dante's inferno and sucks me in like a black hole. Either way, it limits the effects of medication and made life impossible to figure out for me while adding nitro to the strength of my seemingly endless mood swings.
It turns out not being hungover constantly and actually getting sleep also helps with needed less, alas the need to dramatically trim down another love of my life: Caffeine. Weird how one is a depressant, the other a stimulant and neither are good for someone with bipolar. I miss you both.
Walking is a great place to start, get outside get some air and start to change your thinking a little. The science of this is undeniable. For me though, the only thing I have found, outside of blacking out, that can actually free my mind is at least 15-20 of moderate cardio, at least to the point where getting through and breathing is the only thing I can focus on. This can be a little dangerous if I get too obsessed with it, but I have recently found a happy medium of needing to do it 3 times a week, but not pushing it past 5. A good little walk the other two days helps so much.
6. Grew my Support Team
I slowly grew to trust people in my life who asked questions and didn't assume they knew more about my diagnosis or my life experiences than I did. I found people who have been through similar life problems themselves. My best friends in the world all have not so minimal baggage but have also transformed themselves into wonderful people... and quite successful I might add!
I also eliminated those who surrounded me with negativity. Instead surrounded myself with peopled family members who support me matter what, ask questions about my disorder and how they can help, but also hold me accountable.
7. Find a Therapist who Specializes in Bipolar Disorder.
I wish this wasn't so hard. I see a therapist 90 minutes away because she is the closest professional counsel with that specialty. And my previous therapist googled my questions. Ma'am, I have a computer thank you. I cannot express enough how much my current counselor has helped me. I wouldn't feel confident enough to write this without her, that is for sure.
This is overly broad, but at the same time it is not. My overall routine (these 11 things essentially) is what keeps me within the broad lines that I consider stability. For instance, it is essential for me to keep some aspects of my routine going no matter what else is happening around me
I run on vacation, eat healthy after a long day at work, take time off before and after very stressful or emotional events and holidays in order to rest and recover. Anything that I can do on a daily basis that is good for me and my brain is essential.
9. Sleep/ Relax -
I get 8 hours of sleep a night... no more, no less. Okay, not everyday, but as close to it if possible. This might seem extreme, but this is one of the most important parts of this entire post. And if I don't get enough, I take so much extra caution that day to monitor for any symptoms or any differences in how I feel. I usually take a nap. My brain tells me what I need if I listen. This is extremely hard when hypomanic or trending that way, but this is when it is the most essential. Same on the other side, when I am depressed I could probably sleep 16 hours or so a day no problem. It's all about finding the sweet spot and 8 hours is that for me. Of course, this is easier said than done when it comes to work...
I bartend for a living. It works for now, is less stress than selling cars, most often pays my bills and provides the flexibility I need to see my family and exercise. Other than not having a consistent income, (which is the single most stressful thing for me in life the last 20 years and still it), bartending does allow me to live a fulfilling life, it takes a lot of time just to be stable.
Obviously I am trying to take this a step further and someday would like to work in a setting where my lifelong condition is truly cared about and considered, but, I want to work for myself
11. Eat Healthy
This really rounds it out for me and gives me that last part of my routine. I eat the same salad 3-4 days a week… Why? Because it’s fucking routine and it's good for me! Also, eating extremely healthy with low sugars and more protein/ healthy fats reduces the overall pain and discomfort that I feel every day regardless. It also helps my stomach issues that have plagued me my whole life most likely from stress and drinking. Basically, when my body/ stomach don't hurt, I feel better mentally as well, I am able to move more and am stressed out less. Remember, the more complete and whole transition the better, every single thing I do to my body and mind has an outsized effect on how I will feel afterwards.
In sum, all of these elements have built my confidence and what I refer to as my foundation. If it were a graph, it would look like the stock market over the last 100 years. There are some major rises and some shocking lows… still, but the floor has been raised through consistency, sacrifice, resiliency and educating myself as much as possible about my disorder and how I can live successfully with it.
As always, thank you so much for reading and please share if you think someone else might enjoy or learn a little something!! Also, follow me on IG @benefits_of_bipolar and look up me up on YouTube as well.