Now, this is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down, and I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there… 😺
In 2017, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. It was a punch to the gut, but it was not a shock. I have always felt as if the way that I reacted and thought were different than the people around me. I was a capricious child, a terrible teen, and my early twenties were fraught with bad decisions. I sojourned through mess after mess, but I never sought help. I blamed everyone around me. It took an unquestionable breakdown, at age 34, to take me to my first psychiatrist and then a second. The second helped me get medicated and leveled out for the first time in my life. She then introduced me to my biweekly therapist. I’m forever grateful for both. Some days are more difficult than others, but right now, I’m doing okay.
That was the shortest version of my story, but I didn’t think it was fair to share tips on living with bipolar without first sharing that I do have bipolar disorder. Now, onto the fun:
My daily routine is essential. I’m not a morning person, and I need an activity that stirs action, and coffee isn’t enough. Altogether I need at least six things to accomplish every day, or I feel like I’ve failed somehow. Perform six tasks a day is a technique called the Ivy Lee Method. My therapist told me about it, and I expanded my knowledge of it at James Clear’s website. He’s the author of Atomic Habits, another good read when you have the time. I’ve taken this method and combined it with a daily journal that tracks my productivity.
You can find the book at B&N for about $7 or go directly to the source at Picadilly Inc. I’ve included a page so you can see what it looks like inside. It is a sizeable journal with plenty of room to write. It is excellent to help you focus both at the beginning and end of your day.
In addition to the journal, I keep a calendar that I use for more than just dates and appointments. I write down the facts of my day, which could be that I ate lunch and had a soda, or I felt down for seemingly no reason. It is so so so important to recognize the warning signs of a manic or depressive episode. I use both books to inform me of what I am dealing with that day. It helps me, and I hope it will help you.
Below are lists of triggers and signs, you can use when tracking your day. If you’re writing some of these down, you should consider talking to your therapist about how you can adjust your emotional trajectory.
Let me admit that I struggle with this one despite its importance to my life. I can come up with some of the worst excuses not to exercise, and I’ll wistfully accept them. I know that this is important to my physical and mental health. So I won’t preach at you. I’ll suggest that you try walking.
Walking is a great way to stay healthy, but you need to do it several times a week to feel the effects. It is also a great time to process thoughts or listen to an audiobook or podcast. I can clear my mind a bit while walking, but it has to be at a brisk pace. If I walk too slow, my brain seems to work on overdrive, and I’m bombarded with all the things I should be doing instead of walking. If I walk at a lively pace, it is like my mind has to focus on the exercise more, and I get to leave some of the worries behind. It is a nice feeling.
I also use the app MapMyWalk to keep track of where I’m walking. I think it is fun to see how far I can walk in my neighborhood or on a new adventure at the beach or some local trail. For someone competitive with myself and others, it is good to see how far I can go if I push. The picture to the left is one of the last few times I walked and pushed. I don’t walk fast, but I did walk far that day. I’m proud of it, and I can only get better. The app offers more than just tracking. You can find support and motivation from other runners, plus you can create challenges for you and your friends. I’m still a little shy with my numbers, so I only share with my sister who runs circles around me, but I think it might be fun to be part of a walking group. Maybe it is something I’ll add to my to-do list.
Sleep is essential and yet, sometimes elusive. I’m also not very good at this. I’ve tried a few medications, but the side effects always left me questioning my choices. I think the best way to fall asleep at night is to wear yourself out. You need to be tired. Your body knows it is time to go into repair mode if you’ve worked hard and exhausted your resources. I sleep best this way. If your mind is racing, refocus. I like to read a book or in-depth articles to keep my mind from the issues that plague me. I know this advice will not work with everyone, but maybe someone. Try hard every day. Hustle.
This is one is hard for me. I’m an isolation ninja. I will isolate quickly and quietly, but I have to remember that this behavior isn’t helpful.
Is this helpful is my therapist’s favorite question.
Remember that support starts with you. You have to decide who you’ll let in. It is important to have people to count on and help you through tough times. Regular contact with supportive friends and family members is curative. It is not a sign of weakness. When I’m isolating, I start setting alarms, several, to contact someone and have a genuine conversation or even better ask them to meet you outside your home. If you’re making lists of daily activities, don’t forget human contact.
Sometimes advice is just a few words. So, here are a few quick tips that are meant for me, but will hopefully help you too.
Remember that everyone is different. Some of this advice may work for you; some may not. The important part is that you keep trying. You’re worth it.