Small things help. When Sir Clive Woodward was asked how England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 he said “Winning… was not about doing one thing 100% better, but about doing 100 things 1% better”.
Making small changes can really help improve your quality of life as a bipolar sufferer. The cullmative effect of developing a few good habits can help you manage your disorder better and create a more balanced life. Whether you’re just beginning to realise that you have a problem or you’ve been diagnosed for many years, these tips could help you feel just a little bit better everyday.
Some of these ideas will make a lot of sense to you. Some of them you will be doing already. Some will not suit you at all. Start with one or two of these tips that seem achievable, but try to avoid doing it all too quickly as it could trigger an episode.
In a few months hopefully you’ll be doing a number of things 1% better.
N.B. This is a collection of tips gleaned from my own experiences and research. It is not exhaustive or in anyway scientific. You should always consult your doctor regarding your bipolar disorder.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar Disorder is a physical disease where one experiences low and high moods. It used to be called manic depression, which is a good title because the disorder is a mixture of mania and depression.
Depression can have the following symptoms:
• Low mood
• Intense sadness
• Lack of motivation
• Low self worth
• Low energy
• Physical pain
Mania can have the following symptoms:
• Lots of energy
• Rapid speech
• Racing thoughts
• Grandiose ideas
• Self confidence
• Dangerous behaviour
• Starting over-ambitious projects
A sufferer can also have rapid cycling – cycling through your mania and depression rapidly. This can happen several times a year through to several times a day.
The most dangerous type of Bipolar disorder is the mixed state. It has a very high risk of suicide. Sufferers have the energy and racing thoughts associated with mania alongside the feelings of worthlessness which come with depression.
Sufferers may have periods of feeling fine in between these episodes or it may be a continual cycle.
Go to School
1 Take an online bipolar test.
2 Learn from other people’s experiences.
3 Learn from the experts.
4 Look at websites that offer advice and revisit them from time to time.
5 Get familiar with the symptoms of depression.
6 Get familiar with the symptoms of mania.
7 Get familiar with the symptoms of rapid cycling.
8 Get familiar with the symptoms of the mixed state.
9 Get familiar with what it is like to be fine.
10 Understand that this disorder can make you feel things that are not real.
11 Learn the language of the disorder.
12 Observe your moods.
13 Record your moods using tracking software, chart or a diary.
14 Identify what feelings are genuine and which are symptoms.
15 Learn your cycles.
16 Get somebody else to give you feedback on your moods.
17 Work out what keeps you calm.
18 Work out what your stressors and triggers are.
19 Work out what causes you stress – these factors will be unique to you, don’t worry if they seem petty or weird – you don’t have to tell anybody.
20 Avoid stress as much as you can.
21 Work out what your triggers for going manic are and avoid them.
22 Be aware that your triggers and stressors can change.
23 Allow yourself time to react to things, especially big life events.
24 Avoid stimulants. Smoking, alcohol, caffeine and sugar.
25 If you’re a woman check with your GP that your bipolar is not triggered by your menstrual cycle, if it is then you may be able to reduce your symptoms with medication.
26 Be aware that sexual promiscuity is a symptom of bipolar disorder. Take precautions and stay safe.
27 Avoid recreational drugs and taking over the counter drugs to help with your moods e.g. sleeping pills, St. John’s Wort, antihistamines and painkillers.
28 Try to stay healthy as illness can be a trigger.
29 Avoid going without sleep or sleeping too much.
30 Don’t deliberately make yourself go high.
31 Avoid fighting your depression or trying to avoid it.
32 Be careful when traveling in different time zones. Be aware of the changing seasons and when the clocks go forward/back.
33 Beware that you and those around you may really enjoy your mania and hypomania.
34 Don’t try to tough it out on your own.
35 Get help as soon as you start getting symptoms.
36 Find a good GP.
37 Get a diagnosis.
38 Communicate with your treatment provider.
39 Take an advocate or loved one with you to appointments.
40 Keep appointments.
41 Don’t skip medication. Take your medication as prescribed.
42 Know the side effects of your medication.
43 Write a list of pros and cons about your medication.
44 Be patient.
45 Get talking therapy.
46 Manage your expectations – there is no magic bullet.
47 Find support support services outside of the medical profession.
48 Be your own advocate.
49 Tell your doctor as soon as you can if you become pregnant and keep in touch with them throughout your term. Some medications are not suitable for pregnant women.
50 Be wary of quick fixes, self help, spiritual and alternative therapies.
Do The Right Thing
51 Try to get the same good amount of sleep every night.
52 Avoid working late or early shifts.
53 Create a good night time routine.
54 Create a good morning routine.
55 Make your bedroom a relaxing place.
56 Give yourself a time out.
57 Create whatever routines you need to get you through the day.
58 Practice meditation or mindfulness.
59 Learn relaxation techniques.
60 If you’re stuck on something don’t force yourself to do it.
61 Don’t hide your feelings.
62 Don’t try to change the way you feel.
63 Have a balanced diet, including Omega 3s and vitamin B rich foods.
64 Go outside at least a couple of times a week.
66 Be boring.
67 Take up a hobby.
68 Wash yourself.
70 Balance work with more enjoyable activities.
71 Find alternatives to self harm.
72 Make your homelife as stable as possible.
73 Don’t avoid people.
74 Cry when you feel like it.
75 Love helps.
A Cunning Plan
77 Make a list of symptoms and a plan of action for your family, partner and friends.
78 Plan for mania.
79 Plan for depression.
80 Ask for extra help from family and friends.
81 Make a list of emergency contacts, all medications you are taking, including dosage information and information about any other health problems you have.
82 Make a list of symptoms that you feel would indicate that others need to take responsibility for your care and who those people should be.
83 Decide who is authorised to make decisions on your behalf and inform your doctors.
84 Find somebody you can talk to about it.
85 Get talking therapy.
86 Tell your story – keep a diary or blog.
87 Join a support group.
88 Connect with people.
89 Ask a loved one to check in with you regularly.
90 Meet new people by taking a class or joining a club.
91 Don’t take it personally if people don’t understand or seem uninterested.
92 You are not alone.
93 Don’t beat yourself up.
94 Don’t apologise for having bipolar.
95 Personal responsibility. Take ownership of your illness.
96 Never think the illness defines you.
97 Don’t underestimate the danger.
98 Remember that it can get better.
99 Remember that one in four people have mental health issues.
100 Don’t give up.
Words and images ©Kate McDonnell 2013.
This article was originally posted on The Bipolar Codex