Bipolar disorder isn’t for the faint-of-heart. The depressions are catastrophic. They’re black, painful clouds of existence that hardly count as living. The manias bury you with baggage and regret. And the in-betweens, when you’re trying to remember how to be “normal” and make sense out the fact that none of this is normal… No, not for the faint-of-heart.
Here are some tips that hopefully will make things easier.
Consider joining a support group. Connecting with others who understand what you’re going through can be a real gift. I recommend anyone with a mental illness join a support group. It’s vital to know you’re not alone. Check online or in your local newspaper for “support groups,” including groups by NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) or the DBSA (Depression Bipolar Support Alliance), or talk to your provider about community resources. If you don’t feel comfortable meeting others in person or can’t make your diagnosis public, join an online group. You can do so anonymously.
Avoid street drugs and alcohol at all costs. Using addicting substances or excessive alcohol when you have bipolar disorder makes the illness worse. Studies show a definite decline. Please don’t use.
Snooze on a schedule. Go to sleep and wake up the same time every day. Stabilizing the external “clock” (by getting regular sleep) can help stabilize mood swings. This effect is highly specific for bipolar disorder. If you’re struggling with insomnia, talk to your doctor about sleep hygiene or medications.
Take your meds religiously. Studies show that people with bipolar disorder who take their medications fair better in the long run than those who don’t.
Again, take your meds religiously! A lot of people don’t like to take meds because they lose the euphoria that comes with the high. The problem here is that the higher you go, the harder you crash: mania and hypomania are almost always followed by depression. So when you feel yourself revving up, don’t feed the mania. Don’t skip your meds.
Treat symptoms early. It’s easier to treat a mood episode when you catch it early. Get to know your personal warning signs, the indications that your mood is starting to go up or down. Treatment might involve a little extra medication, an unscheduled appointment with your therapist, or simply the choice to take it easy.
Stick with that routine. We’ve mentioned sleeping on a schedule, socializing on a schedule… it isn’t surprising the next step would be living on a schedule! Manic depressive illness seems to respond to routine. The theory is that, by controlling the outside world, the person with bipolar disorder can stabilize their internal climate. Give it a try.
When depressed, socialize regularly. Don’t isolate. Research shows that “regular socialization” is effective for helping bipolar depression. This effect is bipolar-specific; having contact with people on a daily basis, preferably around the same time of day every day, can help reduce symptoms of depression in people with bipolar — and lowers the risk of recurrence of depression
Prepare for the future. Set up a system that meets the needs of both your highs and lows…by preparing ahead of time. At work or school, limit the number of projects you take on when manic so you can keep it up when you’re depressed. Prepare for the depressions. Arrange clothes ahead of time, make schedules and templates to help you at work or school, keep a list on the fridge of what you need to leave the house, and keep a pile of fun stuff at the ready (favorite photographs, comics, puzzles, movies, etc).
There you have it, a few tips for surviving manic depressive illness. For more information, take a glance at all about bipolar disorder.