This is my “top five” for how I live successfully with Bipolar Disorder.
Medication is by far the most important tool I have in living successfully with bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, the process of finding the right combination of medications can be messy and lengthy. I experienced a mental health crisis about a year and a half ago which culminated with me checking myself into the hospital for five days. The only positive thing to come from this experience is that my doctor and I found the right combination of medications which keep me stable without overmedicating me. The only downside of the medications is that they knock several points off my IQ by causing brain fog and they cause weight gain. It has been so nice to be mentally healthy, though, that I just accept the side effects.
I am not perfect at exercising, but I try. Exercise has always been my favorite outlet for intense emotions. I love to run and I run as much as my 41 year-old body allows. I didn’t even buy our fancy exercise bike, my husband did, but it’s proven to be a great way to get intense exercise. Exercise also helps curb the weight gain caused by the medications.
3. Trying to eat a balanced diet
My eating habits are very far from perfect, but I try to eat a balanced diet. Recently I’ve been working with a Registered Dietician who has been helping me move away from the “diet mindset” and more into a mindset of nourishing my body. I have a history of disordered eating, and it is a constant struggle for me to use food as fuel and not as comfort when I am stressed, bored or anxious. My therapist has been instrumental in helping me find ways to deal with strong emotions that don’t involve food. This is a battle I fight on a daily basis, though.
I have a great therapist who specializes in a type of behavior called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which focuses on changing behavior. Together we track any behaviors that I want to change and look for strategies to curb those behaviors. I took sleeping medication for many years but recently came to the realization that I don’t need it. Through changing my behavior like having a consistent wake-up time, limiting caffeine, and eliminating naps, I’ve been able to throw away all my medication and get back to sleeping soundly and naturally. My therapist has been instrumental in helping me change my behaviors.
5. Giving Back
I live an incredibly privileged life so I try to give back to the organization that helped me so much during the early days of my diagnosis, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I only knew one other person living with the condition. I worked up the courage to attend a NAMI support group and through this group met countless other people living with the condition. Every meeting I met more people with Bipolar Disorder, all from different walks of life. As they told their stories, I was struck with how similar our stories were. So many others described periods of intense productivity and success coupled with periods of depression. It provides so much comfort to be around people who understand what I’m dealing with.
Now I co-facilitate two support groups and serve on the Board of my local NAMI affiliate. It feels good to help others struggling with mental illness. When the kids are back in school and I’m able to go back to work, I look forward to doing something in the mental health or social services field. I want to leverage my own experiences into a new career.
Thanks for reading!