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Five Tips for Juggling Addiction and Mental Health in the Wintertime

By: Conor Bezane

You are dually diagnosed. You have bipolar and addiction. It’s a nightmare. Naturally.

Alcohol makes you feel warm and fuzzy all over, especially in the winter, when all you feel like doing is cozying up to the fire and enjoying a glass of wine or a fine Scotch or bourbon. But you’re not drinking anymore — and don’t forget that you feel better as a result. Your medication is working again. And though it may be tough, you must resist the temptation to drink or do drugs. Your mental health is significantly more important.

When you have a dual diagnosis, it’s like there are two trains barrelling toward each other on the same track. You need a brakeman to flip the switch so one train slides over to the next track, preventing a catastrophe.

The brakeman is you. Only you can prevent catastrophe. Here are a few tips to get you through these dark and cold, long winter months.

1. Fight Seasonal Affective Disorder

In many parts of the country, the sun goes down in the four o’clock range this time of year. And when you add in the freezing temperatures, it’s a perfect storm for depression. If you’re feeling symptoms of S.A.D. — hopelessness, melancholia, or suicidal thoughts — you might benefit from light therapy. Get a lightbox and sit in front of it for thirty minutes around mid-day, which is when some doctors say it works best.

While you bask in the glow, I recommend journaling, or coloring in adult coloring books like I like to do.

I’m kooky, but sometimes I crank the heat up to 80 and pretend it’s summer. I listen to happy music and dance around my apartment. It’s uplifting. No, I am not manic when I do this.

2. Don’t Hibernate

It’s easy to stay indoors when it’s freezing outside, but you’ll go stir crazy unless you get yourself out of the house at least once a day, preferably more than the short walk it takes to pick up your prescriptions at the pharmacy. Instead, if it’s too cold to walk outside, go to the gym and walk or run on the treadmill. In fact, try to walk every day; don’t rely on cars too much. I work from home, so it’s easy for me to hibernate, but I’m trying my best to resist the urge to do so.

3. Maintain a Healthful Diet

All of those treats from the holidays are catching up with your waistline. Not only does a proper diet do a body good, it can be galvanizing. I find it ironic that I have developed a beer gut in sobriety, so I’m starting a new diet, which allows for fruit in the morning, a salad for lunch, and any kind of meat for dinner. I avoid bread, potatoes, and sugar. My dad followed this regime for thirty days and lost fourteen pounds. Even if you don’t need to lose some pounds, this is a healthy diet.

4. Quit Smoking

it’s freezing here in Chicago during January and February, so it’s a drag to go outside and smoke. This one has been on my to-do list for a while and I think this is the year I’m going to make it happen. It’s just one more chemical crutch I can leave behind.

I’m told prescription drugs used to help quit smoking can exacerbate depression, so my psychiatrist is recommending the nicotine patch. I tried nicotine gum a few years ago to no avail. One of my Bipolar Addict readers went vegan and stopped smoking at the same time. Healthy habits can be adopted. My mom quit smoking in the ’80s and replaced it with a healthy cross-addiction: exercise. Ever since then, she’s exercised every day, either going to the gym, yoga, or aerobics class.

5. Keep Your Teeth Healthy

You’ve got a sweet tooth, one that especially during the holidays can kick in and aid in the rotting of your teeth. If your teeth are in poor shape, like mine are, you can easily end up with a throbbing toothache, and the only solution is a root canal or extraction. I needed two root canals and two extractions last year. Expensive to be sure, but necessary for my oral health.

So if you’re looking to start the new year with your best foot forward, think about these guidelines and do them!

Happy New Year to all! Success is waiting for you in 2018.

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