Grab a journal. This will become an essential.
1. Learn the basics.
Know what Bipolar Disorder is, and the symptoms of mania and depressive episodes. Write Mania on one side and Depressive on the other. Write all of the symptoms down, even if you havent experienced one. This information can be found on this website.
2. Identify your symptoms.
During mania and depressive episodes, put a tally mark next to the symptoms you are experiencing. Overtime, youll be able to identify your most common symptoms. Keep an eye out for these symptoms; these symptoms will give you an early warning that an episode may be arising. This will help you seek treatment faster, which could prevent the episode from occurring, or shorten it.
3. Listen and trust.
First, you need a psychiatrist. If you dont already have one, call your insurance company, and get a list that are in the area. If you do not have insurance, see if your county, or state provides free mental health services. Understand that psychiatrists spent a minimum of 8 years in school to become a licensed psychiatrist. Trust them; they want to see their patients get better, not worse. If they prescribe you medication, take it. If they suggest you go to therapy, go to it. If they want to see you in 2 weeks, show up to your appointment.
[Editor’s note: It’s important to find a psychiatrist you trust and can work together with as a team. If you do not agree with their approach to treatment, you should discuss it with them and consider seeing a different doctor if you do not feel your needs are being met. See our article How To Find A Good Therapist for more about this and for a list of questions to ask at your first appointment to see if they are a good fit.]
4. Learn the medication lingo.
You have your antidepressants, mood stabilizers, your antipsychotics, and your benzodiazepines. (There are others, but these are the main ones used.) I am unable to give definitions of these via blog, but talk to your psychiatrist. They are happy to discuss what these are, and what they are being used for. You will feel more comfortable knowing what you are taking.
5. Be Patient.
You are not going to find the right medications/dosages right away. At times it can be discouraging, and exhausting, but dont give up! Medication is an essential to manage this illness, and finding the right medication is well worth trial and error. In your journal, write down on separate pages what medications you are taking, what the dosages are, and any side affects you may be experiencing. This is extremely helpful later on if/when an episode arises. This can eliminate trying something that hasnt worked for you, as well as help you get back on a medication – For example, an antipsychotic that has worked for you in the past. Bring, and share this during your psychiatric appointments.
#6 Disclosing your illness is your choice.
It took me a long time to talk about being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder because of the stigma that came with it. My family was the first to know, and then I told my closest friends. I learned that disclosing my illness really helped with my recovery because they were my biggest supporters. When I felt comfortable, I did disclose my illness to my employer. I will say that disclosing my illness to others brought me relief and more support, but it is ultimately up to you if you want to share your diagnosis with others, and if you feel more comfortable not, then don’t. It’s your choice.
7. Know your triggers.
This takes time, but writing in your journal is going to help you discover them. There are going to be patterns. For instance, I started to feel a depressive episode coming on two years ago around September. I had remembered that the year prior, I had felt the same way sometime in the Fall. I went through old journals and read August, September, and October, and discovered that the seasonal change from Summer to Fall triggers a depressive episode for me. This past Fall, I was prepared for it and watched out for my symptoms. As predicted, a symptom appeared, and I immediately sought treatment. This helped me get an additional/temporary medication that shortened the episode. I have other triggers, and found them in my journals. During episodes, go back to your journals, you may find patterns. By writing and keeping a journal, you will learn your triggers.
8. Do not procrastinate.
Time is essential. When you first start feeling symptoms, call your psychiatrist. The sooner you get in, the faster your medications can be adjusted, and the faster youll feel better.
9. Go to therapy.
Talking to someone and expressing yourself can relieve stress and not let things build up. Therapists will listen to you without judgment, give you advice, and overall can help you learn about yourself.
10. Be kind to your body.
Exercise, eat well, and get enough rest. Exercising produces endorphins, which are proven to increase your happiness and ease anxiety. Eating well will help your overall health. Sleep! Exhaustion can lead to unwanted episodes, and maintaining a good sleeping pattern will help you.
11. Understand that your illness can affect others.
Its hard for people to have behavior excusable by an illness. Something you may do during a manic, or depressive episode could impact someone else. Do not use your illness as an excuse; instead explain that you were not mentally healthy at the time. Apologize, empathize with them, and try not to repeat destructive behavior. Accept that some people may not forgive you for your actions, and decide that some may no longer want to be part of your life. Mental illnesses can make people uncomfortable and sometimes scared. Accept it, learn from mistakes, and move forward. Some people do not know what Bipolar disorder is. Explain it to them, and give them resources such as websites to learn about it.
12. Learn to be independent.
You are going to have to learn to manage this illness on your own. Support from friends, family, therapists, and therapy groups, are absolutely helpful when it comes to managing your illness. But, ultimately, you need to take responsibility and depend on yourself to handle this. This means taking your medications, going to therapy, making and showing up to appointments, and keeping an eye out for your symptoms. If you are having trouble with doing these on your own, ask for help.