Author: Matthew Palmieri
For many, January is THE time to take an honest look at our habits, routines, and other frequent choices that force us to take stock of what works and doesn’t work for our physical, mental, and emotional health.
However, for those of us with severe mental illness, the temptation to change looms large throughout the year. Whether it’s a switch in medication, a new workout routine, diet or even a change in our health coverage, we always have to be on the lookout for how these alterations may tip the scale to mania, depression, or any other mood shift that can rattle our day to day.
Here is a list of some things to consider if you are on the fence or ready to try a slightly different routine to make some necessary adjustments.
First and foremost, resolve to be kinder to yourself in 2024
For many of us who suffer from bipolar, living in a more negative mind frame can feel like second nature. Often times we spend our days trying to ‘trick’ our brains into working for us, not against. Remind yourself you are more than a diagnosis. By nature, this is a cyclical illness. Your feelings can and will change. Even if your recovery takes time, that doesn’t mean you are behind or flawed. Maybe you are recovering from a manic spending spree, a stay at the hospital, or a change in work. Maybe it’s all three at the same time! If so, January may not be the best time to do some big evaluating. Pace yourself and if it’s too much to adopt change right away, that’s ok! Some people don’t start to thaw until the Spring anyway.
Keep spending in check
There’s a temptation to want to invest in the ‘New You’ when setting New Year’s resolutions but watch for manic spending. More than many, we know the perils and the triumphs of change and growth but be wary of any desire to max out credit cards to splurge on a new wardrobe, or large investments in workout equipment. A journal, a walk in the park, a heart to heart with a loved one — these things can do wonders for you and won’t leave you feeling nearly as guilty as if you spent thousands on quick fixes that don’t quite work the way you wish. Sometimes you can slow down to speed recovery.
If need be, make it a point to walk everyday! There’s no need for lavish gym memberships or obsessive workout routines if it leads to early burnout by the time 2024 is in full swing. What makes you feel accomplished in January may not last through Spring, especially if an episode occurs. Treatment in bipolar is a marathon and a lifelong commitment so ups and downs in workout routines are bound to happen. It doesn’t mean you are a failure if you can’t make the same gym commitments that you did in January by the time April comes.
Set achievable goals
Trying to fix everything in one fell swoop may lead to further frustration and deeper depression when results aren’t immediate. With grandiosity, a quick search for bipolar in your browser can pull up a slew of famous celebrities and artists who embrace their illness and achieve or have achieved a very high level of success. Comparing yourself to them may not be the best idea if you are recently diagnosed or have creative impulses that haven’t quite lived up to the same stature. Bipolar is often a universally humbling experience, no matter the glossy finish. Remember the power of community and know we all feel low so just because a celebrity seems to have it all doesn’t mean they don’t go through bouts of depression. Telling yourself 2024 is going to be YOUR year may set you up for disappointment when things don’t click in the way you hoped they would. With bipolar awareness and discussion, every year and moment of your recovery is worth celebrating, societal achievements or not.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
If you look around you likely won’t be the only one focused on change come 2024, so if you happen to catch the New Year in an euthymic mood state, congrats. That’s enough to celebrate. Just because your peers, family, or coworkers decide to make some substantial changes doesn’t necessarily mean you need to, especially if you’ve had a successful routine in 2023. It’s hard enough for many of us to get out of bed, go to work, and maintain ordinary lives so if it worked for you in 2023, what’s the harm in maintaining that routine in 2024?
Keep up with all appointments while sticking to treatment as usual.
One of the most crucial things you can do is to rely on your support system or care team to provide necessary feedback on your journey for stability. Remember sometimes manic episodes can begin with the false notion that you are ‘cured’ especially when coming out of a deep depression. Bipolar is a lifelong illness so always be aware when your brain is telling you to try things differently, switch up the routine, change your career, etc. There have been many occasions where I’ve had medication lift me from depression but then soon enough, I have an even more severe episode down the line. Going through these things while speaking with professionals or loved ones is so much easier than battling the changes by yourself, where you run the risk of staying in a psychotic or paranoid state for a prolonged period of time. Sometimes all it takes is a bad few days with little to no sleep before the meds become secondary and the bipolar brain takes over again.
Keep in mind, these are just a few things to consider as we begin the pivot to 2024 so they shouldn’t be viewed as an exhaustive list but if there’s one thing to remember in 2024 it’s that you are enough, change or not.