By: Chris Chambers
Lately, I’ve been writing solely about my Bipolar Disorder. In reality, Bipolar is only part of the picture for me. My nervous system is very challenged. In addition to Bipolar Disorder I am living with cPTSD, in recovery from eating disorder, and migraines, and at the end of 2017 I sustained a life-changing Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). My TBI was nearly ten years after my Bipolar diagnosis and brought about a whole other level of difficulty that ultimately yielded even more strength.
My TBI led to many things, including chronic pain, chronic dizziness, and vertigo, as well as a condition called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). POTS is a mouthful that basically means it is exponentially harder for me to be upright and doing so often leads to flu-like symptoms. At the time of my car accident, I was a Massage Therapist and aerial fitness instructor. Now, successfully going for a walk is a big win.
In my time rehabbing my TBI, I have grown so much. I now see my TBI as a blessing in disguise in that it has prompted me (granted through pain and an inability to function) to learn to live differently. All that I have been learning has served my Bipolar Disorder extremely well. I just celebrated two years episode free, and counting! I wanted to share the lessons my TBI instigated:
· Routine is your friend; when the going gets tough, if you have a healthy routine, you can just follow that without having to think about it. It is the building blocks for wellness. It took time to build, and I just worked on one piece at a time (food then sleep hygiene etc.)
· Slow down! Pace yourself! Be the tortoise, not the hare.
· Relaxing mind and body is a practice and it’s well worth the effort. I could not relax to save my life prior to my TBI. It still feels like work sometimes, but I’m much better at taking moments to truly relax my mind and body.
· Doing things to actively calm the nervous system throughout the day (like humming, deep breathing etc.) is essential to managing nervous system conditions (like Bipolar).
· Your worth is not defined by what you accomplish. You have intrinsic value. It is not worth sacrificing your health and pushing yourself to accomplish more.
· Learning to tune into your body and listen to what it needs is a gift with endless returns. This is challenging with pain, difficult emotions and trauma. Take it slow. I started with yoga, gentle stretching and guided breathing exercises.
· So much of stress is how we look at things. Take the time and reach out for help to shift your perspectives when stress is building.
· Mindset is key to managing nervous system conditions. I started daily mindset journaling in Summer of 2020. I have noticed shifts in my automatic thoughts and the way I respond to challenges. I also notice when I miss days I am more prone to struggling mentally. Practicing growth mindset has been indispensable.
· Your energy is precious. Make conscious choices about how you spend it, and who you spend it with.
· Resilience is within each of us. We all have the capacity to foster resilience, and doing so will help you to get through things you didn’t ever think you could. There are lots of resilience resources out there.
· Celebrate every little win! Change your measuring stick to suit your personal challenges and really celebrate every single win.
As I share these lessons, I am aware that reading them is not the same as experientially learning them. We all know for the most part what we are supposed to do to be well. It’s not like I didn’t try to stop drinking alcohol prior to my TBI. I am sharing these because I find reading reminders of lessons is helpful in tough times. Also, to share that non-medication strategies were even more invaluable than I previously thought. Every little bit adds up to make a huge difference. Most importantly, your potential goes beyond what you can fathom now. I was sure that rapid cycling (at least four episodes a year) was just how my Bipolar was. It wasn’t until I changed so much of my lifestyle that I learned it was possible for me to go two years without full episodes! So maybe it’s worth trying to experiment with a change that seems doable. Play around with it and see what unfolds, you may be pleasantly surprised. Whatever you decide to do, just know that your future is not set in stone, you are more resilient than you know, your resilience is always growing, and your potential goes beyond what present-you can even imagine.