Author: Katie Barber
When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder my therapist was optimistic. The disorder can be easily managed, I was told, with lifestyle changes and medication. Simple small changes to my life can make a big difference to my episodes and can prevent them altogether.
But my therapist had probably never been faced with having to make those lifestyle changes herself, all at once. I was told, it’s easy, you just make sure you’re getting enough sleep every night, make sure you eat at regular times, avoid stress, take your meds and stay sober.
Sounds simple, but it’s easier said than done. Even for someone without bipolar, getting enough sleep or overcoming alcohol dependency can be difficult.
Bipolar self management can be like walking on a tightrope. And it’s hard to walk on that tightrope when you’ve been moving from crisis to crisis for the few years prior.
You can’t just go from using alcohol to manage your episodes to living clean and sober overnight. You can’t go from fueling your mania with caffeine and then just cut it out. You can’t go from partying all night, or sleeping all day to managing a healthy sleep cycle.
I had to implement the changes to my life in small steps. I got sober over a period of years, not weeks. I learned what worked for my sleep cycle and what didn’t over time – a long time!
There were some very hard moments in my process of becoming stable. Waking up on time when I had depression felt like hell. Lying in bed in the dark at 11 pm when I was suffering from hypomania felt futile. Eating when I was hypomanic and just wanted to smoke and drink coffee was torture. I stared at a salad for hours, arguing with myself, plucking up the strength to eat it as if I were about to extract my own tooth. It was hard to tell my friends that I couldn’t get wasted, without being willing to give them a proper explanation as to why.
But over time, I felt that the changes I was making were starting to work. I started to feel calmer. I began to be less dependent on medication and was able to cut down on my dose somewhat, which gave me a little more natural energy.
And once the changes began working, I started craving that stable, calm feeling. I no longer wanted to trigger mania to relieve my depression, I wanted to feel safe. I learned that going to bed early, spending time with predictable people and eating nutritious food made me feel whole.
I started adding to the basics of my healthy routine with exercise, mediation, home cooking, self improvement and much more. My episodes didn’t fully vanish, but I was able to make them milder. My depression is still there, but looks more like a lack of energy and desire to hibernate for a while. My hypomania appears and I become slightly more interested in socialising and going out. But it’s nowhere near the ride it used to be.
I used to think that by getting stable I would lose myself, but I’ve actually managed to achieve a level of productivity and interest in the world around me that I think is good going even for someone with no mental health symptoms at all. Becoming stable and fine tuning my self care was hard work but 100% worth it.