By: Conor Bezane
There are 5.7 million bipolar people in the US, and 60 percent of them are addicts, according to the Epidemiologic Catchment Area study. Co-occurring addiction is more common in bipolar people than in any other psychiatric group. We drink and use drugs to stabilize our moods or to replicate the feelings of mania.
I was diagnosed bipolar in the spring of 2008 during a major manic episode, while a producer for MTV News in New York. When I was laid off later that year, and after the end of a five-year romantic relationship, I began drinking to excess daily, becoming a hardcore alcoholic. Shortly thereafter, I graduated to hard drugs, including crack-cocaine.
But I’ve now been sober for five years, and, aside from a few very minor episodes, I pretty much have my bipolar symptoms under control. Much of that I attribute to these five go-to actions I’ve added to my daily regimen.
1. Take your meds.
This might seem obvious, but it’s the most important part of your new life as a recovering bipolar addict. And yet as many as 64 percent of bipolar people do not comply with their meds, according to a study in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
If you’ve just quit drinking and doing drugs, the good news is your medications will start working properly again. Whether you were under the influence while taking your meds or not taking them at all, it is your meds that will ultimately help you function better in your new world.
2. Sleep Sweet Dreams
Practicing good sleep hygiene is important for almost everyone, but it’s been essential to my recovery. I highly recommend that anyone with a dual diagnosis do their best to maintain a regular schedule of going to sleep and waking up.
To ensure you fall asleep faster, avoid looking at screens before bed and create a routine — read a book, meditate, write in your journal —that tells your body it’s close to bedtime. If you are having trouble getting to sleep, try a natural supplement, such as valerian root or melatonin (but check with your doctor first to make sure the supplement doesn’t have interactions with any other medications you might be taking).
Everyone’s body is different, and so are the number of hours of sleep a person needs. I sleep 10 hours a night, which is significantly more than the zero or few hours of sleep I would get during my major manic episode, or the 14 hours I would sleep in my alcoholic lunacy. Now, I wake up rested and — this is key – NOT hung over and ready to seize the day. Aren’t mornings more pleasant when you’re not hung over?
3. Drink Tea
Three simple letters — T. E. A. The custom of drinking tea originated thousands of years ago during the Shang dynasty in China, where it was used as a medicinal drink. To this day, it is revered for its home “medicinal” properties. Think of tea drinking as a ceremony you participate in every day.
The simple act of bringing a drink to your lips repeatedly and sipping for hours at a time is a habit. Drinking something healthy, like tea or chilled water instead of alcohol, will minimize the urge to reach for a beer bottle, wine glass, or highball. Replace alcohol with decaf tea or filtered water — a healthy cross-addiction. I drink tea on a regular basis and consume a pitcher-full of water or more every day.
If you’re feeling frenetic energy or having racing thoughts, or feel a manic or depressive episode coming on, silence the mind with a lovely herbal tea. (Chamomile and turmeric are my favorites.) Tea helps lower stress levels, makes you feel warm and fuzzy, roasty-toasty, and it calms the nerves. Pair it with the next hack for maximum intensity.
4. Listen to Music
Therapy is music. And music is therapy. The act of sitting alone and listening to music — focusing on it and paying close attention — is one that has helped me the most out of any of these hacks, even more than meds.
I listen to music intently every night for two hours if I’m not already going to see a live music performance. Whether it’s on Spotify, Pandora, or old-school vinyl LPs, music has an unmatched healing power in that it can alter your mood. I listen to Beethoven’s piano concertos when I need to quiet my mind. Easygoing folk music like Joni Mitchell soothes my soul. When I find myself angry or agitated and need some catharsis, I rock out to Led Zeppelin or Nirvana or even heavier: Nine Inch Nails or Metallica. Music = happiness.
Sure, the internet offers a number of ways to get your read on. But there’s nothing like lying down and snuggling up to a book or a magazine — a hard copy, not online. Just as with music, reading helps shift my mood. Plus, a good dose of nonfiction can feed your brain, and fiction has even been proven to improve brain function and connectivity. Go to Goodreads.com and create your online bookshelf, which is like a reading to-do list. Then start crossing off those books you’ve read.
Conor Bezane is the author of the book The Bipolar Addict: Drinks, Drugs, Delirium and Why Sober Is the New Cool, due early 2018. He blogs at thebipolaraddict.com