Living in the Southern Hemisphere where Christmas and New Years is a time of long, hot days, and having Bipolar with ‘seasonal affective components’ usually results in me becoming elevated. The 15 hours of sunshine, hot weather and days of being active at the beach is enough to push my mood above baseline. The festive cheer, New Years Eve celebrations and bountiful consumption of alcohol add fuel to the already strong burning fire of hypomania and mania.
For me summer is the happiest time of year. Family and friends are on holidays so I am surrounded by many people, there are always parties that go long into the night, frequent camping trips and everyday is usually started by an early-morning surf. But this is the first year where I will have to keep a check on my mood and the activities that can contribute to an elevated state. I learnt my lesson last year where I spent most of my summer in hospital due to mania. Looking back, I have spent the previous few summers hypomanic/manic and some of my behaviour had been risky (impulsivity, massive spending sprees, partying a little too hard, getting tattoos at a drop of a hat, skipping work and reckless driving to name a few).
This year I have had to learn some strategies to keep a lid on the mania so I can enjoy the summer. The one most important thing is for me to stick to my medication regime. Last year I stopped taking my medication and that ended in complete disaster. Even though sometimes it can be a bit of a drag taking medication three times a day (especially taking sedatives at night) at least I can enjoy my days in normal waking hours like most people.
Secondly getting enough sleep and not spending all night partying will be instrumental in maintaining stability. This is where I think I’ve gone wrong in the past. Summer usually brings many parties, BBQ’s and camping trips – all of which result in late nights. I used to be able to stay up for nights on end enjoying many occasions. I thought I could do this with ease and function quite normally throughout the day, but looking back now I think most of the time I was pretty dysfunctional. I am going to give myself a bedtime and make sure I am back at home by 12am ready for sleep. Alcoholic beverages will be kept to a minimum. I have also promised myself that I will stay in bed for a good 6 to 8 hours instead of getting up only after a few hours of sleep. The exception will be New Years Eve where I will treat myself, but I have set aside New Years day for plenty of rest and sleep to recover.
Additionally getting caught up in the excitement of Christmas and constant socialising is a stimulus for me and feeds into my energy. So my psychiatrist and I have come up with a plan to take extra sedatives when needed to ensure I don’t go over the top. As a last resort I will have a maintenance dose of ECT, which I have every now and then. Finally this year I will not be doing shift work (including night shifts), which always mucks up my body clock and amps up the mania.
Reading back through my strategies I can’t help but feel like a bit of a bore and killjoy. I find regulating myself and making changes to my lifestyle hard. Ironically, strategies to control my bipolar are a constant reminder that I have the disorder and it hangs over my head – especially when I am still young and I see my friends enjoying a carefree life. A life up until a few years ago I thought I would be living too. Yet the consequences of not following these strategies far outweigh the dullness it sometimes brings. I know that if I didn’t follow a routine I will become unwell and I would be spending most of my time in hospital, not having much of a life at all.
I am feeling optimistic about this summer and am looking forward to being able to enjoy the festivities in a stable state.
I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy, safe and healthy New Year.