Author: Alan Monnelly
Recovery is not linear. Recovery is not easy. Recovery is the only option.
There are so many stages and variables in the journey of recovery from bipolar illness that it is vital for the person on this road to take it one day at a time.
In serious bipolar depression, it is very hard or impossible to see a way out of the darkness. The world caves in around you and debilitating fear envelops each and every minute.
Paranoia and psychosis are vicious in their ability to eviscerate someone’s mind and soul and cause untold pain and suffering.
It takes huge strength and many other skills to contain, recover and manage the symptoms that come with the condition.
However, the reality is- this is possible. There are many moving parts that can come together to pave the path to recovery.
Perhaps the first and most important part of the journey may be the most difficult. Acceptance of a diagnosis is a complex process no matter what way it is approached or what stage on the spectrum of health the person is on.
People’s experiences are so diverse and often traumatic in the lead up to a diagnosis that it is possible, that for some, it may feel positive- like an explanation for what they have experienced and endured. In some ways it may take the pressure off their already over-laden minds.
On the other hand, for others a diagnosis may seem like they are being told there is something wrong with them. They may hear the words ‘bipolar disorder’ and think of the many negative connotations and stories they have heard, instilled by stigma and cemented by peoples lack of knowledge and understanding,
When it comes to the way people receive a diagnosis and how they come to grips with it, the same factor will be crucial in all the stages and elements of recovery and will empower the person to manage this and see it as a positive thing.
This factor is support. The support a person receives at this challenging time may be crucial to lift their mindset towards a positive acceptance and outlook and away from descending to negative thinking and self-stigmatising thinking which is far too easy for a beleaguered bipolar brain.
Support can come in many ways. There are skills that a person may need to actively source the appropriate support. Depending on how severely the illness has affected them, the more support they may need.
The recovery journey can be like ascending a ladder where the further up you go, the more mentally strong the person will become and slowly, will be more able to focus and work on themselves.
People with bipolar disorder are often hospitalised when they are experiencing an episode of mania or severe depression. This is unquestionably very hard on many levels for the person and their family.
There is a major safety element to being in hospital. It is extremely difficult to experience what someone experiences to be deemed in need of hospitalization, but the specialized care needed at this vulnerable time can be crucial and lifesaving.
The complexity of the illness is something that a lot of people don’t even begin or try to understand. To work towards recovery, a plan is needed and ongoing support from mental health professionals could be the scaffolding of this plan.
Unfortunately, this may not be enough and support will be needed from other sources.
After leaving hospital, particularly after a period of mania, there is an inevitable comedown. This can be crushing as the person ruminates on things they have done when manic. This is a vulnerable time when it would be hugely beneficial to have regular contact with family and friends if possible. It can be a very lonely time with a feeling for the person that ‘you are back to square one’
Huge and vital solace can be found in the experiences of others. There is nothing as powerful as knowing that someone knows how bad you have felt, how crushed you have been by the illness and the world and how hard you have to fight to hang on when your brain tells you to give up.
Reading about people’s stories will remind you, not just how tough bipolar is but also how creative and brilliant a mind it gifts you with.
Support groups can be a very valuable and an excellent opportunity to meet and learn from people at different stages of recovery and wellness. Making connections with people who face challenges that sometimes feel insurmountable will empower, inspire and motivate.
It’s not easy to join a group where you know no one, it can be unchartered territory, but you will be rewarded by your bravery and by stepping outside of your comfort zone,
Recovery is hard work. It is exhausting and can be a battle that can feel endless.
It’s important that on the hard days, to try and shift your focus. To seek something simple and enjoyable to you that is away from medications, therapies, doctors, diagnoses- something you like to do that will bring you back to yourself and remind you that you are more than a condition.
One powerful and accessible tool that can be used to calm, motivate, shift perspective and heal is music. Here lies the potential and power to make you feel better at the press of a button. Listening to music can empower you to take further steps away from your depression, while gaining strength and headspace as you move in the right direction.
Remember to breathe. Remember that in each moment, you are ok. Remember that the past is ogne and the future is yet to be written. We only have the present moment. Try and make good choices that keep your feelings and heart in mind.
Spend time with people who understand. Have confidence that you are doing all you can do and be kind and gentle with yourself.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Notice small incremental improvements in mood and outlook. Don’t put a timeline on recovery. It is not a race and the world will wait. Put yourself first.
There will be setbacks, there will be bad days. But good days too. Use the process to gain clarity about what’s important to you in life. Align yourself with the right people, the others don’t matter.
There is so much learning to be taken from recovering from mental illness- the powerful re-affirming feeling of realizing how very strong you are, being reminded of the unconditional love people have for you, realizing that when you get through this- there is actually nothing you cannot do in life, appreciating the fact that your ‘health is your wealth’ and being gifted a vital perspective that many people lack.
Trying to increase movement and activity levels and having a destination in the morning, to go to a shop, to walk in the park, to meet someone for coffee. The power of these simple things cannot be underestimated. Fresh air and sunlight will activate the brain. Human contact will change the descending direction of depressive thinking. The physiology of moving your body awakens your system.
The morning, and what you do in the morning, is crucial for the rest of the day. Even the birds can help- birdsong providing a hopeful auditory lift when you make the decision to venture out.
There are many facets to the journey of recovery. Each person will have a different trajectory and a different experience. Tools and knowledge can be accumulated over time to make the fight easier because it is a fight. But one that will strengthen and deepen resolve within the person and one that will always be worth it when you come out the other side.
People who have recovered will often say that it is the memories of the hardest parts of the illness that motivate them to do all in their power to work towards balance and longevity of good health.
So much can be achieved when you are well. Each and every day holds endless possibilities, it’s good to keep that it mind when you are weighed down by negative thoughts and the type of tumultuous moods that most people cannot understand.
Keeping things simple is key to recovery. Space and time and kindness to yourself can be the foundation of change that can be built upon. Never give up hope- you will recover and you will excel in life with the vital appreciation of hard- fought health and all its learnings and the beautiful sensitivities it teaches.