Although I was officially diagnosed in March 2009 with Bipolar I disorder and began treatment, I am confident in saying that my bipolar episodes started well before that time.  If I could guess somewhat accurately, I would say it all started somewhere around the age of 18 … which would be the early 90’s.  If I only knew then what I do know now, oh how I would have done things differently!  At the same time, I am a firm believer in the saying “everything happens for a reason”.  For some reason, my illness led me to who I am and where I am today, and I have faith that is exactly where I am supposed to be.  Therefore, I am content with that.  It took me a long time to come to terms with that … but I do believe that I could not succeed without having done so. 

One of the things that I had to learn early on in my diagnosis was the word “trigger”, and what that meant to me.  Triggers are feelings, situations, or events that can lead to the onset of depressive or manic episodes, or mood swings in general.  I spent a long time figuring out exactly what my triggers are, as everyone’s triggers can be completely different.  For me personally, it took years of therapy (individual and group), the help of my family and friends, and doctors, not to mention deep self-evaluation, as well as trial and error.  Personally, my triggers include a variety of things such as lack of proper sleep, the change of seasons between fall and winter, the Christmas season, the unaddressed damage of my emotional health after an abusive, controlling relationship in my early 20’s, visible lack of support and love from close family members, and extreme stress or feelings of fear. 

Although my mood swings can occur at any time for any reason, I realized that my triggers played a significant role in my episodes.  While I was identifying my triggers, I also had to start to learn how to plan ahead to deal with them, learn appropriate ways to cope with the trigger while I was experiencing a mood swing or possible onset of an episode, and learn through trial and error how to do it better the next time it happened.  It is an ongoing process in my life and probably forever will be.  It is not science and there is no right answer, but the harder you work at making yourself better and learning how to be well when the bipolar bear comes knocking on your door – you may start to notice as I did, that I can shut the door before that bear walks in.  Not all of the time, but more and more of the time! 

Personally, to identify my triggers, I started writing in a journal.  Paper and pen the old fashioned way … I make an effort to write every day to myself, and to review my entries once a month, to identify patterns of depression or mania and when they were occurring.   It is important to also keep an honest and open communication with my therapist and doctor, as well as to ask for help from family and friends in drawing my attention to any unusual behavior patterns.

With that being said, I would like to leave on this note – bipolar is a medical condition … asking for help is NOT a sign of weakness.

Until next time –

Andrea Piekarski-Susalla J

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