For many years, the first warning sign of impending mania that I could recognize was the repetitive thought that I could fly, a convincing feeling this thought was true, and strong urges to leap off balconies. Thankfully, I knew that I had Bipolar Disorder, and this was the disorder talking and a warning sign that I was on the high side of the spectrum. It was my clue that I needed to put wellness strategies into place. For mania on the horizon, this included reducing stimulation (including social engagements), booking with my psychiatrist and therapist, doing calming activities before bed and staying in bed for the night regardless of all the things I craved doing. Depression seemed much more insidious. My warning sign was me being in the thick of relentless suicidal thoughts and realizing that I no longer wanted to spend time with loved ones or do anything that I previously enjoyed. Again, when I recognized as much, I enacted my wellness strategies. For depression this involved exercise, talking to supports including my therapist, and shifting perspectives on my stressors. I have learned that, for me, recognizing early warning signs is paramount to responding well to Bipolar Disorder.
Warning signs are the key marker that it’s time for me to concentrate my efforts on my mental wellness. For a long time, warning signs brought a wave of fear. The fear of an upcoming episode would overwhelm me, and unfortunately worsen my current state. The more I practiced recognizing and responding to warning signs, the better that got. Now, I get a bit of nervousness at the onset of warning signs, but I also choose to view them as my brain communicating an important message to me. I choose to listen to that message. Whether on the high side, low, or mixed, the message my brain is sending is I need rest! I need to reduce stress, and obtain balance of stimulation. I view warning signs as the gift that shows me exactly when I need to prioritize my mental health.
I have learned to recognize warning signs earlier and earlier. My earliest warning signs for mania are that I struggle to stay asleep and I interrupt people often. I feel like I need to speak my many ideas and it’s extremely difficult to hold back. Now that I catch it early, I no longer even get to the point of thinking I can fly. I identified that one of my earliest warning signs of depression is passive suicidal thoughts early in the morning. Usually only one or two thoughts pop in. I take that very seriously and move to action. Even more recently, I have realized that before those thoughts, I get consistent thoughts that “I’m so tired” and even say frequently to my partner “I’m so tired”. That expression, for me, is depression talking and means that I don’t want to do anything, I’m stressed, overwhelmed and wanting to give up. I also noticed an internal “blah” feeling when it comes to doing activities, including activities I typically love to do. If the idea of seeing a loved one, or doing yoga (one of my passions) instigates a feeling of exhaustion, desire to avoid and a sense of “do I have to?”, then I know my warning signs are speaking up.
Becoming aware of, looking for, and learning to recognize warning signs earlier, then taking them very seriously and implementing immediate action toward wellness has changed the trajectory of my Bipolar Disorder. Over time, this led to preventing mania altogether, then preventing hypomania. My mixed states were very intertwined with my highs, so this led to the dissolution of my mixed states as well. Over the past year and a half, I have also been heading off depression before it can progress to a severe episode. In that time, I have gotten warning signs for episodes, particularly depression, countless times. Each time, even if I am exhausted and would really rather not have to, I listen to those signs and prioritize my mental health. It certainly has paid off in spades.
In my next blog I will talk about what my wellness strategies are, and what action I take in response to warning signs that is helpful for me. I think that many people with Bipolar Disorder likely share some similarities of warning signs, and helpful wellness strategies. That being said, we are all unique, and so our warning signs and what helps us respond to them is going to be our own unique combination. It’s something that takes time of, often painful, trial and error to discover. I just know, from my experience, that recognizing early warning signs of Bipolar Episodes has been a process, but it has been key to living a more fulfilling life.