Writing down a wellness plan upped my Bipolar Disorder management game exponentially. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type I in 2008. I had rapid cycling, so I had at least four episodes each year for twelve years before even considering writing a wellness plan. After every single episode, I took time to reflect on what I could have done differently and what was working that I needed to continue. Suffice to say, I had reflected a lot! Over the years my episodes were getting less and less severe, and I was learning to manage them significantly better. Yet, writing down my wellness plan improved that management drastically.
I attended a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) group through my work as a Peer Support Worker. At first, I noticed some pretty haughty thoughts, like “I’ve been managing this for twelve years, what am I going to learn at this point?”. Thankfully, I caught those thoughts, and reminded myself that I can always learn, and the effort I put in correlates with the results I get. I found the group helpful with nuggets of wisdom and a sense of connection. Due to the reflection I had done over the years, filling out my wellness plan came quickly. I was able to easily write lists of warning signs and wellness tools that I needed to respond with. In the months following the group, the biggest benefits began to sink in.
The next time my warning signs arose, I pulled out my plan and followed it. I found that it reduced the severity and length of the episode. I also began to notice even earlier, more subtle warning signs and added those to my list. Each time warning signs of an episode arose I turned to my plan, and each time my mental health got better. I realized that when warning signs are arising for me, my ability to think and remember is not at its best. So, recalling all those lessons I had reflected on is much easier said than done. I also noticed that, even though I was using a lot of my wellness tools and felt like I was doing everything I possibly could, there were always pieces that had fallen to the wayside. Looking at the written plan reminded me of which elements I was missing, so that I could resume them. Lastly, just having a concrete plan that I could act on gave me a sense of control, empowerment and hope. This gave me a little boost to get things back on track. Surprisingly, writing down a wellness plan led to preventing episodes entirely! Initially, I really did not think it would help that much to write an action plan for when warning signs of an episode arise, but I found through my experience it was well worth it!
When warning signs of an episode arise, what works for each person is different and unique to them. I have also found the need to adjust my plan as my abilities and interests have changed. Nonetheless, I wanted to share my current wellness plan with you in hopes that it may spark some ideas for your personal recovery path.
My warning signs action plan is as follows:
- Practice yoga even if I don’t feel like it
- Talk to others (partner, friends, therapist)
- Spend some time reflecting (journaling, writing)
- Shift my perspectives on stress (list my stressors and write out a mini-plan to handle each, or another way of looking at it that feels less stressful; prioritize what can be put off until next week or even next month)
- Spend some time resting (comfort tv, baths, restorative yoga, chill music)
- Say no to things to reduce stress (even some things I may want to do); replace them with enjoyable stress reducing activities so it doesn’t feel like a loss, and recognize it’s temporary and will help me return to wellness sooner
- Do some form of grounding, mindfulness or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy tools (no pushing it to the side to push through)
- Take time to feel my feelings and get them out by creative means
- Get some to-do’s out of the way in small chunks (ask for help as needed, write things down and put off what can be delayed until later)
- Affirmations, positive self-talk and recognize my resourcefulness
- Take vitamins and eat nourishing foods
- Play! (Get out to take photos in nature, be silly and joke around with loved ones, play with my cat, bake, dance, etc.)
- Listen to uplifting music like Jack Johnson (no piano in minor, as much as I love it)
- Limit online research
- Limit or abstain from social media