Bipolar disorder is a very difficult illness to live with, at least when it’s not under control (which isn’t easy to achieve). I was only diagnosed in 2011 but I have certainly been suffering from it for a very long time. When my CPN (community psychiatric nurse), psychiatrist and even partners and friends used to give me advice about what I should and should not be doing I would resent it. I thought to myself ‘why can I not live my life to the full, the way I like it, as everyone else does?’ ‘Why do I have to be different?’ and ‘why should I have to apply different rules to myself?’
My ex-boyfriend used to have a thing about me drinking energy drinks. I went through a phase of drinking several Monsters a day when I was under the stress of my final essays at university. Everyone I knew was doing it and I refused to act any differently, just because of my illness, when in truth they actually have the power to trigger my hypomania. The truth is, whether we like it or not, if we want to stay well there are certain changes we have to make.
Here are some words of advice, from me, for the little things to look out for if you have bipolar…
For Avoiding (or avoiding worsening) Mania/Hypomania
Try to stay away from stimulants. I know, from personal experience that this isn’t easy to do, especially because people with bipolar disorder enjoy being ‘up’ more than most. Here are a few things that are classified as stimulants which should be avoided when possible:
- If possible, cut out caffeine completely (I really struggle with this but trust me; it’s worth making the effort). If you can’t manage that, consume in moderation.
- Try to always get a decent night’s sleep. Getting little or no sleep appears to have the opposite effect on people with bipolar, it triggers episodes.
- If you’re feeling vulnerable, like you might be on the edge of something, then avoid too much social contact, try to get a little peace and quiet as busy atmospheres can often influence your mood (and not necessarily in a good way).
- Avoid drinking too much alcohol. This is easy for me to say because I am in recovery and I don’t drink, but when I was drinking I would find it often made me hyperactive (which is dangerous ground for sufferers).
- And lastly; I am afraid to say it but we should basically avoid having too much fun! Not enjoying these things doesn’t always have to be the case, we’re mostly meant to stay away from them during an episode or on the verge of one. However, concerning things like caffeine, I would advise that having it should be done in moderation, at least. And as for sleep; it’s always important to get 6-8 hours a night to avoid a fight with our personalities, and especially if you’re like me and you’re on sedating medication (in the past, on some medication, I needed 12 hours sleep just to feel normal).
How To Cope With A Depressive Episode
So, if you take my above advice and turn it around, you’ve essentially got what you should do when you get depressed! Still, here are things in a bit more detail:
- If you’re feeling low, believe it or not having a strong coffee in the morning can help elevate your mood. It gives you adrenaline, releases endorphins and just generally gets things going.
- Get out of the house. I know none of us want to at times, but it’s really important that you do. If you’re on your own all the time then you’re stuck in your own head which is precisely where the problem stems from.
- See someone you love. Be it a friend, relative or partner, we need to see people who have the power to cheer us up. We’re all loved by someone (whether we believe it or not) and there’s always someone that cares and doesn’t want to see us sad or lonely; it’s pretty much their job to help when we’re unwell. If you’re honest about your feelings during an episode in the long run then other people have more of a chance at knowing what to say or do.
- Do something fun, anything, even if you don’t want to. When we’re depressed we have to force ourselves to do things like this because what we really want to do, deep down, is wallow in our misery, alone. Our illness wants us to stay ill, and we have to counteract that.
- Try not to over sleep/ sleep in the day. Although you may want to when you’re depressed, this can worsen things. Set an alarm after 8 hours.
- My psychiatrist once said to me ‘whatever you want to do, do the opposite.’
Those are just a few pointers which have helped me in the past, either given to me by professionals or that I just worked out for myself over the years. Please, if there is a next time, give them a try.