I’ve written about I was diagnosed with Bipolar in 2013, and when I had a nervous breakdown in 2009. It occurred to me that both of those incidents were at times of crisis and rather dramatic as a result. Whilst it’s been therapeutic for me to write about these difficult times, the day to day business of managing a mental health condition is more humdrum. I thought it might be useful to talk about how I’ve integrated Bipolar into my life.
For the vast majority of the time, I function well. I look after my 1 year old son, have positive relationships with my friends and family and go to work without bipolar being a hinderance. Despite the fact that I’m high-functioning, my bipolar does flare up from time to time. Fortunately, it doesn’t stop me from going about my day, but it does make me feel horrible. When this happens, I find that having a sense of humour is essential. I’ve given my condition a name – Twinkle the Mental ‘Elf. Given the chance, Twinkle will run amok making my life difficult but I’ve learnt tactics to keep that little reprobate in his place.
I have Bipolar type 2 with rapid cycling, which means my highs and lows are short lived; I used to swing between the two within about ten days or so. My lows would consist of struggling to get out of bed because I thought everything was pointless. Then the mania would kick in and I’d feel triumphant and elated, like I’d beaten the negative feelings and come out on top. My mind would race at a thousand miles an hour and I’d make poor decisions as a result. I know of some people who have bought houses or boats, quit their jobs or left their partners when they were manic. When the mania is replaced by a crushing low, they realise they’ve made a catastrophic error. I’m lucky that my moods have never been this extreme. Nonetheless, I know that I have the potential for things to get really out of hand, if I’m not careful.
My self-care routine consists of medication, exercise, healthy food, not too much alcohol and regular therapy. It all sounds a touch self-righteous, but I’m no saint. Sometime I’ll slip into bad habits and within a day or two, I’ll start to feel really wretched. I’ve noticed that, as I get older, I can’t get away with too many late nights or heavy drinking. My thought patterns will revert to the old narrative and Twinkle the Mental ‘Elf will start hissing his old refrain.
‘You’re a failure. You’re useless. You’ve let everyone down. Everything you touch turns to shit.’
Charming, cheers Twinkle.
The Mental ‘Elf is always with me, but I’ve learnt tactics to ignore him. It isn’t easy, and it takes practice and patience. For some people, meditation is very effective in dealing with mental illness, but I’ve never got the hang of it. Instead I focus on the things that I am reasonably good at which make me feel better. Taking time to do my makeup and dressing in a way that pleases me is helpful, along with the aforementioned healthy lifestyle. This particular tactic might not work for a lot of people, but I find it very effective. I would encourage anyone who’s dealing with a mental health condition to figure out what specifically works for them. Along with appropriate medications and therapy, there will be other, less obvious things that may help. It may be taking regular walks in nature, visiting art galleries, swimming or listening to music. They all sound like trite examples, but don’t let that put you off. There will be something that is an added bonus that makes your day more manageable.
I hope this is reassuring for someone who has recently been diagnosed with a mental illness. Your condition is serious, and it requires diligence, but it will be manageable and you will find a way of getting through life that is positive and productive.