This Bipolar Life: Tips for a Good Day Even When You Feel Down

I definitely have days where all I want to do is crawl back under the covers and sleep the world away but have been working on trying new ways to shift my mood and thought I’d share them with you in case you find them helpful. I’ve done lots of searching online and here are some tips I’ve found that worked for me:

1) Get up and shower. Right away. It helps me feel awake and alert, something that is hard to do but can make a huge difference in how you start your day.

2) Eat regularly throughout the day. For us bipolar folks it’s even more important to keep our blood sugar stabilized so make sure you’re eating something healthy if at all possible (although sneaking in the occasional treat is fine – my faves are the Hostess Snowballs…yum!).

3) Get outside. Go for a walk. Yes, even in the rain. I actually especially like walking in the rain. It’s almost as though it’s cleansing in a way. It allows me more contemplation than the sunshine in a weird way. Anyway, walking also increases your serotonin levels which is always helpful, bipolar or not.

4) Write down at least one task you’re going to try to accomplish that day. Then make time and take care of it. Just one. It doesn’t have to be big. Some days my goal is just to clean the kitchen or even just to get my blog post out. Sometimes it’s just making coffee. Really, anything will make you feel like you’ve engaged with the day and that’s something that can be helpful when looking back to see what you did at the end of the day, a time when I know I need to reflect and feel like I’ve been productive.

5) Make sure to take time for self-care. Just one thing. Paint your nails, read a poem you love, color, journal, whatever it is that soothes your heart and heals your soul. Practice forgiving yourself and be as gentle as possible with yourself during the day. I know it’s hard (I practice and fail often) but it’s important that we all remember that we’re trying as hard as we can and everyone is doing their best, so be careful to pay close attention to your inner voice. Make sure it’s being kind and loving.

There! That’s my list. Although I do have one other trick. I practice mindful breathing. Just three deep breaths along where all I’m doing is paying attention to the feeling and sounds of my breathing. Nice and full breaths but done in a way that I just give myself permission to shut everything out for about a minute. Sometimes it is the difference between me being cranky or kind.

Remember to love yourself. You are important. You are worthy. You have value simply because you are here. You do not need permission to be unique and wonderful.

This Bipolar Life: Bitch Mode, Mania, and Me

I can be a bitch. Especially when manic. Mania can be a difficult thing to manage and when uncontrolled can cause damage to myself and those around me if I’m not careful. For me, mania tends to manifest as agitation and frustration along with making plans to achieve what are sometimes unrealistic goals. After 10 years of dealing with this disorder I have developed a lot of techniques to avoid it. First are medication and therapy but self care is also a key component. Here’s a bit about my current approach:

Lately I’ve been traveling, getting very little sleep, and drinking more coffee than I should. I know that these are triggers for mania and anxiety so I’ve carefully tracked my moods. I use an iPhone app, iMoodJournal (there are several apps that track moods I just prefer this one) which allows me to be aware if I’m suddenly seeing a spike in my mood which would indicate that I’m trending upward to quickly and need to be more attentive to my choices. With that in mind I have worked hard to remember self care but I’ve not been in a particularly conducive space for any of my usual go-to self care activities. This means I’ve had to get a little creative to make sure I don’t trigger a manic episode due to the changes caused by my travels. Hopefully these tricks help you too.

I’ve gone for walks and listened to beautiful music. I’ve played with my beloved niece and nephews. I’ve been very active about remembering to smile. I’ve practiced mindfulness even more than usual, being careful to be present during my activities and interactions with others. I have been active in planning the day’s activities so I know what to be prepared for, something that helps me avoid the ever-present challenge I have with unexpected transitions. I’ve made sure to spend at least five minutes each morning lying in whatever bed I’ve landed in (I’ve been at three different homes in the past 5 days) to appreciate the sounds of the birds and ready myself mentally for the day ahead. I’ve practiced gratitude by intentionally responding to those who bring me something with heartfelt appreciation and I make sure to think of at least one or two things at the end of the day that remind me of a moment or two of positivity.

How do these things keep me from being manic? Well for me they help to ensure I stay centered in the reality around me. I am far less inclined to make big plans and instead am focused on just the day ahead, allowing me to be grateful and honest with myself as I check in with my moods mentally throughout my day. I have found the more I am able to remember to practice self care the more stable I am, allowing me to avoid mania, or at least keep it at a manageable level.

I hope these techniques are things you might be able to add to your day, whether you have bipolar or not they can be helpful. Best of luck and have a great day!

This Bipolar Life: Fake it ’til You Make It Baby!

Now, there is only so much my brain can do to think my mind into believing things are better than they feel (because, you know I get my own special brand of funky symptoms) but there are three things in my “Fake it ’til you make it” toolkit I thought I’d share for folks who are down in the dumps and maybe need some ideas for getting through it:

Number one, for me at least, is figuring out what I can control and start making changes, however small, toward getting out of the darkness. Controlling what I can, and in my case that starts with my environment. If the window shades are closed, I will get up and open them, even if it’s raining. Something to remind me that there is a world beyond my little four walls. If the house is silent I will put on music. If there is a pet around I’ll try to find it and snuggle. I’ll pick up a few books and keep reading until I find one that offers a positive message (note to self: do not read Nietzsche when trying to be positive). I will force myself to smile.

BTW, Did you know that smiling itself can help you feel happier? It’s true. So yes, if need be I will force a grin. I might look a little odd but hey, I’m 40, mom of four kiddos (imagine keeping your sanity through that) and bipolar, I’ve reached the point where I don’t care how odd I look if it works.

Anyway, number two for me is to make a pros and cons list. However, at the point where I need this list I’m already well aware of the cons and writing them down doesn’t usually help. Most of the time. Anyway, I’ll list out at least three good things that have happened lately. Even if it’s that I managed to make the coffee. Or that I remembered to mail that birthday card that is two weeks two late (a serious problem for me). Sometimes that’s all I’ve got to offer, and that’s okay. Every now and then I’ll write down the cons but only to put them in perspective. Like, is it really all that bad that I forgot to start the roast and now we’re eating breakfast for dinner again? Or that I’ve managed to leave the laundry sitting in the washer for three days out of complete and utter apathy and now I have to run it not once but twice, just to get that smell out? And if it’s really lucky it’ll make it to the dryer and then we’ll celebrate when it actually gets folded and put away – this is a true cause for excitement in my house! Anyway, my point is that perspective is key and although it’s sometimes really hard to find (like hiding in a hidden corner enveloped in fog kind of hard) it’s really worth the effort.

Finally, number three for me is forgiveness. It’s the hardest one. It’s the step where I struggle with self-worth and the reality of my actions (or inaction) and have to hold myself accountable. This is when I have to practice being gentle with myself. Work on being understanding. I try to talk to myself the way I would a good friend going through a similar situation. Reminding myself that even with bipolar disorder I am worthy of forgiveness and I have just as much value as anyone else, exactly I am.

Even if I do sometimes forget the occasional birthday card 😉

This Bipolar Life: Silly Towels

I can be at the happiest place on earth (and I was) and still be miserable. There I was surrounded by Mickey and all his friends only to feel like a terrible parent because I couldn’t find five matching souvenirs. That’s right, I wanted five souvenirs that matched and would last a while so the kids would have something shared to remember the whole affair by. Never mind that they’d done the whole vacation together and would have a lifetime of memories or that they’d spent hours on end racing together to find the silly collectible pins, that meant nothing to my bipolar brain. It was solely focused on finding these damn souvenirs.

I latched onto beach towels! Everyone used those and sometimes for years. Perfect! Now, I did finally find five matching beach towels but it took me nearly two hours to finally find them. And the whole time I felt miserable for not…well for not “something”. And there is always a “something” when I’m in that head space. But, I also felt excited for what was effectively a treasure hunt. I had a goal, something I could achieve, and I am nothing if not goal oriented. By the way, this being up and down at the same time? It’s not uncommon for me and it’s called being in a “mixed state”, something I am all too familiar with. Anyway, once I found them I felt a short but exhilarating high, as though I had reached a long sought after target, even though it was a small and recent one. Then, just as suddenly as it has appeared, my failure was gone and the adventurous vacation continued, with a smile on my face and a bag of towels on my arm.

And the damn towels? Well they mostly prompted arguments over which towel was whose at the pool and these days are strewn between houses or lost altogether. Silly towels.