Living with Bipolar Disorder
Everybody has moods. Why
do bipolar people need a special diagnostic category, medications,
groups and numerous scientific studies to deal with moods?
is not something that can be treated and left behind. It is something
that can be treated and lived with.
is not, currently, something that can be treated and left behind. It is something
that can be treated and lived with. I am fortunate enough to respond well to
Lithium. But Lithium alone cannot keep me stable and Lithium alone certainly
can't solve all my problems.
found several things that are helpful in addition to Lithium.
rest, on a fairly regular basis. For me, this means eight hours sleep out
of every twenty-four, usually between the hours of 4 AM and Noon. This brings
up the fact that "routine" for someone else may not be "routine"
for you. A friend of mine believes I would be healthier if I woke at 6 AM
and went to sleep at 10 P.M., like him. When I am forced to make 8 AM meetings
or appointments, I tend to go manic and then crash. It is easier for me to
stay stable on the 4 AM to Noon sleep schedule.
- Eating frequent, small meals, with lots of
fresh vegetables, and whole grains. Extra Vitamin B helps a lot. Medical advice
is to drink at least eight glasses of water a day while taking Lithium; I've
also found that lots of water keeps me more clearheaded and even-mooded.
- I am moderately hypoglycemic and I would do
even better if I could stay away from sweets and caffeine entirely. I can't.
I do manage to moderate myself, and offset my indulgences with a bit of protein.
I find that I can handle an occasional Guinness Stout, but that more than
two beers means three days depression. These things all vary for other bipolars;
some can't handle any caffeine, chocolate or alcohol whatsoever.
- I do not require jogging or racquetball sessions,
but I do require some physical exercise every day. Since I have been a bookworm
with a desk job most of my life, I sometimes have to consciously remind myself
to take a walk.
- My physical health affects my bipolar health.
Any illness can trigger mood cycling; if I'm ill, I need to take extra self-care
to keep my mood swings stable. When my moods are erratic, my allergies are
more severe, and vice versa. Treating my bipolar disorder makes my allergies
easier to handle, and treating my allergies makes the bipolar disorder easier
- Right now I have the best human support system
I have ever had in my life. If I got depressed and frantic at 3:30 AM, there
are at least four people I could phone, right then, who would talk me through
it or even come and get me. I have a sweetie that I work with most of the
day who will bring me food and remind me to take a break if I don't remember
to climb out of the computer for five hours. This support system is the major
reason I am functioning as well as I am. There are still times when I am manic
that I have to force myself to slow down and be patient with my loved ones it
totally amazes me how every human being on earth gets so stupid so suddenly
whenever I am manic. And when I am depressed I have to make a conscious effort
to reach out for human contact with the friends who will not try to "jolly
me" or make me "cheer up." Just being with people who care
about me, who will act normal and casual and let me catch up with the conversation
as I can, will ease a depression. Being with someone who insists on fixing
me can deepen it.
- One way to learn your own needs and reactions
is to keep a journal for a while. Note what you eat, when and how much you
sleep, how much you exercised, who you talked to. Note how you felt and acted.
Identify objective signs of how you are doing your grooming, your housecleaning,
screaming at the mailman, finishing tasks or not finishing them. After awhile
you will be able to see patterns: chocolate sets off a manic cycle, Aunt Freddie
sets off a depressive cycle, if you don't eat green beans at least once every
three days your medication has no effect at all. There will be unique things
that affect you uniquely.
For about three months
after I started taking Lithium, I felt better than I had ever felt in my life.
I was aware of what was going on around me; I was able to build real relationships;
I was able to complete tasks and projects; my personal growth surged. Then
my guts turned into octopi. I was so wired with anxiety that my skin tingled
with it. I felt like crying at absurd things like Frito commercials. It wasn't
a drug reaction or a bipolar state. It was forty-five years of emotions that
had never been dealt with because I was distracted by either mania or depression,
saying "Oh, goodie. You're awake. UNFINISHED BUSINESS!"
About two years of counseling
and personal work untangled those knots. The current problem I am dealing
with is that I have the lifetime habits of living like a manic depressive
the mood swings are treated, but the habits are still there. I am not
used to routine I'm used to running until I drop. I'm used to over-committing
myself in seven directions from Sunday, because I have to use the energy while
I have it I know I'm going to crash. After seven years, I still emotionally
fear that one day my feet will disappear out from under me and the Great Gray
Fog will roll back in. Sometimes, in spite of everything, it does. So everything
has to be done now.
I have to work with a counselor
to make myself slow down, take time for self-care, build a routine. There are
different issues for each person but each person will have issues to deal with
that aren't instantly settled by bipolar medication.
Whatever the effectiveness
of your medication or your counseling or your self-development program, you
will have mood swings anyway. One of the most difficult adjustments to make
is to learn to distinguish symptoms that require contacting the doctor for a
possible adjustment in your meds, from the normal ups and downs of life. Granting
yourself permission to feel excited or sad, to feel like dancing or like curling
up with a book, to let yourself have a range of responses to life, can take
If you are used to having
your body run wild with you, you may be tempted to keep it on a tight rein.
If your wife is used to seeing you throw furniture through the windows, she
may get nervous when you cuss at the news on TV. Learning what a healthy mood
range is for you is going to take a lot of work, and a lot of talking with your
family, friends, and others who live and work with you. Make time for this.
Getting diagnosed and treated gives you more time. The health and life expectancy
of people treated for bipolar disorder is much higher than those going without
treatment. I have had less physical illness of all kinds since I began taking
Lithium a fact I remind myself of whenever I get cranky about the extra weight.
And cranky is normal, after
all. Everyone has moods.
All Rights Reserved. © by Anitra L. Freeman
Last updated July 13, 2005