Balancing Bipolar Disorder

I recently saw my psychiatrist for a check-up, something that happens every month or two depending on my mood. He’s been pleased with my progress and during the appointment he remarked “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.” This got me thinking – what am I doing? In the past year I’ve fluctuated between hyper mania and clinical depression, and while I still have days where I’m slightly up or down, I mostly feel calm. Since I know that being bipolar means my next mood swing is lurking around the corner, I thought I’d try to figure out what’s working for me. I don’t know if what’s working for me will work for you, but I sure hope it does.

  • Prioritize sleep. This is the key. Sticking to a set wake-up time makes it easier to fall asleep at night, as does less caffeine, no screens before bed, and a calming ritual (mine is a shower, stretches, my gratitude journal, and reading).
  • Eat a healthy diet. The second key. I’ve eliminated dairy and most grains and am working on sugar. It’s hard. But worth it – I feel the effects immediately when I fall off the sugar wagon. Also important is consistently taking my fish oil and Vitamin D, and limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption. For me this means a morning coffee, an afternoon tea, and a glass of wine with dinner.
  • Exercise. I work out 5 or 6 days a week for about thirty minutes each time. I rotate between cardio, weights, and yoga, but the important thing is just to do something you like that gets you off the couch.
  • Reduce stress and triggers. I’ve learned that I have to spend less time on screens and more time outside, listening to music, or drawing. I also have to take a few minutes alone to breathe and recharge when needed.

It’s essential to listen to ourselves and pay attention to our moods. I’ve figured out that if I’m feeling too manic I need to:

  • Reduce or eliminate caffeine.
  • Stick to my diet. To make this easier I eat the same breakfasts, lunches, and snacks most days, and dinner is a slight variation on the same thing. If I don’t have to think about what to eat I’m less tempted to make poor choices. Anything is easy to justify when I’m manic… YOLO.
  • Be strict about waking up at the same time every morning, not napping, and improving my calming nightly ritual. I often turn screens off earlier in the evening and add white noise to lull me to sleep. I might also have my glass of wine closer to bedtime to help me relax. Alcohol is a slippery slope for me and I’ve learned that even a second glass is usually too much.
  • Stop talking. Sometimes just forcing myself to be quiet calms me down when I’m becoming over-stimulated. Meditating helps too.
  • Avoid shopping as much as possible. It’s an easy trap to fall into, just like alcohol and (my weakness) food.

Similarly, if I’m starting to feel depressed I know that I should:

  • Have another cup of tea and cut out all alcohol.
  • Stick to my diet. Carbs and sugar (my favourite comfort food) start a downward spiral. Anything is easy to justify when I’m depressed too… don’t I deserve a little pick-me-up?
  • Do something invigorating even if it’s with low energy: declutter or clean, go for a walk outside, or take a hot shower.
  • Socialize with someone who makes me feel good. This is my least favourite and most helpful strategy. It doesn’t have to be a party – the more I try to force a mood the less likely it’ll work.
  • Don’t go back to bed during the day. Don’t sit on the couch until after dinner.
  • Get. off. of. Facebook. And my phone. Instead listen to music, paint my nails, get a massage, doodle a picture… anything soulful.

Looking at these lists makes me realize that my sanity revolves around structure and routines. It sounds more scheduled and boring than it is. I don’t always stick to my diet or get a good night’s sleep, and I’ll skip a workout in favour of quality family time, unless I’m feeling symptomatic. For me, these are the things that make me feel stable when I’m starting to feel unhinged, which is becoming less and less now that I recognize the signs. If you’re like me, these are suggestions of what to pay attention to when you feel too down or too up, so you can help yourself to feel better. Calm. Balanced. Good. At peace.

Contact me if you’re struggling and need help, or if you have a great tip to share.

© Charise Jewell, 2018