Living with bipolar isn’t easy—it requires strength. We can get through periods of societal instability and still remain stable with our bipolar. Here are the strategies I’m using to get through this stressful, triggering season.
Bipolar & the Need for Support and Coping Skills in Times of Stress
Bipolar disorder isn’t an easy illness. We need support and management skills to get on with our lives. The last thing we expected was a world health crisis that would affect our daily routine.
My bipolar has been much worse since this all began. I am rapid-cycling more, and I find that my schedule and sleep are greatly affected. How has this been for your bipolar disorder or your mood overall?
I realized a few months ago that I needed a plan to get me through this in the long-term. In order to survive and manage my bipolar at the same time, I’ve had to dig deep and figure out how to continue to lead a productive and hopefully happy life when so much has changed. I need extra help right now. And it’s important to counteract the natural isolation of physical distancing by finding purpose in our daily lives.
We can come through this as stable people going through an unstable time. People with bipolar are strong. We have to be. But we do need help when it comes to these big life triggers! Here are six strategies I use interchangeably, depending on how tough times are in the moment. I hope they will work for you as well.
6 Strategies for Symptom Management in Stressful Situations
1. Turn to art, literature, and music that expresses similar situations from the past.
I recently watched one of my favorite movies, Cast Away with Tom Hanks. It never fails to inspire me, and it always reminds me that into each life a little rain must fall. Right now, we’re in what feels like a tsunami more than a bit of rain, but it’s nothing new. Art reminds us that life hasn’t really changed. Struggles are simply part of the human experience. If you really want to get heavily into this topic, read The Plague by Albert Camus. It will remind you that life is life and we can survive.
2. Remind yourself daily that life is a cyclical experience of yin and yang, up and down, great and awful.
Life’s an infinite loop of experiences. People survive wars, famine, persecution, pain, and fear because this is part of life. It begins and it ends. For many, this health crisis might be the first time something serious hits very close to home, but I think of those who grew up in the Balkans in the 90s, lived in Europe during WWII, went through the Cultural Revolution in China, or were in the path of Mount Vesuvius! We are a part of a never-ending cycle. This is one of the rough times, for many. How do we want to be during this time? Can we learn about ourselves and gain perspective? I hope so.
3. Starting journaling or creating a tangible description of what you’re going through right now.
Is it time to finally write your graphic novel? What about simply writing down what you’re going through so you can remember it in the future? Writing and creating are forms of therapy. Sometimes we have to do this to survive. I started an Instagram account with one goal: to educate people about bipolar disorder using as few words as possible. It has been a big challenge and helped me with many lonely nights! I am not a natural graphic designer, but I’ve always wanted to be a graphic designer, so now is the time. What can you write, sing, paint, carve, or build? Taking on this kind of creativity is occupational therapy, and it helps with fear and pain and the thought that this will never end.
4. Ask for help if this is all too much.
If you made it through the first three ideas and still believe that all of this is impossible, it might be that the bipolar is simply too strong right now. Tell someone. Talk to someone. Isolating is too dangerous for us. I know how hard it is to ask for help when I’m not well.
I had a rotten downswing a few days ago and felt so overwhelmed with our current situation. All I could do was remind myself to Treat Bipolar First, and I talked to my practitioner, and it helped. It’s normal for us to be sick right now. Bipolar is a triggered illness. If you’re new to my work, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder has a whole chapter on triggers that explains why we react in the way we to do world events.
Therapy also helps. It can be done online or by text. Trying it out is the only way you will know if it works for you!
Think of what you need. Are you isolating to the point that every day is the same and reading this post is the most human contact you have had in a while? Please ask for help. I do it.
Find someone who matches your life philosophy and worldview and TALK. There is also an account on Instagram called HumenOrg that is especially helpful for men.
5. If you’re feeling well enough and have the finances, think about fostering a pet.
This is different than getting a new puppy or kitten. I don’t recommend puppies and kittens for those of us with bipolar who are having mood swings, as little animals need too much care at night. But what about fostering an older animal? You might find you CAN handle having a pet without it disrupting your mood—and you have a new companion! I love animals and know that having a dog around me, as well as a cat, makes a big difference. As someone with severe sleep problems, I can’t take care of a new baby, but I can help out an older animal. Fostering is a good idea!
6. Think of who you are and where you fit in the world.
Is now a good time to think about the spiritual side of life? Why are we here and what does it mean to go through a world crisis? Does it make you look to the stars and wonder about other worlds?
Maybe you are drawn to a spiritual practice or learning more about physics. Maybe the life of a virus is an interesting topic for you. The goal is to think outside of your daily experience of being in this situation.
I get so caught up in myself when I’m sick, but thinking about the overall human existence really helps. This can start slowly, with a podcast or a recorded book, but please do think about expanding your existence into the bigger world. It might provide some relief on the tough days.
Living with bipolar disorder for almost 40 years has taught me that I can handle anything. I believe you can as well. We are unique in that we have lived with challenges far before this latest health crisis arrived. We are strong.
Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get It Done When You’re Depressed, and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. She is a columnist and blogger for bp Magazine, and she won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lilly Reintegration Achievement Award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for ShareCare, a site created by Dr. Oz and Oprah. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals, including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists, and general practitioners, on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis, and Depression." You can find more about her work at JulieFast.com and BipolarHappens.com.
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