Meltdowns happen to everyone––even those that are careful in managing their triggers and knowledgeable about the early signs of mood episodes. So it’s extremely important to know how to deal with them.
Bipolar disorder can take you from crisis to crisis if it’s not managed regularly. My goal is to think about bipolar every day so that I can reduce mood swings and get on with my life. I do this by managing my triggers and knowing what each mood swings looks like. You would think this would prevent me from getting sick, but nope! I still get sick. The difference these days is that I can now go through a massive meltdown without ruining my life as I used to do in the past.
I’d like to share what I do to deal with these meltdowns, especially when it feels like they are out of control and my life is a speeding car without any breaks going the wrong way down a one-way street!
#1 I know what a meltdown feels like
I know what I think, say and do. This helps me be IN the mood swing without being 100% controlled by the mood swing.
#2 I let myself feel sad that I’m so sick again
Having true compassion for what I, the real me has to go through due to this rotten illness actually helps. I often say to myself, “Oh Julie. Here it is again. The hell on earth is back. You’re sick. I’m sad this happens to you. It’s not fair. Let’s take care of it!” This puts a space between the lies the bipolar is telling me and the real me. It allows me to be present while falling apart. It works during the most dangerous downswings where I have thoughts of not wanting to live. It allows me to be nice to myself when my brain is being really mean!
#3 I respect the seriousness of the bipolar
I mean that I really, really take it seriously when I fall apart. I try to give myself the self-care I give myself when the flu is ravaging my system. Bipolar feels emotional and it looks emotional, but it truly is just chemical. I have never had a bipolar meltdown that was justified. The whole mood swing is so over the top that nothing in the world justifies it. It’s not sadness- it’s madness. I rarely use this word, but meltdowns are just so intense and so serious. I have to take them seriously and get the help I need!
#4 I plan in advance for when they show up
I know- my brain tells me I will never get that sick again! I am more mature. I have better coping skills. I have a management plan. Etc, but I still get too sick to function. I can say that it happens less and less now that I use the ideas in my books- but big mood swings still show up and they are still doozies. I was diagnosed over 20 years ago. The meltdowns are a lot less now, but they are still here. This means they will show up again in the future. I will be ready.
#5 I put all of my energy into getting out of the meltdown
If I need to leave work, I leave work. If this means calling in all of my health care team, I do so. If this means tweaking my meds, getting a massage, telling the truth to my friends, getting out in nature to remind myself that life is worth living and basically doing everything I can to get out of the mood swing, I will. Here is a post I wrote while in the middle of a real whopper. For myself, writing helps me get out of the meltdown. It gives me perspective and reminds me that this is an illness. It’s not personal.
How is your mood today? If you’re a partner or a family member, how is your loved one’s mood? If things are relatively stable, now is a GREAT time to talk about a plan for handling the really big bipolar melt downs. So many mistakes are made when we listen to the mood swings that tell us that life is no good, people are out to get us and everything is pointless. You can implement the five ideas here starting today- and prepare yourself for the next big one. We can do this! My last melt down was two months ago. It was a big one. I made it through once again.
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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