My first manic episode and diagnosis of bipolar hit me hard. They pushed me to become the person I am today—someone who proactively manages symptoms and not only truly knows herself but also trusts herself in the midst of any storm.
My 1st Manic Episode
My first experience of going to therapy was in 1998, at age 27. I was struggling and sought out help. I had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, but it didn’t phase me. I was in and out of therapy and off and on medication … until 2004, at age 33, when I had my first full-blown manic episode and was diagnosed with bipolar.
Bipolar Made Me Take Responsibility for Myself
This diagnosis (and the manic episode) hit hard, a real blow to my self-esteem and to my life. Back then, I remember people telling me to make sure I stayed on my meds. From that point on, therapy and taking my meds became a regular responsibility and a top priority in my life. The blow of this diagnosis forced me to make some grown-up decisions about how I was living my life and step up and be responsible for myself and my mental well-being.
From Partying to Proactively Managing My Bipolar & Myself
For example, my drinking and partying changed after my diagnosis. Mixing alcohol and medication quickly became problematic, and I had a few incidences of ending up over-intoxicated, which was a hazard to my safety, so I re-prioritized my mental well-being over drinking and getting drunk. I also stopped any partying that included any kind of brain-altering effects, like psychedelics or recreational drugs. Having this diagnosis motivated me to want to keep my sanity, my stability, and my head straight, as much as possible. This meant no longer partaking in ways that distorted my cognitive senses or undermined my ability for self-management. This definitely became part of a proactive approach to managing my bipolar and managing myself.
Mania Was Overwhelming
The other reason to focus on my self-management and be responsible for myself as best I could was mania, something I hadn’t dealt with before, as I had been living with depression and anxiety. I’m not sure if other people have experienced this, but, during mania, I learned quickly that too many things could go wrong.
During my first manic episode, I lost an expensive wallet, spent over $7,000 in a mere few months (which I couldn’t afford), sent rambling emails to several people (OK, to everyone—including my coworkers), and contacted people I shouldn’t have, like exes or people I didn’t really know.
I remember being a frazzled, overwhelmed, all-over-the-place emotional mess and feeling like everything was going wrong or falling apart. It took a few months of meeting with my psychiatrist until the mania ran its course, things settled, and I felt like myself again.
Cultivating “Mania Mode” aka “Damage Control”
Call it learning the hard way, but lesson learned. This experience literally forced me to cultivate what I would call “mania mode” simply because the damage that was done, I couldn’t afford to do again. I became good at recognizing when a manic episode was coming on, usually by lack of sleep or loss of appetite, and would go into “mania mode” until it ran its course. “Mania mode” was really like damage control, and I got better and better at it with each manic episode, staying on top of the situation as best I could.
I learned to recognize my stressors, the signs and factors going on, and I learned how to proactively manage myself during each episode. During a manic episode, I learned I had to be even more focused and vigilant as I interacted with people who had no idea I was in the midst of a manic episode. What was helpful was learning to lay low while in a manic episode; but it’s impossible not to have any interactions, so each interaction needed to be productive and not a source of stress or a potential trigger. This required me to learn to be more concise, purposeful, and intentional.
I didn’t want any problems or to get tied up in a conversation or situation, my objective was just to meet my needs and be on my way, get in/get out. And to minimize the chaos, it motivated me to hone my organizational and efficiency skills. I found myself creating a strategic approach to my manic episodes out of sheer necessity.
And, yes, my highest priority and responsibility was ultimately my own well-being. I became so skilled at recognizing the signs personal to my manic episodes and meeting my needs during mania that it actually helped me to diminish my manic episodes and even helped me to stay out of mania altogether.
My last manic episode was in 2008, 12 years ago. I now operate with systems in place to meet my needs that were created also out of desperation and fear. There were a few times over the past few years when I could have ended up in a manic episode, but I immediately recognized the telltale signs and used “mania mode” to proactively avoid it. When I felt mentally drained or so stressed it could push me over the edge, what has helped me has always been meditation, having some downtime, getting good sleep, and eating some hearty meals.
The Rough Times Put Me on a Path to Growth, Stability, & Wellness
Living with depression and anxiety didn’t really drive a need for a proactive approach to my managing my mental well-being. So, I guess this could be the silver lining to the diagnosis that hit me so hard. Through learning about bipolar, the manic episodes, and the stigma, it helped me to manage my symptoms and learn about myself.
It was a rocky first few years, but those years put the ball in motion for growth, responsibility, strategy, and, ultimately, triumph.
I look back and see how I was committed and determined to be there for myself as I needed to be, the only one who could hold myself down and be my own stability during my own personal storm. I would have never known my strength or the true potential within if it weren’t for bipolar and being pushed by this illness to overcome the obstacles of manic episodes that were thrown at me during my most difficult times.
And with a bipolar diagnosis, I can still be my own rock because my bipolar made me become my own rock. That’s the silver lining.
Debbie Jacobs is an advocate, writer, and healing specialist living in Alexandria, Virginia. She lived most of her adult life with a diagnosis of depression and anxiety, and then was diagnosed with bipolar. She speaks out on how self-improvement is life improvement and believes we all can live happy lives by making positive changes to ourselves. Her influences are Louise Hay, Napoleon Hill, Les Brown, and Tony Robbins. She does positivity life coaching and is in the process of writing her first book on her healing process of accomplishing positive thinking, positive effective coping skills, and healthy self-esteem—what she calls “freedom and happiness.” She shares her work to motivate, inspire, and help others make positive changes to themselves for their freedom and happiness, too.
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