Losing my job because of this pandemic meant also losing my much-needed daily structure. With my go-to strategies for stability out of reach, I didn’t know how to manage “empty” time, isolation, and my bipolar. So, I used my calendar to make “appointments” with myself: complete a task, socialize virtually, exercise, and practice self-care. It’s made such a difference in my days, filling them with meaning and a sense of peace.
How COVID-19 Affected My Life & Bipolar Management
This is a daunting time for humanity. It seems like almost everything has changed. This world health crisis has had a profound impact on all of us. I’m a freelancer, and I, like many others, was laid off due to the pandemic. BC (my personal acronym for Before Coronavirus, or Before COVID-19), I typically worked 40–60 hours per week. Now I’m left with a ton of empty space in my life, and nothing meaningful (or lucrative) to fill it. I’ve suddenly found myself with something I used to dream of: free time. And now I don’t know what to do with it.
I’ve been practicing responsible physical distancing so I can do my part to flatten the curve. I’m not social distancing, because I still talk to friends and family online and via the phone. But now I can’t spend my days running errands, volunteering, going out to eat with friends, or visiting family. My world just got a lot smaller, and I have no distractions.
I know this is all temporary. The physical distancing thing won’t go on forever. I will be gainfully employed again. Scientists will find a vaccine and/or a cure. But, for now, this is a lot to deal with. Knowing this physical isolation won’t last forever doesn’t curb the fear and stress I feel in waves as each day goes by. This has all had a negative effect on my mental health.
I Need Structure & Routine for Mood Stability
I worked hard to manage my bipolar disorder BC. I got enough sleep, ate healthy foods, exercised, took my meds, saw my therapist, connected with people close to me, and engaged myself in stimulating projects that kept my brain actively challenged. I’m not about to give up on myself by ditching these things. I see my therapist via video chat now. I take online yoga classes instead of going to the studio—which is temporarily closed. And I have my prescriptions delivered from my pharmacy. Above all else, the crucial key to my stability was—and still is—maintaining a routine.
Having a predictable structure to my daily life is one of the most effective tools in my recovery journey. If I think back to the times when I’ve gone off the rails, whether it was a depressive or manic episode, I can usually trace the source back to a disruption in my routine. A life event like a breakup, the loss of a job, an illness, or even a fun one like a vacation can throw me off balance. It throws a monkey wrench into everything from my sleep schedule to my meds schedule, which impacts my overall stability. I guess I’m like a cat. My brain just doesn’t process change very well.
Not Letting My Routine Go to the Dogs (or Cats), Even While Spending
More Time with Them
To keep myself anchored, I’ve been reading, journaling,
painting, doing yoga via online classes, meditating, video chatting with
friends and family, deep cleaning things I’ve been meaning to (like the inside
of my oven), and going on walks at a safe physical distance. These coping
strategies help me feel some sense of normalcy in the face of all this
If I don’t have a timeline for errands or a list of deadlines from work imposed on me, I need to create a routine for myself in order to keep my sense of security and stay in recovery. I’ve always used Google Calendar to keep track of doctor appointments (which are now telemedicine) and social engagements. But who says everything on my schedule has to be a party or a consultation with a physician? My personal calendar is just that: mine.
I love Google Calendar because I can set up email reminders, I can view and manage it on my phone or laptop, I can share it with others, and I can set up events that repeat daily, weekly, or otherwise. Since I need routine for stability, I’ve begun blocking out time for activities like writing, meditating, creative projects, video chats, walking, and even cleaning. I need to meditate every day, so I created an event for myself called “meditation” that repeats every day at 2 PM and lasts for 30 minutes. I get an email reminder, so I don’t forget to do it. I assigned 2 hours a day for writing or journaling. I’ve broken up cleaning tasks by project and adjusted the time to fit each. So, I set aside three hours to give the fridge a good cleaning and I scheduled half a day to vacuum the dust and pet hair out of my HVAC air vents.
It may seem silly to put something like “coloring for relaxation” on a calendar. But coping strategies do no good when I don’t stick to them and repeat them regularly. When I put anything on my calendar, I become surprisingly accountable to myself. That makes me more likely to stay on track. I also share some events with others, like video chats, which makes me accountable to those friends and family members, too.
Having my self-care “appointments” planned out in a visual way, so I can see them right in front of me—and with email reminders—helps me stick to a schedule. This balance spills over into the rest of my life, too. If I know I have a 9 AM yoga class every morning, I have a real reason to get out of bed every day. If I plan relaxing hobbies in the evening, I find it easier to fall asleep. And, most importantly, having self-soothing activities in my schedule ensures that I keep doing them, which is important if I want to stay calm and grounded.
Finding Security, Balance, and Purpose with My New Self-Care
When this all started, I found myself staring at an empty
calendar, looking at a void of nothingness. It was a reminder that I’d lost my
job, I had nowhere to go, and nothing to get me out of bed every day. I felt
unsettled, adrift on an ocean, just treading water.
I feel much more secure now. My life still has meaning and purpose. I have self-care tasks—which are just as important as working or socializing—to look forward to every day. My days are filled with positive, healthy coping strategies I know will help get me through all of this. And I will get through all of this, intact and in recovery.
Carrie Cantwell is an Emmy-nominated film industry graphic designer with bipolar disorder. She grew up with a dad who had bipolar and whom she lost to suicide. She has written a book entitled Daddy Issues: A Bipolar Memoir, about how accepting her diagnosis taught her to forgive her dad and herself. Her blog is Darkness & Light.
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