Living with bipolar makes the rough waters everyone inevitably confronts more challenging. But you can still safely and smoothly go with the flow.
The first time I went whitewater rafting, I had so many misperceptions. I was truly naive—not unlike when I was first diagnosed with bipolar.
Indeed, I seriously had a number of concerns about going rafting. Would I be totally at the mercy of the river? What if we hit a big boulder? Would I be better off just staying ashore and not racing the rapids? At least I had a choice.
Similarly, I had many misgivings after learning that I had bipolar. How could I gain control over something so seemingly uncontrollable? Who would help me during the tough times? Regardless, a key part of battling bipolar was simply staying afloat. I had no choice!
Whether we’re talking whitewater or wellness, going with the flow is indeed the way to go. In both cases, I eventually gained more insight and came to four reassuring realizations:
You have a guide, and there’s no shame in seeking guidance.
I went rafting with eight guys, but our petite, female guide was the one reason we made it. She knew the river, the ropes, and how to rein us in. We all played an important role, but we had to constantly look to her for critical cues and well-deserved criticism.
If you live with bipolar, having a competent psychiatrist can help you handle even the roughest waters. For me, working with an additional guide (a therapist) improved my understanding of bipolar and equipped me with valuable wellness tools for managing it.
There are rules on the river and rules on the road to recovery.
Our river guide spent considerable time making sure we knew the guidelines. She also clearly explained the repercussions should we choose to ignore them. (Unfortunately, one of us did just that and suffered the consequences!)
When I first started seeing my psychiatrist, he made sure I knew what successfully living with bipolar entailed. From attending support groups to researching any prescribed medicines for myself, he covered the bases. He particularly emphasized the importance of seeing my therapist routinely and asking for help when necessary.
It pays to work together as a team.
When you have eight people floating through raging waters, everyone has to work together. Otherwise, the chances of running into a river of problems increases.
Battling bipolar is tough, especially if you don’t surround yourself with a capable support team. It really helps to have family and/or friends who care and can give feedback, provide a listening ear or lend a hand should the need arise. Attending support groups with others who can relate is also invaluable.
Having a contingency (or crisis) plan is essential.
When you go rafting, you hope for a fun, uneventful experience. However, a crisis can still occur. What if someone goes overboard? What if the raft capsizes? You have to be prepared for such possibilities.
Likewise, it’s imperative to cover all the “what if” scenarios with your psychiatrist and therapist. What if I have medication side effects? What if I have suicidal thoughts? Take time to talk about the role your friends/family will play, and when they should intervene. Being proactive can really pay off.
In the case of rafting or recovery, things can always take an unexpected turn. It may seem like you’re merely at the mercy of a river or of bipolar, but that’s not the case. Going with the flow does not mean giving up control; it means taking charge!
Living with bipolar can make the rough waters that everyone inevitably confronts that much more challenging. But when you learn from your guide, pay attention to the rules, partner with your team, and put a plan in place, you can still safely, smoothly, and successfully navigate the waterways of life.
Printed as “Mind Over Mood: A How-to For Turbulent Waters,” Fall 2018
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