10 Ways I Get Out of Line for the “Bipolar Roller Coaster”

Last Updated: 27 Jul 2020

With this diagnosis comes lifetime admission to the Bipolar Theme Park, where the possibilities for mood flare-ups (and downs) are endless! … But, guess what? We don’t have to ride ALL of the roller coasters.

getting out of line for the bipolar roller coaster emotions mood swings episodes management

In my journey with bipolar, I’ve been puzzling over how to detect the signs of an oncoming mood episode. I want to catch them as early as possible so I can mitigate the triggers and symptoms instead of going on a ride that’s a bit too “thrilling” for me to handle.

Trouble is, I can’t always tell which ride I’m in line for.
Is this the lazy river? Or the free fall?

Bipolar, I Don’t Know Where You End and I Begin …

The signs of depressive episodes aren’t terribly hard for me to spot or manage. Like many others who have bipolar II disorder, I’ve got decades of experience dealing with those.

But despite reading the diagnostic criteria and doing plenty of self-reflection, it’s still very difficult for me to differentiate early symptoms of (hypo)mania from my own authentic self.

If I find new enjoyment in something, I’ll begin to think: OMG, is this hypomania? Stop!!
But another part of me says: No, this is normal! I just like things the same way “normal” people do! Can’t I LIVE? Gah!!

… And so begins the analysis paralysis.

My Official List of Red Flags

One thing that has helped me a lot is (begrudgingly) acknowledging that I have certain behaviors that come and go consistently. These behaviors or experiences include ambidexterity; violent, intrusive thoughts; inability to focus; prolific writing; and feeling totally inhabited by a song or a musical style.

And even though this list of hypomania red flags are atypical and so might stand out from the “norm,” the behaviors were difficult for me to suss out. Why? Because after years—if not decades—they are very well ingrained in my life and routine. But now that I have identified them, I consider them signals of a brain-chemistry change. I even keep an official list of these episodic behaviors.

Going through that thought process (and writing process) really strengthened my mood-management muscles. Plus, having a list to reference in my weekly sessions with my psychiatrist feels like a major system upgrade. Even so, I still struggle with differentiating between “authentic self” and “bipolar self.”

The ’80s Called and Told Me: “Just Say NO”

I hope that with time it will become easier for me to know my exact mood whereabouts, but, until then, I’m taking some baby steps backward. Backing up a bit helps me see which ride I’m in line for, and it gives me an opportunity to get out of line for rides that are out of my league.

My best way to “back away from the line” is to reduce and/or confront sensory stimulation in my environment. Over time, I’ve made many small changes to my routine and habits that add up to a new lifestyle, post-diagnosis—one where I have both more space and more confidence to seek and find harmony with my bipolar.

In fact, I get out of line for the roller coaster every day, without even considering it a “bipolar management” thing. Every single day, one (or more!) of the habits below takes me a step backward—and that’s a good thing.

10 Ways I Get Out of Line for the “Bipoller Coaster”

  1. Stretch and meditate
  2. Research an intriguing topic
  3. Write
  4. Take a long break from TV, music, and lights
  5. Plan my fantasy treehouse
  6. Shower in the dark
  7. Sit down and eat an adequate healthy meal
  8. Force a nap
  9. Always go to bed by 10 p.m. (midnight at the very latest)
  10. Watch a compelling movie/documentary

Serenity NOW!

Most of these moves are basically just a directive to rest. (It’s definitely not easy to rest when there’s an itch you can’t scratch, but I do try to remember that resting IS actually, easy, by definition…) And I’ve found that incorporating some new habits has helped me manage the volume of sensory stimulation I experience—which, in turn, helps stabilize my mood.

The mainstream is even catching onto this idea; they call it “dopamine fasting.” 🙂

A Parting Souvenir

So, my bipolar brethren, what I’d like for you to take away from this is that managing bipolar disorder isn’t about exiting the theme park—it’s about staying off the rides we can’t handle.

It took a lot of time for me to

(a) acknowledge that I can and should adjust my behavior,
(b) figure out which calming measures work best for me, and
(c) mentally adjust to an overall reduction in sensory stimulation.

But what I learned is that incorporating downtime habits makes for a smoother ride through the wild and crazy theme park that is life with bipolar.

What do you do to step out of line for the “Bipolar Roller Coaster” and incorporate some much-needed downtime?

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Originally published March 14, 2020

About the author
Brooke Baron has a BA in English, a minor in philosophy, and a lifelong obsession with language. She is the author of A Beginner's Guide to Being Bipolar. Although born and raised in Alabama, she has been a proud California resident for 10+ years. During a professional stint in Silicon Valley—in both the corporate and private business sectors—she handled internal and external communications, office design and construction, photography and graphic design, executive assistance, and functioning on very little sleep. Brooke now specializes in "New Human Orientation" from her home in the suburbs. She has a young, loving, growing family of five and is fueled by that love and coffee. In addition to caring for the rest of Team Baron, she enjoys writing, reading, researching miscellaneous topics, and funneling manic energy into creative projects. With so many balls in the air—including bipolar II disorder—balancing her life is like balancing two kangaroos on a see-saw. She offers consulting services for the bipolar community at Better Bipolar Balance.
  1. Hey Brooke,

    Wow, wow, and wow. I am new to this community as well as newly diagnosed. All my life I have dealt with musical obsessions! It is alleviating to realize that I am not the only one. I have always been musically inclined, being a musician and songwriter. When my hypomania kicks in, I can write 2-3 songs in one sitting. I have always tried to explain my sudden inspirations to people, without much success. I always felt like I wasn’t the one writing my music. I now realize that, maybe, it was my bipolar disorder doing the writing, and that is why I could never grasp the source of my inspiration. Very well written article, and very insightful. Thank you so very much.

    1. Hi Steph!

      Thank you so much for saying that! Sounds like bipolar is your creative superpower 🙂


  2. Hello Brooke,

    Thank you for this great article, I really appreciate the community here at bphope! Being able to relate to your life and experiences with bipolar is immensely helpful. In particular, I appreciate your identification of red flags for hypomania via writing. I have been journaling myself, recently after I was diagnosed in October of last year, after Reading Mad Like Me, by Meryl Hammond and her recommendations to keep an eye on moods. What I never noticed that may have been a red flag for bipolar is my changing absorption by and fixation on certain music styles as you mentioned above. I went from an almost constant desire to listen to Frank Sinatra this past November to being absorbed by Lo-Fi music now. Your insight has helped further my understanding of my mood disorder, thank you!

    1. Hi, Erik! Thank you so much for your comment. I’m just glad I’m not the only one with episodic musical obsessions 🙂

      Might have to check out that book you mentioned.

      Take care! Xx

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