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.
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?
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.”
’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.
Ways I Get Out of Line for the “Bipoller Coaster”
Stretch and meditate
Research an intriguing topic
Take a long break from TV, music, and lights
Plan my fantasy treehouse
Shower in the dark
Sit down and eat an adequate healthy meal
Force a nap
Always go to bed by 10 p.m. (midnight at the very latest)
Watch a compelling movie/documentary
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.
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.
Enhanced primary care helps reduce ER visits October 1, 2020, CHAPEL HILL, NC—Integrating primary care services and behavioral health services appears to reduce emergency room visits among people with severe psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, a new study suggests. American researchers, using the customary term “serious mental illness,” noted that individuals with such conditions...
Mood symptoms such as overspending, hypersexuality, anger attacks, and self-isolation hurt those around us. A simple apology is just the starting point of making things right. When Our Actions during Bipolar Mood Episodes Harm Others Olivia S. of Colorado got up one morning to unexpectedly find two of her four grown children in her living...
I love a good mood-tracking checklist, but to recognize and address my symptoms, I look to specific factors that provide the context of impending episodes. One thing I am currently trying to sear into my memory (and others’, too!) is that bipolar is a cognitive disorder—so the symptoms are incredibly sneaky…. And, unfortunately, undetected shifts...
Times have been tough. But so are we. The end-of-year holidays can be difficult any year, and, this time around, they pose new challenges to our mood and well-being. Let’s not forget: Living with bipolar has taught us how to navigate through uncertainty. Here are the coping skills I’ve been relying on to remain stable...