At certain points in the year and in life, I feel pressured to accomplish a lot of tasks all at once. I’ve learned that when I’m overbooked and overwhelmed, hypomania, mania, and hospitalization are sure to follow. Here’s what I do to avoid a mood episode with bipolar.
Obligations, Overscheduling & Bipolar Do NOT Mix Well
Ever notice how some
seasons or months seem to be busier and more overwhelming than others? In the
past, April has always been a difficult month for me. In “normal” times, at
least, that is when the school year is winding down and, all of a sudden,
everyone wants a piece of me and my time.
There are many positive, enjoyable events that I love to be a part of. But between final concerts for band, award programs for honor roll, and planning for summer vacation, I feel pulled in every direction. Add to my uptick in work responsibilities, this is also when both of my older daughters have birthdays, just two days apart, no less. With all of these factors combined, our lives are suddenly scheduled to the hilt.
We usually tried having
three birthday parties—two separate parties for each daughter with her friends,
and then a family party celebrating them both. That alone would tie up three
weekends; then, on the weekdays when they were young, I would cook cupcakes and
take them to school for class parties. Add in all the other activities, and soon
I was stressed, overscheduled, and—inevitably—hypomanic or heading into
I would run around town,
trying to fulfill the obligations of three children’s schools, buy supplies,
decorations, goody-bag items, and cake mixes for the parties; purchase and wrap
presents; then clean the house so it was fit for company to come over. It was a
recipe for disaster, yet I still fell into the same trap every year—and often
wound up in the hospital in May, after all the running around was done.
The same pattern usually
occurred around Christmas—with decorations to put up, parties to go to,
presents to wrap, and baking to take care of. Eventually, I learned to avoid
overscheduling myself so I wouldn’t go into hypomania.
#1 Enlist Support—Early and Often.
For one thing, I reached
out for as much help as possible. If I fell behind on the cleaning, I hired
someone to come in an extra day to aid me in sorting out all the accumulated
stuff that comes with living in a house with three children.
Depending on the task,
and the times, your situation might be different. Maybe you’ve taken on too
much remote work to also continue juggling your personal obligations and routine
maintenance–related tasks. In such a case, you could consider hiring a virtual
personal assistant to handle your grocery deliveries, filing digital files
appropriately, culling your email inbox, and so on, for a week or two.
If that’s not financially
an option, see if you can enlist a friend or neighbor or extended family member
to lend a hand, either in person or at a safe distance.
#2 Delegate All Tasks That CAN Be Delegated.
As our children got
older, I gave them more responsibility for preparing for events like their birthday
parties. They addressed their own party invitations, frosted their own
cupcakes, and cleaned their own rooms.
I often split obligations
with my husband, too. He would take a child to one school event, while I stayed
home and baked; or he took one child birthday shopping while I took another. Other
times, a grandparent would pitch in, keeping the children company while I
worked on some other project. It was a win-win for all.
#3 Let Go of Perfection & Simplify as Much as Possible.
As I got wiser about my
condition, I learned to just let some things go. Once the children got out of
the elementary-school stage, I quit making elaborate homemade cakes for their
parties. I stopped tying bows on their presents, simply wrapping them instead. We
baked together for Christmas and shared the work of putting up our trees. I
simplified our décor plans, and I shopped for presents throughout the year to
avoid a mad rush just before special events.
#4 Keep in Touch with Your Bipolar Treatment Team.
I also stayed in close touch with my treatment team when I saw trouble coming down the road. I learned to set boundaries, making my case for needing more rest and fewer obligations. If I felt mania coming on hard, I knew I would need hospitalization if I didn’t pull back.
The Lure of
Mania and Overdoing It
Some people thrive on
mania when their lives get too complicated. They think it enables them to pull
off more activities than they could otherwise. That’s the seduction of the
upward mood swing of bipolar disorder. But, as we always know, what goes up
must come down. It can become a vicious cycle, where no one is sure if you
overschedule because you’re manic or if you become manic because of the
I’ve always found that the overscheduling comes before the mania—the sensation of running as fast as I can and getting nowhere is not pleasant. I learned that the children were happier when I became more present for each event as it happened, rather than racing ahead to the next one. I resisted the urge for everything to be “perfect” and settled for “good enough.” I took my meds on schedule and resisted the lure of hypomania or full-blown mania to help me get everything done. I enlisted help when I needed it—and I accepted help even if I didn’t think I needed it—knowing that my awareness was likely impaired if I found myself scheduling six impossible things before breakfast.
Mania can be so tempting; our world rewards the overachieving and the busy. But if you know your patterns and mood swings well (and most of us do after a few rounds with the disorder) make sure that the overscheduling bug doesn’t bite and lead you down a dark path of unreason and mania in the name of accomplishing as much as (or more than) the next person. Honor your challenges and make accommodations.
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