Sometimes unexpected circumstances or bipolar itself disrupts our plans and expectations. When I feel low or anxious because of new or past challenges, I use specific mindfulness techniques to focus on the here and now.
Trauma & Mental Health Conditions
For two years, I served as a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) peer support group co-facilitator. NAMI is a nationally recognized mental health nonprofit whose mission is to provide advocacy, education, support, and public awareness so that all individuals and families affected by mental illness can build better lives.
As a co-facilitator, I was trained to
utilize a set of principles in our support groups, one of which was, “We
believe that mental illnesses are traumatic events that may have environmental
Think about that for a moment: We recognize that mental illnesses are traumatic events.
Recognizing the Impact
Whether or not you have a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD), many of you have likely experienced trauma over the course of your
life. I certainly have.
And maybe for you, as for me, trauma has arisen as a result
of mental health issues.
Maybe you lost a job, lost your house, spiraled into
homelessness, because your bipolar symptoms got out of control. Maybe you, like
me, experienced psychosis at the height of a manic episode.
Maybe you, like me, have been hospitalized for your mental
health condition, perhaps multiple times.
Maybe you have lost relationships, lost loved ones, as you
Maybe you, like me, have survived despite suicidal moments.
I think it’s about time that we recognize that the very
experience of having a mental illness is traumatic.
The symptoms I experience don’t fit the diagnostic criteria
for PTSD, and I don’t want to minimize what people who have a diagnosis of PTSD
That said, my experiences have left me shaken, struggling
with panic attacks and nightmares.
In response, I have sought ways to ground myself. Here are
some techniques I find helpful.
How I Ground Myself
1. Breathing Exercises
To cope with my panic attacks, I recently began
attending a class for learning deep-breathing techniques. I have learned how to
breathe from the diaphragm, deeply, rather than shallowly, from my upper chest.
A good technique I have learned is “box breathing,” inhaling for a count of
four, holding my breath for four, exhaling for four, holding my breath for
four, and then repeating.
I like the YouTube channel “Yoga with Adriene.”
It is accessible, and, though it can be challenging at times, there are also
beginner routines. I occasionally attend a yoga class, but when I am not able
to make it, I simply hook up my laptop, pull up a mat on my living room floor,
and do yoga with Adriene! Yoga slows me down and gets me out of my head and
into my body. I find it very calming.
I have to cook—we need to eat in my house! But
I also genuinely enjoy cooking. The peeling, chopping, stirring are tactile and
grounding. When I am feeling disconnected or blue, I listen to a Stevie Wonder music
stream, and work away in my little kitchen.
My simple message is this: don’t overlook the trauma caused by a mental illness. We recognize that mental illnesses are traumatic events. And find means to ground yourself, in whatever ways work for you.
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