When you have bipolar disorder it can feel like your disorder is in the driver’s seat of your mind and you are just along for the ride. It can create a helpless, hopeless feeling when you feel like your mood cycles are happening unpredictably and you don’t have any control over them. That helpless feeling can make you feel like your life is not really yours. You are being “lived” by your disorder.
Years ago I had a doctor try to help me with accepting and understanding my bipolar disorder by comparing it to type 1 diabetes. It was a helpful analogy because diabetes is a straightforward, clear cut disorder with an easy to understand issue–your body is unable to regulate its blood sugar naturally and so you have to help your body.
As I have learned more about diabetes from friends who have it I have been amazed at how similar the experience of learning to manage diabetes is to learning to manage bipolar disorder.
Monitoring Blood Sugar
When someone is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes she is informed by her doctor that she has a disorder in her body that makes it impossible for it to naturally regulate its blood sugar. She is instructed that she will need to give her body assistance by monitoring her blood sugar multiple times a day, every day, for the rest of her life. The information she gains from monitoring her blood sugar level will help her know if her body needs insulin or additional sugar to keep her blood sugar within a safe range.
She also learns that she has to be careful about food choices to make sure her body doesn’t get overloaded by too much sugar and cause a serious overcorrection that can be dangerous. She might have a small piece of cake, but remove the frosting, or if she’s at a restaurant and orders lasagna she might take half of the piece of lasagna home to avoid eating too many carbohydrates at once. The doctor can teach her some of the basics of how to make safe food choices, but most of it is learned by experience.
She will learn that there are other factors that can impact her blood sugar level. Stressors can have an impact, in either direction up or down. Sleep, the amount and quality, can impact her blood sugar. A friend of mine once told me that there are over 45 different factors that can affect your blood sugar level.
Each person is different and it is important for them to learn to proactively identify which factors impact their blood sugar and manage those factors by making choices or setting boundaries that help them proactively care for their disorder more effectively.
It’s Not Fair!
Someone with diabetes might feel like it is unfair that they have to be so vigilant in monitoring and managing their blood sugar all the time. I would agree with them, it isn’t fair. But fair has nothing to do with the reality of their situation.
A friend of mine who has diabetes also has a son with diabetes. She told me that he hated having diabetes as a boy. He just wanted to be “normal” so once when he went to a scout camp for a week he didn’t monitor his blood sugar and didn’t use insulin. As a result he ended up in the hospital in critical condition.
Fair or not, someone with diabetes has a choice. She can choose to monitor her blood sugar proactively, actively working to keep it balanced so she can live a healthy life. She can also choose to deal reactively with her diabetes, neglecting to monitor and manage her blood sugar and end up being forced to face the consequences of getting sick and ending up in the hospital. She has a choice to make every day.
How to Monitor Your Mood Balance
This comparison helped me understand my disorder better because they are so similar. With bipolar disorder my brain is unable to regulate my moods and emotions in a healthy way and I need to give it help with medication/supplementation, counseling, self-care and managing stressors.
One challenge I had, however, was how to “monitor” my mood, or check my “chemical balance.” I remember telling my uncle one day back when I was in college that I wish there was a way to analyze my brain chemicals to identify what was out of balance. Unfortunately that technology doesn’t exist yet.
Over the years I have discovered a way to monitor your mood simply and effectively using a mood tracking app.
I use the Bearable app. This is not a sponsored post, and I don’t receive any benefit–financial or otherwise–for recommending the app. I recommend it because it is the best mood tracking app I have used.
Using a mood tracking app helps you to begin to identify your mood cycles, symptoms and triggers so you can “monitor” your mood balance and learn how to treat it effectively. Similar to diabetes, you should track your mood balance multiple times a day, regardless of how you are feeling, so that you are able to create a more accurate picture for yourself, your doctor and your therapist.
With Bearable you are able to track:
- Factors that can impact your mood (i.e., places, social interactions, activity level, menstrual cycle, personal care, productivity, appointments, social media, weather, etc.)
- Energy level
- Medication and/or supplements
- and more…
You can customize almost anything within each category. That list may look like a lot and seem overwhelming, but it is very easy and quick to input the information by simply tapping the relevant items. It only takes me a few minutes each time I “check my mood.” You can also set up reminders for yourself throughout the day.
There are a number of benefits to using a mood tracking app consistently to monitor your mood cycles.
- Bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses are diagnosed based on symptoms and the more information you can provide to your doctor the more accurately he or she can be in your diagnosis and treatment.
- You are able to learn to identify what the symptoms are that indicate you are either entering or in a manic or depressive state.
- You can identify triggers that may cause mood cycles.
- You can see more clearly how effective your medications are and track any side-effects you might be having–both the frequency and severity.
- You can also identify how things like sleep, nutrition and menstrual cycle affect your mood cycles.
Using a mood tracking app you are able to understand your bipolar disorder better–learning to recognize what your manic and depressive episodes are saying. You are also able to provide a gold mine of information to your doctor and therapist so you can proactively seek more effective treatment.
What Do You Choose?
With bipolar disorder you have a choice. You can choose to be reactive and allow yourself to be “lived” by your disorder and face the consequences of becoming more unbalanced, or you can choose to be proactive and use tools like a mood tracking app to “monitor” your mood balance, helping you live a healthier, more balanced, more productive life with your bipolar.
It is possible to live well with bipolar disorder. There is hope and there is help!
If you are a mom with bipolar disorder and you want to learn to live well with it, join our free Facebook group Bipolar Moms Learning to Live Well.