I was having a conversation with a friend the other day. She asked me what I would say to someone about how to live well with bipolar disorder? As I began to answer I realized that my answer would be slightly different depending on where they were on the journey to wellness with bipolar.
In the first decade after my diagnosis with bipolar disorder I developed the false belief that the ultimate goal with bipolar disorder was to learn how to suffer well with it. I diligently took all the medications that were prescribed to me and went to counseling, but nothing was working. I felt alone and isolated because no one understood what was going on with me, least of all me. I didn’t understand what was happening in my mind and I began to feel hopeless.
I thought I was doing my best, and in some ways I was, but I was suffering, and so were my husband and children. I usually felt out of control with mania or hopelessly depressed. I would go through periods of angry belligerence when I felt it was unfair that I had to suffer this way, so everyone else would have to just learn to deal with it, too.
It can be really difficult to learn how to take responsibility for yourself with bipolar disorder when you don’t understand what that looks like, or how to do it. Having a disorder that is “all in your head” can be challenging to treat because the symptoms of your disorder feel normal to you, even though they are unhealthy and often self-destructive.
Accepting Your Diagnosis
Accepting responsibility for yourself and being proactive in learning to live well with bipolar disorder require you to first accept that you have bipolar disorder and that there currently is no cure for it. This is not something to become discouraged about. There is no cure for type 1 diabetes and yet people live well with it all the time. They learn the tools necessary to manage their disorder. It is the same for living with bipolar disorder.
You can learn how to manage your bipolar effectively so that you are able to live a healthy, balanced, productive life. But you have to be willing to:
- accept that you have the disorder, and
- accept that you are responsible for learning and applying the tools to manage it.
Accepting that you have bipolar disorder and that you have a responsibility for managing it effectively requires a mindset shift.
Process Your Grief
First, you need to allow yourself to grieve. “When you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder you suffer a loss. You lose who you thought you were. You might feel angry, discouraged, alone, hopeless, lost, and all of these feelings are part of the grieving process. It is important to recognize this process and acknowledge the feelings that you are having as valid.”
“It is also equally important to work through this process, ideally with a mental health counselor, so that you don’t get bogged down and lost in it. It is normal to mourn the loss of who you were, or who you thought you were, but you need to look forward and embrace who you are and who you can become.” (Bipolar Disorder: The Stages of Grief)
Second, you need to not compare yourself and your life to others who don’t have bipolar disorder. “You cannot stop having bipolar disorder, [and] comparing yourself to who you were in the past, or who you think you should be will prevent you from progressing to wellness and becoming the best version of yourself.”
“It is especially damaging, when you have bipolar disorder, to compare yourself to others because it creates a stumbling block to becoming well. Your mind is already prone to negative self-talk. Comparing yourself to others who don’t have bipolar disorder is like pouring gasoline on the fire.”
“When you are focused on the gap between where you are and who you think others are, it causes discouragement, depression and despair. You begin to define yourself by what you lack and by your bipolar disorder, instead of your unique qualities and gifts that make you special.” (Bipolar Disorder: You are not broken!)
The Path to Wellness is Not Linear
Third, it is critical to understand what learning to live well with bipolar disorder looks like. I used to think that it was like trying to climb a mountain and when I got to the top I would be better.
“That analogy is counterproductive at best, and damaging at worst. The idea of climbing a mountain is a linear path, which means that if you get manic or depressed while you are working to learn to live well, you get knocked back down to the bottom. It reminds me of the game Chutes and Ladders where if you are unlucky enough to land on the wrong square you slide backwards on the board, sometimes to the very beginning.” (Bipolar Disorder: The Recovery Cycle)
Learning to live well with bipolar disorder follows the same pattern as the addiction recovery cycle. “Understanding the stages of the recovery cycle will help you better understand your disorder and have a healthier outlook on your personal responsibility for self-care. Learning how to apply the recovery cycle to yourself will help you to stop feeling like you have failed when you have manic or depressive episodes and choose to accept more responsibility for yourself and your disorder.” (Bipolar Disorder: The Recovery Cycle)
Once you accept your diagnosis and your responsibility to learn to manage it you have taken your first step on the path to wellness. The next step is to develop a Mental Health Emergency Response Plan for yourself. This plan helps you accept responsibility for your mood cycles and create a plan to manage them more effectively to minimize the impact on you and your loved ones and shorten the duration of the cycle. To get your free guide to create your Response Plan click here.
You then need to work to learn and apply the tools necessary to live a healthy, balanced, productive life.
- Medication or supplementation to help balance your brain chemistry.
- Therapy to identify and process unhealthy thought and behavior patterns, unhealed trauma and unhealthy boundaries.
- A balanced, supportive self-care routine.
Support on Your Journey
Learning and applying the tools necessary to live well with bipolar is a process that requires patient, persistent effort. Make sure you surround yourself with people who will support and encourage you in this journey.
“While you are working through this process it is so important to have encouraging support. You need professional support–psychiatrist and/or a good therapist. If you are married or in a serious relationship you need the support and encouragement of your partner. And you need support from others who know what you are going through.”
“I started a Facebook Group to provide positive, encouraging support for moms trying to learn to live well with bipolar disorder. Bipolar Moms Learning to Live Well is a group of women who are ready to take responsibility for themselves and who are willing to do the work to learn how to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar disorder. If you are ready and willing, join us!” (Bipolar Disorder: The Rollercoaster)
Where are you on the journey?
Determine where you are on the journey to living well with bipolar disorder. Do you still need to work on your mindset? If so, start with the posts on mindset.
- Bipolar Disorder: You are not broken!
- Bipolar Disorder: The Stages of Grief
- Bipolar Disorder: The Recovery Cycle
Have you accepted your diagnosis and you are ready to take responsibility and learn to proactively manage your bipolar? Then get your free guide to create your Mental Health Emergency Response Plan.
It is possible to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar disorder. There is hope and there is help!