It’s that time a year again, when many people resolve to make changes in their life to improve in some way. The new year feels like a natural time to consider life and the changes that you want to make. You want to start off the next chapter better than the last one.
Social media is filled with people talking about their New Year’s resolutions. Advertisers are encouraging you to make big changes in your life–change your eating habits, lose weight, get organized, clean your house, start a new hobby, and on and on.
When you have bipolar disorder, New Year’s resolutions can be a trigger for a mood cycle because they often involve major lifestyle changes that can trigger mania or depression. The motivation behind the resolution is easy to understand–you don’t like your life the way it is now. The damage caused by manic or depressive episodes can make you feel desperate.
Living with bipolar disorder is really hard. You often feel like you aren’t in control of yourself or your life and that makes you feel helpless and discouraged. You think maybe a major change is the answer. Start eating healthy, or exercising regularly, or get more organized and then you will be able to live well with your disorder. When the next mood swing happens, it feels like you failed, and this can lead to frustration and hopelessness.
Why keep trying so hard if it doesn’t change anything anyway? You can’t help it! It’s not your fault! It’s not fair! But, you don’t want to keep living like this so what do you do?
It is possible to learn to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar, but it isn’t going to happen overnight. A big resolution committing to major change all at once isn’t wise or healthy with bipolar. The best approach is a steady commitment to making one change at a time, one step at a time on the road to wellness.
Step One: Mindset
The first step is recognizing that learning to live well with bipolar requires a mindset shift. There can be some mental and emotional barriers to fully accepting your disorder and committing to managing it well. It is easy to feel like you don’t have any control and develop a victim mindset. The problem with this is that it doesn’t help. Your life just continues to be hard, and you don’t make any progress towards wellness. Three ways that you need to shift your mindset are:
- Don’t compare yourself. Don’t compare yourself to who you were or thought you should be. Don’t compare yourself to others who don’t have bipolar. Learn to love and appreciate yourself for who you are.
- Allow yourself to grieve. It is normal to mourn the loss of who you were, or thought you were, and then you can look forward and embrace who you are and who you can become.
- Understand the recovery cycle. 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.
Step Two: ERP
The next step is to learn to manage your bipolar mood swings successfully using a Mental Health Emergency Response Plan (ERP). Eventually the goal is to lessen the frequency and intensity of the mood swings, but while you are in the process of learning how to live well with your bipolar you need to utilize an ERP to minimize the impact of the mood cycles on you and your family and shorten the duration of the cycles.
The ERP helps you to successfully manage your mood cycles by helping you:
- Identify the people you can ask for help when you’re struggling in a mood cycle.
- Learn the symptoms and triggers of your mood cycles.
- Develop a plan for self-care to aid in recovery.
- Plan for getting back to health and balance.
Step Three: Work Towards Maintenance Mode
Once you have a plan to successfully manage your mood swings you can learn the tools that help you spend more time in maintenance mode–healthy, balanced and productive. You do this by:
- Find the treatment your brain needs to be balanced. While there are different treatments that work for different people, most people need some intervention to help their mind function in a healthy way. Some people have found mental balance with medication while others, like me, were able to heal their brains with specialized micronutrient treatments. To learn more about my experience with medication and alternative treatments click here.
- Work with a therapist. Living with bipolar you will have periods of time when you are manic or depressed and you have irrational thoughts–you experience the world through a distorted lens. This leads to developing unhealthy thoughts and behaviors and unhealthy coping mechanisms. It is also common for people with bipolar to have unhealthy boundaries and unhealed trauma. All of these things can cause you to continue to trigger mood cycles, even if you have found the medication or micronutrients to balance your brain. Working with a therapist will help you to heal and resolve your triggers, enabling you to be more mentally well.
- Develop a self-care routine. Self-care is something critical for living well with bipolar. This will take time to develop as each piece needs to be learned and integrated one at a time. Some important tools for self-care include:
- mindfulness meditation
- Exercise (keep it simple, easy and accessible)
- Healthy, consistent sleep habits
- Good nutrition
- Hygiene habits
- Simplifying your life. This is especially important in the beginning. Stress is a major trigger for mood swings and in order to learn to live well with bipolar you need to eliminate unnecessary stressors while you are learning to manage your bipolar successfully. Working with a therapist can be especially helpful in this process.
What is Your One Next Step?
Hanging in my office is a quote that has special meaning to me in my life.
“I may not soon make it to the top, but I can do this next step right now.”
Whenever I get overwhelmed or start to feel discouraged, I focus on just the one next step.
Learning to live well with bipolar disorder is not a linear process, there will be ups and downs, mania and depression on the way. Choosing to focus on the one next step, however, will empower you to keep moving forward on the road to wellness.
If you are struggling with a manic or depressive episode, focus on using your ERP to successfully manage it. When you haven’t found the right medication or micronutrient treatment, focus on that.
The key is making the commitment to the journey to wellness and then taking one step at a time on that road. It is a journey, not an event. You are working on a lifestyle change for your mind and that takes patient, persistent effort.
This new year instead of resolving to make major changes in your life that could result in a mood cycle resolve to take your first step on the road to wellness with bipolar and stay on that road, one step at a time.
Pro-tip: Get encouragement and support from others on the same road
Trying to live well with bipolar disorder can feel like a lonely road. Don’t travel alone! Seek out others who are on the same road to wellness. There is hope and there is help.
If you are a mom (or potential mom) with bipolar, join our free Facebook group Bipolar Moms Learning to Live Well to get encouragement and support on your journey.