When you have bipolar disorder the idea of stability or consistency may seem like a foreign concept. The nature of the disorder can make it difficult, and even feel impossible to maintain any consistency or stability in your life. The mood cycles can become such a habit that even when you find the right combination of medications or supplements you may inadvertently cause mood cycles with behavior habits and choices that perpetuate the manic-depressive mood cycles.
In order to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar disorder you need to learn how to get off the rollercoaster and live with stability and consistency. This can be challenging for a number of reasons. Many people with bipolar disorder talk about their dependence on their mania to get anything accomplished, or for creativity, or just to feel good.
The problem with this mindset is that when you get on the manic-depressive rollercoaster you can’t jump off in the middle, you have to ride it all the way through, and that means crashing into depression. This pattern is destructive in a number of ways.
Mania Is Self-Destructive
First, mania is unhealthy. Manic episodes are often characterized by an inability to sleep because your brain won’t shut off or you feel excessively energetic or wound up. The body needs sleep in order to regenerate and when you go a day or two or more without sleep it begins to harm the body and brain. It is like your brain goes into overdrive and it revs your engine for an extended period of time.
You may also forget to eat. Often when you are in a hypomanic or manic state you get hyper focused on projects and forget to take care of your basic needs, like eating. This is unhealthy for your body and brain.
Additionally, when you are manic you may have feelings of euphoria that can feel like a “high”. It can feel exhilarating and empowering, but can lead to risky or irrational behavior. In some people this manifests as excessive spending, hypersexuality, inexplicable life altering decisions or other illogical and damaging decisions. These behaviors can feel compulsive, too, like you will burst if you don’t do it! It seems to your mind that it is the only thing you can do.
Bipolar disorder can get progressively worse over time if it is not properly and proactively treated. The continual mood cycles begin to wear out your brain, potentially leading to breakdowns and hospitalizations.
All of this can damage your relationships because of loss of trust or painful, even abusive behavior. It can damage your financial well being by causing excessive debt and other financial damage. It can also cause physical damage through addictions, contracted illnesses or injuries brought on by your unhealthy, compulsive decisions.
This all leads to another source of “self-destruction”, insecurity. When you are in a manic state things seem rational to your irrational mind. When you make decisions that seem rational during mania and then recognize when you are no longer manic that those decisions were irrational you will begin to question your own mind. How can you trust your thoughts if they are telling you to do things that are irrational and self-destructive?
It is only afterwards that you see how illogical those ideas were but by then it is too late. This brings on feelings of embarrassment and shame which will contribute to exacerbating the depression that inevitably follows. It becomes so hard to keep saying sorry, especially because you know it will likely happen again.
Some people are so embarrassed that they want to hide from the people that have been impacted by their manic choices, while others will lash out in anger because it is not their fault and they shouldn’t be held accountable for the choices they made while manic. It all feels so unfair!
Neither of these responses is helpful to the individual. True feelings of value and self-worth come from accepting responsibility for yourself. While you may not be able to think rationally while you’re in a manic state, once you understand that you have bipolar disorder it is important to accept responsibility for your self-care. This includes seeking treatment through medication and/or supplementation, therapy, and additional tools like mindfulness meditation and regular exercise.
Overcoming the dependence on mania can be challenging. The longer you go undiagnosed, or cycling, the more you begin to feel that mania is a “necessary evil” because it feels like the only way to get anything done. You begin to feel relief and excitement when you come out of depression and feel yourself starting to get manic. You might even inadvertently trigger your mania by behaviors or choices that your mind knows will lead to mania.
This is a self-destructive pattern, though, because once you get on the rollercoaster you can’t jump off in the middle.
How do you change the pattern?
Accepting Responsibility for Your Disorder
First, you have to accept that you have bipolar disorder and that you need help managing it. This can feel challenging when the problem really is in your head. But learning to accept that you have the disorder and that you are responsible for learning to manage it is the first step on the path to living well with it. Check out my blog posts Bipolar Disorder: The Stages of Grief and Bipolar Disorder: The Recovery Cycle to learn more about accepting responsibility for your disorder.
Another important component in accepting responsibility for your disorder is creating a Mental Health Emergency Response Plan. This plan helps you acknowledge that you will have mood cycles, and helps you prepare to manage your cycles more effectively in order to help minimize the impact on those closest to you. It also helps you make a plan for how to get out of the mood cycle more quickly by proactively treating it.
Treating Bipolar Effectively
Once you have accepted that you have bipolar disorder, you need to work with a psychiatrist or therapist to identify the right combination of medications or supplements that you need to balance your brain chemistry. I used to think it was normal to cycle all the time. I even got to a point where I thought my life was going to be just surviving the mood cycles. That all began to change when I found the right supplements for my brain. See my experience with medication and supplementation here.
You need to identify your triggers and red flags. Utilizing a mood tracking app to begin to identify triggers and red flags is essential to taking responsibility for your bipolar disorder and learning how to stop triggering mood cycles in yourself. Over time mood cycles feel so normal that you don’t recognize that you may have developed habits that contribute to perpetuating cycles, even after you get your brain chemistry balanced.
An example of this in my life was training for triathlons. I discovered that training for events caused a hypomanic state while I was training. This was always followed by a crash into depression after the event was over. Once I recognized this pattern I stopped training for triathlons and changed my approach to exercise to benefit my mental health, rather than damage it. Learn more about this in my post Bipolar Disorder: The Benefits of Exercise.
Counseling or therapy with a good therapist is also essential to healing triggers. Working with a good therapist you will be able to identify unhealthy thought and behavior patterns, process and heal trauma and learn to understand and apply healthy boundaries. All of this will help to manage and eventually eliminate self-triggered mood cycles. To learn more about the benefits of therapy read Bipolar Disorder: Counseling is Essential.
Patience, Persistence and Support
Learning to live well with bipolar disorder is possible, but it takes time, patience and persistence. It takes time to find the right combination of medications or supplements to support your brain. It takes time to identify triggers with your mood tracking app and then working with a therapist to identify how to manage those triggers in a healthy way. It takes time to learn and apply the necessary tools for a healthy, balanced self care routine.
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!
It takes effort and determination to get off the rollercoaster. Even though there is no cure for bipolar disorder, you can still learn to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with patience, persistence and support.