How do I Cope

How do I cope with bipolar, depression and anxiety? One way is through writing. Through writing I can examine m feelings, symptoms, my successes and failures. I can keep a running record of my mental health journey by keeping a journal. It helps me in three ways:

  1. I am able to vent my feelings
  2. It provides a record of how my condition is affected by my inner and outer world
  3. It helps me to recognize my triggers.

My journal serves as a mirror of my progress as I navigate life. I notice what triggers a depressive or hypomanic episode. Sickness often triggers a depressive episode.   Sleep deprivation can trigger either way but for me it’s usually depression so I go to bed and wake up the same time everyday.  Too many social events or traveling too often in a short span of time can trigger anxiety. And that’s where I have to be careful—anxiety can trigger a depressive episode. My meds don’t let me experience hypomania anymore in this past year. I’ve recorded coping skills, what works and what doesn’t. I keep a daily mood graph for my psychiatrist where I chart not only my moods but also sleep, activities and meds changes. It gives a truly well rounded view of my progress and triggers.

Both the writing and mood charting help keep me self-aware. I try to always be aware of any changes in my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual being, both positive and negative. The sooner I am aware of a negative change the sooner I am able to able to deal with it to ward off a full blown mood swing. If my thinking is becoming negative I consciously begin to think positively. I’ll avoid situations that cause me excessive stress or anxiety when possible. Meditation and prayer are a big positive factor for me. I find solace in reading the Bible. Music often lifts my spirit. Talking with my husband will often help me maintain a positive perspective.

Keeping a positive outlook and living intentionally go a long way to helping me manage my mental health.

It is a given that having bipolar complicates relationships. We feel our emotions to the nth degree. We can leave our loved ones wondering why a simple disagreement can set us off to the extreme. Through it all my husband and I learned how to communicate and become stronger through all the ups and downs.

To have healthy lives and relationships we need to develop good communication skills sharing our thoughts, how we think and how we feel. Explaining what impacts us, what makes us feel bad or good, what disappoints us, what scares us, what disgusts us and why is necessary for us to be understood by our love ones. We need to share our experiences and what we have learned. We need to share about new people or doctors we have met, what impressions they made on us, how we feel about them and why.

It is important to share these feelings and not just the facts to help our loved ones connect in an empathetic way, strengthening our bonds. It’s okay to ask our partner to help us sort out our feelings if we are unsure of how we feel, feel confused or have mixed emotions. We need to make the effort to describe our feelings to the best of our ability and let them help us figure it out.

Sometimes topics that impact our relationships trigger fear of rejection or being abandoned or some other possible awful reactions from our loved ones. It is important to go deeper than just skimming the surface on these topics. Our partner or loved one needs to know how we feel about these things. It may have to do with health, behavior, finances, sex, other family members, etc., but no one can even try to understand how we feel about these things unless we describe our feelings.

Sometimes the issues or topics strike a sensitive chord and lead to rising anger or even a shutting down on our part or theirs. This is a symptom of deeper issues, which are imperative to resolve.   It helps if there is an agreed upon plan in place ahead of time to help a couple to get to the core of the issue in order to resolve it.

I call this plan Rules of Engagement. It helps partners get through the tough discussions and is something my husband and I have used. Here are the basics:

  • One person talks at a time
  • No interrupting while the other person is talking
  • Listen attentively
  • Respect each other’s opinions and feelings
  • Agree to disagree when something cannot be resolved

Having good relationships with our loved ones helps bring balance to our lives and nurtures our spirits and emotions. Healthy relationships are imperative to our living a healthy life.

I am happy. For the first time in ages I actually feel happy. My mind is clearer, sharper. I’m not elated—not hypomanic. It’s like my mind has had a great weight lifted off of it and the fuzziness has diminished.   And the tremor when I write is gone. My beautiful handwriting is back.

I had a medication reduction. My psychiatrist agreed to decrease one of my meds 3 months ago by 5 mg. I found little relief so six days ago he agreed to reduce it by 5 mg more. That’s 10 mg total. It’s a powerful antipsychotic and you don’t need much to get results. I originally was on 20 mg. I couldn’t think clearly, had memory issues, fuzzy thinking and had a tremor in my hand when writing. Cooking was a major task because of having to multitask. Cooking dinner was a little easier today. God heard and answered my prayers.

It’s only been 6 days and I’ve had such good results. I’m wondering what another week will bring. Perhaps my mind will become even clearer. I can feel happiness again and that’s great. My emotions had been blunted for a very long time. I’m still holding a steady normal mood level so far. I just need to maintain it if I want to continue to enjoy these wonderful results.

Accepting Change

I’m different than I was 8 years ago. I had a sharp mind and a physically strong body. I moved around with great balance and my mind was creative, sharp as a tack. I felt things intensely, love, joy, pain and I laughed more. I found humor in life more. A couple of years of severe stress changed me. It triggered a severe depression and then bipolar swings. The hypomania presented as irritability at that time.

I miss the old me before the bipolar kicked in so strong. I don’t feel things the way I used to. My emotions are blunted and my mind isn’t nearly as creative and sharp as it was. I have memory problems.  I have to write everything down.  I know the bipolar is responsible for some of the changes as well as the medication I must take to help me remain in the state of wellness I’ve finally achieved. I know this but it is another thing to fully embrace it. It is hard for me to accept that I am less than I was, that I cannot do or feel as much as I did 8 years ago. My balance is a bit off physically.   I remember the old me and how capable I was. Now, multitasking is quite an undertaking. I no longer do it well.

I miss the old me. I am finding it hard to accept my new limitations. I know that the limitations are better than the alternative if I was unmedicated.  It’s just that I used to be able to work circles around people. I could achieve anything I put my mind to mentally and physically. I miss that freedom, the ability to create. I want it back.

I know someone is probably thinking, “Well change your meds.” I’ve tried everything out there and nothing worked until this combination I’m taking now. It’s a matter of acceptance and I have a hard time doing less than I used to be capable of. It makes me feel that I am less than the person I used to be. It’s something I struggle with when I think about it. I know I’m not less of a human being. I know I should feel good about having gone through the fires of bipolar and overcoming even if it is with the help of meds. I do feel some satisfaction in that. It’s changed me.   I guess if I lost my hearing or lost a leg it would change me too. My life would be changed and limited by what I could no longer do without helps like sign language and a prosthetic leg. I would still be able to do things but not in the exact same way. But life goes on. I guess what I am rebelling against is the loss of mental acuity.   Our minds are who we are. I know we are always changing physically as we age. I can accept that. But to lose mental acuity, cognitive abilities, for those to diminish is like losing a part of myself.

Please forgive my rant. I’m tired and sick with a respiratory infection today so I’m more vulnerable to succumbing to being a little irrational. I know I must accept myself the way I am and make the best of it. I know I have a lot to be thankful for and truly I am grateful. Things cannot go back the way they were—I must keep moving forward and try to do everything to the best of my ability the way I am now.   If I don’t work my brain and body, they will just get stale, inflexible. So I will just keep plugging along and be the best me I can be.

I’ve recently decided to undertake the mission of losing weight. I’m supposed to start today and already I’ve failed. I just don’t have the focus or willpower. Why? I’m battling feelings of wanting to die. Not suicidal, just the feelings of the need to escape life for a while.

I feel like there are two opposites of me in my body. The one is rational and logical; the other is feelings/emotionally driven. The rational me knows that the feelings and emotions are driven by a lie—I don’t really want to die.   The emotional me is trying to drag me down into a dark pit and tells me there is nothing worth living for, there’s no hope for a normal life and I don’t want to have to deal with people or my having to put on a normal face. It’s as though my bipolar brain is attempting to kill me with all these dark thoughts. But I’m not really depressed—just very tired. We had houseguests for 5 days and now that they’re gone I feel fairly spent. I know that the tiredness is behind all this negativity and I won’t let it take me down. I know how to deal with it and I’m remaining at a stable normal level mood-wise in spite of all of this.

I won’t burden myself with guilt over failing my mission to lose weight already. I’ll deal with getting rested and getting my thoughts and emotions in order. Once that’s done I’ll be in a good, strong frame of mind to tackle my eating habits.

Losing is Winning

One of the side effects of my 3 different psych meds is weight gain—all 3 of them.  As each med was added my weight rose.  I don’t eat any differently than before all the weight gain. I’m told by my family doctor and by much of what I’ve researched that each one of these meds have a tendency to slow the metabolism in many people thereby causing one’s weight to rise.  I know from talking to other folks taking these or similar meds that I’m not alone in this problem.

There was one medication in particular that shot my weight up and when I insisted that my psychiatrist take me off it, I lost 22 pounds.  So now my dilemma is how do I lose the rest of the weight?  I can’t stop my meds because they are working.   I’ve tried lots of others but only these work.  I’ve decided to try cutting out all foods with sugar.   That’s really hard to do since just about everything except unprocessed meat and produce has sugar content.  So I’m reading labels and if sugar is the fifth or sixth ingredient or more on the ingredients list, then I can have it.  Anything saying sugar, maltodextrin, sucrose or anything else ending in “ose” is forbidden unless it’s way down on the list.  It’s tricky because even the things marked sugar free still have another form of sugar in them.  Check out the ingredients on a pack of sugar free gum.  So as soon as our house guests leave, I’m on a mission.

What do I want to gain from this?  Nothing   This is one battle where losing is winning… and I want to win.

Fear Overwhelms

We work hard, we follow our doctors’ instructions, we learn all the coping skills we possibly can, eat right, take our meds, get plenty of sleep, live a structured life, and work this plan as hard as we can. With all our might. Trying to maintain “normal” even when inside our mood swings are raging and we are far from it. Yet we dig deep into our wells of strength to pull out what little we have left so the disorder doesn’t win. We meet all or nearly all our daily obligations and appear normal at home and on the job. And at the end of the day, we are tapped out, possibly even crying to God in our beds at night to take us home because we don’t want to have to go through this again.

From communicating with many other bipolar folks, I’ve learned the scenario above, to various degrees, is what is normal for many of us. For me, I am at the upper extreme – I fight with everything I have in me to overcome like a warrior. But as I recently found out from my psychiatrist, it is a battle that cannot be won with aggression alone. Fighting so aggressively is fighting the fear of being overwhelmed, the fear that if we ever give ourselves a rest the “disorder” of the illness will overtake us again.

Rest Rejuvenates

Since talking with my doctor I decided to take his advice and I’m learning a better approach, but it has taken a year and a half to feel totally natural to me. He said to rest during the storms, especially during the deep and even suicidal depressions. Yes I still move forward using my coping skills to meet my obligations as best I can but I don’t push myself to the edge of my limit.   I know now that rest rejuvenates. When I feel I’m depleting my energy, rather than push harder, I back off for a while. It may be for a day or two days, maybe more but during the rest period I do the easy things, the comfortable things to give myself a break. I found my doctor was right. This gives my body and mind a chance to recoup by not trying to have a contest or prove to myself that I can overcome. Rather, by being kind to myself I am overcoming the effects of the cycles. I am no longer adding extra stress, which can actually fuel a mood swing to go deeper or higher.  I’ve been maintaining a normal level for a year and a half now. Yes, I feel the edge of a cycle creeping up once in a while. I acknowledge it, use my coping skills and go on with my day. Whatever comes I know I can adapt with the new tool, rest without guilt, in my toolbox.


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