Bipolar Disorder is a serious mental illness. That does not stop one from living a functional, happy life. A determined and disciplined approach paves the path to freedom.
So, here are important Do’s and Don’ts~
- Treatment, first and foremost!
Getting oneself diagnosed when symptoms surface, regular visits to a Psychiatrist and taking the medication as prescribed is fundamental to the recovery process. Your Psychiatrist is the final authority to decide on the right course of action for you. Trust in your Doctor is imperative.
- Therapy~ What medication does for the brain, Psychotherapy does for one’s troubled mind. Regular therapy sessions with a good Psychotherapist help us deal with our emotions better and helps correct faulty thought patterns which affect moods. CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is especially helpful in the depressive phase.
- Caregiver~ Identify someone from your family who can be a watchtower for your moods, behaviour and red flags. In some cases, we fail to realise the need for professional intervention, as in the case of mania. At such times, the caregiver takes over the decision making process for us and also keeps a tab on our finances. In fact, most Psychitriasts insist on someone accompanying you who has known your moods since your last visit.
- Relationships~ Many Psychologists say that good relationships form the core of our happiness. I must admit this: struggling with the challenges of Bipolar Disorder had made me self obsessed. One must realise that there is a world outside ourselves, people who look up to us. Are we acknowledging them and being appreciative of when they stand by us in our rough times? Do we empathise enough with their feelings and emotions? Thankfully, I have a solid relationships with my family: close ones and the extended family.
- Regular Diagnostic Tests~ Our medication makes it necessary to undergo blood tests on a regular basis, typically six monthly or yearly. Ensure you get these done and have your Doctor check the reports.
- Walk~ Walking is the easiest form of exercise that requires no equipment except for a pair of sneakers. Walking daily for 30 to 40 minutes helps in many ways. The exercise in fresh air makes you feel refreshed. Exercise works as a mood elevator due to release of feel good chemicals in the brain. Have you tried walking amid the arms of nature? A hugely nurturing experience!
- Exercise~ I, for instance, follow a rigorous workout routine at the Gym: an hour daily morning for six days a week. Working out among a group of people has decided benefits. Fitness aside, I make new friends everyday and this is my best opportunity to socialise.
- Yoga, especially, has dramatic curative abilities. Yoga helped me recover from severe and life threatening asthma. This practice continues and benefits my mind and body.
- Nutrition~ We are what we eat, it is said. I have consulted a nutritionist who has helped chart out a balanced diet for me, customised for my food intolerances and illnesses. As for supplements, consider your Doctor or Certified Nutritionist.
- Breathing techniques~ had the privilege of learning quite a few Yoga asanas as well as some Tibetan breathing techniques. During moments of stress breathing is rapid and shallow. By controlling your breathing you can calm down your mind and cope with panic attacks.
- Sleep hygiene~ Our moods and our sleep hours plus regularity of sleep timings have a connection. Ideally, seven to eight hours of sleep is recommended, that too at fairly fixed timings. Many people report that night time jobs disturb their moods big time. So, ensure sleep at sensible hours, such as 10 pm to 6 am for instance (which happens to my schedule too.)
- Smile as often as you can (even if you don’t feel like it one bit!) Smiling sends the right sort of signals to the brain. The bonus- it is the cheapest make up known to mankind and makes you more personable!
- Laugh~ Can’t stress the value of this enough. Watch funny movies, read funny quips and cartoons, just about any antic that makes you see the brighter side of things. In fact, we must learn to laugh at ourselves, even our follies. Certainly better than brooding over our foolishness. Of course, this works when our moods are fairly stable. When deeply depressed, it is difficult to see the funny side of things.
- Music is known to have therapeutic qualities. The sheer joy of enjoying a favourite oldie or some relaxing lounge music!! Try this at night time to relax your mind before you fall asleep.
- Socialise~ befriend new people, play with children, rejoice at their creativity and sense of fun.
- Support Groups~ if you have a Peer Support Group in your town or city, join it. Peer Support Groups help ensure adherence and discipline among members. Discover how other are coping with their challenges, learn from their experiences. Share your story, opening up to somebody who has walked the path can be a big release. (We hold Peer Support Meets in Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai. Join our WhatsApp Group by filling up the Contact Us form!)
- Stay active and productive~ the feeling that you are a no-gooder, a burden on society can be crippling. If you can’t take up a job or profession, have you tried your hand at helping others?
- Self esteem~ what others think of you is the least of your concerns, what do you think about yourself? If your self esteem is low you might be undermining all your stellar qualities. Take care of your appearance, fitness, health and state of mind so that you do not lower the guard.
- Engage yourself in hobbies and creative arts~ expressing yourself through any form of the arts is said to be therapeutic. So, whether you like singing, dancing, writing, painting or acting, express yourself. I find writing to be my most mindful way of engaging myself. It has not only connected me to thousands of readers worldwide but has helped me discover myself.
- Mindfulness~ much has been said and written about it. To me, mindfulness is just being fully in the moment. For instance, I love nature. So watching raindrops fall on leaves, birds chirping or writing with my mind fully engrossed in the activity, brings me calmness. We must learn the important lesson that happiness comes from the ability to enjoy the smaller things in life. It does not have to come from a ‘big ticket ‘ purchase.
- Read Books, articles, Blogs…anything that inspires you, empowers you to fight the inner demons. Also, while it is good to do a bit of diligent research about our illness, medication, etc, one should remember that the internet does not make us overnight experts at what is a very complex science.
- Above all, RELAX! Nothing in the world is ever so important that it can’t wait! Stress builds up when you are overwhelmed with the pressure of pending tasks and having fallen behind schedule. Make space for breaks in between to ensure boredom does not set in.
- Spirituality~ whatever your faith (unless you are an atheist) prayer has miraculous powers. I have implicit faith that the Supreme Being charts my path.
- Trust your journey~ Ultimately remember, even your darkest phase will pass over. Give it time, time heals like nothing else can.
- DON’T stop taking medication~ whatever is the reason, such as side effects, ‘friendly advice’ or frustration at lack of immediate results, DO NOT STOP TAKING YOUR MEDICATION. That invites a relapse and sets back your recovery. So many are attracted towards alternate healing methods, magic cures, faith healing, etc…Let me share something with you. As someone who has not skipped meds for a single day over the last fifteen years, I have yet to meet anyone who is coping with Bipolar Disorder successfully without medication. There are few cases when the Doctor might ask his patient who is on the recovery path to taper off the meds. However, do not attempt to do so off your own volition.
- Important Decisions~ are best made when our moods are stable. When in the throes of depression or mania, our judgment is impaired. At such times we are very, very likely to make decisions that go on to haunt us. Especially if it is a life altering decision such as marriage, change in career or major financial involvement~ DON’T take such decisions when not in a balanced state of mind.
- Comparisons~ Why compare today with pre-Bipolar days? Or our lives with the lives of ‘normal, healthy’ people. This path is self destructive.
- Self pity is a dangerous, never ending pit to fall into. While self compassion is desirable, self pity is not. It puts you in the victim frame of mind. If you are keen to recover, courage and raising your tolerance threshold are required.
- Vices and substance addiction– Be it alcohol, drugs or illicit relationships, vices will break your resolve and magnify your problem. Alcohol and our medication do not go well together. Use of recreational drugs can trigger severe mood episodes, including mania.
- Underestimate the gravity of the illness: you’d be doing yourself no favour by neglecting the condition. Even qualified Physicians have the audacity to sometimes say that ‘there is nothing much to be concerned about, you are being over-medicated’. (I speak from personal experience). Such conflicting advice can be destructive. ONLY your Psychiatrist is qualified to determine your condition and treat you.
- Don’t be afraid of a societal backlash and as a result, avoid going to a Doctor and keep the illness to yourself and family. Keeping it under the wraps is not going help you. You have no reason to hide anything- you are not a criminal, you are not responsible for the illness.