Awhile back, someone asked me “how did you manage to find peace with being Bipolar?” It’s a question I’ve thought about a lot. Not only did I not have an answer, but I felt like it was something that could potentially be very useful for other people. I think that I may have narrowed it down to a few important points that may be useful for others.So let’s have a look…
Dispel Fear and Uncertainty with Knowledge
Many fears that are not the result of atypical processes come from a lack of information. After my diagnosis, I began to read and absorb as much information as I could on Bipolar Disorder and the way it is treated. I quickly realized that a lot of the information that I was taking in really did not relate to how I experienced the Disorder. So, one of my early goals was to figure out how my mental illness affected me specifically.
There is a lot of chaos and shittiness that goes along with being Bipolar. It is pretty difficult to predict what the results of an unwell cycle may be. Will we run screaming into chaos or crash into suicidal depression? I have no idea what tomorrow will bring in that regard. However, Bipolar Disorder is an illness. There are threads of order in the way it functions. I may not know what this escalated cycle will bring; but I can at least start planning for the fact I will soon be unbalanced by identifying the symptoms that point to it.
Understanding how the Disorder affects me, specifically, removed a lot of the anxiety about what my brain was doing.
Figure out how Bipolar Disorder functions and affects you.
My clearest indicators of escalation are an inability to sleep more than 4 hours at a time while not being tired, racing thoughts, and pressured speech. There are other symptoms but they are things I experience in times other than when I’m escalated. The pressured thoughts, speech, and inability to sleep are things that ONLY manifest when I’m escalating. They are also things that a third party can point out to me. I may not know what the cycle will bring, but I at least know I’m heading into choppy waters and can start planning accordingly.
I feel that the easiest way to go about doing this is to read as much as possible about the Disorder and eliminate that which does not apply to you.
Let Go Of What You Can’t Control
I’m pretty sure I could hear everyone out there with Anxiety scream out all at once as I was writing that. “But Dennis! It’s not that simple!” No, it isn’t that simple. I never said or would say it is. It takes practice and work to learn to let go of things and accept them for what they are. It takes effort to change thought processes. And it is much harder if you also happen to have an unchecked mood disorder or problems with Anxiety.
A technique that I learned awhile ago involves distraction. This is particularly true for Bipolar unwell cycles. The more you dwell on a point of information, the further it is going to drive you into unwellness. When I trigger, I do my best to separate myself from that situation as much as I possibly can until my brain has had a chance to move past that time period where it is just fueling the start of the unwell cycle. Within a day or two, my brain will reach whatever new level it was going to advance to and then I can address the situation more effectively.
“But I have to address this situation now!” I know. Some things you can’t just set aside and ignore. What you can do is force yourself to not dwell on it when you aren’t attempting to get anything productive done about it. Let me use a hypothetical example.
Dad has a heart attack. It is clearly a serious situation that needs attention and focus that will most likely trigger an unwell cycle. However, there’s only so much you can do that in that situation. You’re going to spend a lot of time waiting. And the more time you spend sitting around thinking about the situation and every potential “What If” scenario, the further your brain is going to escalate. So you don’t want to spend every hour in the waiting room, agonizing over what could happen.
My choice for distraction are Sudoku puzzles. They are a grid with numbers where you use logical reasoning to figure out what numbers go where. Don’t be afraid, it’s not math! It’s logical thinking – if this number is here, it can’t go there – and so on. I throw myself into working through these puzzles because I have to actively think about them. And I time myself on seeing how long it takes to solve them. So instead of spending hours agonizing in the waiting room, I’m still present but my mind is focused on something else instead of what could happen. In doing so, I reduce the extreme to which my brain is trying to run away.
You can use anything that requires active thinking. Mindless is bad. It still leaves room for the circumstance to force its way back into your thoughts on a regular basis. When it does creep into your thoughts, you just have to push it back out unless it is necessary for you to deal with at the time.
Find a way to distract yourself from dwelling on circumstances out of your control.
Meditation, puzzle solving, really anything that will put your thoughts elsewhere can help. You’re not avoiding the problem. You’re just minimizing the amount of attention you give it while your brain shifts from the trigger point to wherever it’s going to land in unwellness. The more you dwell on the trigger in that period of time, the worse it’s going to be.
Create Positive Out of Negative
Bipolar Disorder is the best and worst thing about me. I would not be sitting here writing this had the Disorder not caused the problems I faced while I was undiagnosed. I was able to really see and understand these things because of that perspective. It taught me important lessons – like the need for humility, patience, and asking questions.
On the other hand, I fucking hate the fact that I can’t trust my own brain. Is what I feel real? Or is it my brain just fucking with me at the moment? I know I have to be vigilant about watching out for potential triggers, which can be exhausting at times. Any time I have a “really great” idea, I need to run it past people I trust to make sure it actually is a good idea and not just my Bipolar brain spinning it that way to me. Plus all of the chaos, bullshit, and depression that goes with it. It sucks ass. And I really hate it.
I don’t know if I would go so far as to choose to not be that way though. I know I’ve helped a number of people because I’ve had the perspective that I do. In my mind, suggesting that I would choose to have never been Bipolar means those people may have never had a perspective to benefit from. And my pains and challenges are no more important than those of anyone else.
I remind myself of that fact when I start slipping into depression or feeling overwhelmed. This negativity and shittiness may bear positive circumstances later on. Don’t get lost or dwell too much in the moment. Just get through it and add it to the body of knowledge I’ve already accrued.
Advocacy work is how I turned my negative into a positive. Respecting the trials and tribulations that the Disorder threw into my life as a means of learning and challenges to overcome keeps me from feeling overwhelmed by them. They are just problems to find solutions to and learn from. Everyone has challenges and difficulties in life. Changing the way you view those challenges and difficulties makes it much easier to deal with them.
Find a way to turn negative circumstances into something positive.
There are many ways you can accomplish this, as varied as our individual lives. Probably the easiest route is to volunteer for some non-profit work. There are many avenues where people that have experienced hardships can use them to help someone else. Even if you decide to just go bang some nails in for Habitat for Humanity, you can take some pride in knowing that you made a positive contribution. That can do wonders for your own mentality and feelings of self-worth.
The obvious leap, in this circumstance, would be to try and get involved in non-profit work or get a job helping people with problems like yours. That will not be a great solution for everyone. You need to have a good control over your own problems and your ability to stay balanced when immersed in the pain of someone else. I’ve met a couple of people who could not maintain a healthy separation and it spurred on their own unwellness.
I strive to maintain a healthy, reasonable perspective. My goal is to not “save the world”; it’s to leave people better than I found them and encourage them to do the same. I can’t force people to make the right or better decisions for themselves; I can only present them with information that I hope will help them make a better decision. The only problems I own are my mine, because those are the only ones I can meaningfully affect.
I feel like these three points were the main foundation of finding peace and acceptance with the Disorder. Point 1 gave me understanding. Point 2 reduces the chaos and makes unwellness more manageable. And Point 3 helps me keep a positive perspective if things aren’t going smoothly.
Things aren’t perfect, they never will be. But they sure as hell are better than they were ten years ago.
Subscribe to have blog posts and news delivered straight to your Inbox!