As you remember from my last post, I have a loved one who was recently hospitalized for a bipolar episode. Well, she is out of the hospital now, and doing much better.
We are talking every day about bipolar disorder, and the strange part is that I think I’m learning more from her than she’s learning from me! Or, I should say, she’s reminding me more of what I’ve forgotten that I learned about when I was first diagnosed. Many things that I take for granted now.
There are so many lifestyle changes that she’s had to make since she’s been diagnosed with the disorder, as we all had to do in the beginning. You remember, don’t you?
Getting used to a regular sleep schedule, especially after just coming out of a manic episode, where sleep was something that other people did, something that just slowed us and our creativity down! Sleep was something we just didn’t need, because we had a natural energy that went with our natural flow of ideas and grandiose plans, wasn’t it? Ah, yes, I remember those days well.
But they didn’t last, did they? Mania eventually results in that eventual crash into depression. Or, if you’re lucky, and you skip the depression, you at least crash into normalcy. But you always crash. No one can live on so little sleep for such a long time without dire results.
So one of the first things you have to change when you have bipolar disorder is that you have to adhere to a regular sleep schedule — 8-9 uninterrupted hours of sleep per night, and going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning. I know this may sound simple, but ask anyone who has been manic for any length of time and they will tell you how difficult this change was to accept at first.
Changing to a healthy lifestyle is not easy for some people diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Whether depressed or manic, it is easy to live on junk food (if you eat at all), to eat irregularly, to eat too much or too little, or even to develop an eating disorder along with your bipolar disorder. So eating healthy foods and eating them in a healthy way may be a big change for some people with the disorder. Exercise, as well, may be a new change for some people.
But there are other changes that people with bipolar disorder have to accept, too. Accepting that I had a mental illness wasn’t the easiest thing for me to do. I had to change the way I thought of myself. I had been thinking that I was crazy, but just didn’t have a name for my craziness — now I did; it was called bipolar disorder.
But that was wrong thinking. I wasn’t crazy. And I was not my disorder. It wasn’t me that was fundamentally broken, it was just my brain! I still had my own identity outside of the mental illness that occupied my brain. With medication that corrected that chemical imbalance, therapy that helped me deal with the issues surrounding the mood disorder, and an acceptance of myself for who I am, having bipolar disorder became easier to deal with.
That’s when the big changes came for me. Taking medication became easier. I didn’t like it (still don’t), don’t get me wrong — but I came to accept it as just part of my treatment until they finally find a cure for bipolar disorder.
By accepting myself for who I am, it was easier for me to accept others for who they are, too. I was able to restore relationships with those I had alienated due to bipolar episodes (or, should I say, things I had said and done during bipolar episodes).
And the biggest change was that I was able to learn how to manage my bipolar disorder instead of IT managing ME! It still is that way today — where I have the upper hand over the dragon. It still raises its ugly head up every once in awhile, but I have greater tools now to deal with it than I had in the beginning.
My loved one is first learning how to accept changes now — she is learning as much as she can about her bipolar disorder and how to manage it. I am trying to teach her that our ability to manage our disorder grows as we grow and change.