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Self Awareness - Keeping an eye on yourself

Posted Jan 11 2009 4:22pm

There is an active role that we can play as people afflicted with bipolar disorder that will help lessen the negative effects that bipolar disorder has on our lives and this role is called being more self-aware. Self-awareness gives us the capability to help identify and change negative habits, negative behaviours and negative patterns of thought. It also helps us stay on track with medication compliance, regular sleep routines, exercise, stress management and trigger avoidance by keeping us constantly aware. Self-awareness is not easy and like bipolar disorder, it presents itself in individuals in a spectrum of degrees and strengths. The great thing however about self-awareness is that we all have at least a little of it, and the more we practice initiating and implementing self-awareness, the stronger and more available it becomes. It does not solve all the problems we face with our moods and impulses, but it can help tremendously in the less severe moments to help keep us on track.

Bipolar disorder and the impulses of depression and hypomania/mania make us very vulnerable to give into certain types of behaviour and thoughts. I know when I am going through a period of depression that I can become extremely negative, irritable and mean to the people in my life, myself included. The people in my life understand that I have bipolar disorder and that makes it easier for them to understand and accept, but is this where it ends or is there a more active role that I can play in the less severe moments that can help in the situation and not give into every impulse? I truly believe that there is a more active role that I can play when the impulses are manageable, and although it is not easy and I am no expert at it, I have witnessed the difference in the outcomes and effects that it has had on myself and the people close to me, but I have also acknowledged that there are times where the impulses may be too strong to manage and require further help from my psychiatrist.

Imagine this, what if we started trying our hardest to consciously put a space between our immediate impulses and carrying out those impulses, hence forcing ourselves to separate momentarily from the impulses and become aware of them? Would it not then give us the opportunity to rationalize the impulses and then decide what to do with them? Now I know that it does not get rid of the depression, hypomania/mania or the impulses, but I do know that it allows us to become more aware of how the depression or hypomania/mania may be affecting and causing the impulses by allowing us to internally question the validity of the impulses before acting on them. It seems that just by questioning the impulses before acting on them, that something changes. Instead of blurting out to someone close to you that you hate your life and possibly hurting them because they are a major part of your life, you instead try to pause and recognize the effect of the depression and perhaps change what you were going to say to, “I am not feeling very good right now,” because that is what you really meant to express. This not only changes how the person close to you is affected by your comments, but it also helps prevent you from lying to yourself and heading down a black hole of perpetual negative thinking.

You can now imagine using this on all the other impulses that bipolar disorder initiates inside of us. When we are feeling mania/hypomania shouting at us to free ourselves and go experience life to the fullest, go to the bars and meet people and drink, free ourselves from this ordinary plain of existence, live life to the fullest, forget everything that holds us down, purchase those things because we need them, etc., etc. If we can remember and then try our hardest to pause and think about the impulses and potentially recognize the hypomania/mania as it is happening, then we might be able to redirect the impulses into something that may have less of a major impact on our lives. Perhaps recognizing and then substituting the impulse into an activity that you may benefit from like exercise, artwork, writing, healthy socializing, etc., etc. The key is recognizing and becoming aware.

There is also a role here for our support networks to help. At times it is difficult for us to recognize the effects of bipolar disorder as it is happening to us directly. This is where our support networks can help us recognize certain behaviours that we will eventually begin recognizing ourselves and become self-aware of. They may remind us that the impulses that are pushing us to do something we think we are in control of is simply the bipolar disorder affecting our judgement and they may suggest giving it a few days to think over. Once we are reminded of this a few times, it will hopefully become like second nature and we will start noticing behaviours ourselves.

Self-awareness also plays an important role in managing our medication and routines. Medication compliance is such an important part of managing our illness and it must be followed if we want to remain healthy. Self-awareness helps us remember and makes a point of ensuring that we take our medication daily by checking and reminding us every morning and night. There are also other factors that need to be managed that help us remain stable, like regular sleep routines, exercise, stress management and trigger avoidance. Self-awareness helps all of these by keeping us alert and on our toes. This helps us remember that staying up all night is not an option, that we haven’t exercised in a few days, that we cannot take on that much work because of the stress it will cause, and that certain situations should be avoided because they are recognized triggers. Once again, the key is recognizing and becoming aware.

Becoming self-aware does not happen over night and there will be times where the effects of bipolar disorder will become too much to manage, but just the fact that you are trying is what is important. Self-awareness is difficult, but not impossible and we all have access to at least a little bit of it. We should continue try our hardest to initiate self-awareness in the moments that we can, not to become discouraged when we inevitably miss opportunities to use self-awareness and to ask our support networks to help us become more self-aware when they recognize things that we miss. The point is not to be perfect, but rather to try to be more self-aware in general. We as people affected by bipolar disorder are more vulnerable to certain situations and self-awareness is one way that we can regain some control over these situations that affect so much of our lives.

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