By: Michelle Yang
Below is a guest post that originally appeared on Michelle’s blog:
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years living with bipolar disorder, it’s that everyone’s different in how we struggle and cope. Every person responds to medications differently and can have greatly varied symptoms. As a peer living with bipolar disorder, here are some things that have helped me find everyday wellness:
Seek treatment. See medical providers. Is it a psychiatrist for medication, therapist, or just a primary healthcare doctor? Often a team is needed, but however you feel supported, it is so important to seek ongoing care. I’ve learned this the hard way. If I neglect making appointments when I’m well and busy, it is so hard to get in to see providers when I do need help. Finding good providers who will advocate for you is much more challenging than one would expect, but also absolutely vital.
Always take medication. Always. Traveling to different time zones or camping? I set an alarm on my phone for when to take my meds. I also avoid all other drugs, including caffeine, alcohol and anything recreational. These can prevent medications from working appropriately or interfere with sleep cycle.
Get enough sleep. To me, getting enough sleep is just as important as seeking treatment and taking meds. If I don’t get enough sleep for several consecutive days, it the first sign that something’s wrong. When traveling across time zones, I give myself extra time to adjust.
Nurture a support network. Invest in friendships and relationships. Often I will not feel like leaving the house, but in general, if I’m well enough, I make a point to show up for others when it counts. I would like people to show up for me, so it’s only fair.
Attend support groups. NAMI and other support groups can be very helpful and are free of cost. It’s invaluable to have a safe space where everyone knows exactly what I’m going through to prevent feeling alone in a society with so much stigma. There are some online support group options as well. I don’t find these to be as effective as in person meetings, but they can still be a good resource.
Build a routine. I find having a routine tremendously helpful. This is one of the reasons I enjoy working, as it provides a built-in structure and a sense of productivity. I also appreciate the social interaction with other adults built it in a job.
Leave home at least once a day, even if it’s just to take a walk. Something about getting out, breathing the fresh air and being under the open sky helps me avoid depression.
Turn on the lights. It’s so simple, but I find warm-toned, bright lights to be instantly mood-lifting. I need my home and work space both to be bright.
Avoid triggers. Loud background noises like fans or sports games on TV can make me anxious. I only recently learned about the link between bipolar disorder and hypersensitivity I excuse myself when I need to or turn off these noises as soon as possible.
Find inspiration. I love to paint and draw. Having my work up around the house reminds me of more productive times if I’m feeling down on myself, my creations serve as silent pep-talks. Photos I love of family, friends and pets do the same thing in my living and work space.
Set boundaries. I have a breaking point, everyone does. It’s my job to know what that is and to set appropriate boundaries. Sometimes I need to remove stresses or even people from my life to protect myself. This can be very difficult. We are working against a lifetime of conditioning and a strong sense of obligation and responsibility, but self-care must come first.
Be kind to myself. I need reminders to be compassionate with myself and to stop the negative self talk. It’s so easy to fall down a spiral of believing everyone hates me, that I’m a failure and a fraud. I suffer from impostor syndrome. To combat this, I consciously think of examples of positive interactions with people to remind myself they don’t hate me. Similarly, I force myself to list out my achievements and productivity to not feel like a failure. It takes so much effort, but it is one of my most important coping skills.
Do you have any coping skills that I didn’t cover? Please share.
About the Author
Michelle Yang is on a personal mission to show the world one can live well with bipolar disorder. Tired of the stigma, she is empowered to humanize and normalize mental health illnesses as just another part of the human condition. She recently quit her coveted corporate job to write and advocate for mental health wellness. Michelle has a memoir-in-progress and her articles have been featured on InStyle, HuffPost, Mochi Magazine, and HelloGiggles. Learn more by following her on Facebook and Instagram or check out her blog at livingwellhappily.com.