This week The Sunny Shadow: Bipolar Support Group hosted its second Live Chat. And I’m sorry, but I cannot continue without first commenting on how amazing this supportive community is. This community rocks my world.
This week’s topic was: “How to re-enter life after a bipolar disorder diagnosis and treatment.” For so many reasons this can be difficult. You may feel as though you’ve lost something… control, who you once were…
And of course, there’s the various forms of stigma one has to face… societal and self-imposed. You have to figure out how to navigate this world as what can feel like an entirely different person. You have to face people… do you tell them? How and when? How will the react?
The Most Important Thing
The most important thing we can do for ourselves and our mental health is commit to our recovery and make it our number one priority. This means fully participating in treatment, taking proactive steps to care for ourselves (e.g. good self-care, calling psychiatrist in between appts. if need be), and becoming our own advocates. Because the truth is, if we’re not healthy, not much else is going to matter anyway. If we put our health first we’ll be at our best and most capable of doing the things we want, and doing them in the capacity that we want.
Below are just a few ways we can stay active in our recovery and reintegrate into life after a diagnosis.
Develop & Stick to a Routine
Routine is important for those of us living with bipolar. But developing & sticking to a routine becomes especially important when we’re recovering from an extreme mood episode or when we’ve just been released from a treatment center, for example.
Bipolar disorder is believed to be a circadian rhythm disorder and the circadian rhythms of people with bipolar are naturally disrupted. Further disrupting these rhythms with say, irregular sleeping or eating schedules, can potentially trigger mood episodes. Sleep deprivation in particular is a major trigger for mania and hypomania.
Studies show that “ …interpersonal and social rhythm therapy may ease the symptoms of bipolar disorder because it works to regulate the daily routines of these patients, who are often found to have more sensitive circadian clocks. Disruptions in sleep and routine may spur bouts of mania or depression… “ -via American Psychological Association
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Educate Yourself & Accept Your Illness
» Blog Post: Understanding Bipolar Disorder
Typically speaking, no one is an expert on an illness until they have a reason to be. This means that before we’re diagnosed, we’re generally working with the stereotypes and stigmas generated by our society. If we allow it, all of this can induce undue shame and make us feel bad about ourselves. But if we do our research and become educated we soon realize that the stereotypes are false and we have no reason to be ashamed. Education makes acceptance much easier. And so, we’re free to just be ourselves, rather than living behind the veil of our diagnoses.
Seek Support & Stay Socially Connected
People who have support have better outcomes. They recover quicker, generally have fewer mood episodes and milder symptoms. It’s best to include both people who have and have not been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in your support system. Connecting with others who have also been diagnosed makes accepting your disorder easier. It will allow you to see that you’re not alone. It’s always helpful to hear other people’s perspectives and how they manage their disorders. And the ability to return this support helps build self-esteem, something that’s often lacking among people living with bipolar disorder.
“Research has shown that social support wards off the effects of stress on depression, anxiety and other health problems.” -via Mental Health America
Identify & Minimize Stressors & Triggers
» Blog Post: Identifying Bipolar Disorder Triggers
Everyone’s stressors vary and thus what we do to overcome them will too. But there are a few things we can all do to reduce stress.
- Minimize physical and mental clutter
- Learn effective coping strategies (build a coping toolbox)
- Develop a routine
- Get plenty of sleep
- Set boundaries
- Maintain healthy relationships
- Find balance in life
- Keep your finances in order
- Eat a well-balanced diet and stay hydrated
- Learn relaxation techniques
Like stressors, individual triggers vary as well. To minimize and avoid stressors and triggers you must first identify them. You’re likely already aware of some of them. But to gain a clearer understanding, I suggest working closely with your therapist. Work on being more self-aware and mindful, touch base with yourself many times throughout each day. And keep a journal.
Maintain a Healthy (& Hopeful) Perspective
Yes, bipolar disorder is a mood disorder. But we still have a large degree of control over our mindsets. We’re not victims. It might be hard ass work but with support and effective coping tools, we’re capable of anything and everything. When we’re going through a low, it’s important to remember that it’s not going to last forever. We can take comfort in that fact. Some days (or weeks) it’s going to be difficult, but do your best to remain hopeful and solution-focused. You’ve got this, you CAN do this!
Share your tips on how to successfully re-enter life after a bipolar diagnosis in the comment section below! What worked and did not work for you?