How Long to Reach Stability With Bipolar Disorder Recovery?

An inside look at what it takes to be stable with mental illness.
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How long does it take to be stable? | Graphic created with Canva AI.

It took me 4 long years.

That’s my answer when people ask me how long it took between my diagnosis of bipolar disorder and when I finally felt like my life was stable again.

Actually, it took over four years and 30 different medications. During that time, I saw 4 therapists, 3 psychiatrists, and had an inpatient hospital stay.

To me, that’s always felt like a long time. I know of other people who received a bipolar diagnosis and then felt mostly stable within 6 months. Many never had another problem.

Then there are other people who were diagnosed 30 years ago, and still don’t feel stable today.

So how long does it really take? It depends.

What is stability?

First, you have to decide what stability is for you. For me, I felt like I was stable when I could hold down a full-time job and have an active social life. Those two things were my benchmarks.

You might have a different definition of mental health stability. You might want to have fewer days where you cry every day or want to go for a long time without experiencing the horrors of psychotic mania.

Take some time to think about your answer, especially if you are new to this whole bipolar disorder recovery game. Imagine your life if you were stable and then write out a list of what that life has that you don’t have now. Then work toward the life you want.

Why does it take so long?

A reader reached out to me recently and asked me how I achieved stability so quickly. In their experience, it took 10-20 years of dealing with bipolar before achieving stability.

Honestly, back in 1995, when a doctor first told me I had manic depression (as bipolar was then known), if someone had told me it would take 10-20 years to be stable, I would have given up right then. Who wants to wait 20 years to feel better?

Remember, there are a lot of different factors that go into stability. Success often requires the right care team, a doctor who will both listen to you and take your feelings into account. Your care team should also want to help you improve rather than viewing you as another nameless patient.

You need support

You also need a strong support system, a network of people who are on your side no matter what. Not everyone in your life will be helpful on your mental health journey, so hold tight to the ones who are what you need.

You also have to have determination in your bipolar disorder recovery. No one will ever care more about your mental health than you do, so you have to make it a priority. (Read that again.)

The problem is that during an extreme bipolar episode, whether mania or depression, you may not care about any of those things. You might stop taking your medication, disrupt your sleep routine, or stay up all night partying. You may throw your life into chaos by ending relationships and quitting jobs.

When you tank your entire life, stability takes even longer. With a life in ruins, you are not only rebuilding your mental health but everything else as well.

How did I reach stability so quickly?

It’s funny, but I never imagined that I found stability “quickly.” Those turbulent years of bipolar disorder recovery were a living hell, and many times I doubted I would survive them.

I obsessed about suicide constantly and also struggled with self-harm. I was self-destructive, merciless in my relationships, and saw no light at the end of my tunnel.

Then one day, I realized I was only going to get better if I was determined to do so. No one could rescue me. No one else heard all the voices in my head or the doubts that made sleep impossible. And I could never fully explain it. I was living in an alien world and had to figure out how to thrive there.

Take positive steps

So I started looking for ways I could improve my mental health. I made sure I journaled every day. With every entry, I worked out both the things I was doing and what I was thinking or feeling.

I looked for trends in my life, and things that made my episodes either better or worse. I started practicing self-care, which included spending time at the end of each day making a gratitude list.

Most importantly, I put my mental health care in first place. I took my medications at the same time every day and got out of bed every morning at the same time, no matter if I slept or not.

With monumental effort, I started eating healthier foods and made sure that I was getting at least some form of exercise a few times a week. Some days, that exercise was only pacing the floors inside my house, but I got up and moved as often as I could.

It was no one thing that took me for mental chaos to stability. It was a lot of hard work, much like building a house. First, I laid the foundation with determination and proper medical care. Then I built things up with the good habits mentioned above.

Illustration of a man stressed out while sitting at an office desk with his head on his hands
For a while, I lived minute to minute. | Image made by author with Canva AI.

Living one moment at a time

Many times, I felt like I was just living one hour to the next. During the worst days of my bipolar disorder recovery, I lived one minute to the next.

“Scott,” I would tell myself, “you only have to make it through the next 60 seconds.”

I would take a deep breath, watch the second hand spin around on the wall clock, and exhale deeply. Then I would do it again.

It felt like months went by, existing one minute at a time. I was climbing the highest mountain but felt stuck two feet from the bottom.

Each minute I conquered gave me strength to fight for the next one. If I could stay alive for the last 60 seconds, chances were good I could do it for the next 60 seconds. It was then that “Keep fighting” became my motto, and I fought one moment at a time.

As my confidence grew, I saw positive changes in my mental health. I learned to extend my moments from seconds to minutes, then to days and weeks.

Every time I saw I could successfully handle a trial, it made me stronger to face what was to come next.

Pinterest Pin:
Are you or a loved one living with bipolar disorder, wondering when stability may be within reach? 

This story provides insight and guidance on this journey, exploring the various factors that influence recovery time, and offering hope for a more stable future. 

Dive into our comprehensive post on understanding the timeline for achieving bipolar disorder recovery stability.

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Stability is hard work

I will not pretend bipolar disorder recovery is easy. If you were to read through my journal entries from the last 30 years, you would see lots of times when I was ready to give up.

There were some seconds that felt too hard, and I felt unable to survive until the next one. But the worst times became less often when I started taking care of myself first.

Stability for me also included changing the people who were allowed in my life. The ones who wanted to create drama or only remembered my name when they needed something, they had to go.

They were doing nothing but adding stress to my life, and added stress is the devil’s playground for bipolar episodes. Hard as it was, I either cut those people out of my life or limited the time I spent with them.

Moving on can hurt for a while

Ending relationships broke my heart at first. As a young man, I believed the more friends you had, the better. To me, you had to have at least several hundred friends before you could call yourself a person of value. That was a horrible mindset, and one that set me up for certain failure.

As I removed toxic people from my life, I realized you don’t need hundreds of friends. You really only need one or two who are in your corner and willing to stand with you, no matter what. Everyone else is just an extra, and most of them don’t matter in the long run.

I know that sounds harsh, but it’s the truth. I didn’t think I could go on when I ended a few friendships, but looking back now, I can see how much better my life is without them.

Boundaries

The next thing I can contribute to achieving stability so quickly is setting boundaries. I set boundaries both in my friendships and in my work life. I figured out how many days I could reasonably work without setting off bipolar mania, and I stuck to that schedule as much as possible.

Yes, there are times I work more hours than I should, especially during tax season since I’m a tax preparer. Most weeks, though, I work a 3- or 4-day work week. I also pace my leisure time at home, setting limits on the time I produce online content or work in the yard.

Boundaries also came into play for the things I did and ate. I knew alcohol, especially excessive drinking, caused my bipolar symptoms to get worse, so I cut most alcohol out of my life. I still enjoy a drink or two when at a party, but I don’t keep liquor in my home. Too many of my worst decisions happened because I was drinking too much beforehand.

Acceptance

Finally, I accepted that I couldn’t do everything. As much as bipolar disorder told me I was Superman, it wasn’t true. So I had to learn what events I could attend and which ones I had to stay away from.

For example, I learned I can’t deal with crowds. I’m good with a group of two or three people, but many more and my anxiety skyrockets. There are times I can handle larger crowds, but if you get more than 50 people together, I’m running for the door.

I also recognize that being stable doesn’t feel the same every day.

Illustration of a man looking in a mirror and smiling
You can find stability. | Image made by author with Canva AI.

Once you’re stable, do you stay stable?

Here’s a painful truth about bipolar disorder recovery: stability is never a one-and-done thing. Stability is fluid, changing like the ocean tide.

Even when you’re doing all the right things, you will still have messy days, weeks, and even months. There will be times when it feels like you’re losing a game and being pushed back to the starting line, but you go back knowing more.

Once you get your life stable and find the right combination of medications, there’s no guarantee things are going to stay that way. Bipolar disorder is one of the few illnesses where a treatment plan can stop working overnight.

No one seems to know why, but the medication that worked great for you yesterday may never help you feel better again. It’s a terrifying fear we live with every day, so it’s imperative you are constantly taking steps to keep yourself stable.

As soon as you see things slipping off track, talk to both your professional care team and your support network at home. Again, no one is ever going to be as concerned about your mental health as you are. So do whatever you need to do to keep yourself stable.

You can reach stability

Stability is a moving target with bipolar disorder, and the idea means different things to different people. For me, I feel I’ve been stable for most of the last 25 years. I’ve been able to hold down jobs, have successful relationships, and maintain lasting friendships.

Even during my best times, though, things occasionally fall apart. There are dosage adjustments and new medications, changes in therapists, and a constant come and go with the people in my life.

With each change in bipolar disorder recovery, I focus on the things I know are important. When I do, it’s never long before I feel stable again. You can do the same. Build your foundation, stick to your treatment plan, and monitor how you’re doing every day. Then you’ll be able to tell your own stability story.

Until next time, keep fighting.

Pinterest Pin:
Are you or a loved one living with bipolar disorder, wondering when stability may be within reach? 

This story provides insight and guidance on this journey, exploring the various factors that influence recovery time, and offering hope for a more stable future. 

Dive into our comprehensive post on understanding the timeline for achieving bipolar disorder recovery stability.

Read Now!

#SpeakingBipolar #mentalhealth #mentalillness #bipolardisorder #mentalillnessawareness
Please pin on Pinterest. | Graphic created with Canva AI.

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