Let’s face it, like it or not, living with bipolar disorder (or any mental illness) is a battle. You are at war, and the enemy is unyielding.
The situation is not hopeless.
Just like a literal war, there are rules of engagement. Learning to master those rules will make you more successful in your battle.
What can you do? Here are 15 ways you can be victorious.
1. No Soldier Stands Alone
The first thing to remember is that rarely does a soldier stand alone. True, there may be times when a sniper functions in a more solitary manner, but they are always part of the military unit, working together toward a common goal.
Soldiers need each other to keep their spirits up and to watch out for each other. Their comradery builds confidence and strengthens their bonds.
When you have bipolar, it is far too easy to push others away and to isolate yourself. Stop that right now. To win this war, you are going to need to:
2. Rally the Troops
A good support team is essential to any troop’s success. Strike teams are generally not chosen at random, so you also should be selective in choosing your companions.
Good friends and positive relatives can help pull you up when you are down with bipolar depression, warn you when you are slipping into danger, and help keep you accountable to yourself and your treatment plan.
There will be days you don’t want to hear these things. That’s okay. There are lots of things in this world we don’t want to have but that are necessary. Don’t get stuck in the negative and learn to appreciate the help being offered.
We all fall at times. Sometimes we can get ourselves back up as I discuss in my post How To Succeed and Get Back on Your Feet: 15 Inspirational Quotes. Other times, we need someone to pull us up. With the right support system, you’ll be back on your feet in no time.
3. Identify the Enemy
You can’t wage a war until you can identify your enemy. With mental illness, that enemy is more than just a diagnosis.
You might think of the disease as an evil dictator that is hell-bent on world domination. While he may be the chief problem, it’s his underlings that do his bidding.
With bipolar, we often refer to these lesser enemies as triggers. These triggers bring out the full force of our inner dictators. Learn to identify your triggers and how to avoid them if possible.
Proper identification of triggers can be challenging because sometimes they are a moving target. One day, physical exercise may be just fine. The next, it may bring on a full-on manic episode. Seasons can also affect how troubling triggers can be.
It’s a changing landscape, but by staying alert, you can be better equipped to handle each enemy.
4. Analyze and Keep a Battle Map
It’s not uncommon for the bipolar trigger to come from inside us. A friend or loved one may fail to call or text you. In time, you start to obsess that they haven’t checked in with you. The more time that goes by, the obsession may grow until you start to believe that you are unloved and unworthy.
Most of the time that’s not true. People get busy and have problems of their own. Life is overwhelming for most of us.
Did something terrible really happen or are you just obsessing over something that started quite small but now feels gigantic? Take some time to be mindful or to meditate. Examine what you are feeling an why. Are those feelings warranted and reasonable?
Spend some time in meditation or mindfulness each day. Focus on the positives in your life and applaud even your small accomplishments. Did you get up and get dressed today? Good for you. I’m proud of you. You should be proud of you too.
A great book about achieving mindfulness is Dr. Danny Penman’s Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. If you have questions about how to be more mindful or even how to get started, be sure to check it out.
5. Take Charge
In a simple world, someone else would just give you the right medicine or tell you exactly what to do. Unfortunately, every instance of mental illness is unique.
Yes, some commonalities exist, but at the end of the day, the person who knows the bipolar patient the best is the patient.
For that reason, it is essential that you take charge of your own treatment plan. Don’t be afraid to speak up if a medication is not working or causing unacceptable side effects.
A trend with bipolar is that occasionally, and apparently without reason, a treatment plan that has been working may suddenly fail. A well-meaning doctor may think that only a dosage change is needed, but you know your own mind and body.
Speak up calmly yet firmly and give clear reasons why you think a treatment may need to be altered, replaced, or discontinued.
A Personal Story
I started a new bipolar medication last summer because my anxiety was suddenly and inexplicably out of control. I’m very paranoid about trying new medication because I went through 30 different prescriptions before I found the right combination that works for me.
Still, my doctor, a good man overall, was sure that this new drug would be my ticket to peace.
Quickly, I knew that the medicine was making things worse. I mentioned my concerns at my next visit, but the decision was made to increase the dosage. That lead to even worse anxiety.
This cycle repeated itself at the next several appointments.
It Was My Responsibility
I’ll be honest. I was afraid to candidly speak up and tell the doctor just how bad things with my bipolar anxiety were getting. So, for several months, with office visits every two weeks, he kept increasing the dosage, and I kept getting worse.
Things got quite severe, to the point I was having difficulty leaving the house and had such severe anxiety that sleep was near non-existent.
I know my mind and my body. I have been dealing with this insidious enemy for over 40 years. So, finally, at my next visit, I pushed myself and told my doctor the whole story. I explained to him how much worse things were getting and the negative toll it was taking on me.
He stopped the medication.
Interestingly, my doctor’s office does DNA testing. I don’t fully understand the testing, but there are markers in our genetic makeup that show which medications we can and cannot metabolize properly. The meds that a body doesn’t metabolize well can start to build up and cause increased problems, like severe anxiety or increased suicidal thoughts
After I finally explained everything to the doctor, he again reviewed my genetic results. It turns out, the medication that was completely messing me up was one that never should have been prescribed for me! My body can’t metabolize it, so no matter how much I took, it never would have been effective.
Had I only spoke up fully and forcefully earlier, I would have saved myself months of agony.
On a side note, I am on a cocktail now that seems to be working quite well and making my bipolar manageable.
6. Follow Orders
Okay, so this next one may sound contradictory in light of everything in the preceding paragraphs, but bear with me.
The military has to have a clear chain-of-command and clear rights and wrongs. Following the direction of a superior officer could mean the difference between life or death.
For this point, we are going to assume that you have found a treatment plan that is working for you and giving you a reasonable quality of life.
In that case, following orders means taking your medications – AT THE SAME TIME – EVERY DAY.
Sorry, I don’t mean to yell at you, but I have seen this problem with so many people. Sadly, at times, myself included.
Bipolar disorder is highly deceptive.
On a good day, it may tell you that things are going so well that you don’t need to take your medication. Come bad days, the thought of getting out of bed to find a glass of water to take your pills requires more strength than you can muster.
Don’t let mental illness win. Is it a good day? Take your medicine.
Does it feel like the sky is falling? Take your medicine.
Has the earth started spinning backward? Well, if you don’t fly off, take your medicine.
You get the point.
7. Know Your Limits
In a war, there are usually clearly defined battle lines. Also, there may be minefields or no-man zones.
This kind of goes along with the triggers conversation. If you know that running in a 5k is going to cause a severe manic episode, don’t do it. There might be a certain toxic relationship that drains you so much that you have days of crippling depression after seeing that person. Avoid them at all cost. Staying up too late or drinking too much may likewise bring on cyclic changes bringing you either too high or too low.
When you go to a swimming pool, it’s usually well marked if there is a deep end. If you are not a good swimmer, you know not to jump into that part of the pool.
Put up pool signs in your daily life. (No, not actual pool signs, though that might be fun. If you do, I want pictures.) If you know that X activity is going to bring on Y result, stop yourself before you do it.
I hate to tell you; you are not Superman (or Supergirl) no matter how invincible you may feel on a manic day. (Besides, in truth, I’m Superman. Just don’t tell anyone. You can be Batman.)
Learn your limits, put up your pool signs, and for goodness sake, don’t jump in.
8. Don’t Miss Roll Call
In the military, every soldier is expected to be present for roll call. There’s no arriving10 minutes late or leaving 10 minutes early. There’s a defined schedule, and every soldier must stick to it.
Living with mental illness requires a similar discipline. Sticking to a routine or schedule is one of the most important things you can do to manage your mental health.
Try to get up at the same time every day, whether you have slept or not. Make an effort to turn off all electronic devices (I see you with that cell phone under the blanket) at least an hour before it is time for you to go to sleep, and stick to that hour every day.
Eat meals at similar times, and always, always, try to take your medication at the same time every day.
9. Choose Your Target – and Stick To It
Imagine this scenario. Alpha Squad is being sent out to capture a ruthless drug lord. The drug lord is cruel to his community and provides significant military support to the evil dictator.
The soldiers head out, their mission firmly in mind. But halfway to their destination, each soldier decides to go off and do his own thing. The drug lord escapes and the country falls into further turmoil.
Most of us will never really have to deal with a drug lord, but dealing with our inner demons is no less important.
If you know a particular plan of attack (medication, exercise, proper diet) will make you feel better and be more productive, stick to that plan. Keep your destination and your why constantly in mind. Avoid distractions and don’t give up.
10. Learn From Others
Soldiers learn to become adept at fighting and other elements of war by learning from more experienced warriors. As awful as mental illness is, and let’s face it, it really sucks, the good news is that you are not alone.
Let me repeat that. You are not alone. Really.
Millions of people are living with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and on and on. Many of those people are doing so successfully.
If you don’t know anyone personally that has the same condition you do, don’t give up. Join a Facebook group or look for support groups in your community. I have gotten tremendous validation, support, and advice from dozens of people I have met online. I will likely never meet most of them in person, yet they continue to offer me valuable guidance.
Find someone with your condition and see what they are doing to live successful in spite of it. Let their experience make your path easier.
11. Visit the Mess Hall
I’ve never been in a military mess hall, but I can’t imagine that they have stacks of potato chips and Krispy Kremes when you enter one. (If I’m wrong, someone, please let me know.)
Proper diet is essential for everyone. We all know that, and we’ve heard it for as long as we can remember.
When life and mental illness knocks you down, it’s far too easy to hit the junk food or to binge on sweets.
I’m not going to lie to you. There are days that I self-medicate with the worst things that I know I shouldn’t be eating. In fact, just last night I made a late-night trip to the store solely to buy Krispy Kremes. (If you don’t know, they are the best donuts ever.)
If you need to have a “milk and cookies” day, go ahead and take it. Just make sure that milk and cookies, or in this case Krispy Kremes, don’t become your sole source of nutrition.
One day is okay. Ten days, not so much.
Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and whatever else the health experts are telling us we should eat this week.
Proper diet does improve mental health. It doesn’t seem like it should, but it actually does.
12. Train Properly
A soldier wouldn’t last very long in battle if he couldn’t run when his life depended on it. To prepare, months or years of training might go into getting the soldier’s body up to peak performance.
I hope I don’t have to run any time soon. If so, I will likely be one of the first bodies you are jumping over. And the reason why is because I am not doing so great in this area.
Again, I blame the Krispy Kremes. (Just for the record, I am not a Krispy Kremes affiliate, though it probably sounds like I am. I am, however, a little OCD.)
However, when I was behaving myself and exercising at least two or three times a week, I did feel much better, both physically and mentally.
The other positive that comes from regular exercise is that generally you also sleep better.
And that brings us to:
13. Hit the Barracks
The trick is that you really do have to sleep. When you are manic, it’s quite easy to go a day or several days without sleeping. Not good.
Sleep is the crucial reboot that our minds and bodies need to keep functioning.
Just like we might need to restart a smartphone or computer when it gets bogged down, our brains are much the same way. Without that time to flush out all the garbage, things pile up until insanity ensues.
So, what can you do if you aren’t sleeping? Well, we’ve mentioned a few things already. Turn off the electronics, including the TV, at least an hour before bed. Get up at the same time every day. Get regular exercise.
Another good tip is to make sure you only sleep while in bed. If you find you are tossing and turning for hours, get up and out of bed. Don’t eat, read, or watch TV in bed. Let your brain associate the bed only with sleeping.
If insomnia has become severe, make sure you talk to your doctor about it.
14. Give Away Medals
One thing I especially admire about the military is how they are always eager to acknowledge and reward greatness. As a group, they appreciate the efforts of every single soldier and show honor when rightly deserved.
Take that approach to your whole life. Look for reasons to be grateful or to show appreciation. There are millions of little things that happen every day that we might not notice.
Was your mail delivered today? Appreciate it. (Well, maybe not the bills.)
Did a friend call or text to check on you? Tell them what that means to you.
Whatever happens in your day, look for the reasons to show gratitude and thank everyone that does anything for you.
15. File Mission Reports
Lastly, the military sets a good example by writing things down. A mission report not only keeps everyone informed but also offers a detailed insight into why a mission was successful or not.
Your mission? Get a journal and start writing things down. No one else has to or even should read your words. It’s for you, your safe place.
I am a big fan of leather journals. You can click through to see my favorite one right now.
Make full use of your journal by keeping a record of your mental health. Write down the things that make life easier and the things that make it worse. Put into words how you feel and the things you want to say but probably shouldn’t. Keep a list of the good things that happen to you and the people you love and why. Refer to those lists on the bad days to remind you that life is worth living.
why you should journal
Yes, my fellow warriors, living with mental illness is a war. We do battle with bipolar, depression, etc., every second of every day.
In conclusion, winning is possible. I hope that at least one or two of the points mentioned here will help make your life just a little bit easier.
If you enjoyed this post, please share it on social media and with others that could benefit from it. I thank you in advance.