My Battle with Bipolar—4 Simple Strategies for Recurring Problems
You can take charge of your recovery on a regular basis, one day at a time, by using these simple strategies.
By Stephen Propst
He’s too smart to have bipolar. I’m glad he found the right medication and is back to normal. He’s got things under control now. These are among the many comments I’ve heard over the years. Unfortunately, statements like these trivialize what, for me, has been an ongoing and occasionally overwhelming battle with bipolar.
The truth is that intelligence alone does not solve a sometimes life-threatening condition. A pill doesn’t magically make all the symptoms go away. And when you have bipolar, even with treatment you can remain vulnerable to episodes of debilitating depression or major mania, sometimes for life.
While I don’t have as many major crisis moments these days, I still face four factors on a recurring basis. The chronic nature of these issues is particularly problematic. To maintain my recovery, I try to take things in stride and employ some simple concepts— and you can too!
At one time, my life seemed to have a natural flow. But ever since I was diagnosed with a mood disorder, my days seem disconnected. It’s like having a series of mini-lives. To maintain some sense of connectivity, I’ve learned to never go to bed before deciding on a reason to get up the next morning.
To further confront this challenge, I set goals and stick to a schedule. For example, when I decided to get myself into better shape, I started working out with a trainer. We established specific expectations, and I rarely leave one appointment without setting the next.
My energy level can feel depleted one day and elevated the next. My brain vacillates from slow, confused, and worried to excited, impulsive, and hurried. This ever-changing mental climate can wear me out.
To overcome this obstacle, I have to manage both ends of the energy scale. When I’m feeling low, I take time to rest my body and restore my mind, by meditating or doing something relaxing. When my spirits are high, I try to focus my energy on something constructive, like working on a project I’ve been delaying.
Making routine decisions can cause my mind to take flight and my recovery to suffer. To deal with this dilemma, I try to simplify my life. For example, I shop at stores that offer fewer choices, perhaps four varieties of a product versus 30. Interestingly, American psychologist Barry Schwartz has studied this very phenomenon. His “paradox of choice” research suggests that limiting consumer options reduces stress. I’ve certainly found that to be true.
To manage this menace, therapy has really helped me transform my thinking. I have to be diligent about not downplaying my worth as a human being. I’ve found it helpful to be with positive people and engage in activities that give me a sense of purpose, like volunteering.
Perhaps the most effective strategy I’ve learned is to stop all the sabotaging self-talk. Whenever I start to condemn myself, I pause and take time to rethink what I’m saying. I then restate my thoughts in a more self-affirming manner.
In the more than 25 years that I’ve lived with bipolar, I’ve had my share of dealing with the full-blown symptoms that are characteristic of the condition. But continuously coping with the daily factors, like the four discussed here, is an equally formidable task. It’s a never-ending cycle, but there is hope!
Whether you’re dealing with day-today discontinuity, enduring erratic energy, confronting countless choices, or suffering subpar self-esteem, being patient and persistent pays off. Despite the daily demands of bipolar—which can be extremely tiring and taxing—you can take charge of your recovery on a regular basis, one day at a time, by using these simple strategies.