Part three in a three-part series of posts about Bipolar Disorder.
I have a mental health toolbox which helps me with my bipolar self-care. This is the list of what I have and how it works:
- Medication – Prescribed medication was a lifesaver for me. It took awhile to find the right combination but I have no regrets. Medication allowed my symptoms to level out to a manageable, functional level, and I haven’t lost my personality. A question many people ask is, “Do marijuana or illegal drugs work?” The answer is, “No.” They may work to keep you happy or relax your depression symptoms, but they’re not stabilizing. You will still swing from one mood to the other when the drugs wear off – and the swings are vicious.
- DBT therapy – DBT is an abbreviation for Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy in which the main goal is to retrain your brain. Therapy is taught through classes, with the goal to teach people how to live in the moment, develop healthy ways to cope with stress, regulate emotions, and improve relationships with others. I attended DBT classes at Santa Fe Community Guidance Center. The classes last for six months. People sometimes re-attend the class two or three times, then come intermittently for a refresher course. For more in-depth information on DBT therapy, please visit: https://www.verywellmind.com/dialectical-behavior-therapy-1067402.
- Therapy – My therapy was in 3 parts. First, I had to deal with childhood trauma. You really don’t know the scars that were left behind until you start facing your behavior – especially if it tends to be self-destructive. You can’t change your habits or learn to love yourself until you understand why you don’t and why you self-destruct. The second part of therapy went hand in hand with DBT classes. I learned a lot about anxiety and stress management. The third part involved me learning about my bipolar cycle and finding coping mechanisms for manic or depressive flare-ups. The biggest thing I learned is that I had to make friends with my bipolar disorder, because the more I fought it, the more it fought back. What I learned was that it just wanted some self-soothing techniques. Below is a list of techniques that I learned during DBT class and with my therapist:
- A calendar and a feelings/emotional diary that helps me track my bipolar manic and depression flare-ups – My therapist noticed first that she could time my bipolar flare-ups on a regular basis. She advised me to keep a calendar and diary so we could have a better picture of what was going on. What I learned: the medication was working well, but I cycled. I would be steady for a certain amount of time and then I would become a bit more hyper, or a bit more somber, and then level out again. I also discovered that certain situations or people could be triggering during these times and aggravate my mania or depression.
- Sleep – Sleep is VERY IMPORTANT. If I don’t get enough sleep, my mania thinks it’s okay to come out and play, and it becomes harder to rein in. Sleep also affects my depression. If I don’t get enough sleep, then when I’m in a somber mood, it tends to deepen and get a little bit darker.
- A nutritional diet – Yes, eating healthy makes a difference, but there are two things that you really should cut way back on. Those two things are sugar and caffeine. Sugar ramps up your energy level which in turn ramps up your mania. Caffeine does the same thing. The only thing worse than sugar or caffeine is a combination of both. It’s like a double whammy to your brain, and can send your mania skyrocketing. The bigger problem is, when the sugar and/or caffeine high burns out, you come crashing back down into a harsh depression. It’s so much worse than where you started.
- An emotional diet – this is a big one. Negative people can have a profound effect on our moods. Their anger and bitterness is like pouring gasoline on a fire, causing massive flare-ups. So much negativity will cause our depressive moods to sink quickly and deeply into darker depths. Conversely, happy people can help to level out our depressive moods and keep us from sinking lower.
- Colors, Sounds and Scents – it’s surprising how much colors, sounds, and scents can affect us. Do you have a favorite color shirt or jacket you like to wear? Do you look for a certain color when shopping? These colors may make us feel safe, warm, happy, confident, etc. Surround yourself with colors that make you feel good. Scents have that same effect on us. They can bring back happy memories or just make us feel good. Sounds, like wind chimes, flutes, or a favorite song, can affect your mood for the better. You should experiment and find out what works well for you.
- A form of mindfulness is art – My mind loves art. When I feel my mania getting a bit out of control, I start painting, drawing, doodling, or writing. It levels me out and I feel so relaxed afterwards. And when I’m depressed, I have an adult coloring book which also has the same effect of leveling out my depression. Writing, playing a musical instrument, working on a craft, etc., can produce the same effect.
- The Checklist – I have a checklist of techniques that I can go through when I feel out of sorts, so that I can get my mood back into a workable balance. Sometimes I need other alternatives besides art. And sometimes, it’s not a manic or depression flare-up, it’s just a yucky day. This is my checklist, in no particular order. I call it:
Everything Is Awful and I’m Not Okay
- Are you starting to feel depressed? Leave the depressing situation or conversation.
- Watch a happy movie.
- Go for a walk NOW.
- Check my BLOOD SUGAR. Is it low? Get something to eat.
- Take bi-polar meds earlier than planned.
- Are you HYDRATED?
- Have you exercised?
- Have you painted, colored, or done some form of art?
- Did you do a self-check on your mood before you got out of bed?
- Have you been over-exerting yourself lately, either physically, emotionally, socially, or intellectually?
- Have you had changes in medication such as dosage strength? Did you skip a dose?
- Do you need to be by yourself in a solitary place for a while?
- Do I need to practice mindfulness (art, crochet, etc.)
- Am I angry? List reasons why I’m angry until I run out. Then review solutions to self- soothe.
- H.A.L.T. – do I feel Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?
- Does your brain feel crazy? Remind yourself that you have internalized trauma for several years. You’re finally letting it go.
And last, but most definitely not least, I keep the warm line and hotline numbers on my fridge. (I know there have been complaints about the warm line. Please be patient. They are volunteers, and some are discovering that they’re not cut out for the job. BUT DON’T GIVE UP!)
New Mexico Crisis and Access Line (TOLL FREE 24/7/365)
Warm Line (from 3:30pm to 11:00pm) 1-855-466-7100
Crisis Line (24/7/365) 1-855-662-7474
TTY Line (24/7/365) 1-855-227-5485
Crisis Response of Santa Fe – PMS (Presbyterian Medical Services)
All numbers are 24/7/365
National Suicide Prevention Hotline