As we welcome in the first few days of 2018 I thought I’d take this time to reflect on the year that was 2017. Now everyone always says ‘this year was filled with lots of ups and downs’ but I think this statement holds more true for someone like me with Bipolar disorder. Every year is a rocky year for me. But 2017 was quite unusual in that it was almost a tale of two extremes.
The first six months of the year I was rapid cycling; dancing between mania and depression like it was nobodies business. I would be severely depressed for two weeks, manic for one week and then repeat. It was a very volatile time for me. As many know, episodes of Bipolar can be triggered by stress and life events and in many respects my life was falling apart. This made my illness worse which only served to make me behave in less predictable and more extreme ways, thereby welcoming worse life events and stress. It was a vicious cycle. One that almost resulted in me losing my partner of over eight years. Now if that isn’t the kind of reality check one needs to start looking after themselves better then I don’t know what is. So I took a long hard look at myself and started to do the work.
For a long time I had been feeling like a victim to my Bipolar disorder. I felt I had no control over my mood episodes or when they would strike. In many respects, I also felt I was unaccountable for what I said or did during these episodes because ‘it wasn’t me’. I’ve since come to understand that whilst Bipolar disorder can be an explanation for a behaviour it is never an excuse or justification. I started to do something I had never done before. I started holding myself accountable. I started to own all of the horrible things I had said and done to my loved ones whilst manic. And it was awful. I came to a level of self-hatred I had never known before. But I didn’t stay there long. I learned that in order to expect other people to forgive my trespasses and understand my shortcomings I had to do the same thing with myself. Self-compassion had become my ally. I reflected on all the pain I had caused and instead of just blaming my Bipolar I learned to forgive myself and my Bipolar and how to ask for forgiveness without making excuses. I began to genuinely apologise for and make up for the hurt I had caused others. And with time my relationships started to heal. This was vitally important as a strong support network is vital to stability.
The changes I made in the last six months weren’t just in my mindset. I finally started listening to the wise words of my therapists (which I highly recommend by the way) and stopped making excuses for not implementing their advice. I cut back on work to reduce stress. I also stopped saying yes to things if they weren’t in my best interest. I started working out again. I started eating better. I started taking my meds properly. I set up a bed time. I got up the same time everyday. I created a serious routine in my life to combat the chaos of Bipolar disorder. Routine and structure is the antithesis of Bipolar. I also made myself more vulnerable. I told all my friends and family exactly what I needed from them to help me stay on the straight and narrow. I now have safeguards and plans in place for my loves ones about what to do and say if they think I am becoming unwell. We even have scripts about how to approach me if they think I am showing early warning signs of mania or depression.
To tell you the truth I wanted to write this post weeks ago but I found it so hard to put all of the massive changes I have made over the last six months into words. Life with Bipolar is not easy, it is constant work. But if you do the work, you can live some semblance of a normal life. All I’ve ever wanted is to be normal. Whatever that is. So to be stable for the last six months has been a blessing I can scarcely believe. It has not been easy. There have been times I have felt myself slipping. But I feel immensely proud that I was able to pull myself out of those moments.. The key to finding stability, in my experience, is self-awareness. You need to know yourself, your triggers, you early warning signs and symptoms. One does not simply wake up with this wisdom one day. It takes time, self-reflection and active involvement in your treatment.
I hope I can use all I’ve learned to welcome in another six months of stability. But I am just taking it one day at a time. I am grateful for all I have learned along the way and I know it will come in handy in the future; stable or otherwise.