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5 Things I Wish Someone had Told Me When I was Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder

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When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder thirteen years ago, I had no idea what what that meant.

I have a chronic mental illness? What does that mean for the rest of my life? I thought.

I wished that I had someone to guide me, someone who had survived and thrived with their own bipolar disorder and could help me understand what this truly meant for me and my family.

I have been stable–and happy!–for about seven years, so I am glad to share my experience with others in the hopes of helping them. Here are the 5 things I wish someone would have told me when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

1. It Gets Better

This is the most important item on the list. Facing down an alarming diagnosis and a years-long recovery from my postpartum psychotic break, I desperately needed to hear “it gets better.”

After the break, I spent years nearly-dying in the black pit that is depression. I could not care for my infant son, leaving dirty diapers on the living room floor for weeks because I couldn’t summon the wherewithal to pick them up. Even when he aged into preschool, I was still fighting to survive.

If I had someone tell me that I would eventually come out whole and healed on the other side, I don’t know if I would have believed them at the time, but I would have looked back with gratitude.

Telling someone in the midst of a bad situation “it gets better” can help them, especially when you yourself have lived through a similar situation. If you can expound upon how you survived your own challenges, even better.

2. You May have Mixed Feelings About Your Diagnosis

When I was given the label of “bipolar disorder,” I was by turns both devastated and elated:

Devastated because I had no idea what being bipolar would mean for me and my family. Elated because I finally had a label that made sense.

The label explained so much about my behaviors until that point. I wanted to tell everyone I’d ever met that I had bipolar disorder–an impulse in the midst of a manic episode that my husband gently cautioned me against.

I found myself vacillating between utter despair at the fact that I had a mental illness that would never go away and happiness at the fact that I could start working towards recovery with a targeted approach.

You may feel mixed feelings about your diagnosis. Your feelings, whatever they are, are valid, and they don’t change your inherent value as a person. Feel whatever emotions you feel, accept them, and move on.

3. Your Meds are Crucial for Recovery

When I was first diagnosed, I had a difficult time remembering to take my medication. But once my psychiatrist prescribed me the right ones, I found that when I took my pills–and took them on time–I stabilized rather quickly.

Bipolar disorder is no joke. Many people, especially those of us with Bipolar I, cannot manage their condition without psychiatric care. I know I can’t; without my anti-psychotic and anti-depressant, I would be in a very dark place.

I wouldn’t wish my depression on anyone. Without my medication, I would not have recovered. Thankfully, with a combination of medication that works for me and talk therapy, I have been stable for years.

Take your meds. They’re there to help you. Taking medication doesn’t make you weak; quite the opposite. It’s the first step towards stabilization; the first step towards healing. No one looks down on a diabetic for taking insulin, and bipolar meds are the same: life-saving.

4. Be Honest with Your Family About Your Diagnosis

Being honest with your family about your diagnosis is probably one of the hardest parts of being diagnosed. You now have a label that carries with it a certain amount of stigma.

Like me, your family will be confused about what a chronic mental illness means for them. Hopefully they’ll want to support you in this new journey of yours.

If I hadn’t been honest with my husband, my biggest supporter, he would not have been able to respond in an appropriate manner to my bipolar mood episodes. Whether it was hypomania, mania, or depression, my episodes are dangerous to my family, as I can’t concentrate on anything but my moods and whims.

So communicating honestly with him, though extremely difficult at the beginning, became easier and easier as time went on.

Tell your family about your diagnosis. If you don’t let them in on what challenges you’re facing, they will never understand what your diagnosis means for you and for them.

5. Try to Find Cheerleaders

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder thirteen years ago, my husband and I had just graduated college and moved 1500 miles away from our friends and family. I’d also given birth to our first child six days prior.

I had no new friends in the area we lived, and I felt alone facing my diagnosis. Making friends proved extremely difficult, but I wouldn’t trade the supporters I have now, who cheer me on through my various challenges, for the world. They have helped me handle my struggles with grace and gladness.

Finding a cheerleader or two is so important when you’re facing a diagnosis, especially if they’ve been in your shoes and can understand what you’re going through.

If you have existing friends willing to help you, that’s excellent! But if you feel truly alone, immerse yourself in groups of potentially-supportive people.

You can find these people online through Discord (a chatting service) servers centered around a common interest, like a show. Or you can attend support groups online or in-person, or ask your doctor what they recommend.

Relationship building takes a ton of effort and you may be overwhelmed, especially if you’re depressed. But your friends will be so worth it.

Conclusion

Dealing with a diagnosis like bipolar disorder may feel daunting. You may feel utterly overwhelmed, especially if you’re newly-diagnosed.

I’m here to offer suggestions and reassure you that yes, it gets better. Your possibly mixed feelings about your diagnosis are valid. Take your meds, be honest with your family, and try to find cheerleaders.

Your recovery and stabilization from bipolar disorder may take years. And that’s okay. Keep fighting the good fight. You’ve got this.

I wish you well in your journey.

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The Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Highly Sensitive People (HSPs)

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Are you sensitive to temperature, textures, or noises? Are you easily frightened, especially when people come up behind you? Do you absorb the emotions of everyone else in the room and find it difficult to regulate your own in the face of all the chaos?

Then, like me, you might be a highly sensitive person (HSP).

In her 1997 book, The Highly Sensitive Person, psychologist Elaine Aron coined the term HSP to describe the 15-20% of people whose brains are markedly different from others. Highly sensitive people have something called “the sensory sensitivity processing trait,” which basically means their brains let in more information from their environment and they process things faster and more deeply, even subconsciously.

People with this trait often live their lives being bothered by experiences that others don’t even notice. Things like the pressure of sitting on a chair that’s not too hard for anyone else, shivering in a room said to be temperate for others, or deeply feeling someone else’s anger or distress.

And research has proven that being an HSP is a genetic trait, like eye color or hair. You feel things more deeply because your brain is wired differently.

Who else feels things more deeply because their brains are wired differently? Why, people with bipolar disorder, of course.

The Link Between HSPs and Bipolar Disorder

Not all HSPs have bipolar disorder and not all people with bipolar disorder are HSPs. Being highly sensitive is not a mental illness like bipolar disorder is, and cannot be treated by any current class of medication. Nor does being an HSP cause mental illness.

But if you are a highly sensitive person, overstimulation from your environment can trigger a bipolar mood episode.

Because their brains let in more information, both people with bipolar disorder and HSPs are extremely vulnerable to stress. The brains of both types of people–and especially if you are a HSP with bipolar disorder–have difficulties filtering out stimuli. Researchers call this “leaky sensory gating,” which means that HSPs and people with bipolar disorder can easily become overwhelmed by loud noises, temperature, or other people’s emotions.

This is a huge source of stress, which is a known trigger for depression, mania, and anxiety.

I should know. Being an empathic HSP with bipolar disorder, I frequently suck up the emotions of other people in the room and have difficulty separating my own feelings from everyone else’s.

For example, when my son is upset, I experience the distress with him in not only emotional symptoms, but physical. My chest constricts, my throat closes, and my shoulders and back with pain. And I feel an intense amount of pain and anxiety in my brain. I can’t concentrate on anything else, and I spiral down deep into negative thoughts.

And these symptoms last for hours. Once, my son and I got into a fight. He grew upset with me, and I was upset with him but also upset because he was upset. We talked out the problem, solved it, and ten minutes later, he had forgiven me and came back to show me a meme that he had laughed at.

But I was still upset–not because of my own anger, but because of his–for four hours afterwards. It wasn’t until I’d done some self-care that I was able to calm down and separate myself from his emotions.

Due to thinning gray matter in certain brain regions, people with bipolar disorder have difficulty regulating their emotions and inhibitions. An HSP with bipolar disorder who absorbs emotion and has difficulty separating other people’s feelings from mine own, I have found it very difficult to calm down after conflicts.

According to the International Bipolar Foundation, people with bipolar disorder also have more difficulty recovering from events and situations that cause stress. So as a person with bipolar disorder, is it any surprise that my fight with my son bothered me so much?

Experiencing other people’s emotions in this way has caused untold amounts of anxiety for me, and I have only just identified this as a trigger for my depressive and manic episodes. Realizing there was a link between bipolar disorder and highly sensitive people was a lightbulb moment.

Highly sensitive people tend to be called to helping professions, and I am no different. In August of 2022, I plan to earn a graduate degree in counseling with the aim of becoming a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC). I am hoping that my professors will be able to train me to manage my own emotions separate from other people’s.

And it’s not just others’ emotions that hurt me. As an HSP with bipolar disorder, I also find myself distressed by physical experiences that others have no problem with. For example, I feel freezing cold at temperatures like 65 degrees F (18 degrees C) and sweat at 75 degrees F (28 degrees C). My husband thinks I’m too sensitive–which, surprise! I am!

3 Tips to Help You Handle Being an HSP with Bipolar Disorder

Do you believe you are a HSP with bipolar disorder? Then read on for three tips on how to handle the stress of being one.

1. Take Responsibility

If you are an HSP with bipolar disorder, you may think that your emotions are out of control and the world around you must help you manage them.

Don’t think that. While your friends and family might be willing to accommodate your sensitivities if you communicate effectively with them, the only person who can manage your emotions is you.

You need to take responsibility for your own wellbeing. You make your own happiness. While you may feel more deeply than everyone else, you are also capable of managing those feelings through a regime of self-care and self-love. Think about including talk therapy and/or medication in your regime as well, as those are things you can do to take care of yourself that only you can do.

Owning my own feelings will be difficult, but I believe that with the help of my therapist and my practicing self-care, I will be able to finally separate myself from others and manage my brain. Identifying where the problems are is half the battle, so I’m well on my way!

I hope that this tip empowers you rather than daunts you. I don’t mean to say that your overstimulation is in any way your fault. But you have a quirk of the brain that other people just do not have, and you are capable of managing it.

2. Learn Your Triggers

Learning what bothers you or sends you into a self-destructive spiral will help you avoid or manage those triggers. Whether it’s a TV that’s on too loudly or negative self-talk, figure out what bothers you the most and try to fix the problem or distract yourself from it.

One of my triggers is loud noises. As a result, I constantly wear noise-cancelling headphones streaming music of my choice from my phone. Research shows that music lights up the reward centers of the brains of HSPs in extreme ways, so as long as I have my soothing music on, I can ride the high.

3. Communicate Your Needs

Speaking up about your needs is one of the best ways to cope with stress as an HSP. If you ask your friends and family to stop doing that one thing that irritates you, and they do, that’s one less thing to stress out your already-overwhelmed brain.

I plan to ask my son not to wear headphones when he’s watching YouTube videos. The distraction is so great that I can’t focus on anything else. I hope that he will be willing to accommodate me, and I believe that the request is reasonable enough that he will.

Conclusion

If you are an HSP with bipolar disorder, you must take care of yourself. I am only just learning how to deal with the stress of being one of the 20% of people in the world who are highly sensitive.

Start by taking responsibility for your own care. Be proactive about managing your triggers. And communicate your needs effectively.

The more you recognize what stresses you out and why and take steps to solve those problems, the healthier you will be.

I wish you well.

Related Posts:

6 Easy, Frugal Self-Care Strategies for Busy Parents

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When tiny people suck up all of your available time, energy, and mental headspace or when your teenager butts heads with you and you’re just exhausted afterwards, then that is the time for self-care.

Every parent should know the importance of self-care, defined as, “the practice of taking action to improve one’s health.” Without filling your own tanks, there’s no way you can be a present parent and fill the tanks of your children. If you allow your kids to drain your batteries day after day, you’ll end up collapsing. You’ll be burnt out, unable to meet even the most basic needs of your children—or yourself.

I know that you might not think that you have time for self-care. But you need to make time, if not for yourself, then for the sake of your children. I know that when I don’t prioritize taking care of myself, I end up snapping at my kids and damaging their emotional health. I don’t want to be that parent, so I put my own oxygen on mask first, to use the metaphor.

Here are a few self-care ideas specifically tailored to parents with busy lives.

1. Go on a Nature Walk

Spending time in nature has been proven to reduce anxiety and improve your well-being. Take a walk around a forest, go to a park and step barefoot on the grass, or visit the coast, if you can. The best part is that you can bring your kids with you. They’ll benefit from a walk around greenery as much as you, which will mean they’ll be a lot calmer in the afternoons if you go in the morning. I know an outing requires a bit of advanced planning, but you can handle this.

I like taking to my 4-year-old daughter to the park as often as I can, both so she can run around with other kids and I can soak up some sunshine. We go in the mornings and return home before lunch. Spending time in nature is easier when your kids are in the sweet spot between infant (when going out is difficult) and pre-teen (when they’re not interested). But even if your kids aren’t 4-6, when they like parks the best, try to go out anyways. Your kids deserve a happier parent and walking around in nature is one of the best ways to buoy your mood.

2. Play Your Favorite Song

One way to improve your mental state almost immediately is to play your favorite song. If you have a bumpin’ playlist, even better. Crank up the speakers and have a dance party with your kids. They’ll enjoy wiggling around with you and you’ll all get some exercise in, which means naptime may be easier.

My husband gifted me a pair of Bluetooth headphones, on which I listen to music all day long. I keep one ear uncovered so I can play pretend games with my preschooler and discuss more advanced topics with my preteen son. I listen to Pandora radio, a streaming service, on my phone, and I have stations I’ve curated to match my mood and activities—fast, electronica music for cleaning, classic rock for everyday listening, and soft acoustic guitar when I’m anxious and need to calm down.

3. Engage Your Sense of Smell

Your sense of smell is tied to mood; if you smell rotten eggs or cat urine, that can ruin your day, whereas smelling sandalwood, the favored scent of your beloved aunt, can help improve your outlook. To engage your sense of smell, light a scented candle (after the kids have gone to bed), rub some perfume on your wrists, or open a bottle of vanilla extract and take a whiff. Smelling something good can help you recenter yourself during or after a busy day of child-rearing.

I love smells. My sniffer is super, so I love inhaling good scents as much as I can. When my son bakes bread, I love spending time in the kitchen with him just to get a blast of the aroma of yeasty goodness. I absolutely crack open a vanilla bottle on occasion.

4. Grab Some ZZZs

If you can, try to get some extra sleep. Studies have shown that the benefits of sleep are legion. Every parent understands the importance of sleep, especially parents of newborns and small children. Researchers recommend sleeping at least seven hours a night so your body and brain have time to reset themselves.

If your kids still take naps, nap with them. And even though it’s tempting to burn the midnight oil to get some alone time, try to snuggle under the covers before 11pm, as according to studies sleep before 12am is the most restorative. If you have a trusted family friend, ask them to watch your children for you for a couple of hours so you can grab some ZZZs.

I was actually falling asleep at the breakfast table today, and my husband happened to be home to take care of the kids. He told me to go take a nap, which I did, and I felt loads better afterwards.

As a woman with bipolar disorder, sleep hygiene is key to my mental health. Without sleep, I trip into mania, after which there’s always a crash, and that’s no good for anyone, especially me. I guard my sleep with the fierceness of Cerberus. If I’m too busy to sleep before 12am one night, I absolutely try to crash at 9-10pm the next few days. And when my daughter did nap, I slept with her.

Good sleep is essential.

5. Practice Good Hygiene

Most parents understand the appeal of a hot shower. (Those who don’t, you don’t know what you’re missing!) There’s just something relaxing about standing under the spray and letting your cares wash down the drain along with any grime you’ve gathered during a hard day of childcare. But what if you don’t have time to take a shower? What if your “shift” isn’t over for a few hours?

Well, the answer, my friend, is sponge baths. Rinse a washcloth in the sink and wipe down your face and arms. Scrub your kiddos’ face while you’re at it, and you’ll both feel better. If you find yourself with an abundance of time, brush your teeth. A clean mouth will help you feel like you can take on the world.

In the heat of the summer, nothing feels better than a bit of cool water on my face. I love dragging a cold, wet rag over my cheeks and forearms and even applying some extra deodorant, all of which takes less than five minutes. Even in fall and winter, when temperatures plummet, a warm, damp washcloth can heat up my face and make me feel great.

6. Eat a Snack

Snacking benefits more than just your kids; eating a small amount of food between lunch and dinner can sustain your energy levels. A snack can keep you from the 3 o’clock grogginess that’s so common in afternoons of child wrangling. A snack can provide more nutrients in your diet. And a snack can even help prevent binge eating. If you don’t have allergies, try eating some nuts, a piece of fruit, a piece of cheese, some sugar snap peas, or even a 1oz piece of dark chocolate.

Earlier today, I was feeling lower than low. I was tired and snappish and mindlessly scrolling through my phone while my daughter ate her daily snack after lunch, yogurt with graham crackers. She chattered with me, perky as ever, and I realized that my energy had dipped because I’d had a light lunch and I needed a snack, too. So I pulled a yogurt of my own out from the fridge and ate with her. That bit of food was enough to perk me up and help me take on the rest of the day.

Conclusion

When you find your energy flagging, your brain slowing down, and your patience thinning, it’s time for some self-care. Self-care is not an indulgence; it’s a necessity. Without self-care, you’ll end up drained and likely not the parent you want to be.

Going on a nature walk, playing your favorite song, engaging your sense of smell, grabbing some ZZZs, practicing good hygiene, and/or eating a snack can help you feel better.

So try some of these strategies today! You don’t have anything to lose!

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How to Handle This Thanksgiving with Bipolar Disorder by Setting Healthy Boundaries

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When my father pressured me at the last minute to host a family Thanksgiving two days before I was slated to drive 1500 miles last year, I refused.

At first I agreed. Why not cook a feast for my extended family, at least seven people in addition to my own husband and two children (11 people total)? I would have loved to have my family over and fete them with all the trappings of the Thanksgiving holiday, all of which I would be cooking by myself because my husband was finishing up tasks at work in order to prepare for our road trip.

This made sense to me at the time. I could do laundry and pack for the massive, month-long road trip after the Thanksgiving holiday was done, right?

But I realized that as a woman with bipolar I, that much stress would immediately spin me out into a dangerous manic episode. Because of my very serious psychiatric condition, I wouldn’t have been able to even enjoy the holiday or the road trip because I would be too busy preparing for both. If I had hosted Thanksgiving like my father wanted, I may have even ended up in a mental hospital.

Once I recognized that hosting a holiday was not only overwhelming but unhealthy, I then had to set a boundary, something that has been very difficult for me in the past. Girding up my strength, I texted my father back and told him my immediate family would be skipping the Thanksgiving holiday entirely that year in order to preserve my mental health.

His disappointment rang clear to me through his emoji-filled text, but he thankfully understood my reasoning, and ended up enjoying Thanksgiving with my sister. My immediate family ended up baking a small turkey breast we bought at Costco and making mashed potatoes, a very low-key holiday of our own for just the four of us.

Thanksgiving, an American feast holiday including traditional dishes like turkey and pumpkin pie typically eaten with friends and family, can be tricky when bipolar disorder is an uninvited guest.

The stress of the holiday, especially when taking on tasks like all the cooking for a large group, may tip a person you over into mania or hypomania, after which there is almost always a depressive crash.

I am here to tell you that your holidays do not have to be unhealthy.

You can stick to your guns and set healthy boundaries with your friends and family.

If you are an adult, your family absolutely cannot force you into any uncomfortable position unless you let them. Will there be consequences for asserting yourself? Yes, definitely. But those consequences may not be as awful for your and those surrounding you as damaging yourself with a manic episode.

Why Setting Boundaries is Important

When you first start to set boundaries, you will be uncomfortable, especially if you’ve never set them before. But doing so is incredibly important. If you do not express your preferences and stick to your guns about them, you invite people to ignore your needs and set them up to fail.

Set them up to fail? What? How does that make sense? It’s simple, really.

People aren’t mind readers. But how can they be good to you if you don’t tell them what your preferences are? If you don’t tell people if you’re angry or even annoyed, they can’t respond in a proper way and they’ll continue responding in the way they feel is right based on limited information, possibly angering you or annoying you further.

If you don’t tell people the truth about what you like or what your preferences are, and if you just go along with what they say or don’t say no to them about something that feels violating to you, you are setting them up to fail.

That doesn’t lead to a productive conversation or to someone knowing the real you. This is not your fault, but it doesn’t have to be this way. You can express your needs and get them met.

Here’s how.

How to Set Boundaries This Holiday Season

Telling my father that my family wasn’t going to enjoy Thanksgiving with him was extremely difficult for me, someone who doesn’t set boundaries often, and especially not with him.

But having done my own research on how to set boundaries and having talked with my therapist about techniques, I was prepared.

Here are my steps to setting boundaries:

1. Find a supportive friend or partner to vent your feelings to before and after setting your boundary.

When I set boundaries with my father, I expressed my feelings of being overwhelmed to my husband, who helped me realize I could not take on the task of hosting Thanksgiving that year. My husband gave me the perspective and the courage I needed to stand up to my dad.

If you cannot find a friend or partner in your personal life offline to vent to, you may have more success online. You can also use a therapist for this. (For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.)

2. Use clear, easy-to-understand language.

When expressing your needs, you do not want to be misunderstood or give anyone any leeway or wiggle room to interpret your words differently. Write down what you want to say ahead of time and read from your notes if necessary.

One of the best ways to express your feelings to others is to use “I” statements. When you say, “you made me feel…” that shifts blame onto the other person and puts them on the defensive. Plus, framing the sentence that way doesn’t allow you to take responsibility for your own feelings. Try “I feel,” instead.

Last Thanksgiving, I communicated with my own father via phone text, the medium he chose, so I was fortunate that I could tweak my words before sending him the message until they were the most effective I could come up with.

3. Modulate your tone.

Setting boundaries with an angry tone doesn’t work. People dismiss other angry people, and may end up getting defensive themselves. Try to speak as neutrally as possible. This will be difficult, but having your needs listened to and respected is worth it.

I always try to remain calm when setting boundaries. If I find myself getting worked up, I tell the person that I’m setting the boundary with that I need to walk away momentarily and will be back when I’m calm.

4. Do not over-explain yourself, or explain yourself at all if you so choose.

When you set a boundary, expect to be listened to. If you find that people are unable or unwilling to understand what you’ve said, repeat your clear, easy-to-understand statement until they get it. There is no need to over-explain your reasonings.

When I’ve over-explained in the past, I’ve found that people do not believe that I the boundary I am trying to set is firm. Having solid reasons–which I do not have to explain at all if I so choose, and neither do you–requires me to think about them ahead of time to determine if I’m comfortable with those reasons. In the Thanksgiving example, my mental health and the health of my immediate family had to come first.

5. Set consequences if your boundaries are crossed.

The most effective boundaries have consequences. You can always, always stop speaking to your family. It’s uncomfortable, but you might find that it’s freeing as well. If they’re not going to treat you in the way you deserve, with respect and kindness, then they do not in turn deserve your attention.

When setting boundaries with my father during Thanksgiving, I was fully prepared to stop speaking to him. Thankfully he understood my set boundary and I didn’t have to, but if he hadn’t and I’d stopped speaking to him, then he wouldn’t have seen us for Thanksgiving anyway, and possibly longer, depending on how long I was willing to stick to my guns. It was a win-win for me.

Specific Examples of Boundaries You can Set

Here are some specific examples of boundaries you can set and the language you can use to set them:

  • To set a boundary with an angry family member, say something like, “You will not treat me [in the specific way they’re treating you]. If you continue, I will leave the room (or hang up the phone call).”
  • To set a boundary with someone who criticizes you, say something like, “It is not okay with me that you comment on my [specific example, like eating patterns]. Please stop.”
  • To set a boundary with someone who asks too much of you, say something like, “Although you are important to me, I must say no to your [specific request] to take care of myself and my family.”
  • To back out of a commitment, say something like, “I know I agreed to [specific task], but after looking over my schedule, I recognize that I will not be able to give [the task] my all. I want to help you find a replacement by [specific date].”

Conclusion

Setting boundaries with your family will be difficult, but the personal power you gain will be worth it. Get some perspective from a trusted friend, use clear, easy-to-understand language, modulate your tone, do not over-explain yourself, and set consequences.

When I set my own boundary, I was fortunate that my father respected me enough to understand why I set it. But I was fully prepared to stop speaking to him. I set my boundary and stuck to it, and I had a peaceful holiday with my immediate family that I wouldn’t have traded for anything.

You can handle this Thanksgiving. Remember, you get to decide what your holiday season looks like. You family cannot force you into anything you do not choose to do. Your mental health is paramount, and if you do not protect yourself, no one else will.

I wish you well.

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How to Plan a Holiday Party with Bipolar Disorder

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

People can have mixed feelings about holiday parties. Parties can be fun! Parties can be stressful. Parties can be unmitigated disasters, but they absolutely do not have to be.

After the coronavirus pandemic especially, most of the extroverts among us are starved for social contact and looking forward hosting and attending holiday parties. Missing get-togethers with friends and family members is normal, but we need to be especially careful with our health–both physical and mental.

If you’re hosting a holiday party this year and you have bipolar disorder, you need to take care of yourself, prioritizing your mental health.

So how do you do that?

I’ll use the example from planning my own family’s Thanksgiving this year and offer you some tips and tricks for hosting your own holiday celebrations. My perspective is as a North American woman with bipolar disorder, but I do hope that regardless of my using specific North American holidays and timelines, the tips and tricks contained in this post can apply to your plans for all of your holidays.

Tip #1: Stay Safe

This year, barring any problems with surging covid cases and lockdowns, I will be hosting my sister, her husband, and their one-year-old, my own immediate family of five members, as well as my two other adult siblings and my parents for Thanksgiving.

The holiday is a North American feast day held on the fourth Thursday of November, beloved by my family because of the togetherness it represents to us.

All the adults and my 13-year-old son on the guest list are vaccinated, but we will all be wearing masks as we will have young children not qualified to be vaccinated yet at the party. Our living room is thankfully large enough to maintain a decent amount of social distancing.

If the Delta variant of the coronavirus illness threatens our area further, we will be hosting a Zoom party, which will be substantially less work but still, hopefully, as much fun.

Especially in this time of rampant illness, I highly recommend staying safe. Hosting a party, even with vaccinated, masked adults, is still a risk.

If you decide seeing your friends and family outweighs the risk of catching covid, then take steps to ensure your safety and the safety of your friends and family.

To protect yourself from coronavirus, follow the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines:

  • Get vaccinated
  • Wear a mask while visiting indoor public places
  • Stay 6 feet away from others
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces – if possible, open a window to let fresh air in during times when you’re in a crowded space
  • Wash your hands often
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Clean and disinfect
  • Monitor your health daily

My family, if we get to see them in person this year, will absolutely be masked. I do not play around with the health of my children and my sister’s child.

Prioritize your physical health. Stay safe.

Tip #2: Start Planning Early

Once Halloween rolls around on October 31st, I get busy thinking about my plans for Thanksgiving.

I have a plan written out in the OneNote app on my phone about what to clean when, how to decorate for the party, when to invite people, what supplies to buy for the meal (traditionally turkey and various side dishes), and when to cook them at what times so the feast will get to the table hot.

I absolutely have to start planning early for this. Throwing a feast together for roughly a dozen people is no mean feat. I have to figure out who’s invited and when to invite them, what dishes they prefer, and double-check for allergies.

If I don’t start early, which has happened in previous years, I end up as a stressed-out, sobbing mess on the floor–and actually canceled Thanksgiving last year, which I will go into in a future post.

Start planning early. Make a list of everything you need to keep track of and/or do for the party, and then cut that list ruthlessly, which we’ll go into with the next point.

Tip #3: Don’t Take on Too Much By Yourself

I often have gone manic with the pressure of hosting a holiday party. I suffer from perfectionism, so I want everything to be perfect for my family.

For me, that means I take too much onto myself and if I don’t start early, I don’t have the time to step back and see if my plans are actually feasible given my mental state and physical capabilities.

One of my manifestations of mania is crafting, so I yearn to handmake beautiful decorations and bake pies with decorative leaves as crusts. But I’ve learned from many disastrous holiday parties that I’ve tried to throw all by myself that I cannot craft everything I want to. I need a low-key party, especially if I’m hosting.

I frequently suffer from a sense of urgency–all tasks taking up space in my brain must be done right now–and an inability to prioritize. During some parties, before I learned my limits, I handstitched gifts and decorations while neglecting to make food, the centerpiece of any gathering in my family.

I know it’s hard to ask for help. I struggle with that, too. But if you take on too much and try to host a party all by yourself, you may end up manic, like I have.

And depression, for me, has always followed mania, so what that means for me is that I’ve often overextended myself for Christmas and been depressed during all of January, already a depressing month with bad weather.

Don’t be like I used to be. For your holiday party this year, ask your guests to bring side dishes and games. Ask them to clean up and take home leftovers. If you live with friends or family, ask them for help planning and hosting the party.

Determine your limits. Try to forecast the future and recognize what you can reasonably do. Provide only what you can, and no more.

If you take on more than you can handle, you may end up running around like a chicken with your head cut off at the actual party, which means you may not even get to enjoy the gathering you’ve worked so tirelessly to host.

And, if worst comes to worst, you’ll end up manic, like I used to before I recognized my limits.

Prioritize your mental health. Don’t overextend yourself.

Tip #4: Don’t Invite Anyone Who Doesn’t Support You

This tip is a hard one to swallow for many people, especially those of us who come from contentious families.

We have to invite my mother, the conversation goes. She’s terrible to our children, she doesn’t understand mental health challenges, and she calls me “too fat” regularly, but she’s family, right?

Stop right there. Toxic people absolutely do not deserve a space at your table, even and especially if they’re family. Screw up your courage and set boundaries this holiday season (which I will go into more detail about in a future post).

Anyone who doesn’t unabashedly make you feel good does not deserve your time and energy. They don’t. I know they may be family, but if they stress you out, why are you hosting a party for them that they probably won’t even like?

You deserve so much better. And I’m not trying to be glib; I know that not inviting certain people to your holiday party will have repercussions, none of which I can foresee in your circumstances.

If you can’t manage to set boundaries with your family this holiday season (and I will go into detail about how to do that in a future post), try for next year. Chew on this for a while: You deserve so much better.

Tip #5: Limit Alcohol

If you have bipolar disorder, alcohol and your mental illness do not mix.

This tip is likely hard to hear and even harder to follow, but research shows that alcohol exacerbates bipolar disorder symptoms and can lead to severe mood episodes.

Drinking leads to mood episodes, which may lead to more drinking, which leads to more mood episodes–a vicious cycle. Alcohol use disorder and bipolar disorder have a high rate of comorbidity, which means people often suffer from both conditions.

You may think that you can drink the night away with no repercussions. But I am here to tell you that that link of thinking is a mistake.

If you sink into the pits of depression or spiral up, up, up into mania, the damage done will be immense and hard to recover from. Suffering a mood episode is not worth the occasional all-night banger.

Know your limits. Try to stick to only a couples of drinks, or better yet, don’t drink at all. Find replacements like egg nog, soda, or seltzer water, and stick to them.

Let’s Recap

With these tips, you can host a holiday party and protect your mental health.

Stay safe, start planning early, don’t take too much on by yourself, don’t invite anyone who doesn’t support you, and limit alcohol.

And if you find that hosting a holiday party is too stressful, there’s no shame in canceling it.

Prioritize yourself. Protect your mental health, and enjoy your holidays.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related Posts:

My Top 8 Personal Needs During a Bipolar Depressive Episode

Photo by Fernando @cferdo on Unsplash

Depression is a needy disease.

The illness takes and takes and takes from you and your loved ones. But if you can find out what you need when you’re depressed and meet those needs, then you may feel a bit better and come out of the slump faster.

Like most people suffering from depression, when I’m dealing with a bipolar depressive episode, I have quite a few personal needs. I don’t feel selfish for having these needs or getting them met; that wastes time and the needs themselves aren’t selfish, they just exist.

Some of the time, I can meet these needs myself. But during depressive episodes, I often get overwhelmed and must call in my supporters (my friends and family) or my treatment team (a therapist and psychiatrist).

As of this writing, I am a stable–and happy!–woman with bipolar who has managed my mental illness for 13 years. So I am willing and able to share tips with you.

From reading my personal list of needs and learning how I meet them, you, too, can learn how to craft a list of needs of your own and figure out whether you can meet those needs yourself or whether it’s time to call in for help.

Here are my top 7 personal needs during a bipolar depressive episode, in descending order of importance:

8. Food

Food is a basic human need. We all need food to function. But oftentimes, when I’m depressed, I forget to eat or worse, I am too apathetic to make myself food or even order pizza.

Sometimes, all I need is a reminder to make food and eat. I have daily alarms set at 4:15pm, 4:30pm, and 5:30pm to remind me to check the mail and start mentally preparing for dinner, prepare dinner, and serve and eat dinner with my family. Sometimes, these alarms are all I need to force myself into making dinner.

Other times, I need someone to pick up dinner for me and my children, and that task usually falls to my husband after he’s finished with his workday. I try not to rely on him too much because eating out is expensive and he, too, is tired, but there’s just some days I absolutely cannot make dinner because the lure of my bed is too great.

So food, and the making and eating of food, is one of my very important personal needs, despite being at the bottom of the list.

7. People

Like most people who are depressed, when I’m in the pit of despair I tend to isolate myself. I withdraw from the world because interacting with people takes too much time, energy, and mental headspace, and I just… I can’t. I can’t do it.

But I am a social creature, as all humans are, and my need for people is especially important because I am an extrovert who sinks further into depression if I don’t talk with people on at least a daily basis.

Often, talking with my online friends is enough to get me through the day, but I frequently speak in person to my children and husband as well. Sometimes the kids are draining rather than energizing, because they need a lot from me in turn, but I do like teaching them about crucial topics like consent.

6. Time to Myself to Process

On the flip side of needing people, I also need time to myself to process my emotions. When I’m enduring a depressive episode, I frequently suffer from a running commentary in my head saying I’m worthless and no one will ever love me.

So I often need a break from raising children and dealing with hungry spouses to counter those thoughts.

One of the ways I do so is to accomplish something small, like taking a shower. Which leads into my next need…

5. Smaller To-Do List

When I’m stable–or especially when I’m hypomanic–I run around like a chicken with my head cut off, accomplishing things. My to-do list easily has 10-12 items on it, almost all of which I at least try to cross off.

For me, a to-do list is a set of expectations. I expect to get a certain amount done in a day, and I don’t write down the big rocks of my day like meals or studying. I also don’t write down the innumerable little tasks I perform to make sure my children–13-years-old and 4-years-old–are happy, healthy, and sane.

I have a problem with to-do lists, however. I have deep-seated issues with equating being productive and useful with my value as a person. If I don’t get enough done, I often feel I’m worthless and unlovable. I’ve been trying to conquer these issues, but sometimes my brain is cruel to me and catches me flatfooted, and that’s especially true during my depressive episodes.

So when I’m depressed, I force myself to set lower expectations for myself. I absolutely cannot get done my standard set of things that I can when I’m stable. I give myself grace and a smaller to-do list.

And the items on this list are smaller things as well. When I’m truly in the depths of depression and cannot accomplish anything, I write down only things like, “eat breakfast,” “brush teeth,” and “take a shower.” If I get all three of those things done, I count that a win for the day.

For a post on how depression interferes with getting things done, click here.

4. Clean Environment

Clutter and depression are intrinsically linked. Having a dirty or cluttered environment around you worsens depression because every object out of place is a decision you have to make: put the item away or ignore it.

And the more often you make these choices, those use up your bank of decision making power for the day, leading to something called decision fatigue.

When I’m depressed, putting things away feels like a Herculean effort. I’ve existed for weeks with dirty diapers strewn across the living room floor because picking them up and taking them to the trash was one too many steps.

Most of the time, I can force myself to put the dishes in the dishwasher and make sure things are where they’re supposed to be–and in the case of the diapers, that’s the trash.

But sometimes, I’m so far gone into depression that I cannot pick things up. Then I need to call in my friends and family for help–or simply live with the mess, which worsens the depression.

Fortunately for me, my family has been willing to help me conquer the mess. When pregnant and suffering a depressive episode, my mother and sister decluttered my absolutely packed closet and set up a nursery, to which I am eternally grateful.

3. Clean Body

Concurrent with a clean environment is a clean body. One of my early symptoms of depression–that actually worsens the slump–is not taking the time to shower.

When I’m suffering a depressive episode, showering takes far too many steps: walk into the bathroom, shut the door, strip, step into the shower, turn it on, stand under the spray… And so on and so on. I get overwhelmed looking at the big picture because I deal with the inability to break tasks down into smaller pieces. “Shower” is one huge task with too many steps in my head.

But if I don’t keep up with my hygiene, that’s just asking for problems. Like most people, when I’m feeling sweaty and grimy, I don’t feel good mentally.

Most of the time, as with a lot of the items on this list, I can force myself to shower. But there was a time when I was in college when I just couldn’t. My mom drove two hours from her home to my university apartment and washed my hair–and then took me to a crisis center because, yeah, I was that bad off.

There’s no shame in asking for someone’s help with showering. Whether you need someone to remind or encourage you to do so or you need someone you trust like a friend or family member to wash your hair, get the help you need.

Having a clean body is worth it because hygiene may make you feel better.

2. Reason to Get out of Bed

When I’m depressed, I absolutely need a reason to get out of bed. If you’ve read the rest of the list, I’ve touched on a few of those:

  • I need to accomplish things to feel useful
  • I need a clean environment–and so does my family
  • And I need to practice self-love by showering.

But my main reason for me to get out of bed is this: my family needs me. I have two children and a husband that I can’t let down. They need me to make dinner, chat with them about their day, and ensure that their own emotional health is protected.

If you have someone or something relying on you, you can use that as a reason to get out of bed. Even an animal, like a cat, that requires you to clean their litter box or feed them, can be enough. Sometimes even a plant that you need to water on a daily basis can be enough.

These are all external motivations. But when I’m depressed, I have absolutely no internal motivation. It just gets sucked into a black hole along with my self-worth. But external motivations work for me. They may work for you, too.

Once you find your own reason to get out of bed, don’t allow yourself to lie down again. I understand all too well the allure of the mattress. Just this morning, I laid back down after turning off my alarm and played on my phone, and before I knew it, 30 minutes had passed with me doing nothing but mindless scrolling. And I’m not even depressed!

So find your reason. You won’t regret it.

1. Grace and Understanding

Above all, when I’m suffering from a depressive episode, I require grace and understanding.

I need people to at least try to understand that I’m incapacitated. That my to-do-list is smaller, that I need help making food or a clean environment, that I desperately need encouragement to shower.

Fortunately, over the years, I have surrounded myself with people who understand all of that.

Building up relationships with people takes a long, long time, and I know you’re not in the mood to do so while depressed. But it’s so important to at least try to reach out to people who might understand what you’re going through, and ask for grace from your existing supporters.

For a post on

Finding people who just “get” your depression is a valuable blessing. They can give you advice and support in a myriad of ways.

Try. You don’t have anything to lose and everything to gain.

Conclusion

You can get your needs met while you’re in the midst of depression. You just need to know what they are so you can communicate them.

Now that you’ve read through my list of my top 8 needs while I’m suffering from a depressive episode, I encourage you to make your own list. Share it with your supporters and open up a conversation with them so you can see about getting those needs met.

You’re not alone in this. People want to help you. You can get your needs met.

And please, if you find yourself in crisis, visit this post for domestic crisis numbers for the U.S. or this post for international crisis numbers.

I wish you well.

Related Posts:

12 Frugal, Easy Self-care Ideas to Treat Depression from The Bipolar Parent

Photo by Tina Dawson on Unsplash

A lot of people think self-care is limited to bubble baths and nail-painting. But that’s just not the case.

Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental wellbeing. That’s it. Through treating myself to some self-care on a daily basis (as well as engaging in therapy and taking my medication), I’ve been able to manage my bipolar disorder for the past several years. I am a stable–and happy!–woman with mental illness, so I am more than willing to share my favorite self-care strategies with you.

Here are 12 frugal, easy self-care ideas to help you treat your depression. Feel free to try as few or as many ideas on the list as you’re comfortable with.

Take a break from social media.

Social media is all-consuming. Perusing the curated feeds of your friends and family can make you think their lives are perfect and yours lacks something in comparison. Take a thirty-minute to an hour break from social media today.

Not everyone can be like me, who checks my Facebook account only once in a blue moon. I am, however, addicted to chatting on Discord, a chat service, so I do force myself to take breaks from the servers I’m a moderator of once in a while so I can refresh myself rather than being drained by constant pings. It’s a very similar strategy to putting my phone on DND, but it’s specifically tailored to Discord.

Go to your library’s website and put some books on hold.

Shopping for books gives a lot of people a thrill but can be expensive. Try perusing your local library’s website and place a few books on hold to pick up later.

I don’t read nearly as often as I’d like, but when I do read, I usually read fanfiction. The fanfic experience can be tailored to you; on archiveofourown.org, you can filter what fanfiction you’re looking for through tags.

You can do a similar search for books from your library’s website, looking up keywords and authors you’re interested in. If you

Write a short story.

Google the phrase “writing prompts” and see what you can come up with from the third prompt from the first result.

One of the best self-care strategies I ever practiced was allowing myself to write fanfiction. By disregarding the stigma and treating the activity as valuable, I was able to break through a 10-year writing dry spell where I wrote nothing at all. In a year’s time, I wrote over 500,000 words and improved my writing by leaps and bounds.

Creative writing is my special way to relax. Writing fiction, specifically fanfiction allows me to express my emotions through the characters’ actions and unpack facets of my own life, like how I starved when I was a child. I highly, highly recommend writing a story of your own.

Read one chapter of a book.

Reading is one of the best frugal activities out there. It engages your brain and promotes peace. Try reading one chapter of one of your favorite books.

Like I said earlier, I haven’t read a book in a while, but when I want to disengage after a long day and engage my brain in a different way, I read a fanfic from one of my favorite fandoms. I have specific authors that I follow, and I am good friends with some of them.

Reading is one way for you to “turn off” your working brain and “turn on” your relaxed brain.

Do something imperfectly.

The perfect is the enemy of the good, and perfectionism is a killer. Give yourself permission to do something imperfectly, like coloring outside the lines on a coloring sheet.

When I started writing fanfic, I allowed myself not to obsess over whether I was using commas correctly. This small change opened the floodgates of my writing, and I wrote over 500,000 words in a year. Earlier, when I was driven to create a “perfect” piece, that killed my enthusiasm for writing entirely.

Allow yourself to try something doing something new or old imperfectly. Let go of the bad habit of perfectionism in a small, unique way.

Buy a pet plant.

Gardening is a fun activity with numerous health benefits. Caring for something small other than yourself can give you a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Studies have shown that nurturing a plant promotes good feelings. Philodendrons are beautiful, green plants with heart-shaped leaves that are easy to keep alive. Head to the nursery section of your local grocery story and purchase a philodendron or other easy pet plant.

My front yard is full of plants that my mother put in the ground for me. I love seeing the delicate, blue flowers of my vinca plants blooming. Watching my large-leafed, heart-shaped hostas grow bigger and bigger is a treat. And when the corkscrew willow tree’s leaves unfurl for spring, it’s one of the best markers of the year.

Drink a cup of tea or coffee.

Especially on cold days, a cup of tea or coffee can be just what the doctor ordered. The caffeine kick can help you get through your day but even if you drink decaffeinated beverages, the warmth from the drinks can help soothe you.

When I read this in my post, I immediately stood up to go make tea for myself and my family. My favorite tea is Harvey & Son’s Hot Cinnamon Spice, a bracing black tea with a rich flavor of orange and cloves. Drinking a cup of tea is one of my favorite ways to warm up.

Practice gratitude.

If you concentrate on what you have and how grateful you are to have it, then you are less likely to ruminate on negative things. Practice gratitude by writing down five things you’re thankful for.

When I find myself getting spinning in circles because of how busy I am, I like to stop and count my blessings. I say a prayer to God thanking him for the big things–my health, my food, and my shelter–and then try to come up with something specific. This helps me focus on what I have rather than what I don’t have, preventing FOMO: the Fear of Missing Out.

Cross something off your to-do list.

If you have the energy, tackle something that you’ve been meaning to get done for a while. But before you do so, visualize how good it will feel to have the item done. Picture yourself having done the task, and how much more free you feel.

I love crossing items off my to-do list. One of the best ways for me to soothe myself is to pull up my sleeves and get something done, like writing this post.

Depression, unfortunately, makes getting even the smallest task done difficult. But do try. Even getting a small item done will give you a sense of accomplishment and that may be enough to get through the rest of your day.

Declutter the nearest surface to you.

If you’re stuck in bed, then spend five to ten minutes clearing off and dusting your nightstand. You don’t have to spend an hour or two decluttering to make progress. Decluttering the nearest surface to you will give you a clear space to look at and a feeling of satisfaction.

When I’m depressed, I tend to let the environment around me fall into squalor. Things surround me: pizza boxes, dirty diapers, moldy dishes–you name it. It’s not good. So when I’m deep in the depths, I try to tackle the mess one step at a time.

I usually start with the dishes, clearing off the counters, and then take a break. That sense of accomplishment enables me to move on to the next step: picking up the floor, and so on and so on.

Do a full-body check-in.

Starting with your toes and progressing upward to your shins, thighs, hips, stomach, etc., ask yourself how each of your body parts feel. Are you cramping or sore anywhere? Are you thirsty? Hungry? Address those issues. Get a drink if you’re thirsty. Eat something if you’re hungry. And stretch.

A full-body check in works in tandem for me with a meditation exercise: imagine the sun creeping up your body from your toes, spilling over your legs, warming up your hips, filling your belly, and suffusing your chest.

If I do this exercise after a full-body check-in and then address all the needs I’ve found in my body, that’s one of the best ways for me to perform physical self-care.

Take 3 deep breaths.

Breathing deeply is one of the best ways to center yourself. Try the box breathing method: Take seven seconds to breathe in through your nose, hold for six seconds, and breathe out for eight seconds through your mouth. This will help you feel calmer and detoxify your body.

I often have trouble remembering to breathe when I need to, instead getting more and more hyped up until I’m hyperventilating. When I do remember to take a breath (or when a dear friend reminds me to), I can calm myself down and take a moment to re-center myself.

Conclusion

So those are The Bipolar Parent’s easy, frugal, must-try self-care ideas for depression!

Self-care is not an indulgence. It’s caring for yourself in a way that puts your health front and center. And if you engage in self-care on a weekly or even daily basis, you’ll start to build up a reservoir of good feelings.

Feel free to try as many of these strategies as you feel like trying. There’s no pressure here.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related Posts:

When and Why to Seek Out Professional Help

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

The first step to handling an emergency situation involving physical injuries is triage. Stop the bleeding, make the environment safe, transport the patient to a hospital. The people to call in a dangerous situation are the professionals; untrained laypeople can help treat injures sometimes, but when it comes to major problems, you call your country’s emergency line (e.g. 911 in the US; 211 in the UK).

Mental illnesses are no different. Depression can lead to awful situations like feeling desperate to recover, enduring thoughts of self-harm, and potentially drastic actions like dying by suicide. If you’ve been floundering in a depressed state and you don’t appear to be recovering, it’s time to stop the bleeding. Call in the professionals; they can help you set you on the right path to recovery.

When and Why to Seek Out a Therapist 

A therapist has had multiple years of schooling (and if you’re fortunate, many years of practice) under their belt, so they should be able to help you. Talk therapy is one way to address anxiety and to help you build coping skills. Therapists can diagnose you with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and offer you specific support tailored to that illness and how it affects you in your day-to-day life.

If you have a lot of past to untangle and feel that your baggage is impacting your everyday functioning or if you’re starting a new chapter in your life and you don’t want to be weighed down by past mistakes, then seeing a therapist is a good idea. Alternatively, if you’re absolutely miserable and not sure which problem to tackle first, a therapist may help you start to figure out your next steps.

My experiences with my therapists have been largely positive. When I fell pregnant with my son at 21, freshly graduated from college with a whole lot of baggage, I was overcome with anxiety. I thought I was going to fail this whole parenting thing and screw my son up. I wasn’t a functioning adult, so how could I raise a child to be? I was so anxious, I sought out a therapist online by Googlng “therapist [my town].”

Fortunately, I found one that I could see right away, which I know is not always the case. The doctor, whom I’ll call Dr. Smith, talked me through my anxiety. She helped me understand that my relationship with my children, unlike my relationship with my siblings, who I was almost-entirely responsible for every day at young age, was appropriate.

Dr. Smith was there for me when I suffered a subsequent postpartum psychotic breakdown and committed myself to a mental hospital. She diagnosed me as having Bipolar I, and worked closely with the hospital staff in order to convince me to take lifesaving medication, which I’ll address in the next part of this post.

I know you may be depressed, and if you are, you’d rather stick your hand in a box of tarantulas than search for a doctor or straighten out your insurance situation. But a therapist can help you. If you have a trusted friend who can help you find a therapist, call them and ask them if they can Google “therapist [my town]” and do some preliminary research for you. For a more in-depth look on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

You are worth treating. You can feel better. A therapist can help.

When and Why to Seek Out Psychiatric Medication

Medication can be a godsend. When I was suffering severe postpartum depression that was so horrific, I felt actively suicidal for the first two years of my son’s life, I was taking Depakote to manage my mania but nothing for depression. I couldn’t make simple decisions like what to eat or when to shower, and I isolated myself and my toddler. Once I weaned my son at age two-and-a-half, my psychiatrist placed me on lithium to manage my moods, and I suddenly found my life improving by leaps and bounds.

When you feel symptoms of your mental illness are out of control and you can no longer function during the day, then medication may help manage some of those symptoms. You need to handle your daily tasks, especially when you’re a parent and have people depending on you. Even when you’re not a parent, you deserve to be a happy, functioning human being who’s not only surviving from day-to-day, but thriving. If you’re sinking into a deep, dark pit without feeling an escape, medication may take the pressure off.

If you have a mental illness like depression or bipolar disorder that can be treated by chemical substances, why not take them? I understand your reluctance. I’ve been there. But when I did take my meds regularly, my life quickly stabilized, and I was able to be a happier person, devoting more time to being a present parent and partner. 

Psychiatric medications have a stigma. I get that. But the situation is like a diabetic needing insulin to survive. No one judges people who wear glasses. Psychiatric medication is just a means to an end and there’s no shame in helping yourself.

Yes, there are side effects. And yes, you’ll likely have to try a few. I myself searched for five years to find a medication cocktail that worked for me, but once I found it, the quality of my life vastly improved. Thanks to my medication, therapy, and other coping strategies I’ve developed like good sleep hygiene and self-care, I have been stable for seven straight years.

I highly, highly recommend finding a competent psychiatrist. You may also have to try a couple to find one you like who treats you well. But don’t give up, and don’t stop taking the meds just because they resolve symptoms and make you feel better in the moment. Just because you do

You deserve to feel better. If medication can help, why not try it?

For a post on how to acquire a psychiatric evaluation, click here. For a post on what to do if/when you run out of your medication, click here.

Conclusion

I work very closely with my treatment team (my therapist and psychiatrist), so I can address any issues as they arise. I haven’t had to go to therapy regularly for a few months now, so my doctor sees me on an as-needed basis. And my psychiatrist? Well, I check in with him once every six months because I, and my medication, manage my psychotic mania and depression so well.

Therapy and medication, in combination, drastically improved my life. Even if you can only afford just one, go for it. Therapy takes a while longer to start producing results, so I would recommend trying the medication first, so you can stop the bleeding and improve the most dramatic symptoms first.

You deserve to feel better. Your friends and family want to see you happy again. And you, as a precious human being, are worth proper treatment.

Take care of yourself.

Related Posts:

4 Times You Should Call Your Doctor to Save Yourself from a Bipolar Depressive Episode

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

Trigger Warning: This post contains a discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please:

  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255
  • Text TALK to 741741
  • Or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources. 

For a post with a list of domestic crisis lines, click here

For a post with a list of international crisis lines, click here.

Trigger Warning: This post has brief mentions of the 2020 covid pandemic.

4 Times You Should Call Your Doctor to Save Yourself from a Depressive Episode

People all over the world face mental health struggles, and with the 2020 covid pandemic isolating people and causing physical illness and death, the challenges have never been greater. But some people are still confused about what problems need professional help, especially when suffering a depressive illness.

Depression is a serious illness that can lead to people taking drastic actions such as committing self-harm or dying by suicide. Even when the depression “isn’t that bad,” you may still be sad, apathetic, or just tired all the time.

Your mental health might still be in the toilet, and that’s no way to live. 

If you’re living with a depressive illness, you deserve medical attention. The earlier you get treatment, the more effective it’ll be, but even if you’ve been living in the black, viscous pit of depression for years, you still have hope that therapy and/or medication can help.

But when should you, you personally, call your doctor? I’ll give you a few reasons below, as well as examples about when I’ve personally brought in my own treatment team.

A Note Before We Get Started

If you already have a psychiatrist and/or a therapist, awesome. That makes getting adequate treatment easier. But if you don’t have one available, ask for a consultation by a primary care physician (preferably yours, if you have one) to refer you to mental health services.

(For a more detailed post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here. For a more detailed post on how to get a psychiatric evaluation, click here.)

1. Call Your Doctor When… You’ve Lost Interest in Well, Everything

Anhedonia is the loss of interest in things you used to find pleasurable. It’s a deep well of apathy that’s one of the classic signs of depression. Food, hobbies, even sex don’t appeal to you anymore, and you have no desire to do anything except curl up in a blanket fort and hide for the rest of your life. 

This is no way to live. Call your doctor. They can help you.

As a person with bipolar disorder, one of the first signs of a depressive episode for me is when I’ve lost interest in writing. Writing is my lifeblood; I adore putting words to paper and either trying to inform my readers about something that can help them, or tugging at their heartstrings, or both. 

So when I find writing starting to be a chore to me, that’s a sign that I need to call my therapist and let her know that I’m sinking into a depressive episode.

2. Call Your Doctor When… Your Sleep Patterns Have Changed

Sleeping all day is not normal. Being tired constantly seemingly without reason can be a symptom of depression. Insomnia or difficulty falling asleep are also possible symptoms. If your sleep patterns have changed and you can’t pinpoint why, it’s time to call your doctor.

When I first put my daughter in preschool, I was suffering a massive depressive episode without realizing it. I would drop her off at 9am and then go home and collapse in bed, sleeping until 12pm, even after having slept 9 hours the night before. I was sleeping up to 12 hours a day and I was still exhausted. 

When I pulled my daughter out of preschool due to the covid pandemic, I realized I needed to wake up. She needed me to be a present parent; I couldn’t afford to sleep all day. 

So I called my doctor. He adjusted my medication, and I recovered from the depressive episode, which enabled me to be a better parent.

3. Call Your Doctor When… You Can’t Stop Crying

Crying releases endorphins and can be a release for some people. But crying during a depression isn’t usually a healthy release; it’s constant and exhausting and tends to rile people up, not help them. If you find yourself shedding tears and can’t stop, call your doctor.

I sobbed my way through my time committed to a mental hospital. I absolutely could not stop crying; everything was awful and my face was constantly wet. The sobfest may have been due to postpartum hormones; I had just given birth to my first child, but my tears never stopped for a solid week.

After starting medication, I stabilized and stopped crying. Now I’m a happy, present spouse and parent who only cries for release.

4. Call Your Doctor When… You Have Thoughts of Self-Harm or Suicide

Thoughts of self-harm and suicide are serious enough that you need to call your doctor immediately. If you have more than a fleeting, intrusive thought of driving your car into oncoming traffic and it starts to become a plan you could see yourself acting on, then please absolutely seek medical attention.

During my pregnancy with my son, when I was suffering thoughts of self-harm, I did not call my doctor. I was isolated and lonely from a recent move across the country, and while I told my obstetrician I felt sad, I didn’t let her know about my thoughts. 

I ended up making a suicide attempt five days after my son was born. Committing myself to a mental hospital and earning a diagnosis of bipolar disorder saved my life. I was given a referral to a psychiatrist, who gave me stabilizing medication. Now, 13 years later, I am a happy and stable parent and writer. 

Don’t be like me. Don’t prolong your suffering from these debilitating thoughts. Call your doctor.

Conclusion

Sunday, October 10th, 2021 is World Mental Health Day, an initiative by the World Federation by Mental Health intended to bring awareness to mental health issues faced by people globally. 

What better way to celebrate World Mental Health Day than to take charge of your own psychological well-being?

From losing interest in pleasurable activities, changing sleep patterns, constant crying, to thoughts of self-harm, depression has varied symptoms that add up to a debilitating condition. 

If you are facing any of these four challenges, don’t wait. Call your doctor today.

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National Recovery Month – A Guide to Depression Recovery Through Self-Care, part 2

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

As a woman with bipolar disorder, I’m no stranger to depression. I’ve sunk to some pretty low points just because I have abnormal brain chemistry. Fortunately, due to a combination of medication, talk therapy, and coping strategies, I’ve been stable—and happy!—for the past seven years. So I am willing and able to give you some tips and tricks that may help you recover from the dark pit of depression.

Self-care, defined as actions you take to improve your physical and/or mental outlook, is crucial for recovery from depression. Medication can only help if you take it (which is part of self-care!), and talk therapy is useful, too, but without your meeting your physical and emotional needs on a basic level, there’s only so much the treatments can do.

Self-care is more than just bubble baths and painting your nails. Let me outline some emotional self-care practices below that you can do today to help you recover from depression.

Emotional Self-care

Emotional self-care involves increasing your ability to handle strong, uncomfortable emotions such as rage, nervousness, or despair. Emotional self-care practices involve your expression of your emotions on a regular basis.

One way to tell if you’re effectively practicing emotional self-care is if you feel recharged at the end of an activity rather than drained. Emotions, especially negative emotions, can be draining, but if you’ve properly processed them, you’ll be much better off.

Here’s a few ways to practice emotional self-care.

Say No

Setting boundaries is all about learning to protect your energy from others. If you are stretched too thin for others, you won’t have any time for yourself and your own self-care, which means you’ll be drained and possibly irritable.

I know that when I’m overstretched (which often happens before I realize it), I tend to snap at people. Instead of letting myself get to that point, I need to do is set boundaries and encourage other people to do the same.

One good way for you to cut down on your obligations is to say “no”. It’s a small but powerful word, and I know for a fact that it’s one of the hardest ones to say for most people.

But try it. Say “no” to at least one person asking you to take on more obligations. You need to draw shield around yourself and not take on anymore things, especially when trying to recover from depression.

I personally don’t like saying no and/or delegating tasks to others, but I’ve always found myself better off when I do. It’s been a long road for me to get to a place where I am confident enough to say no, but a journey begins with a single step.

You can take that first step today.

Call Others For Help When You Feel Overwhelmed

The corollary to saying no is calling for help when you feel overwhelmed. If you find that you really have stretched yourself too thin, you may have to call in people to help you.

Depression is overwhelming. There’s absolutely no shame in calling for help. Whether it’s visiting a therapist to process your day or asking friends to take care of your children so you can take a shower (physical self-care!), you can call someone.

When I’ve been depressed in the past, my greatest supporter has been my husband. He’s taken care of our children, listened patiently to me express my feelings (see the next section), and has given me great advice.

I couldn’t have recovered from my depression as quickly without his stalwart support. If you have a valued supporter, don’t take them for granted, but also don’t worry about calling them for help when you need them to step up.

Your friends want to help you. I know one of the biggest features of depression is the isolation. When we’re depressed, we withdraw from people and tear down our relationships, sometimes because we don’t think they’ll help, but also sometimes because we think we don’t deserve their help.

You deserve the love and help of your friends. Call one today.

And if you’re currently in crisis and believe you’re truly friendless, please, please Google “crisis center [my town],” so you can get the help you need. For a list of crisis lines in the U.S., click here. For a list of international crisis lines, click here.

Express Your Feelings

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain was a wise man. Bottling your feelings helps no one; if you can’t express your feelings properly, you cannot nurture your emotional health.

If you’re not honest with people when you don’t like something, you’re setting them up to fail. What? How does that make sense? It’s simple, really.

People aren’t mind readers. But how can they be good to you if you don’t tell them what your preferences are? If you don’t tell people if you’re angry or even annoyed, they can’t respond in a proper way and they’ll continue responding in the way they feel is right based on limited information, possibly angering you or annoying you further.

If you don’t tell people the truth about what you like or what your preferences are, and if you just go along with what they say or don’t say no to them about something that feels violating to you, you are setting them up to fail.

That doesn’t lead to a productive conversation or to someone knowing the real you. This is not your fault, but it doesn’t have to be this way. You can express your feelings.

One of the best ways to express your feelings to others is to use “I” statements. When you say, “you made me feel…” that shifts blame onto the other person and puts them on the defensive. Plus, framing the sentence that way doesn’t allow you to take responsibility for your own feelings. Try “I feel,” instead.

You can start expressing your feelings in small ways. Keep a personal journal examining your emotions. Write or draw something creative. And try to tell people upfront when you don’t like something, starting small, like when someone calls you by the wrong name.

Over many years of therapy, I’ve learned to express myself in a variety of different ways. I am a writer, so I frequently write fiction that explores my own emotions through the characters and their actions. I write the world I want to see.

I’ve also learned that speaking directly to someone about a problem is worlds better than going behind their back and venting to a friend. I first heard that concept from a lesson in church, but it was only after personal experience where a relationship blew up in my face because I didn’t express my feelings properly that I took action on the idea.

You can express your feelings today. And if you need help, there’s no shame in calling in the professionals. A therapist can help you identify and untangle your emotions and teach you ways to express them in healthy ways.

For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

Conclusion

Like physical self-care, emotional self-care is an absolute necessity. Without the building blocks of caring for your own emotions, recovering from depression will be an uphill battle–even more than it already is.

You don’t have to be a professional at self-care to recover. You can start small. Say no and set boundaries, call in people to help if you’re overwhelmed, and learn to express your feelings. These are the steps you can take to nurture your emotional health.

I’ve learned how to say no, call for aid, and express my feelings not only through talk therapy, but also through trial and error. I’ve accidentally hurt people and flagellated myself with self-recrimination, stalling my progress upwards.

Don’t be like me: care for yourself. Practice emotional self-care today.

I wish you well.

See part 1, the guide to depression recovery through physical self-care, here.

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