New Year, New Me, New Ways to Manage My Bipolar Disorder

Photo by Andreas Dress on Unsplash

This post appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation’s website, here.

I used to look at the new year, especially the month of January, with trepidation.

When I was but a young college student dating my then-boyfriend–and now husband of several years–I had not yet been diagnosed with bipolar I because I hadn’t suffered a major manic episode, but I still suffered crushing depressive episodes.

I didn’t notice until several years later that these depressive episodes followed a pattern: I would be up, up, up, cheerful, social, and insanely productive, totally killing it on my tests and in my friend group.

Then I would crash and burn, and spend several weeks if not months not showering, self-isolating, and unwilling to get out of bed for any reason.

This pattern almost always manifested itself around the holidays. Until I started dating my husband, I didn’t celebrate Christmas because my parents didn’t for religious reasons. So when I was encouraged to celebrate the holiday season with my husband’s family in college, I went all out for years.

One of my expressions of frugality is crafting. I bought a ridiculous amount of crafting supplies, exhausting my budget and preventing me from eating food for weeks, and hand-crafted multiple intricate individual gifts for everyone in my husband’s family in a hypomanic frenzy.

Usually starting in November, I painted, cross-stitched, sewed, sculpted, decorated, baked, and crafted Christmas presents that were ultimately unappreciated–and rightfully so. Because I was rushing to complete these gifts and make more, more, more–because more is better, after all, my sick brain told me–their quality was shoddy.

I still recall my father-in-law on Christmas day trying on a too-small felt hat I’d simply hot glued together at midnight the night before without measuring. The hat fell apart shortly afterwards and was relegated to the trash, like most of the poorly-constructed presents.

My manic brain would not allow me to slow down and complete the work right rather than fast, and I had never been taught–or taught myself–to pay attention to detail, a skill I am still learning years later now that I’m healthier.

And after the insanity of the holidays, I always, always crashed.

Coupled with the weak winter sunlight and the hypomanic episodes I’d enjoy from November 1st until December 25th, January was always a miserable month for me. I suffered a depressive episode every year like clockwork for about 15 years, until I learned how to manage my bipolar disorder–and manage it well.

Now, for the first time in over a decade, I look back on this new year with contentment and excitement. I decided to purchase Christmas gifts for my family and give myself ample time to craft some for a few of my friends. I started in October, planned out my purchases and cross-stitching carefully, and made sure not to overwhelm myself with the holiday spirit that is so easy to get caught up in.

I now monitor my sleep, medication levels, and sunlight exposure throughout the year. I have a SAD light for the winter and take vitamin D3, which I need in the cloudy Pacific Northwest, as well as iron pills and a multivitamin. I also take my psychiatric medication faithfully and check in with my therapist when there are problems I cannot solve on my own. I communicate about my moods with my husband and children and socialize with my friends on a weekly if not daily basis.

By taking measures to protect my mental health this past year, I have earned a happy January. After decades of out-of-control moods bending me to their will, I have finally learned how to work with my bipolar disorder diagnosis rather than against it.

For the first time ever, I am happy, healthy, and well-balanced in January. Rather than facing the new year with fear and trembling, I am happy to say that I welcome what challenges I will face–and eventually conquer–including going back to graduate school for my counseling degree.

Bring it on.

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Bipolar Mania and My Need to Craft

Photo by Aneta Pawlik on Unsplash

When I’m suffering from a manic episode, I need to craft and I cannot prioritize.

Every task that my brain comes up with must be done right then. And, like most people suffering from a manic or hypomanic episode, I come up with a lot of tasks.

Many times, my brain thinks I should start new craft projects for friends. “The holidays are right around the corner!” my manic brain screams in November. “I must cross stitch something that’ll normally take me 30 hours to complete, but right now it’ll only take 5!”

Basically, my manic brain is too ambitious for its britches. When I’ve started new projects in a hypomanic state, where I feel euphoric and superhuman, I rarely finish them, leaving them–and their accoutrements like needles–around the house for anyone to step on.

During hypomanic phases, I’ve made oodles of poorly-sewed plushies (including a whole sushi tray); painted multiple canvases and glass pictures; and cross stitched coasters, QR codes, and a multitude of other fabric projects. I don’t properly prepare for these projects, and I also usually don’t clean up until the hypomanic phase is over.

I also feel a sense of urgency with the projects. They end up rushed: I pull the stitches too tightly, warping the fabric, or splash paint on the trim when painting awkward-looking trees on the walls–permanent fixtures in our dining room that my husband absolutely hates, haha!

Like many people dealing with mania, I’ve also purchased hundreds of dollars of supplies. I’ve cluttered up my garage and ended up buying so many duplicates, I ran out of space and ended up throwing them out in a moment when I was more stable and clearheaded.

I’ve even left my fabrics and embroidery threads on the floor for the cat to pee on, eventually tossing more than half of my massive collection.

One hypomanic Christmas, I thought my father-in-law and his wife didn’t have enough presents, so I stayed up on Christmas Eve making them pink and purple hats with spare fabric and hot glue–without measuring.

The hats turned out too small, were scratchy, and fell apart almost immediately after being opened. I still remember my father-in-law trying the hat on and having it not even cover the top of his head.

After we finished opening presents, the hats were unceremoniously placed in the trash. Christmas Day, I felt ashamed and embarrassed, my face hot and tears welling in my eyes.

Recognizing that almost all of the presents I’d made for family members were of poor quality and thus rightfully unappreciated, I stopped making presents and really participating in the holidays for years.

Years later, when my daughter was four months old, I entered a similar hypomanic state and decided to paint a cherry blossom branch on a huge canvas.

Putting her in my Ergo front-pack baby carrier, I hunched over the kitchen table and painted for 4 hours, losing track of time while she slept. The project felt so urgent, I didn’t stop to eat lunch, feed my child, or even go to the bathroom.

Cassandra Stout’s cherry blossom painting. Copyrighted under a Creative Commons license.

Realizing that I was only creating when my brain was sick, that was the last craft project–or art of any kind–I produced for four years.

Thankfully, I am now much more stable. Once I was on an more even keel and not in danger of going manic, I started writing fanfiction and enjoying creating again, writing quick short stories that I can produce and publish online for my fans in a few hours.

Since then, one year after I began writing for fun again, I’ve embarked on other art projects. I’ve painted small ceramics: tiny projects–fridge magnets and paperweights–things I can get done in small increments, and things that won’t trigger that sense of urgency again.

This past holiday season, I took up cross-stitching presents for Christmas gifts again, this time for fun, and the biggest project–which really did take me 30 hours–turned out beautifully. My stitches are straight and just tight enough to make the project look nice.

I earned this stability through hard work–taking and rebalancing my medication cocktail on a regular basis, checking in with my treatment team whenever I feel like I’m slipping into a mood episode, and engaging in psychotherapy.

I am happy to say that I am now creating again, thoroughly enjoying myself and taking my time rather than feeling pressured to complete things on an unreasonable timetable.

And when I do feel that invisible pull, that pressure, that sense of urgency that I feel sometimes even when stable because that’s what my sick brain associates with crafting, I set the project down and do something else.

I am much, much happier now.

Have you ever felt like this? What does your brain force you to do when you’re manic?

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Top Tips for Surviving the Holidays with Bipolar Disorder

Photo by Valentin Petkov on Unsplash

So much baking, so much fuss, so much shopping to nonplus. Cute rhymes aside, surviving the holidays with bipolar disorder is no joke. But dealing with a mental illness doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the season.

Bipolar disorder complicates the holidays for several reasons. December is a month where we’re expected to spend a ton of money, socialize in potentially uncomfortable situations (and do this a lot), and party until all hours of the night, sometimes with alcohol involved.

But with proper planning and vigilance, you can enjoy the holiday season.

Tip #1: Know Your Limits with Alcohol

Yes, I know. Everyone else is drinking, and you want to partake. But you have to know your limits. If you’re on medication for bipolar disorder, be they antidepressants, antipsychotics, or anti-anxiety meds, drinking alcohol is a terrible idea in general. Not only will the meds stop working as well and possibly hurt you, alcohol is a proven trigger for bipolar mood episodes, too.

You are not immune to destabilizing. If you drink and you lose control, you may as well be sending all your hard work to avoid a relapse down the drain.

This is easier said than done, especially for alcoholics or former alcoholics, of which there are a startling high number that includes people with bipolar disorder. But try to find a substitute that you can rely on and stock up at home so you can bring it to parties. Soda works for some people, or tea, or seltzer water.

I know this is hard, and I might lose readers by saying that you have to limit drinks as my first tip. But this is so important because I want you to be happy and healthy, and if you’re looking to survive the holidays with bipolar disorder, know your limits.

Tip #2: Try Not to Obsess Over Gifts

Years ago, before I had my bipolar disorder under control, I would go all out for the holidays. Growing up, my family never celebrated Christmas, so when I married into a family with holiday traditions, I was ecstatic.

One of my manifestations of my hypomania is crafting. I used to sew plushies, paint gifts, make hats, cross-stitch video game characters and QR codes for the people I affectionately call nerds (including myself!), and basically stress myself out, further exacerbating my mania.

I’d spend hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours on these gifts, and because I was manic and in a hurry to make gifts for everyone, I would rush these projects and they never turned out well. Because of the shoddy quality, these gifts were the least appreciated and almost never taken home from our communal meeting place.

I later realized that I was crafting gifts for me, and not because they would be thoughtful presents for those around me. This was a painful realization to come to, but it had to be done in order for me to stop inflicting these thoughtless gifts on others.

Now I buy my gifts online and have them sent to people’s homes already wrapped. It’s less personal, but sometimes a less personal touch is good. And the gifts are much more appreciated than my rushed, botched projects I made in a manic frenzy.

Don’t be like me. I’m not saying don’t handmake any gifts. You can absolutely choose to make a few, select gifts, be it either via crafting or baking or wherever your skills lie. But do limit yourself to projects you can do well and have the time to do, and give them to people who will appreciate them.

You also have my permission to give gifts that you think aren’t perfect for the recipient, even though you don’t need me saying so. (Sometimes that helps me, when my friends give me “permission” to do self-care.) Putting thought into each gift is a good thing, but try not to obsess too much over which ones you give.

Protect your mental health. Don’t go manic just because you want every gift to be perfect.

Tip #3: Do Practice Self-Care

Self-care isn’t limited to bubble baths and painting your nails, though those can be important ways to destress if they work for you.

Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental health. That’s it. It’s easier said than done, because of a lot of us (myself included) believe we don’t deserve to take time to fill our tanks.

But if we don’t, and we’re running on empty, that’s a surefire recipe for a depressive crash in the new year. I know I’ve suffered many Januarys feeling terrible because I overextended myself during the holidays and didn’t protect myself.

So a brief run-down of self-care during the holidays:

  • Prioritize sleep. If you do any of these tips, prioritize sleep. Sleep is crucial for maintaining your stable mood; there’s no better way to send a person with bipolar disorder spinning off into mania than not getting enough sleep. I know very well the awfulness that follows from not getting enough sleep, mostly from staying up working on rushed crafting projects.
  • Don’t overextend yourself socially. You do not have to attend every party, especially not huge ones where you may be uncomfortable. I know the extroverts among us (myself included!) love being surrounded by people. We get our energy from talking and enjoying the presence of others. But sometimes, we get too much energy, and end up manic. I often have. The same goes for introverts; don’t wear yourself out with people and have nothing left to give to yourself. Be selective about your time.
  • “Eat food. Not too much. And mostly plants.” -Michael Pollan Overeating during the holidays is a terrible idea. We all do it, especially Americans, with our Thanksgiving feasts. But do try to avoid fatty foods; a 2015 study published in The Journal of Psychiatric Research showed that certain fatty foods increased dysfunction in bipolar disorder. And weight gain is a common problem with bipolar disorder, and if you’re on medication it’s even easier to gain weight and harder to take it off. Indulge in one cookie per gathering. You can make a game of which cookie you’ll take!

Conclusion

If you have bipolar disorder, you can still enjoy the holiday season. I know this list seems like a whole lot of “don’t do this, don’t do that.”

But think of it this way: you deserve to be healthy. You deserve to protect yourself and your hard-won stability. You don’t deserve to suffer from a manic spiral or a pit of depression.

Treat yourself in the way you deserve to be treated. Don’t drink to excess (or at all, if you can manage), try not to obsess over gifts, and practice self-care. With these tools in your belt, you can survive and even thrive this holiday season.

I wish you well in your journey.

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

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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.

Related Posts:

How Alcohol Complicates Bipolar Disorder

Alcohol, the social lubricant. Some people drink because alcohol relaxes them in social situations. The drink isn’t called “liquid courage” for nothing.

But alcohol is an addictive substance, which has great potential to be misused, especially by people who also suffer from bipolar disorder.

How Alcohol Complicates Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

The Connections Between Alcohol Use and Bipolar Disorder

Studies have shown that people who abuse alcohol are more likely to have bipolar disorder. According to a 2013 review, up to 45% of people with bipolar disorder also have alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Overwhelming feelings of sadness from bipolar depression make people more likely to self-medicate with substances like alcohol. And self-medicating makes it more likely for people with bipolar disorder to not stick to their medication regime or attend therapy sessions.

Alcohol also affects people with bipolar disorder in different ways than the neurotypical population.

A 2006 study showed that people with bipolar disorder are adversely affected by even small amounts of alcohol, which may both trigger and worsen manic and depressive symptoms.

Mania is known to increase impulsiveness. Because alcohol reduces inhibitions, consuming alcohol during a manic episode may encourage risky and irrational behaviors.

Alcohol, a central nervous system depressant, also contributes to lethargy and sadness during depressive episodes. The symptoms of depression triggered by alcohol are increased when people first stop drinking, so recovering alcoholics with a history of depression may relapse in the first few weeks of dealing with withdrawal.

People who suffer from psychosis triggered by manic episodes are also adversely affected by alcohol. Consuming alcohol during psychosis contributes to both long-term and short-term complications. Alcohol also complicates the treatment of psychosis, contributing to dangerous medication interactions.

How Alcohol Affects Medications

Medications that are part of your treatment plan are strongly affected by alcohol.

Valproic acid, known commonly as Depakote, is often prescribed to treat symptoms of bipolar disorder. Similar to alcohol, Depakote is a central nervous system depressant which affects the liver. Combining alcohol and Depakote increases the chance of  liver damage.

Similarly, consuming alcohol with lithium, which is frequently prescribed to treat symptoms of bipolar disorder, can contribute to liver disease. Lithium has side effects such as gastrointestinal problems, lethargy, and tremors, all of which alcohol can increase.

Antidepressants and antipsychotics may not work as well when combined with alcohol. Side effects can be increased, and you may feel more depressed and anxious.

You may decide to skip your medication in order to drink. This is a bad idea, as your symptoms of bipolar disorder may return quickly, triggering an episode. Stopping your dosages of medications without tapering off under the guidance of a professional is detrimental to your mental and physical health.

Alternatives to Alcohol

Alcohol can help you relax and socialize. Cutting down on alcohol can be difficult. It may be helpful to replace some of your drinking with relaxing habits.

Some alternatives to having a drink are:

  • Getting a massage
  • Attending a yoga or taekwondo class
  • Meditating
  • Exercising
  • Taking a warm bath
  • Using aromatherapy

Final Thoughts

Drinking responsibly takes on a whole new level when you suffer from bipolar disorder. You not only need to be aware that drinking, especially to excess, triggers and worsens manic and depressive episodes, but also that your medication may interact poorly with the substance.

I’m not saying to cut all alcohol out of your life if you have bipolar disorder. If you are a responsible adult, there is no reason you can’t drink. But be aware of the complications alcohol brings to your life. You may find it easier to abstain.

I wish you well in your journey.

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How Alcohol Complicates Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

Men’s Health Week: Bipolar Disorder in Men

How does bipolar disorder manifest in men? Find out with this post for Men’s Health Week on the Bipolar Parent!

June 10th-16th is Men’s Health Week, celebrated the world over. The week is meant to heighten awareness of conditions that disproportionately affect men, and to encourage those affected to seek treatment for their physical and mental health issues.

While bipolar disorder strikes men and women about equally, there are several differences between the two genders. In previous posts, I’ve covered bipolar disorder in women, bipolar disorder in children, and the differences between children and adults when it comes to the mental illness. It’s high time I covered how bipolar disorder tends to manifest in men.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder and Overall Differences

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic-depressive disorder, is a severe mental illness where people with the condition cycle through two types of mood episodes. To fully explain bipolar disorder in men, we must first look at the two “poles” of the disease: mania and depression.

Symptoms of mania can include:

  • racing thoughts
  • elevated mood
  • over-excitement
  • a lack of a need to sleep
  • irritability
  • impulsive decisions
  • delusions, occasionally.

Symptoms of depression can include:

People with bipolar disorder can swing between these two states over periods of days, weeks, months, or even years. Rapid cycling occurs when four or more mood episodes happen over the course of a year. Men are only about 1/3 as likely as women to have rapid-cycling bipolar disorder.

There are also different forms of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder I involves depression, but also the presence of severe manic episodes, which sometimes require hospitalization. Bipolar disorder II sufferers deal with severe depressive episodes, but only have hypomania, a less intense form of mania.

Men are more likely to have bipolar I disorder than women. The tendency to have a manic episode rather than a depressive episode as the first onset of bipolar disorder is more prevalent in men than women. Conversely, women tend to have depressive episodes first. In addition, these first manic episodes in men are often severe, sometimes leading to prison.

People with bipolar disorder also suffer from mixed states, where they feel symptoms of depression during manic or hypomanic states, or symptoms of mania during depressive episodes. A 2006 study showed that 72% of women presented depressive symptoms during hypomanic episode, while only 42% of men did.

However, these overall differences are all tendencies. Men can have rapid-cycling bipolar disorder 2 with mixed states, and women can have standard-cycling bipolar I with the first onset that was manic.

Denial of a Problem

Unfortunately, many people deny that bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses exist. Men are more likely to be in denial that they have problems, and therefore don’t seek help as often as women.

Women are more likely to be prescribed antidepressants when being treated for bipolar disorder. This is possibly because women more often express their feelings to doctors. Socially, men are encouraged to stuff their emotions. As bipolar disorder is disease that primarily affects emotions, diagnosing bipolar disorder in men who deny there’s a problem can be more difficult.

Similarly, manic states cause men and women to feel euphoria, which can be expressed as extreme confidence. Men are expected to feel more confidence than women in society, so diagnosing a manic state becomes harder.

Violence and Aggression

Mania can include symptoms of irritability, which encourages angry outbursts. Bipolar rage is a real thing.

One of the ways bipolar disorder manifests in men, especially during manic episodes, is through violence and aggression. Violence during manic episodes is rare for bipolar disorder sufferers overall, but is more common in men than women.

This leads men to be imprisoned more often than women. Studies show that men with mental illnesses are 2-4 times more likely to be incarcerated than their representation in the population.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is a serious problem with men who have bipolar disorder. At least 72.8% of men with bipolar disorder struggled with some sort of substance abuse problem at some point in their lives, compared to 27.2% of women with the same mental illness.

Men with bipolar disorder are twice as likely than women with the condition to be currently addicted to illegal drugs and/or alcohol, according to a 2004 study published in the journal Bipolar Disorder.

No one knows why men and women with bipolar disorder differ so much when it comes to substance abuse issues. One argument is that men use drugs and alcohol to cope with bipolar mood episodes rather than traditional medication.

Final Thoughts

While bipolar disorder affects men and women at equal rates, there are several differences between the two genders when it comes to this mental illness. Men  with bipolar disorder are more likely to have more severe manic episodes, less likely to seek help, have more violent outbursts than women, and often struggle with substance abuse.

Bipolar disorder is a serious problem, especially in men who self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. We must raise awareness of this issue, and encourage the men with bipolar disorder symptoms in our lives to seek treatment.

If you suspect you or a loved one has bipolar disorder, don’t delay. Call your doctor today, and ask for a referral to a competent psychiatrist. He or she can confirm a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and start prescribing medications to help you manage your mood episodes. You deserve help.

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

I wish you well in your journey.

Related:

How to Find Motivation to Clean During a Bipolar Depressive Episode

Are you depressed? Here’s how to find motivation to clean your house, in this post by The Bipolar Parent!

Neglecting your environment–along with yourself–goes hand in hand with depression. When you’re suffering from overwhelming feelings and low energy, picking up around the house can rank last on your list. Trust me, I’ve been there. When I’m depressed, as I am now, I want to load the dishwasher about as much as I want to put my hand into a box of tarantulas.

But a messy house can prolong and deepen feelings of depression. Overwhelming feelings breed messes, and messes bring overwhelming feelings. The depression-messy house cycle is real, and vicious.

So how do you overcome your paralysis and start cleaning up? Read on for some tips that have helped me conquer my inactivity during my current episode and others.

How to find motivation to clean during a depressive episode - CassandraStout.com

Crank Up the Tunes

Listening to some fast or inspiring music is a psychological trick that encourages you to move more quickly. You may end up dancing your way through your chores. I blast a Pandora Radio station based on bands like Pendulum, an energetic electronic rock band, in headphones to really get going. The Pandora app is free, and there are several other free options, like Spotify and I Heart Radio.

Commit to Nine Minutes

Set a timer for nine minutes to clean. Just nine. Nine minutes is easier to commit to than a longer period. You’re not going to clean your whole house. You’re not even going to get the entire kitchen clean. But nine minutes, even if you’re working slowly, is enough time to:

  • Make your bed.Your bed, even if the mattress is small, takes up a huge percentage of floor space. All you need to do is pull up the sheets and covers. The action takes two minutes, tops, and will instantly elevate the rest of the room.
  • Throw away a bag of trash. Picking up one bag of trash from the floor will improve the room immensely. Throwing away big items, like last night’s pizza boxes and soda bottles, will have the most visible impact.
  • Unload the dishwasher. Unloading the dishwasher will take up to three minutes to complete, or five if you’re working slowly. But once you’ve started to conquer Dish Mountain, the kitchen will look a whole lot better, and you’ll have clean dishes to eat off. If you have an empty dishwasher, load it. If you don’t have a dishwasher at all, wash as many dishes as you can in the time you have left.

Take Breaks

After you’ve completed your nine minutes of cleaning, you can sit down on the couch. The feeling of accomplishment you get might spur you on to more cleaning. That’s great, but take a break first. In the long run, this actually keeps your house cleaner by avoiding bad associations and burn out.

On the other side of bipolar disorder, manic episodes strike. Marathon cleaning can contribute to mania. This kind of marathon cleaning may be great for your house, but it’s terrible for your mental health. Then you’re exhausted. And your brain begins to associate cleaning with illness. Don’t fall into that trap. Take breaks.

Reward Yourself

Rewards aren’t just for potty-training toddlers. You need to reward yourself. Teens and adults can be driven by the pleasure centers of the brain just as effectively. After a morning of cleaning, I often go out to lunch. The association of pleasure with resting after work is a powerful one for me.

Tell Yourself Why You’re Cleaning

Why do the dishes or make your bed? They’re just going to get dirty again, right? If you’re thinking of chores as pointless, you’re looking at them all wrong. Think of cleaning as being kind to yourself.

I know, I know, you don’t want to be kind to yourself when you’re crippled by low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. It’s the box of tarantulas problem again. But think of it this way: would you let your friend live in filth? You deserve a clean house, because you are a worthy human being.

Final Thoughts

Cleaning your house won’t cure your depression. But it can help. Crank up the music, clean for nine minutes, take breaks, reward yourself, and tell yourself why you’re cleaning, and you’ll have a clean house (or cleaner) in no time. And you might even feel better, too.

Related:

How to find motivation to clean during a depressive episode - CassandraStout.com

How to Make Time for Self-Care as a Parent During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Are you a parent with bipolar disorder trapped inside with your kids due to the coronavirus pandemic? Read this post by the Bipolar Parent for practical tips on how to make time for self-care!

A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.

Self-care is simpler than you might think. Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.

As I said in my last post, How to Manage Being Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder, self-care is crucial for your daily functioning as a parent with bipolar disorder. This is true always, but especially true during self-quarantining due to the coronavirus outbreak.

I also shared a daily schedule my toddler and I try to follow, which had room for eating, sleeping, outside time, and work, but not much else.

So how do you find the time to do self-care when you’re stuck at home with small children–and you need to work?

Here are some practical tips that you might want to try while in self-quarantine.

How to make time for self-care as a parent during the coronavirus - CassandraStout.com

Tip #1: Fill Your Child’s “Tanks”

Sometimes, your kids whine and glom onto you like limpets. That’s usually when they have a physical or emotional need.

Often, before you separate from your children to perform self-care for yourself, you need to fill their physical or emotional “tanks.”

Spend a little time with your children before jetting off, and you’re less likely to be interrupted when you do go take that bubble bath.

Set them up with a snack, give them some kisses and cuddles, and play racecar driver with them. Listen to your tween’s ramblings about Minecraft for a while. You’ll be glad you did.

Generally, the happier your kids are when you leave them (provided they can be left; toddlers can’t, which I’ll cover in the next tip), the more time you’ll be able to take for yourself.

Tip #2: Preplan STEAM Projects

This follows my tip #5 from yesterday: to keep your child entertained and busy on their own with independent play, prepare STEM/Art, or STEAM projects. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering. and Math. With Art, that’s STEAM.

Yesterday, I listed several activities my 3-year-old has done and the supplies we have on our crafting shelf. I won’t list them all again here, but if you’re looking for ideas for a toddler, check them out.

As I write this, she was sorting through buttons with a clothespin, placing them into a cup. She worked on fine motor skills and shape recognition, both parts of STEAM for a toddler. She also worked on counting, as she counted the buttons, and pattern recognition as she sorted them by color.

STEAM activities are as simple as that. The last time she did this activity, she entertained herself for an hour with minimal input from me.

This time, she lasted about 20 minutes, and then we made purple playdough. She’s currently kneading and rolling out the homemade dough, then cutting it into shapes with cookie cutters. So far, she’s been entertained for 45 minutes by the playdough alone, enabling me to write.

In preplanning activities, I printed a calendar for March, and spent a couple of hours listing one activity per day. We do this project at 1pm every afternoon. The calendar has taken a lot of the pressure off of me to think of something every day.

Take a couple of hours to preplan activities and write them down on a calendar for April. You can pick up supplies at any grocery store or order them on Amazon.

Two great resources for toddler STEAM projects are Little Bins for Little Hands and Busy Toddler. For older kids, try STEM Activities for Kids.

Preparing STEAM projects takes a little up front work, but the payoff of more time for work–or, preferably, self-care–is worth it.

Tip #3: Prepare Meals on the Weekends

This tip is similar to tip #2: prepare meals on the weekends, also known as meal prepping. If you do as much upfront work on your meals as possible, you don’t have to make dinner during the week.

This saves a huge amount of time, some of which can be used for self-care.

Slow cooker “dump meals” are meals where you place all the ingredients in a Ziploc bag and then dump them in the slow cooker on the morning you want to cook it. The food cooks all day and smells wonderful, tastes great at night, and takes minimal prep on the weekend.

Brown all your ground beef on Saturdays. Chop all your vegetables. Bake and shred that chicken. Soak and cook those beans.

Make cooking a family activity. All hands on deck means less work for you, and the kids get to learn something, too.

There are many websites on the internet devoted to meal prepping. Type that term into your preferred browser’s search bar, and you will find sites that list recipes, meal plans, and shopping lists for a week’s meals or more.

Tip #4: Get Support from Your Partner

If you’re lucky to have a partner isolating himself or herself with you, count your blessings.

If you’re burned out and need a little bit of me-time, ask your partner for some support. Ask them to watch the kids for an hour while you take a nap.

Most partners are supportive if you ask, but sometimes we don’t know how to ask or even what we need. Figure that out before you approach your partner.

Take some time after the kids are in bed to make a list of self-care ideas that appeal to you, and the time each will take. Then figure out what is reasonable to ask of your partner.

Don’t be afraid to ask; the worst thing they can say is no, and that opens up a chance for you two to have a conversation.

Be sure to reciprocate as well. If your partner offers you an hour to yourself, offer them the same in return.

Final Thoughts

These times are stressful for everyone, especially parents with bipolar disorder who also have to work at home. You’re wearing many hats: homeschooler, partner, parent, employee, and mental illness manager.

Self-care is critical for your survival. You have to eat, sleep, and spend time by yourself so you have a chance to breathe.

Take care of yourself. Stay healthy.

I wish you well in your journey.

Tune in next week for types of self-care, as well as several self-care ideas for parents with bipolar disorder isolated at home with their kids.

Related:

How to Make Time for Self-Care as a Parent Stuck at Home during Coronavirus - CassandraStout.com

How to Manage Being Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder

Stuck at home due to coronavirus quarantining? Read on for practical tips on how to manage working at home as a parent with bipolar disorder, from this post by The Bipolar Parent!

Panic about coronavirus has infected all of our lives. As of this writing, one in three Americans are under shelter-in-place orders. Our kids’ schools are canceled, and if you can work from home, that’s a great blessing in disguise–as well as being distracting as all get out.

So how do you survive being stuck at home as a bipolar parent, especially of young children? Read on for some practical tips from me, a woman with bipolar disorder in the trenches with an 11-year-old and a 3-year-old.

Stuck at Home? How to Manage Work At Home as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

Tip #1: Understand Your Kids’ Limits

Unfortunately for everyone, most children, especially toddlers, are not self-sufficient. As a parent, and especially as a parent with bipolar disorder, you need to understand their limits–and yours.

Your children need to be fed, cared for, and entertained. You don’t have to entertain them all the time–independent play is a beautiful thing–but you do need to set them up with projects or toys so you can get some work done.

Give your children–and yourself–some grace during this stressful period. The panic about coronavirus is temporary. As soon as the virus is under control, your life will largely go back to normal.

If your back is against the wall and you’re about to start snapping at your kids, it’s okay to relax your guidelines on screen time, for example, just so you can get a breather (and get some work done). This is an extraordinary time, and extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures–of patience, as well as other things.

My toddler is currently in the bath, pouring water into and out of cups and singing to herself, while I’m writing this. I’m sitting on the toilet with my laptop on my crossed legs. Do whatever you have to do to keep sane and get some time for yourself.

Tip #2: Don’t Neglect Your Mental Health

If you have medications, take them. I can’t say it any clearer than that.

This is the worst time to have a mood episode. Your children need a sane parent. You need stability to get through this. Forgetting to take your medication is not an option. Set an alarm on your phone if you have to.

I take my morning meds before I sit down for breakfast and my evening meds immediately after dinner. Find a time (or two times, if you have morning and evening meds) that you can stick to every day.

Take your medication.

And call upon your coping skills. You need them to survive. Depression can strike at any time, especially in a time where most people are isolated from their supportive social networks.

Which leads to my next tip.

Tip #3: Practice Self-care

We all know the airplane oxygen mask metaphor. Before you help your little ones, you need to put on your own oxygen mask.

This means that self-care is crucial for you to function as a parent with bipolar disorder. Don’t neglect to take care of yourself; if you’re run down, you won’t be able to parent effectively, and you may even end up getting sick.

A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.

Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.
There are six big statutes of self-care which need to be practiced daily:

  • getting enough sleep
  • eating a healthy diet
  • drinking plenty of water
  • exercising
  • spending some time outside
  • socializing with other people. Tap into your social network via FaceTime or Skype and ask for support during a time when you might be feeling vulnerable.

Tip #4: Create a Schedule

Kids (and adults) thrive on routine. I know creating a schedule and sticking to it are some of the most difficult suggestions to follow for parents with bipolar disorder, but if you want to remain sane while staying at home with your kids, you must. Creating a schedule is imperative.

You don’t have to plan down to the minute. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Plan in thirty-minute or hour-long blocks. Try to have the same wake times and sleep times every day. If you can, wake up thirty minutes before your children, to get some time to center yourself (or work).

My toddler’s schedule looks like this:

  • 8:30am – Toddler gets dressed, brushes teeth, brushes hair, comes down for breakfast
  • 9:00am – Breakfast
  • 10:00am – Chores
  • 11:00am – Playing outside on the trampoline or in the kiddy pool while Mom watches (and gets some work done on her laptop or phone)
  • 12:30pm – Lunch (usually scrambled eggs or something else quick and nutritious)
  • 1pm – STEAM project at the kitchen table while Mom gets work done
  • 2pm – 30 minutes of reading
  • 2:30pm – more outside time
  • 4:30pm – screen time while Mom makes dinner
  • 5:30pm – dinner
  • 6pm – Playing with toys or more STEAM projects while Mom gets work done
  • 7pm – bath and bedtime routine
  • 8:30pm – bed for Toddler
  • 9:00pm – Mom gets more work done
  • 10:30pm – Mom goes to bed

We don’t follow this schedule to a T every day–my toddler took a bath at 3:30pm today, and will take another at 7pm tonight, for example–but it’s a good basic outline.

We do a lot of STEM/Art projects, which leads me to the next tip.

Tip #5: Prepare STEM/Art Projects

STEM/Art, also known as STEAM, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. For a toddler, these are as simple as practicing cutting a straight line. Fine motor skills, pattern recognition, and counting are all a part of STEAM.

When the cancellation of my 3-year-old’s preschool was looming, I knew I had to take action. So I looked up toddler-friendly STEAM activities on the internet (Busy Toddler and Little Bins for Little Hands are great resources) and printed a calendar off for March. I wrote one activity per day, and have been following that calendar religiously. Every day at 1pm, we do the scheduled activity on the calendar.

In doing STEAM projects, we have:

  • glued different-sized buttons to paper
  • dug blueberries out of a Tupperware-shaped ice cube with a butter knife
  • threaded pipe cleaners through a colander
  • painted landscapes and faces on construction paper with watercolors
  • made playdough
  • picked up different-sized buttons with a clothespin from a bag and placed them into a cup
  • baked bread together.

Some of these projects, like the blueberry-ice excavation, entertained her for up to two hours. Some, like the colander threading, lasted all of one minute (that’s a rare case). Gluing and playdough lasted an hour each. These activities have been hit or miss, mostly hit.

And since we’re at the kitchen table, the mess is largely contained. I now have a crafting shelf on a bookshelf right next to the table stocked with:

  • pipe cleaners
  • buttons
  • Elmer’s glue
  • construction paper
  • sticker books
  • kid-friendly scissors
  • markers
  • watercolors and brushes
  • pom poms of various sizes
  • colored pencils
  • crayons.

Today we peeled stickers off of a sticker book and stuck them to purple construction paper. Toddler activities are as simple as that, and she was entertained for 30 minutes while I cleaned the kitchen.

Take a couple of hours after the kids have gone to bed to prepare a calendar full of activities. Even one STEAM activity a day is great for their budding brains. You can purchase supplies at any grocery store or Target. (I purchased mine on Amazon before delivery slowed down.)

Tip #6: Remember Your Priorities

Hopefully, your kids are your highest priority (after self-care, but often times for a busy parent, the kids come first). Sometimes the schedule all goes to pot and your kids are whiny, needy, and generally require a lot of attention.

That’s okay. Show your kids that you love them that day. Tomorrow will be better.

Ask your boss to give you leniency in this stressful time. Any boss worth their salt will understand the new crunch you’re under, and that this is temporary. If you can’t get work done while the kids are awake, then plan to work like a demon after they’re in bed.

But don’t pull an all-nighter, as tempting as that sounds. You need your sleep to fend off a manic or hypomanic episode. You need to keep your mental health in balance and stay stable. Prioritizing your sleep does prioritize your work and your kids, because you’re prioritizing yourself.

Without taking care of your mental health, you can’t be present as a parent or an employee. So take care of yourself (tips #2 and #3) so you can take care of your kids–and everything else on your plate.

Prioritize self-care. Prioritize your kids. Try to get your work done as much as possible, but ask for grace–and give some to yourself.

What About Older Kids?

You may have noticed that I mentioned I had a 3-year-old and an 11-year-old, but that I’ve mostly talked about working from home with a toddler. That is because my 11-year-old is mostly self-sufficient, thank goodness.

He wakes up, brushes his own teeth, pours his own cereal, calls his friends, does his homework, and puts himself to bed at night. I make him lunch and dinner.

I made a calendar of STEAM activities for him, too, but he wasn’t interested in any of them. So I ordered workbooks one grade level higher than his current grade, and told him to do 2 1/2 hours of work everyday. He likes baking, so he bakes bread and pizza–with homemade sauce, cheese, and pepperoni and olives–for himself whenever we have the yeast (the store has been out lately).

But what if your child is not that self-motivated? Well, then most of the toddler tips still apply. Create a schedule together, and scale up the STEAM activities to their age level. STEM Activities for Kids is a great resource for older kids.

Fortunately, independent play is much easier to set up for an 8- or 9-year-old, as they can generally be trusted with a bottle of glue without spilling it. And even if they do, they can clean the mess up themselves.

This tip applies only to older kids: If you are fortunate enough to have a home office or even your own bedroom, communicate with your kids that Mom or Dad has “office hours” for 1-2 hours at a time every day, or however long you feel comfortable leaving them to unsupervised play. Then set them up with a STEAM activity and let them have at it.

Tell your kids not to interrupt you unless someone’s hurt or have set something on fire. Set your office hours to the times when you’ll have conference calls, and hopefully you’ll be able to attend that virtual meeting without kiddos joining in.

Also, kids, especially older ones, are allowed to be bored. It’s a good time to let them find (safe) ways to amuse themselves. Reading is always a good idea; my son’s school requires 30 minutes of reading a day, and I extend that to the weekends to give me 30 minutes of peace on Saturdays and Sundays.

Final Thoughts

I’m not saying my schedule will work for everyone. You don’t even have to do multiple STEAM activities in a day like we do. But do try to make a schedule, and try to let your children loose with glue and paints once in a while. Let the kids be kids.

If this sounds like a lot of extra work, well, it is. Parenting is hard work; always has been, always will be. And working from home when you have children with you is the pinnacle of parenting.

But you can handle this. You are self-quarantining only temporarily. This, too, will pass.

Understand your kids’ limits (and your own), don’t neglect your mental health, practice self-care, create a schedule, prepare STEM/Art projects, and remember your priorities.

You’ve got this.

Related:

Stuck at Home? How to Manage Work At Home as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

Celebrate World Bipolar Day by Taking Control of Your Mental Illness

This post appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation website, here.

Are you bipolar? There is a day on the calendar to celebrate your struggles with the disorder.

World Bipolar Day (WBD) is celebrated each year on March 30th, in honor of Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday, as he was posthumously diagnosed as probably having bipolar disorder.

The day–an initiative of the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF), the International Society for Bipolar Disorders (ISBD), and the Asian Network of Bipolar Disorder (ANBD)–means to combat stigma and raise awareness of bipolar disorders.

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that is marked by abrupt changes in mood, energy, and executive function–the ability to accomplish tasks on a daily basis.

Celebrate World Bipolar Day By Taking Control of Your Mental Illness - CassandraStout.com

Bipolar disorder comes in several forms.

People with bipolar I suffer from manic episodes–periods of increased energy, euphoric mood, and decreased need for sleep–depressive episodes–periods of intense, pervasive sadness–as well as weeks of relative stability. People who suffer from bipolar II deal with even more severe and lengthy depressive episodes and hypomania, a lesser form of mania. There’s also cyclothymia, or bipolar III, where people have lesser forms of depression and hypomania, but cycle more rapidly between the two.

Episodes of bipolar disorder are not the usual ups and downs that everyone goes through. This is a lifelong condition which interferes with day-to-day functioning. The prevalence of bipolar disorder has been estimated to be as high as 5% of people around the world.

There are several causes to bipolar disorder, including genetic components, environmental stresses, childhood trauma, and other factors.

International groups like IBPF, ISBD, and ANBD support global efforts from scientists and advocates to investigate causes of bipolar disorder, methods of diagnosis, coping strategies, and medications to successfully treat the mental illness. World Bipolar Day was created to celebrate these efforts, acknowledge the struggles of people with the disorder, and raise awareness and sensitivity.

You can celebrate World Bipolar Day by taking care of yourself. But if you have bipolar disorder, how do you cope with the day-to-day challenges the mental illness brings? There are several strategies:

Take Your Medications

Your medications are there to help you. If you don’t take them on a regular basis, you won’t know if they work. Figuring out the right cocktail of antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety meds–as well as electroconvulsive therapy–requires a lot of patience, as the testing process takes time and a toll on your body.

But there is hope. Bipolar disorder is one of the most manageable and treatable disorders. You can find a correct combination of medications or electroconvulsive therapies to treat you. For a post on how to get a psychiatric evaluation, click here.

Attend Therapy

Talk therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, is one of the best ways to learn coping skills to handle the challenges of daily life. An unbiased, sympathetic therapist can help you understand patterns of your behaviors and help you correct said patterns. Attending therapy is essential for daily functioning when you have bipolar disorder.

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

Practice Self-care

Self-care is not limited to bubble baths and painting your nails. It’s taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. Self-care involves sleeping enough (but not too much), eating a healthy diet, spending time outside and with other people, exercising, and drinking plenty of water.

Practicing these tenants of self-care on a day-to-day basis is crucial for you to feel better. Even if you can’t do all six everyday, try to eat, sleep, and drink enough water. Your energy levels and mood may improve immensely.

Final Thoughts

World Bipolar Day, celebrated every year on March 30th, is a great time to take stock of the strategies you’ve used to cope with your mental illness. If you have bipolar, taking your medication, attending therapy, and practicing self-care will go a long way towards improving your ability to handle your condition.

There is no shame in having bipolar disorder. It just means your brain functions differently. Make the effort to treat your mental illness on World Bipolar Day.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related:

Celebrate World Bipolar Day By Taking Control of Your Mental Illness - CassandraStout.com