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.
This post appeared on The International Bipolar Foundation’s website, here.
It’s a time of joy for some, a time of horror for others, and a time of anxiety for most.
Becoming pregnant, regardless of the outcome, changes your life forever. And if you have a mismanaged mental illness that’s affected by maternal hormones like bipolar disorder, irrevocable damage can be done.
May is National Maternal Depression month in the U.S., a time to reflect and raise awareness for mothers who face challenges such as postpartum depression.
According to WebMD, “Pregnant women or new mothers with bipolar disorder have seven times the risk of hospital admissions compared to pregnant women who do not have bipolar disorder.”
And I was one of them.
Here are my completely different experiences with my two pregnancies and how I managed and mismanaged my bipolar disorder–and what a difference that made.
During my first pregnancy, warning signs of an undiagnosed, worsening bipolar disorder were missed or ignored by my obstetrician. As I wasn’t aware that I had a mental illness, my anxiety, depression, and mania–a mixed mood episode–quickly grew out of control and ravaged my mind and body.
Because of lingering issues centered around going hungry as a child, my manic fear that my new family would go hungry forced me to build a balcony garden with recycled tin cans and bulk soil purchased for pennies. I was terrified that my husband and I would run out of money despite his stable, high-paying job.
The garden never took off, and due to my burgeoning depression, I quickly became suicidal. I became obsessed with a show I saw once a week on television, Avatar: The Last Airbender, living only for new episodes. I forced my husband to watch the show, saying I identified with the sociopathic character who has a psychotic break in the end because I was so numb and messed up.
Faced with decorating a nursery on what I perceived to be a shoe-string budget, I dove in our apartment’s huge dumpster for mismatched, broken lamps, bassinets, and other baby items. I crammed our guest room/nursery so full of filthy items, we couldn’t even walk through the room.
I could not bond with my baby, instead concentrating on how awful I felt. I was jittery, depressed, irritable, lonely, and physically sick–I suffered from a condition called hyperemesis, which means I threw up several times a day for nine months straight.
Rather than gaining weight like I was supposed to, I lost thirty pounds and only gained back ten, and was placed on bedrest four months in. I lost even more weight after the baby was born. I started out the pregnancy at 148 pounds and ended it at approximately 100–not exactly a healthy weight for a 5’7” woman.
Throughout the pregnancy, I faced challenges such as social isolation (my husband and I had just moved 1500 miles away from friends and family for his job), limited mobility (I sprained my ankle and couldn’t drive), and completely wild hormones. It’s no wonder that I suffered a psychotic break after giving birth!
Fortunately, I committed myself to a mental hospital with the help of my therapist, whom I’d started seeing at the beginning of the pregnancy. The doctors there gave me an official diagnosis–bipolar I–as well as medication that saved my life.
Following the pregnancy, I suffered from a crippling postpartum depression that rewired me completely. I went from a bold, confident, intelligent young woman to someone fearful and constantly seeking validation from others.
It took me three long years and several medication changes to recover–and even now, 13 years later, I’m not quite 100% back to my former self.
However, three years after recovering from postpartum depression, when my first child was six, I was ready to try for another baby. My husband had always encouraged me to be in control of our reproductive choices, so he willingly agreed to a second pregnancy.
For the second pregnancy, I insisted on taking medication. I didn’t want to go back into the depths of suicidal depression. And I faithfully attended therapy once a week, discussing coping strategies I could use.
During the second pregnancy, I once again suffered from hyperemesis. I threw up 6-8 times per day from the moment I conceived until the day I gave birth.
Despite that, I my spirits were high and I didn’t suffer a massive depressive or manic episode. I was no longer depending on a television show to emotionally sustain me.
My routine of medication, therapy, and self-care kept the awful mood episodes at bay. I was sane, stable, and dare I say, happy. I was able to bond with my baby and suffered no ill effects after giving birth.
All things considered, except for the hyperemesis and bedrest, the second pregnancy was much closer to “normal” and expected for a healthy pregnancy. I certainly didn’t suffer as much emotional pain!
My bipolar disorder diagnosis–and appropriate approaches to treatment–made such a difference in my two pregnancies. After the first one, I was terrified to have more children; after the second, I considered having a third.
If you have bipolar disorder or even think you do, carefully consider the risks of getting pregnant before you embark on that journey. It may take you somewhere you don’t wish to be.
But there are steps you can take to sustain a safe and healthy pregnancy. Low-risk psychotropic medications are available to you. Talk therapy poses no risk to the baby. And a self-care routine prioritizing sleep can do nothing but good for you.
This post was featured on the International Bipolar Foundation website, here.
When you’re depressed, forget about thriving – you’re in survival mode.
Which means you need to be especially gentle with yourself.
If you’re telling yourself that you should get everything done on your impossibly long to-do list today, a trap that a lot of us in capitalistic societies fall into, you’re shoulding on yourself.
Shoulding on yourself is a terrible habit. Saying “I should do this,” or “I should do that,” is just piling guilt on yourself and zapping the motivation to do anything. Believe me, when I’m drowning under a wave of self-imposed shoulds, especially when I’m depressed, I go back to bed.
If you’re shoulding on yourself when you’re depressed, you’re being unkind to yourself when you’re in survival mode. You don’t have the “spoons” to do most of the tasks you think you should and you definitely don’t have the spoons to fret about it.
The Spoon Theory, a concept popularized in a personal essay by the same name by Christine Miserandino, explains the idea of energy in short supply due to chronic illness using “spoons” as units of energy.
If you’re low on spoons, an easy state to be in when you’re depressed and don’t start with many, shoulding on yourself is the last thing you need. Worry about what you should do will just exhaust you.
Don’t think, “I should do this and after that I should do this.”
Think, “I have one task to do. What would be the most effective use of my spoons? How crucial is this spoon usage? Will I be forced to do it later when I may have even fewer spoons?”
If you answer “I can do x because it will be effective,” or “this is very crucial,” and “yes,” then do the task.
The ONE task.
One task at a time. Don’t even worry about the others until that one task is done.
If you’re worried about all the tasks you have to do after the first–take a shower, prepare that quarterly report, clean out the storage unit–you’ll never finish even the first task. You’ll end up paralyzing yourself by how much you should get done.
Instead, prioritize. Think, “What is my most effective/crucial task?”
Many tasks aren’t as crucial as we believe they are. Crucial tasks are things like “feed the five-year-old.” Strip your to-do list down to its very basics, things you need for survival or for your dependents’ survival.
It’s time to choose your most effective/crucial task. And only one. When you’re in survival mode, you only have the spoons to do one or two, and especially one at a time.
You can only do one task at a time well, so choose the one that will get you the most bang for your buck. What is pressing on you the most? What do you want to do the least later?
You can conquer that task. You are smart and capable and able to conquer anything on your to-do list, one at a time.
Disclosing your mental illness to other people is a huge decision. You have to consider not only whether your friends/employers will support you after you disclose, but also how and when to do so.
I tend to disclose within the first or second meeting, before I’m even attached to a friend. I am open about my bipolar disorder to almost everyone I meet.
Bipolar disorder is just a label; it’s a part of my life but it isn’t everything, and it explains why I’m sometimes unpredictable. And I have a strong support system, so I have little to lose by disclosing.
For further reading on how I became more comfortable sharing my bipolar diagnosis, click here.
I live in a liberal area of the U.S. and have had various reactions to my admitting that I have bipolar disorder, most of which were positive but some of which were disheartening. There are often three ways that friends and family react:
They are comfortable with your disclosure, nothing changes for the worse, and sometimes they’re better at supporting you.
They are incredibly uncomfortable and take steps to end the relationship with you.
They say that they are comfortable with you telling them this and then proceed to fade slowly from your life.
Obviously the first outcome is the best and most hoped for. While ending relationships are a concern, it’s entirely possible that they wouldn’t have been able to support you anyway, so it’s probably best that they disappear from your life.
When to Disclose Your Mental Illness
Telling someone about your mental illness takes a lot of courage. And you don’t have to tell anyone right away–or at all. Not everyone can live as openly as I do.
If you want to tell someone about your mental illness, tell them when:
You are well. You don’t want to wait until a mental health crisis hits to disclose to your friends that you have a mental illness. Disclosing when you’ve got your illness under control will give the people you disclose to time to adjust to the fact that you suffer from a disorder.
When you need people to understand. Sometimes, people who suffer from mental illnesses need special accommodations at work or school. Letting friends know the reason behind why you don’t want to hang out with them during a depressive spiral can prevent them from thinking you’ve grown distant. Telling people you have a mental illness is better when it serves a purpose.
When you’re ready. Disclosing your mental illness to friends, family, or even an employer is an intensely personal decision. Write down exactly what you want to say, and practice your words, either in front of the mirror or with a licensed professional. Talking to a therapist about your concerns may help put your mind at ease.
Although the “perfect” time to disclose depends on your relationship to the person and whether you’re well, honesty is almost always the best policy.
People don’t “need” to know that you’re mentally ill. Disclosing is your decision alone. But it may help explain some of your more erratic behaviors to the people you impact with them, which may help them give you grace when you suffer mood episodes.
When you choose to disclose is up to you. I’ve personally found that letting people know upfront that I have challenges they (usually) don’t is beneficial to both of us.
And if you’re dating someone, it’s always best to disclose that you have mood episodes sooner rather than later. For a more specific post on when to disclose your mental illness to your dates, click here.
Now that you know when to disclose, how do you do it?
4 General Tips on How to Disclose Your Mental Illness
You may have been curious to know how to disclose your mental illness to the people around you. Here are some tips to do just that.
1. Bring Your Disorder up in Casual Conversation
When I disclose my mental illness, I tend to bring it up in casual, low-stakes conversation.
If a potential parent friend asks about my children, I tell them a few facts about them (I have two, these are their names and ages, blah blah blah). Then I sometimes mention that the baby years were especially difficult because the sleep deprivation tended to make me manic, because I have bipolar disorder.
Despite its massive effect on my life, treating the illness as just something I have to deal with on a regular basis helps me.
I try not to trivialize the disorder–which is why I also sometimes bring up my postpartum psychotic break and how serious and painful it was–but I also tend to talk about my disorder as just a part of me.
This strategy normalizes the mental illness and allows you to determine the terms of how others perceive your bipolar disorder. If you treat the illness seriously but with grace, then other people may as well.
2. Describe the Steps You’re Taking to Manage Your Condition
Bipolar disorder is only as shocking as you allow it to be.
If you describe your bipolar disorder as this awful, paralyzing albatross, then both you and the person you’re talking to will form an opinion of you as being ravaged by your disorder and out of control.
Don’t let bipolar disorder rule your life even in the way you talk about it.
Try to describe the steps you’re taking to manage your bipolar disorder. Try to say things like, “I have bipolar disorder, which means I have to take medication and be vigilant about how much sleep I get.”
This lets people know you’re actively working towards stability, a heartening sign. Being friends with someone who’s unmanageable may scare some people away, as they might not be ready for a commitment like being constantly impacted by your wild moods.
3. Demonstrate How Your Bipolar Disorder Gives You Empathy
Even when getting to know my close friends, I would say things like, “Oh, yes, I understand a lack of focus–I have bipolar disorder and that makes focusing difficult.”
Mental health challenges are growing more and more common. A huge percentage of people struggle daily with problems like inability to focus, insomnia, or even mild, high-functioning depression.
Because your bipolar disorder is a series of mental health challenges itself, it has likely given you empathy for people who currently struggle with them. Don’t be afraid to show that empathy and let people know you understand their issues.
This shows them that you will not patronize them for their struggles, which may endear you to them.
4. If You Need it, Ask for Help
If you have a close relationship with someone, don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially from your employer (more on that below). If you believe they will be receptive, suggest ways your audience can support you.
This can involve asking for more breaks or other accommodations at work or school, or simply asking a friend to understand why you can’t hang out as long, especially at night, when you need more sleep.
You can also ask your loved ones to help you find a doctor and follow through with an appointment, if you feel that your friend or family member will understand and be helpful.
Set boundaries here, too: you know yourself best, and you need to explain whether you need advice or just need your audience to listen.
I have often “vented” to my close friends about how my mania makes me feel, especially when I’m in a manic state. I am upfront with my friends and family about whether I’m entering a mood episode, especially mania, and I describe the steps I’m taking to stabilize again.
4. Keep in Mind Your Boundaries on What to Share
You definitely don’t need to share everything. Plan ahead as to what you feel comfortable sharing about your experience. It’s perfectly reasonable to explain that you don’t feel like talking about something in particular.
If you do feel there are good parts to your illness, like things you’ve learned, try to share those. Remember, how others perceive your bipolar disorder is often about how you frame it, and what details you are comfortable sharing will shape how others feel about you.
I rarely have reservations when talking about my bipolar disorder, but there are friends for whom I wouldn’t go into detail about my postpartum psychotic break.
When I asked friends to read my book about the experience in the past, they frequently couldn’t read past the first paragraph because it was too painful for them to think of how much agony I experienced.
Some people can’t handle the nitty gritty of my illness and that’s okay. I still refer to my breakdown in general terms, but I don’t tell certain friends everything about it unless they express interest in reading my book (at which I warn them about how intense it is).
When sharing details about your mental illness, consider not only your comfort levels, but also your friends’, and what opinions you want them to have of you.
Disclosing your mental illness can be a deep and intense process, but it doesn’t have to be. Try bringing up your bipolar disorder in casual conversation, describe the steps you’re taking to manage your condition, demonstrate the empathy the illness has given you, and keep in mind your boundaries and your friends’ comfort levels.
If you’re disclosing to an employer, however, that’s a completely different ballgame. Here’s how to do that:
How to Disclose Your Mental Illness to an Employer
You know how and when to disclose your mental illness, and even if to disclose to family and friends. But what about your employer? Read on to learn how to protect yourself.
When choosing to disclose a mental illness at work, there are several factors to consider. You might face stigma from your coworkers–or worse, your bosses. Those you work with might not understand, or even want to understand, your daily struggle.
However, with disclosure might come special accommodations–like extra breaks–which are part of your civil rights. There are certain protections available to you.
You absolutely deserve those protections. If you’re in the US, don’t be afraid to disclose your condition to your employer so they can treat you fairly under the law.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a protection that you should be familiar with. The ADA is just like it sounds like: a federal law that protects Americans with disabilities at private employers with more than fifteen employees, as well as state and government employers. There are two conditions you must meet for the act to apply:
Your disability impairs your life, essentially making working difficult. This condition applies to difficulties with regulating emotion, concentrating, and other ways your mental illness interferes with your ability to work.
That, while your illness makes working difficult, you can get the work done.
Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act)
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, or Rehab Act, is a federal law very similar to the ADA that applies to schools. Any agency that receives government funding is covered under the Rehab Act.
Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a useful law that helps people keep their jobs while taking an extended leave of absence. The FMLA only applies to companies with over fifty employees, and after you have worked for the company for a year minimum. The FMLA lets you take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick family member or recover from an illness yourself.
States also have their own protections for Americans with disabilities.
What Accommodations Can I Receive? How?
Under these laws, you can receive special accommodations: working from home, flexible start times, written directions, feedback from your bosses and coworkers, more breaks, and quiet places to take those breaks. These changes to the workplace are intended to be an aid for you so that you can complete your tasks.
But how do you apply for these accommodations? The process isn’t difficult, but the onus is on you to ask. Once you do, your employer is mandated to talk with you.
First, contact the human resources (HR) department and ask them what channels you need to go through to apply.
Write down your request. Be very specific as to what accommodations you need, and explain to HR how these will help you in the workplace.
Talk with your treatment team–therapists and psychiatrists–to see if they can offer any proof that you suffer from a mental illness.
Take notes at every conversation you have with your boss. Do not delete any emails that apply to the request.
Be reasonable and flexible. Your strongest advocate is you, so be prepared to negotiate.
What if you’ve been discriminated against because you suffer from a mental illness? There are legal protections available for you:
If the employer is a private one covered by the ADA, then you have to reach out to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). File a complaint at the EEOC’s website, www.eeoc.gov.
If, however, the employer is a federal agency, like a school or governmental employer, then you must reach out to the Equal Employment Opportunity Office (EEO). File a complaint at the EEOC’s website, federal division.
States have protections as well. If you’ve been discriminated against despite these laws, look up your state’s Fair Employment Practice Agency (FEPA).
The Department of Labor manages the FMLA. If you’ve been denied your legal right to twelve weeks of unpaid leave, then contact them.
There are several protections available to you should you choose to disclose your mental illness to your employer. Whether or not you should is completely up to you. As we said, you might face stigma from your coworkers or bosses, but if you’ve been discriminated against, you can file complaints. You have a right to accommodations. All you have to do is take that step forward.
How and when to disclose your mental illness can be intense, deeply personal decisions. But they don’t have to consume you. Here’s an overview of the masterpost:
When to Disclose:
Whenever you’re well.
When you need people to understand.
When you’re ready.
How to Disclose to Friends:
Bring your bipolar disorder up in casual conversation.
Describe the steps you’re taking to manage your condition
Demonstrate the empathy the illness has given you.
Keep in mind your boundaries and your friends’ comfort levels.
How to Disclose to Your Employer to get the Accommodations you Deserve:
Write down your specific request.
Get proof of your mental illness from your treatment team.
Take notes at every conversation you have with your boss. Do not delete any emails that apply to the request.
Be reasonable and flexible in advocating for yourself.
Only you can decide when, how, and to whom to disclose your mental illness. You may face stigma and discrimination for it. But those true friends who do stick around–and those accommodations you’ll earn from your employer–are worth it, in my opinion.
Thank you for being patient with me as my moods ravaged me and stressed our relationship. Thank you for being patient with me as I suffered that postpartum breakdown and scared you. Thank you for being patient with me as I learned how to survive and even thrive afterwards.
I’m sorry I’m not the person you expected to marry. I wish I were her, and I’m trying to get back to that person again. Thank you for being patient with me while I relearn who I was and try to capture her essence.
I appreciate so much the fact that you stuck by my all this time through my various trials and tribulations, challenges that made you suffer as well as me. I am so grateful to you for being my first and most stalwart supporter.
Thank you for supporting me financially for so many years and allowing me to afford and use the mental health professionals and medications I needed to stabilize. That’s such a great boon to me; I know many people who are desperate to find a therapist but cannot afford one. Your working for over a decade at a job you don’t like helped me more than I can even conceptualize.
Thank you for encouraging me to follow my dreams of getting my counseling degree and becoming a therapist to help people manage their mental illnesses. I want to support you in your dreams, so thank you for letting me follow mine first so I can do that.
Thank you for listening to me gush about subjects that you have no interest in. You’re a fantastic listener, and I’ve often made your eyes glaze over by discussing my psychology courses or various friendship dramas. I will learn how to reign myself in for your sake.
Thank you for being a solid parent to our children. As you know, I often lose my temper and you are the patient one who steps in and smooths things over. Your presence as a father to our kids is so important in their lives, modeling to them appropriate behavior for every area of their lives, especially how to treat other people.
Thank you for teaching me so much. I’ve learned a range of subjects including computer science, math, baking, video games, things of a spiritual nature, how to be reliable, how to be patient, and how to love.
Finally, thank you for loving me. Thank you for always acting in my best interest even when it pained you or made you uncomfortable. Thank you for teaching me what love really means. Thank you for protecting me from the evils of the world and enabling me to blossom.
I love you. You are my rock, my love, and I would not be as happy as I am without you.
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.
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?
Note from the Editor: Please welcome the Bipolar Parent back from my hiatus! I will be posting weekly personal, informative pieces on how to manage your bipolar disorder on Friday mornings. I hope that these posts will help you deal with depressive or manic episodes, and that you’ll be able to stabilize soon.
I wish you well!
Self-care. It seems self-explanatory; after all, the term indicates caring for the self. But why is self-care so hard to accomplish, especially for people who suffer from bipolar disorder?
The answer is easy. When we’re manic or hypomanic, we’re usually too busy to settle down and care for ourselves. If we’re depressed, caring for ourselves is the last thing we want to do (mostly because we don’t want to do anything at all).
That must change. Caring for ourselves is putting an oxygen mask on. Self-care is crucial for our daily functioning. We must take self-care seriously to make the most of our lives.
September is Self-Care Awareness Month. There’s no better time than to start giving yourself a sweet, sweet dose of self-care.
Some people believe the self-care is limited to taking bubble baths and painting their toenails. But there are so many more ways to take care of yourself. Read on for 10 self-care ideas for people suffering from bipolar disorder.
Self-care Ideas for When You’re Manic
When you’re manic, life is go go go. In my experience, I barely slow down enough to take a breath. Here are my recommendations for self-care when you’re manic:
1. Pause for two minutes and take deep breaths
I know stopping whatever you’re focused on when you’re manic is incredibly difficult and the last thing you want to do, but hear me out. Mania spends energy you don’t actually have. If you’re constantly on the go, you’re going to wear yourself out. Pausing for two minutes and taking deep breaths (in through the nose, hold for eight seconds, and exhale through the mouth) will help your brain reset.
I like to do the box breathing method. First, find a safe place. Then, breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and release for four seconds. This almost always works to calm me down.
2. Take a bath
When I’m suffering from a bipolar mood episode, my hygiene goes out the window. This is especially true during depressive episodes, but also can happen during mania. I highly recommend making a conscious effort to take a bath or shower during that time. Bubbles are optional. Being clean may help you feel better, and if you slow down enough to take a bath during mania, the hot water may relax you a little.
I like to use Epsom salts in my baths. Even if I can’t take a bath, a hot shower, even if it’s short, helps slow my brain down enough to make me realize I’m manic and need to chill out.
During manic episodes, sleep is your best friend. Aside from medication, sleep is the number one way you can reset your brain back to a non-altered state. Please, try to get some good sleep. Dim the lights, stop using screens two hours before bed, do some deep breathing exercises (see tip #1), and by all means, rest.
I guard my sleep with the fierceness of Cerberus. Whether I’m manic, depressed, or stable, my sleep hygiene is the most important aspect of my day. I sleep in a cold, dark room with two thin blankets, having showered and brushed my teeth right before bed. I have no music or white noise, and I make sure I sleep at least 9-10 hours a night.
When I’m suffering from insomnia, I pray fiercely, and commit my sleep to God. If you’re not religious and you’re up for all hours of the night, you can try meditation and see if it helps. Definitely try the box breathing method.
4. Limit yourself to one project.
My mania manifests as crafting binges. I dive into embroidery or painting projects, and neglect everything around me and even myself until I produce something. I’m always rushing, so these projects never turn out well. I also bounce between projects. I highly recommend sticking to one project, so you’re not leaving half-finished projects lying around.
Since you have plenty of energy to burn during mania, burn it. Put on a workout video. Run some laps. Climb your stairs up and down. Anything to get your heart rate up and tire you out.
I can’t run due to knee issues, so when I’m manic and full of energy, I put on music and dance with my kids or talk walks around the park and neighborhood with them. I try to incorporate my kids into my manic phases as much as possible, and ask for their patience with me as I struggle to regain control of myself.
Self-care Ideas for When You’re Depressed
Depression is a beast. You feel awful and don’t have the energy to do anything. So what can you do? Here are some self-care ideas for when you’re depressed:
1. Go outside
I know that when you’re depressed, you’d rather stick your hand in a box of tarantulas than get out of bed. Trust me, I’ve been there. But staying in bed all day doesn’t help. In fact, that can worsen or prolong feelings of intense sadness. If you go outside and breathe some fresh air, then your mood may lift even if only slightly.
I try to take my four-year-old to a park every single morning except on Sundays, when we have church services. Forcing myself to get outside on a daily basis is sometimes the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but standing outside in the sun helps me re-center and realize that my depression won’t last forever.
2. Clean the closest surface to you, like a nightstand
Clutter deepens and prolongs feelings of depression. If you can clean the closest surface to your bed, like a nightstand, then you’ll have both a feeling of accomplishment and a clear surface to look at.
I have a problem with my brain: every time I think I’m not doing enough, my brain screams at me that I am useless and unworthy of love. I am fixated on being useful, even though logically I know I have value as a person beyond what I produce.
And when I’m depressed, the screaming intensifies as I don’t tend to get anything done, nor do I want to get anything done. So rather than sinking fully into the pit of despair and allowing my brain to figuratively beat me over the head, I try to cross off at least three items on my (small) to-do list and call that good. I recognize that I can’t get as much done when I’m depressed as when I’m stable, but I do accomplish something everyday. That helps me a lot, and it could help you, too.
3. Drink water
Hydration is so important to a healthy body and mind. You’re not at your best when you’re dehydrated. Focus on drinking a gallon of water over the course of a day. Even if you do nothing else but drink, you’ll win the day.
I drink about 144 ounces of water a day. I bring water bottles with me whenever I’m out, and I have a 32-ounce cup at home that I continuously guzzle and refill at the tap all day long when I’m there.
When I’m even slightly dehydrated, I can feel it: I suffer headaches and a dry, scratchy throat, and my mood takes a nosedive. One of my symptoms of depression is a lack of self-care, and that starts with not drinking water, which only worsens my condition. So I would highly recommend putting drinking water as one of the three items on your to-do list. Hydration is crucial for your mental health.
4. Socialize with an actual person
Call a supportive friend. Check in with your family. Even go out to the store and say hello to the cashier. When we’re depressed, we often isolate ourselves, which makes depression worse. Don’t do that.
When my brain is screaming at me that I’m worthless, I like tapping my online friends. I can sign on and leave them a message and say, “My brain is being mean to me today, and here’s why,” and they’ll respond to me whenever they’re available. Because they’ve been depressed themselves, they’ll listen and acknowledge my pain, and maybe even offer some suggestions about how to conquer my specific challenges that I’ve mentioned.
Relationships are so important to mental health. Don’t isolate yourself. Get out there and put yourself among people, and hopefully you’ll find someone who can support you.
Your friends want to help you. They’re there to listen. Lean on them.
5. Say “no” to some things
Feeling overwhelmed is common when suffering from depression. If you can, say no to some things filling your schedule. Freeing up enough space to let yourself heal is one of the best things you can do for depression.
As I’ve touched on in previous points, when I’m depressed, I absolutely cannot do as much as I can when I’m stable (which is, admittedly, a lot). So when I’m suffering a depressive episode, I assess my capabilities and cut way, way back on everything I need to do.
I try to give myself three main things on my to-do list, one of which is drinking enough water. Other things that I’ve put on there may be brushing my teeth, showering, eating an easy meal, or socializing with a person. If I’ve done all three things, I win the day.
Self-care for people who suffer from bipolar disorder doesn’t have to be difficult. Keep in mind your various struggles when you’re depressed and manic, and tailor your self-care to those episodes. Showers, sleep, and indulging in things that make you happy are crucial to your well-being.
I believe you can conquer these mood episodes. Good luck.
Self-care is crucial to your functioning. It’s taking responsibility for your own health. When I called a warmline and told the operator my depression was overwhelming me, he told me I “needed a big dose of self-care.”
But taking care of yourself is so much more than bubble baths and painting your toenails. There are so many ways to take care of yourself. Read on for 100 doable self-care ideas for when you’re suffering from depression. Don’t feel that you need to do all of this list; one or two can contribute to a better mood.
100 Doable Self-care Ideas for When You’re Suffering from Depression
Be patient with yourself. Being patient with yourself is one of the best ways you can practice self-care. If you’re mindful and allow yourself to let your negative emotions wash off you like water off a duck’s back, then the depression won’t be able to impact you as badly. If you’re patient with yourself and allow yourself to roll with the punches, then you’ll feel better.
Practice self-care in snippets. Ideally, you’d have more than an hour to spend on yourself. But the busy people and parents among us don’t have that luxury. If you can, practice some of these ideas in 5-minute bursts throughout the day.
Talk and think about yourself in a supportive and positive way. Depression makes you feel as if you can’t control your thoughts. But you can! You can talk and think about yourself in a supportive and positive way. If you do that, then depression won’t make as much of a foothold in your life. You’ll still experience awful, overwhelming feelings, but you can control how you react to them.
Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Get mad and punch a pillow. Feel sad and cry. Feel happy, and smile. You are allowed.
Drinkwater. Hydration is so important to a healthy body and mind. You’re not at your best when you’re dehydrated. Take a day to focus on drinking a gallon of water. Even if you do nothing else but drink, you’ll win the day.
Eat just enough nutritious food to feed your body. When I’m depressed, I either overeat or don’t eat anything at all. I highly recommend pacing yourself, and eating just enough nutritious food to feed your body. For 22 easy meals to make while you’re depressed, click here.
Indulge in some ice cream or another sweettreat. Depression is no time to stick to a diet. You’re in crisis mode. Give yourself permission to indulge once in a while.
Set realistic expectations. I have a to do list that’s regularly 15-20 items per day. Even if I didn’t sleep, I wouldn’t be able to complete the list. Don’t do what I do. Set realistic expectations for your day. If that’s only drinking water (tip #5) or eating a nutritious meal (#6), that’s fine.
Try to think of 5 things that you are grateful for. If you pray, pray a prayer of gratitude. Try to think of 5 things that you are happy to have, like physical health, shelter, food, clean water, sick days at work, or whathaveyou.
Text someone. If you have someone like a supportive friend or family member, text them and let them know that you’re thinking of them. You’ll be reminded that you’re not alone. If you don’t have a friend or family member, then email me, and I promise that I will email you back.
Go outside. Rising from your bed is the last thing you want to do. Trust me, I’ve been there. But staying in bed all day doesn’t help. In fact, that can worsen or prolong feelings of intense sadness. If you go outside and breathe some fresh air, then your mood may lift.
Clean the closest surface to you, like a nightstand. Studies show clutter deepens and prolongs feelings of depression. If you can clean the closest surface to your bed, like a nightstand, then you’ll have both a feeling of accomplishment and a clear surface to look at.
Say “no” to some things. Feeling overwhelmed is common when suffering depression. If you can, say no to some things filling your schedule. Freeing up enough space to let yourself heal is one of the best things you can do for depression.
Say “yes” to things you normally enjoy. Saying “yes” to things you normally enjoy may help lift your mood.
Take your medication and attend therapy sessions. Taking your medication daily is crucial for your mental health. Trust your treatment team to have your best interests at heart.
Get enough sleep, but not too much. Sometimes when we’re depressed, we can sleep too little or too much. Making sure you have good sleep hygiene is so important to your daily functioning,
Play. Playing is a fantastic way to lift your mood. When I’m consciously practicing self-care, I set some time aside to play my favorite video game, Kingdom Hearts. An operator on the warmline I called told me that if killing virtual monsters helps me feel better, “then slaughter away!”
Avoid or reduce caffeine. Caffeine can make you feel wired and awful. Try a cup of herbal tea instead.
Write down your to-dos, but don’t write too many. Setting yourself a few miniature goals during the day will help give you clarity and focus. Just don’t overwhelm yourself with tasks, like I often do.
Cull or avoid social media. Social media is a pit sometimes. People have nasty fights about political issues or curate their “perfect” lives. Try to avoid Facebook and Twitter while you’re depressed, and only friend people you personally know.
Journal. Write down everything that comes to mind until you can’t write anymore. You don’t need to examine these feelings later, just work through them now.
Take a shower or a bath. Hygiene is often neglected during depressive episodes. I know it’s the first thing that goes out the window when I’m depressed. Make sure to take time to shower or bathe and you’ll feel loads better.
Brush your teeth. Similar to bathing, one of the things I struggle with when I’m feeling down is brushing my teeth. Take care of your mouth and it will take care of you.
Read a book. Studies have shown that six minutes of reading a book lowers stress and anxiety. Feel free to indulge in one of the best pastimes.
Write a list of compliments about yourself. Writing a list of compliments about yourself is probably one of the hardest ideas for self-care to put into practice when you’re depressed. But trashing yourself doesn’t help. Try to compliment your bouncy hair, your intelligence, or your ability to keep Fido alive.
Stroke a pet. Speaking of Fido, stroking a pet has been proven to increase dopamine and improve mood. If you don’t have a pet, curl up with a cuddly toy.
Paint. You don’t have to be an artist to paint. Painting, like coloring, calms the soul, and is a cheap activity to start. All you need is some paint, some water, paper, and some brushes.
Buy yourself flowers or a scented candle. Don’t wait for someone else to buy you flowers. Show yourself some love.
Bake something delicious. Baking can be calming and meditative, and you’ll end up with a tasty product at the end of it.
Declutter your clothes. Decluttering sounds like a chore, and an overwhelming one at that, but getting rid of excess items can be immensely freeing and satisfying.
Dance. Put on some energetic music and dance like no one is watching. If you get your heart rate up, you’ll probably feel better.
Fix a small annoyance. If something has been bugging you, just fix the problem, or make a plan to fix it.
Listen to music. When I’m feeling down, music tends to lift me up again, or–in the case of energetic music played on my headphones–gets me going. Play your favorite pop songs, classical tunes, or hard rock music. Whatever you’re into, give relaxing by listening a try.
Avoid the news. Take a break from all the negativity on the news. Most news is trying to sell you something, be it a product that will supposedly make you feel better, or a bad attitude which will cause you to turn to retail therapy. Depression and the news cycle don’t mix.
Don some comfy clothes. Putting on comfortable clothes that usually make you feel like a million bucks may help you feel better when in the midst of depression.
Paint your toenails. Yes, painting your toenails is the cliché, quintessential form of self-care, but it deserves to be mentioned because it’s what most people think of when they think self-care. Painting your toenails can be expressive, creative, and relaxing.
Take a multi-vitamin. Taking a multi-vitamin may not seem like it will do much for immediate self-care. It’s true that vitamins require a cumulative effect in order to work well, but even taking one can help your body operate better.
Go to bed at the same time every night.
And then rise at the same time every morning. Good sleep hygiene is crucial for getting good sleep. Going to bed at the same time every night and subsequently rising at the same time every morning are excellent ways to ensure that you sleep well.
Plan out your day the night before. Part of planning your day out the night before is setting to do lists (tip #19). This is a great aspect of self-care. If you set yourself reasonable expectations of yourself the night before, you’re more likely to get the things done on the day of. You won’t flounder without a plan.
Eat breakfast daily. Breakfast is colloquially known as the most important meal of the day. Studies show that eating breakfast daily can lower our chances of obesity and high blood pressure.
Put some lotion all over your body.
Groom yourself. Shave your legs if you’re into that, pluck your eyebrows, brush your hair for a longer period of time than usual. If you’re freshly-groomed, you may feel better.
Learn something new.
Try breathing in some essential oils. Some essential oils, like lavender and cinnamon, have a calming effect on the mind and body.
Blow yourself a kiss in the mirror. You might feel silly showing yourself some love, but just try it.
Watch your favorite movie.
Find a way to give. Being generous to others inspires an attitude of gratitude, and helps you feel better about yourself. Try volunteering at a food bank or soup kitchen.
Drink a hot cup of coffee or tea.
Go to the library. Taking a few moments to be among books can be rejuvinating, especially if it’s in total silence and away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Go dig in the dirt. Digging in the dirt can raise your heartrate and help you indulge your connection to nature.
Play a game of solitaire.
Play a cooperative board game with friends and family.
Stretch. Stretching your shoulders can help relieve tension.
Try adult coloring books. Coloring relaxes many people. Adult coloring books have more complicated pictures to delight the senses.
Double recipes. When you have the energy to cook, try doubling or tripling a recipe and freezing the excess for another meal on another day. If you meal prep ahead of time, then you won’t have to worry about cooking on days when you just can’t do anything productive.
Close your eyes and picture yourself in a place that soothes you.
Take a cat nap.
Make a craft. Engaging in your creative side is one of the best ways to relax.
Stop “shoulding” on yourself. “Should” is, overall, a negative word, which places a lot of undue expectations on yourself. Take “should” out of your vocabulary.
Listen to a podcast or TED talk.
Watch a comedian on YouTube.
Educate yourself on a problem you have. If you are facing an illness or a problem, do some research on what the issue is so you can make a plan of attack. Learn about what you’re facing so you can know what to expect and where to get support.
Browse your favorite blog.
Write a good review of a place or restaurant you actually enjoy going to.
Attend a group or individual therapy session. Therapy is one of the best ways to take care of yourself, provided you have a good therapist. Online support groups can help as well.
Make a Spotify playlist.
Ask a good friend to name three things he or she loves about you.
If you can’t give up social media, dedicate a week to saying only positive things on your favorite platform. Not allowing yourself to engage in negativity will help your mood.
Name your emotions without judging them. Naming your emotions without judging them is similar to allowing yourself to feel your feelings (tip #4), but this time, you identify what you’re feeling. Putting a name to your emotions helps you control them.
Tell your pet your darkest secrets. Your pet will still love you, even if you tell them your darkest secrets.
Take 15 minutes to write down everything bothering you, and your feelings about them. Then burn the paper.
Get a massage.
Walk barefoot on the grass.
Build something with LEGOs.
Play with playdough. You may feel like a kid again by playing with playdough, but that’s not a bad thing. Playdough engages both your hands and your creative side. So do LEGOs (tip #75).
Eat your favorite comfort foods.
Go see a movie at the theater all by yourself.
Plan an extravagant vacation for fun. You don’t need to actually go on a vacation in order to plan out what you’d do. Planning is part of the fun.
Make a homemade facemask.Readers’ Digest has some great facemask recipes for you to use here.
Sing at the top of your lungs. You might feel silly singing at the top of your lungs, but doing so will force you to breathe deeply, which brings oxygen to your brain.
Light candles around the house. Bonus points if the candles you light are scented and the scents are pleasing to you.
Watch old Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood videos online.
Wrap yourself up in a blanket just pulled from the dryer.
Turn down the lights and give yourself permission to do absolutely nothing.
Ask for help. If you have friends or family or a treatment team, ask them for help. Don’t be shy about getting support during a depressive episode; we all need help sometimes.
Read inspirational stories.
Read positive quotes.
Take your dog or a friend’s dog out for a walk. Not only will walking a dog get you moving, it’s good for the dog, too.
Do a 10-minute body scan technique to check in with every part of your body. Start scanning your body with your feet. How are they feeling? Move up to your legs, knees, hips, belly, and so on, checking in with each part of your body. What is your body telling you? Are you dehydrated? Hungry? Is it time for a nap? Listen to your body.
Intentionally find five beautiful things around the house or on the way to work.
Make a gift for someone.
Pray. If you’re religious–or even if you’re not–praying can help you center yourself. If you don’t pray, try meditation.
Focus on your breathing for 5 minutes.
Soften your expectations of yourself and of others.
What are you good at? Try to use your talents.
“Turn the other cheek.” Be the better person when someone has wronged you. Try to forgive someone who has hurt you personally, whether or not they’ve apologized.
Go on a walk and take pictures of anything that catches your eye.
Listen to meditative sounds, like monks chanting.
Give yourself permission to only do one self-care activity per day. When you’re depressed, the last thing you want is a list of things to do. Give yourself permission to only try one self-care activity per day.
If you’ve made it through the entire list, that’s awesome. You don’t have to do all of these self-care ideas, especially not all at once. You don’t even have to do any of them. If you’ve eaten, drank water, and taken a shower, you’ve won the day. Taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can engage in self-care a little at a time.
It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing a two-month hiatus for The Bipolar Parent. For the past eleven weeks, I have been working on personal projects, and have lost all motivation to work on the blog.
I have high hopes that a two-month hiatus–one month to rest and take the pressure off, another to get back into the swing of things–will help me recharge my batteries.
I appreciate all of you as readers. Thanks in advance for your understanding. Please stay safe in quarantine, and tend to your families.
Hello, hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: The Future Edition! Thanks for stopping by.
How are you doing this week? What parenting challenges have you been facing? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you practicing self-care? How has the coronavirus affected your life lately? I hope you don’t have it! Let me know in the comments; I genuinely want to know about you and your struggles.
My (Two) Weeks — And the Future of The Bipolar Parent
I didn’t update last week, and for that I apologize. I was waiting on some news that was time-sensitive.
But now I can share it: I have a job! My friend and frequent commenter, author and mental health blogger Dyane Harwood, was approached by an editor at Verywell. Part of Dotdash (previously About.com), Verywell is a website focused on health and medicine that boasts 17 million unique visitors per month.
Dyane was told by the editor that Verywell needed a contributing writer for their articles re: bipolar disorder. Dyane, bless her, said she was overextended, and passed my contact information and blog onto the editor.
The editor contacted me, and asked if I would be willing to blog for them on a regular basis. After discussing the challenges of being a working parent with my husband, I agreed to take the job.
I am so excited! This is a wonderful opportunity to expand my writing resume and add feathers to my cap. A million thank yous to Dyane!
All of this means there will be some changes to The Bipolar Parent, my personal blog. I will be writing four articles per month for Verywell, and I don’t know if I will be able to continue blogging here as frequently.
My children will be out of school for the summer, and my husband is not comfortable with drop-in daycare for either of them. Rather than writing blog posts while they are in school, I will be writing in my very limited free time after the kids go to bed.
That being said, I need to discontinue the Saturday Morning Mental Health Check ins. I apologize in advance, but I already know that I won’t be able to keep posting on Saturday on The Bipolar Parent while writing for Verywell.
I hope to continue posting on Fridays, but I am uncertain if I will be able to keep up the quantity of quality posts while blogging four times a month for the other site.
I will check in with myself in April (next month) and make an honest decision. After that, whatever I decide, I will check in again in August, three months later, and see if I need to reevaluate my ability to post to both sites.
Whatever happens to The Bipolar Parent, I plan to continue blogging for the International Bipolar Foundation, so you can see me both there and at Verywell. If I’m not producing original content here, I will be linking to both my Verywell posts and my IBPF posts.
I appreciate that you’ve all supported me in my writing. The journey from beginning blogger to contributing writer at IBPF and Verywell has been long, but you all have been there for me. Thank you so much.
Hello! Welcome to The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Sleep Edition!
How are you? How have you been sleeping? Well, I hope! How’s your holiday planning going? If you have kids, how are they? How has your week been? Please tell me! I really do want to get to know all of you.
My Hellish Week of No Sleep
Well, last week was good, but this one started off on the wrong foot and stayed awful. Last Saturday night, I stayed up late messing around on the internet and inhaling articles about how to grow my blog traffic. Quickly becoming obsessed with making my own website (which I did eventually–it’s coming soon!), I realized I needed to sleep, and shut my laptop at 10:35pm. Then I laid awake in bed until 3am with my mind spinning. I ended up having to take a sleep aid, which I loathe. I wasn’t able to wake up at 7am to hang out with my son, as I’d promised him the night before. He seemed to understand, but I hate disappointing him.
That lack of sleep a set the tone for the rest of the day (and week). I was irritable, still obsessed with my blog, and tired. I couldn’t sleep during the rest of the week, either. By Wednesday, I’d had enough. I took a two-hour nap while my preschooler was making Christmas artwork at school, and felt loads better–during the day, at least. At night, I stayed awake until 2am. Ugh.
On Thursday, I attended both a psychiatry appointment and a therapy session, which always help me re-center myself. My psychiatrist and I decided not to adjust my meds and to meet in three months. My therapist suggested that I take the sleep aid at 10pm for the next few days, so I’ll be asleep by 11pm when it kicks in. On Thursday night, I took the sleep aid at 8pm, fell asleep by 9pm, and slept for 12 hours. Friday morning, I was still tired and groggy, but feeling less manic.
I’m still obsessed with growing my blog, but the frantic, urgent nature of the obsession is blunted. I hope I’ll be able to better manage the work/life/mom balance in the future. Wish me luck, and thanks for reading.