bipolar parent

What is Bipolar Disorder? A Crash Course by the Bipolar Parent

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Trigger Warning: This post contains 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.

Bipolar disorder.

With 45 million people worldwide living with this illness and abundant, harmful stereotypes presented in the media, you may have heard of or experienced this illness in your own life.

But what is bipolar disorder, really? What do “mania” and “depression” really mean?

First, we must clinically define bipolar disorder. bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mood disorder characterized by swings between depression, grandiose moods called mania, and precious periods of stability.

Over five million people worldwide live with the illness, which often runs in families. The mood disorder affects men and women equally and often appears in early adulthood, though children may also develop the mental illness.

But what does all that gobbledygook mean? How does this affect you, the diagnosed person or the person with a loved one who has a diagnosis?

Here’s a crash course in what bipolar disorder is and what it means from The Bipolar Parent.

What is Mania?

The bipolar sufferer is a creature of extremes, and nowhere is that made more clear than during manic episodes. Often depicted as the default bipolar state in popular culture, mania is a psychiatric state defined by symptoms of:

  • grandiosity
  • euphoric mood
  • insomnia or sleep disturbances
  • massively increased energy
  • irritability
  • rapid and/or pressured speech
  • a flood of ideas
  • delusions
  • an inability to think things through or control impulses
  • increased risk-taking, including extreme spending and dangerous sex.

When I’m manic, I can flip from overjoyed and impervious in one second to angry and snappish in the next. I cannot control my impulses and am totally distractable.

I often speak too quickly and become frustrated with everyone around me, whom I perceive as moving too slow. My friends and family, however, cannot understand me.

Inability to concentrate due to the flood of ideas in my mind means I start projects and then drop them before they’re even half-done (eg: I have document after document of unfinished fanfictions). And I spend loads of money on craft materials, and the purchases are rarely thought through.

I also have an inflated sense of their own mortality; most of the time, it feels good to be a god, so I am easily convinced by my own ego that I don’t need medication or sleep.

It’s difficult to recognize that I’m manic when I’m in the middle of it, because I feel great. I usually have to be told by a concerned friend or family member that I’m spinning out into a mood episode, if the uber-productivity doesn’t tip me off.

A diagnosis of mania is also the primary difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II: the former requires an extreme manic episode lasting at least one week, possibly with psychotic features such as hallucinations or delusions of godhood. Sufferers of Bipolar II deal with depression and hypomania, a lower form of mania, only.

What is Hypomania?

In Latin, “hypo” means below, so the definition of hypomanic as, “appears less intense than manic” follows logically.

People in a hypomanic episode usually have feelings of euphoria, irritability, increased sexuality, and competitiveness–but less than someone with full-blown mania.

Whereas inability to focus permeates mania, my experience with hypomania has been completely different. Increased focus and feelings of contentment means that I am incredibly productive while hypomanic, and I don’t doubt that this drive and ability applies to other people in such a state as well.

Hypomania is a very pleasurable episode to be in; I have often felt as if I am coasting along in my day, accomplishing anything I set out to do with my super-human energy.

This is part of the reason bipolar people (including me) often grieve for the hypomanic episode while depressed or normal. Similarly, taking my meds is difficult while in this state of ecstasy, because I think I can do whatever I want.

Unfortunately for me and everyone else who has enjoyed a hypomanic episode, any manic episode, no matter how intense, is typically followed by a crash.

What is Depression?

Even the neurotypical layperson, who may have never experienced mental illness, knows what depression is–at least on an intellectual level.

Depression is often described as being miserable, down in the dumps, or–my favorite–trapped in a black, sucking hole of apathy.

According to the Kübler-Ross model, also known as the five stages of grief, depression is one of the normal responses to a traumatic life event.

Clinical or bipolar depression, however, rears its ugly head due to chemical imbalances in the brain, medication, or genes–meaning that it can strike at any time not connected to stress or winter blues.

So what are depression’s signs and symptoms, and how are they treated?

When I’m depressed, I often feel most or all of these:

  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory loss
  • Lack of energy
  • Isolating self
  • Inability to sleep
  • Missed showers, meals
  • Suicidal tendencies

When I want to remember the times I was deep in the midst of a depression episode, all I have to do is look over my old blog entries.

This one in particular hit home:

Over the past year I’ve isolated myself and my five-year-old, confining us both to the house due to both anxiety and depression.

I’ve only just begun to emerge from the fugue, armed with new medications and new coping strategies, as well as an attempt to shuck off old habits.

Due to the advice of a dear friend, I found that doing things makes me want to do more things.

It’s counter-intuitive, but making sure that I do the dishes and pick up the living room every day has worked as the best anti-depressant I’ve ever had.

Staying in bed until I have to pick up my kid from kindergarten is a sure-fire way of destroying the rest of the day.

Getting up and getting dressed is that first, difficult step, but I am better off when it’s done.

– Cassandra Stout

I suffered massive depressive episode for years and years, crippling me emotionally and causing me to miss out on “normal” things for me and my son, like planning birthday parties or making new friends after a move.

For eight years, I lacked a solid community. I rarely took my child out on playdates and as a consequence, he finds making friends difficult.

I did very little around the home, including cleaning the house and showering myself.

Thankfully, I’ve found a combination of medication that worked, attended therapy, and worked on my own self-care. I now have a community of friends that support me, and I am helping to undo the damage that was done to my son.

What is a Mixed Episode?

To make bipolar disorder even worse, what happens if you felt symptoms of depression and symptoms of mania at the same time?

This awful set of feelings is colloquially called a mixed episode or a mixed mood state, and they are common in people with bipolar disorder. Half or more of people with bipolar disorder deal with mixed episodes, and I am one of them.

Mixed episodes are terrible. People suffering a mixed mood state have a high chance to die by suicide because they have the awful, soul-destroying symptoms of depression with the ability to carry out plans.

Medications typically used to treat depression or mania usually don’t work well on mixed episodes.

Bipolar I vs. Bipolar II: What’s the Difference?

To be diagnosed with bipolar I, which I have, requires an intense manic episode with symptoms lasting longer than seven days or severe enough to require immediate hospitalization. Depressive episodes often last two weeks or more.

Both states prevent normal function, and require treatment in order for the individual to fully live their life. It is extremely difficult to reason with the bipolar I sufferer when they’re in the midst of a mood episode.

Four times more common than Bipolar I, bipolar II is characterized by both depression and hypomanic (“below mania”) episodes, but not full-blown mania.  Often productive, persons with Bipolar II are rarely hospitalized.

What Makes Bipolar I so Dangerous?

Bipolar I disorder sufferers experience the most intense manic episodes.

Immediately after giving birth to my first child, I suffered a postpartum psychotic break and an intense manic episode, committing myself to a local mental hospital. I earned a diagnosis of bipolar I.

During my committal, I was literally crazy. I suffered all the symptoms listed above as well as delusions and a hallucination. I was deemed dangerous to my infant and myself.

After stabilizing the manic episode with medication, I suffered a debilitating depressive episode for the next four years. I clawed my way back to stability through pursuing medication that worked and regularly taking it, faithfully attending therapy, and focusing on self-care.

That manic episode changed my entire life. Bipolar I disorder is dangerous because the manic episodes are so powerful, the person behind the mental illness ceases to recognize their own limits.

What is Cyclothymia?

Cyclothymia is a tricky diagnosis with manic symptoms less severe than bipolar I and depressive symptoms less severe than bipolar II.

Impact on productivity varies; some individuals may be hyper-productive with little impairment, whereas others are manic or severely depressed for most of their lives.

Cyclothymic people may have periods of stability, but those last less than eight weeks.

Risk Factors of Bipolar Disorder

There are several risk factors under consideration.

Genetics may play a part, though studies of identical twins have found that one twin may develop the disorder while the other twin does not.

Brain scans show that the structure of the brains of sufferers of bipolar disorder have differently sized portions of the brain compared to healthy people.

Family history seems to contribute as well, as those who have a family history of the disorder tend to develop it more often than those who do not.

Childhood trauma is also a huge factor; one 2016 review in the International Journal of Bipolar Disorder showed that multiple traumas are more frequent in patients with BD than in controls (63 versus 33 %).

Whatever the reasons behind the development of the disorder, over five million people worldwide live with it, and a great deal of people remain untreated.

What about Treatments?

Treatment for bipolar disorder requires a range of psychotherapy and mood stabilizing drugs like lithium and Depakote. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is also used, with mixed results.

Several illnesses are comorbid with bipolar disorder, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or anxiety-related illnesses. These related conditions make it difficult to treat the underlying bipolar disorder, as stimulants used to treat ADHD can sometimes trigger a manic episode.

Drugs are not without their side effects. I gained 45 pounds on mine, and topped out over 200. I’ve also tried medications that knocked me out for weeks. But I persisted until I found a cocktail that worked for me.

Attending therapy also helps the person with bipolar disorder live a fulfilling life. Therapy has no side effects.

Performing self-care is also crucial for anyone to be happy, but doubly so for people with mental illnesses.

With treatment, people with bipolar disorder can lead productive, healthy lives, managing their illness as it comes.

Final Thoughts

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that can devastate families, but it’s also one of the most treatable disorders.

With treatment, I have stabilized after suffering terrible mood episodes, and you can, too. Mania, depression, and mixed episodes can be survived.

What a bipolar diagnosis really means is different for everyone. But what it means to me is that I have an extra layer of work on top of my normal affairs to manage my moods.

I have to make sure I take my meds on time twice a day, monitor my moods so that I’m sure that the meds are working, monitor my actions to make sure they’re not wildly off base and within the range of societal norms, get enough sleep (this is especially important to avoid manic episodes), monitor my spending, avoid alcohol, and so on and so forth.

It sounds like a lot, and it is, but it’s just part and parcel with living with a mental illness. If I don’t put the work in, I become miserable and a danger to myself and others. Thankfully, the work gets easier as you get used to it.

Bipolar disorder doesn’t have to control your life. Whether you have bipolar I, bipolar II, or cyclothymia, you can live stably.

I wish you well on your journey.

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World Bipolar Day – Time to Take Charge of Your Mental Health

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Bipolar disorder.

To those newly diagnosed or with a loved one who has been recently diagnosed, those two words may sound like a prison sentence. You mean I’ll be ravaged by out-of-control moods for the rest of my life?

I am Cassandra Stout, and I have managed my bipolar I disorder, the most intense type, for 13 years–and managed it well. And I am here to say you absolutely do not have to live in chaos.

This World Bipolar Day (WBD), traditionally observed on March 30, take charge of your mental health. There are steps you can embark on to reign the illness in and make it manageable.

As I told my newly diagnosed relative, what a bipolar diagnosis really means is work. It’s an extra layer of work that a person living a mental illness must face and embrace in order to tame the chaos of the mood disorder.

But have no fear. The work becomes easier and easier to handle. For example, I am so in the habit of taking my meds in the morning that I don’t even give my pills a second thought.

I treat my evening dose the same way–every night at 6pm, I down my pills with a glass of water.

Done. Easy. Habitual. And you can get to this point, too.

Here’s what to do to take charge of your mental health this WBD.

Take Your Medications

No one likes admitting they need help, especially in the form of mind-altering drugs.

But if you have medications, you must have realized at one point that your brain chemistry needs them to be stable.

I certainly do. I thank God for my pills; without my antidepressant, I would be a disheveled mess in the throes of depression. Without my antipsychotic med, I would be completely out of control during a psychotic manic episode, which I’ve suffered before, endangering myself and my family.

I need my meds. I cannot function without them. And it took me a few years being ravaged by postpartum depression and bipolar I disorder to realize just what kind of effect my medications would have on my life.

Thirteen years after my breakdown, I am stable and happy. I haven’t suffered a debilitating mood episode in years. I am going back to school for my counseling degree and making a difference in the world as a good parent.

I don’t owe everything to my current medication cocktail, but it is a large part of why I am so high-functioning today.

Bipolar disorder is one of the most treatable and and therefore controllable disorders. Even if your illness is medication-resistant, there are electroconvulsive therapies available.

If you’re taking your pills regularly and they don’t work, don’t give up. Go back to your psychiatrist and ask for an adjustment. For a post on how to get a psychiatric evaluation, click here.

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.

The first step in taking charge of your mental illness this WBD is taking the medication you’ve been given on a regular basis. Set an alarm for each dose and don’t ignore this. Taking your meds is crucial to managing your brain’s non-typical brain chemistry.

You deserve stability. You deserve a happy life.

Take your meds.

Attend Therapy

Some people are reluctant to see a therapist even when they’re drowning in unstable feelings like anger, sadness, guilt, and other painful emotions.

I’ve been attending therapy for 14 years, and my therapists have changed my life for the better. With their help, I’ve been able to identify my mood episodes, develop coping strategies for them, and bounce back from crippling depressions.

As she was the one who encouraged me to commit myself to the mental hospital during my postpartum psychotic breakdown, I owe my therapist my life.

I would have been unable to recover so well from my horrendous postpartum depression without (at the time) weekly therapy sessions in which my newborn was allowed to attend.

Talk therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, is one of the best ways to learn how to manage 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.

If you’ve been putting off the search for a therapist, please consider starting anew now. I know how much work it is to find one, especially given that many therapists are overburdened by new patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but a good therapist is worth the effort.

You may end up waiting for a while, especially when insurance is involved, but don’t give up your search. A worthwhile therapist can make a world of difference.

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.

The basics of self-care is just as it sounds on the tin: taking care of yourself. Self-care involves:

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 five everyday, try to eat, sleep, and drink enough water. Your energy levels and mood may improve immensely.

When I don’t perform self-care, I feel the lack in my life, and I feel it fast and hard. I’m usually clued in by my lapse in self-care by my tense shoulders, a huge amount of anxiety, and finding myself snapping at my kids.

Realizing I haven’t performed self-care in a few hours is just the first step. The next step I do is always check on my hunger levels; as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), I am easily hangered.

Once I’ve had a snack, I drink at least 24oz of water. Then I check whether I’m needed for something from my kids or other duties, or whether I can do something relaxing, like take a hot bath or work on my writing.

The entire self-care process of snacking, drinking water, and checking takes all of five minutes for me (I eat fast), and often improves my mood by leaps and bounds. If I can relax, I generally relax for about thirty minutes at a time, and I have free time scheduled into my routine every evening.

For a post on how to make time for self-care as a parent stuck inside during the COVID-19 pandemic, click here,

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 and you have an extra layer of work that neurotypical people just don’t have.

But you can control your illness. You can stabilize.

Take charge of your mental health on World Bipolar Day.

I wish you well in your journey.

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A Letter to Myself to Read When I’m Feeling Low or Suicidal

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Trigger Warning: This post contains 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.

Dear Cass,

I know you don’t believe me when I say this, but you’re going to be okay.

You’ve been here before, remember? You’ve lived through the depths of depression and suicidal thoughts, and you’ve even thrived afterwards.

I know you suffered them over that awful period of two-and-a-half years after your kiddo’s birth, and I know you wrote goodbye letters. I know very well that you don’t want to be here again.

But you will be okay. I promise.

Don’t give up. You have so much to live for. You’re going to go back to school to become a therapist and help people manage their own mental illnesses. You’ve got a great family who loves you. You have a close relationship with God, and you don’t want to hurt Him by hurting yourself.

Let’s go back to your family. Your kids need you to survive and thrive, and so does your husband.

Your children are so young. So very naïve. And they need you to protect them from the world and raise them into wise, compassionate, capable adults. Leaving your husband to parent them alone would be unfair to him.

There’d be a Cass-shaped hole in their lives that they’d never be able to fill. A new wife or a new mom wouldn’t be the same. Your kids and husband would be reminded of you, painfully, every day.

And you love all three of them. Despite the times they frustrate you, you’d give up everything for them–and for many years, you did just that.

But you have other reasons to live than just your family. You haven’t fulfilled your dream of going back to school to become the best therapist you can be yet–and if you have, you’ll have other dreams and goals, I’m sure. You’re a go-getter.

You can set and fulfill dreams and goals when you’re stable. Don’t worry about working towards them now; now is a time for triage. Now is a time to stop the bleeding, and if you’re reading this, you’re undoubtedly bleeding out.

It’s time to take care of you. You’re important to those around you, God, and yourself.

Put aside your to-do list. Practice some self-care. Go take a shower, eat a snack, and drink some water. Call your treatment team and let your husband know you’re suffering if you haven’t.

Do these things right now, and then come back to this letter.

Cass, I want to let you know that you are precious. You are irreplaceable. You are a smart, capable, lovely young woman with a lot of conquered challenges under her belt. And you can conquer this one, too.

It’s just another hurdle. Just one more thing you can handle. Managing a mental illness is work, but it’s well worth it. What’s the alternative to not putting the work in?

You being miserable.

And what happens if you put the work in?

You’ll thrive. You deserve to survive this and thrive again.

And I know you don’t believe it right now, but there are people in your life who love you and want to help you.

Call them. Text them. Email them. Just let them know.

And if you happen to have alienated everyone in your life, visit a crisis center or call a crisis line. Right now. Don’t even finish this letter–get up and get going.

You’ll be okay.

I promise.

Love,

Past Cass

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Choose Your Own Adventure: The Self-Care Quest

Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

Welcome, adventurer!

I see you’ve finished your most recent quest. A most excellent job gathering those resources.

But what’s this? I see you’re out of quests for the day unless you do a very special quest: the self-care quest.

The self-care quest is extremely important. It’s one you simply cannot neglect. Self-care is how you recharge yourself so you can take on the rest of your day. And it’s important that you do self-care because otherwise you’ll never have enough strength to slay dragons.

And the quest is easier than you might think. Just enjoy the Google slides presentation, proceed through the self-care prompts, and conquer your tasks!

All of the tasks are less than 20 minutes and most only take 5-10. You can take as long or as short a time as you wish and you can stop anytime.

Please share this quest with as many in your parties as you wish; all heroes can use self-care ideas from time to time.

Enjoy, Adventurer!

-Innkeeper Cass

bipolar parent

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

Photo by Content Pixie on Unsplash

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

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

I shared 12 frugal, easy self-care strategies in a previous post, which can be found here. But here are 10 more frugal, easy self-care ideas to help you treat your depression. Feel free to try as few or as many ideas on the list as you’re comfortable with.

Rub lotion all over your hands, feet, legs, and arms.

Rubbing lotion all over your body, especially right after a hot shower or bath, can help you relax. Nourish your skin.

This is one of my very favorite self-care strategies. When I’m feeling rotten, I often take a shower and then rub lotion all over my arms and legs. My legs are itchy sometimes, so the lotion helps me calm down from an agitated state.

Take a walk outside.

If the weather permits, get outside and take a brief walk. Like deep breathing, walking can center you. And research has proved that sunshine is beneficial to you in a plethora of ways, most notably producing the feel-good chemical serotonin.

When I haven’t been out to the park with my 4-year-old in a while, I feel it. Bathing in sunlight is a fantastic way to raise my mood and her mood, too. The fresh air and exercise helps me to relax and reorganize my brain.

Drink 8 ounces of water.

Drinking enough water is so crucial for your physical and mental health. Not drinking enough contributes to feelings of lethargy, which can encourage depression to manifest. Fill up a large jar with water and drink it over the course of a show to feel better.

I drink a ridiculous amount of water. I have a yellow 32oz cup from Dickey’s BBQ that I constantly drain and refill. The writing on the side of the cup has almost completely faded from the amount of washing that cup has gone through.

If I don’t drink enough water, I feel terrible. I’m tired, lightheaded, and my mouth and throat are frequently dry. So I’m always drinking more water. I highly recommend finding one or two cups, jars, or water bottles of that size and carrying it with you throughout the day.

Give yourself permission to say, “no.”

One of the quickest ways to overwork yourself is not knowing how to say no to other people’s demands. Knowing how to say, “no,” is one of the best skills you can practice. If you want a calmer, more balanced life, say no to some things on your busy schedule.

Learning how to say no and stand up for myself was easily one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever struggled to absorb. I used to overwork myself, committing to too many things, never able to stomach the thought of not pleasing other people.

But once I said no to one thing, saying no to subsequent things grew easier and easier, and I am a much happier and more well-rounded person because of the boundaries I’ve set.

Teach yourself something that you’ve been wanting to learn.

Whatever you’ve been wanting to learn, there’s a YouTube tutorial for it. Try watching a tutorial video or, if you want to learn a language, signing up for Duolingo or another language-learning app.

One of the skills I always wanted to learn was sewing. So I picked up a needle and thread and made up a pattern for plushie pigs. I highly recommend trying to find a creative hobby with which to express yourself.

Create an I-don’t-do list.

Rather than a to-do list, create a list of non-negotiable boundaries that you want to establish. Making this list will help you figure out what you stand for.

My hobby of writing fanfiction is not a secret. I often write fics for other people based on prompts they give me, and it wasn’t until I wrote a “won’t-write-this” list that I found myself happy writing fanfics for others. Try a “I-don’t-do” list and see if that works for you. You can always change your list.

Give yourself permission to change your mind.

Like I hinted at in the previous strategy, if you need to change your mind about your “I-don’t-do” list, you can certainly do that. If you have made a decision which bothers you, give yourself permission to change your mind. This will free you to act in a manner that is more in line with your values.

I used to think that if I’d made a decision, I had to stick with it no matter how miserable it made me. After all, I’ve already put a lot of time/energy/money into decision A, so I should stick with that, right?

Wrong. This is called the sunk-cost fallacy, which means that just because I’ve put resources into something doesn’t mean I should continue throwing time and energy at it. A dear friend once told me that her mother’s philosophy was that nothing is wasted. Any resources you’ve put into something aren’t wasted because you learned something.

Nothing is wasted, my friend said, which comforted me a lot when I was faced with a tough decision where I changed my mind to my own benefit.

Have a pajama day at home.

Sometimes, staying at home is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. Stay at home and don’t be beholden to anyone or anything.

Like a lot of things on this list, this one includes you taking time to treat yourself with self-respect. On the Tuesday after Labor Day this year, my husband had a day off, which meant that he had a long weekend. I asked him to watch the kids that day so I could have a day off, so he’d have Monday and I had Tuesday. He agreed, and I spent the day treating myself, which refreshed me.

I highly recommend trying to get a day where you do nothing except what you want to. It’s very freeing.

Call or text a friend.

If you have a friend whom you can call or text, get in touch with him or her. Touching base with a friend can help lift your mood.

I am fortunate enough to have international friends online that I can chat with at all hours of the day. If one friend isn’t online, the other friends usually are. I rely on my friends as sounding boards and encouragers, and I listen to and encourage them in return.

Eat some dark chocolate.

Chocolate is a known mood-booster. If you have some dark chocolate around, feel free to nosh on a couple of squares.

I absolutely adore dark chocolate. For the last couple of years, I’ve been on the keto diet, and have found a replacement bar of chocolate in Lily’s, which are delicious. I highly recommend finding a snack that you like and can eat when you need one.

Conclusion

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

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

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

I wish you well in your journey.

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bipolar parent

My Advice to a Relative Facing a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis — And What This Diagnosis Really Means

Photo by Patricia Prudente on Unsplash

Trigger Warning: Mentions of intrusive thoughts that tell me to self-harm.

A dear relative came to me via Facebook messenger, telling me they’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and asking for my advice. They told me that they were scared of their diagnosis and they hoped I’d be able to understand.

Here is what I said to them, over an hours-long text conversation:

Oh, [name], I totally understand being scared of a diagnosis, especially one for a lifelong condition that can be dangerous under some circumstances. The best thing you can do to reduce your fear is to educate yourself on what this diagnosis really means.

What a bipolar diagnosis really means is different for everyone. But what it means to me is that I have an extra layer of work on top of my normal affairs to manage my moods.

I have to make sure I take my meds on time twice a day, monitor my moods so that I’m sure that the meds are working, monitor my actions to make sure they’re not wildly off base and within the range of societal norms, get enough sleep (this is especially important to avoid manic episodes), monitor my spending, avoid alcohol, and so on and so forth.

It sounds like a lot, and it is, but it’s just part and parcel with living with a mental illness. If I don’t put the work in, I become miserable and a danger to myself and others. Thankfully, the work gets easier as you get used to it.

I also used to think a bipolar diagnosis made me fragile. And to a certain extent, that’s true. There’s certain things I can’t do that other people can, like live without medication and drink and stay up all night.

But fragile is the wrong impression; if you go through life thinking you’re fragile, you’ll damage your confidence and make yourself believe you’re made of glass.

So while fragile is the wrong word, try delicate instead. With bipolar disorder, you have a delicate constitutional makeup. You need to be careful with yourself and treat yourself right. If you don’t, you won’t thrive or even survive well, and that’s no way to live a life.

I highly recommend educating yourself on what you have to do to treat yourself right. That’s the first step, and will help resolve your fears. Once you’re armed with knowledge about what the diagnosis really means to you and what you need to do to manage it, then you’ll be able to tackle it head on.

Do you have meds? Do they work? I would highly recommend finding a therapist that you feel comfortable with who can work with you through your diagnosis. A psychiatrist doesn’t have to be warm and friendly to know their stuff, but a therapist should be someone you feel you can talk to and basically share your struggles, challenges, and triumphs.

If you’re not on meds yet, go back to the psychiatrist and ask for some, especially a mood stabilizer to avoid endangering  yourself or others with manic episodes.

Finding a med cocktail that actually works will take some time and a lot of wading through side effects, so don’t give up! You can find something that works for you, and even if your specific diagnosis is medication resistant, there are other things you can try like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), but that’s mostly good for depressive episodes.

Still, there are therapies out there and you can treat this disease with a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and self-care. 

But you do have to respect that this is a disease. It’s a brain disease, sure, but it’s a real and valid threat to your happiness and the happiness of those around you.

Give the disorder the respect it deserves and don’t underestimate how quickly things can fall apart. It’s a balancing act, but the more scaffolding you have in place, the less difficult it will be to balance your life.

What I mean by scaffolding is medication, a treatment team, therapy, and good habits like getting enough sleep every night. Once you have these things in place, you will find it easier to keep your mood on an even keel.

As someone who has been managing my bipolar disorder for years, I’ve realized that my brain lies to me. It does not have my best interests at heart.

I have intrusive thoughts that tell me to hurt myself, and I have to acknowledge that I had the thought and let it go. I often say to myself, “well, that was a thought! How interesting!”

And in this way I can look at those sorts of thoughts with a neutral mindset, as if I’m some sort of outside observer just looking at my brain and all its idiosyncrasies. 

I know it’s hard to believe right now, but trust me: you are a human being with inherent value. Do you think your friends deserve pain? Treat yourself as a friend. That’s what you deserve, not this brain that lies to you.

You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. But I am confident you can manage this illness and I’ll be here for you, too.


Like most people facing a bipolar diagnosis, my relative was scared and stressed. They didn’t know where to turn to start educating themselves about their diagnosis.

But there are resources out there. My blog, The Bipolar Parent, for one, as well as the National Institutes of Mental Health website. WebMD is good for an overview of the disorder, and your doctors are excellent touchstones for you who can provide even more resources.

If you can find someone in your life who has successfully managed their bipolar disorder for years, like I have, even better.

If you’re facing a bipolar disorder diagnosis, there is hope for you to have a successful, well-adjusted life. Make no mistake, it’ll take work, and sometimes there will be situations outside your control, but that work gets easier with time.

My relative asked me to check in on them periodically and offer them advice, which I plan to do. I’ve already set a repeating event in my calendar with a notification on my phone to remind me to do so.

Like I said, I’ll be here for them–and I’m here for you, too.

I wish you well in your journey.

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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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6 Easy, Frugal Self-Care Strategies for Busy Parents

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

1. Go on a Nature Walk

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

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

2. Play Your Favorite Song

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

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

3. Engage Your Sense of Smell

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

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

4. Grab Some ZZZs

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

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

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

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

Good sleep is essential.

5. Practice Good Hygiene

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

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

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

6. Eat a Snack

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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My Top 8 Personal Needs During a Bipolar Depressive Episode

Photo by Fernando @cferdo on Unsplash

Depression is a needy disease.

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

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

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

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

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

Here are my top 8 personal needs during a bipolar depressive episode, in descending order of importance:

8. Food

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

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

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

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

7. People

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

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

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

6. Time to Myself to Process

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

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

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

5. Smaller To-Do List

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Clean Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Clean Body

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Reason to Get out of Bed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Grace and Understanding

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

I wish you well.

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

Photo by Tina Dawson on Unsplash

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

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

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

Take a break from social media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Write a short story.

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

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

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

Read one chapter of a book.

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

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

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

Do something imperfectly.

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

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

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

Buy a pet plant.

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

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

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

Drink a cup of tea or coffee.

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

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

Practice gratitude.

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

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

Cross something off your to-do list.

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

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

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

Declutter the nearest surface to you.

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

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

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

Do a full-body check-in.

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

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

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

Take 3 deep breaths.

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

I wish you well in your journey.

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