C asked: “Do you have any tips or things that help you in your day-to-day life? Any books you recommend?”
Thanks for asking!!
As per your questions, yes to both! There are a lot of things that I do every day, every week, to keep myself balanced. The first is sleep. I absolutely have to have enough sleep or I go bonkers. It’s like having exposed wires in my brain if I’m too tired; I’m liable to spark and shock someone or myself. Second, I have to make sure I take my meds and at roughly the same time every day. It is incredibly noticeable when I don’t take them and really not worth the trouble. Third, I try to employ HALT whenever I start to feel myself unraveling. HALT is short for Hungry Angry Lonely Tired. If one or more of these things is problematic, I try to do what I can to fix it, before devolving into a pile of mush. Along those lines, I have an app on my phone and watch called Breathe. I set it to go off every hour or so and it sends me a little ping to remind me to breathe, which I can set for 1 or however many minutes I want. Throughout the day I get these little haptics on my wrist from my watch reminding me to both stand up and move and to take a moment and just breathe. This has been very helpful. Even if I’m in class or someone’s talking to me, I can become aware of my body, fix my posture, and take deep breaths, which actually helps me focus on the present moment. Fourth, I aim to write either on the blog or in my journal every day, often both. For me it’s a way of streamlining sometimes obsessive, intrusive, overwhelming, unfocused thoughts. This isn’t fun for everyone, but I do recommend doing something creative every day because it unearths parts of our psyche that aren’t always at the surface, especially if we don’t work on creative jobs full time.
As a general rule, I recommend talk therapy. My therapist is keen to remind me that I am a person built to succeed in such an environment, and not everyone is built that way, but I am a firm believer that a little, any talk therapy is beneficial to maintaining mental health when it is an issue. My yogi friends would recommend yoga. I definitely recommend regular exercise, though I am not up to speed on that one quite yet.
The most important thing for a healthy day-to-day, imho, is to establish routine. When I don’t have a routine, something to do every day, I tend to fall apart. I feel purposeless and directionless and unmotivated. Sometimes you have to invent routine. Say, I have to get up at 8:00 every day even if I’m not going anywhere. I need to eat breakfast before 10am, I have to work on a project for at least an hour, I need to eat lunch by 2pm, I have to leave the house at least once per day, I need to shower, I have to be in touch with some friends or colleagues, I have to get to the store, walk the dogs, clean the kitchen, do the laundry, anything. It’s really surprising how different I felt when I transitioned from doing nothing to giving myself something to do. Yes, there are days when everything felt and was impossible, but that was OK too. If it lasted too long, I would bring it up with my therapist or psychiatrist, maybe fix my meds. But it would pass.
I love to read. Our apartment is lined with books upon books, that don’t even fit in the shelves. My kindle is overflowing with things I’m partway through, finished with, or queued up to read. In the realm of mental health, I’ve tried to read as much as I can get my hands on. To that end, here is a list of some of my favorites, the ones that have made the most impact on my life (and that I can remember right now).
- An Unquiet Mind – Kay Redfield Jamison
- The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
- Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened – Allie Brosh @ Hyperbole and a Half
- Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir – Ellen Forney
- Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess)
- Wishful Drinking, Shockaholic, etc – (really everything) by Carrie Fisher
- The Buddha and the Borderline – Kiera Van Gelder
- I Hate You – Don’t Leave me: Understanding the Borderline Personality by Jerold J. Kreisman MD and Hal Straus
- Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder – Marsha Linehan
- Agorafabulous: Dispatches from My Bedroom – Sara Benincasa
- The Silver Linings Playbook – Matthew Quick
- Madness – Marya Hornbacher
Kimsseven asked, “Did you see any indications before age 14? We see what we think as teachers are early signs of bipolar in kids and wonder what if anything we can do to help them?”
There is a lot of information out there about Bipolar in kids, but I think it is, as you say, hard to recognize. For me, since my Bipolar is comorbid with Borderline Personality (also called Emotion Dysregulation Disorder) and Generalized Anxiety, it’s a little complicated to see the specific warning signs. But I did turn to the foremost authority on me as a kid: my mother.
When I was really little, say two or three, I preferred to hang out with adults rather than with the kids my own age. When I got to school I loved it but was always reluctant to leave my mother’s side. I had serious separation anxiety. I also didn’t always like the way the kids and teachers treated me. If someone got yelled at, I was scared that they would yell at or punish me as well.
Little things became big things in my world. Lots of minor things were traumatic for me, so I was constantly experiencing and reacting to trauma. There was a constant flux of anxiety and recovery.
In pre-school, I was afraid of the front door monitor so my mother had to walk me to class. Academically I was ahead, but emotionally I was behind.
This remains true today but I would dive, hell-bent into something new, get obsessed, and then completely drop it. I think these might have been hypomanic episodes, or something like a pre-cursor to them.
Sometimes I acted very out of character. Once I stood up to a bully and actually pushed her off of the monkey bars because I was so mad. She wasn’t hurt at all, but I did get in trouble. Though ironically she never got in trouble for bullying me and my friends.
My mother would tell the adults around me that I was very emotionally sensitive and what other kids let roll of their backs, I internalized. She says she tried to protect me, all the time.
I know that I avoided school as much as I could in middle school, and eventually bailed in high school. I had a lot of trouble falling asleep because my brain would launch into overdrive every night, which made getting up for school very difficult since it was at godawful o’clock in the morning.
Even at a young age I was up and down in my moods, but it wasn’t really noticeable to my family until around 13 or 14.
I think one of the biggest warning signs would be emotional sensitivity coupled with gigantic bursts of energetic passion, followed by a crash and abandonment of the passion. Also, a serious reactivity to stress might be indicative of an inability to regulate emotions. Like, I was out of school a lot for migraines and stress.