A Day in the Life of Bipolar Disorder: What It’s Like To Live With Mental Illness
Includes tips for better mental health.
Can you relate? I wake up and can’t get out of bed. I feel like a pink hippo is taking a nap on my chest. All I want to do is sleep, but I force myself to get up, anyway. It’s been like this for a few days now. Every morning feels like an impossible battle just to keep going.
Bipolar disorder has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, though my official diagnosis wasn’t until 1995. Some days are good, but many are bad. There’s rarely an in-between.
Every day is a roller coaster ride, and sometimes, the roller coaster is on fire. You never know when the ride will end, but the worst of it always does.
Good and Bad
The good days are when I have energy. Not full on mania, but the times where I feel capable of being a productive member of society.
Pushing myself too hard on those better days can trigger a manic episode, and then I’m unstoppable. Nothing is impossible. I’m filled with a rush of inspired ideas, and I can’t sit still. On these days, I feel like I could take on Superman and the Incredible Hulk at the same time.
But mania always come with a price. The higher the high, the lower the fall.
Then there are the depressed days. These are the days when I can’t move, when climbing Mount Everest would be easier than getting dressed. I want to give up and curl into a ball until I shrivel into a lifeless man prune. There’s no getting out of bed, showering, or putting on clothes. I may not even eat.
Bipolar disorder is unpredictable, and that’s one of the hardest things about it. You never know when a good day will turn into a bad day, or how long those terrible days will last. It’s always a guessing game, and it’s exhausting.
Friends and Family
Relationships with friends and family can be strained by bipolar disorder. When you are irritable, ecstatic, or depressed, it impacts those around you. While your unpredictability is frustrating to you, it’s scary to those who love you.
There are days I hide myself from the world. I turn off the phone and refuse to answer the door. I tell myself it’s protecting others, but it would be more honest to say it’s the only world I can function in. On those worst days, any outside interaction is too much. The noise in my head is deafening, so even the thought of adding another person into the mix is painful.
Some friends will struggle to deal with your need to cancel plans or spend time alone. They may try to push you to do more or threaten to walk away. In my experience, it’s best to let them go. Your mental illness is not something you’re making up, so don’t let anyone downplay it.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I have high-functioning bipolar, meaning I can work a full-time schedule most weeks. It took me a while to adjust to bipolar and medication, so twice, I took nearly a year off from working. It was the right thing to do, as it gave me time to recover.
You need to be careful about being balanced with work. Bipolar will make you want to work 24/7 one week and then make it impossible to complete anything the next. For me, a four-day work week is best. It gives me three days every week to reset my mental health and prepare for the days to come.
It’s okay if you can’t work for a while. Most communities have programs to help people out, so use whatever you need. I believe working helps keep me stable, so if you can work, then definitely do. If you can’t, see if it’s a goal you can work toward.
Steps to Help
It’s not all bad news. There are things you can do to increase your odds of having better days. Here are three of them.
First, get enough sleep. This is easier said than done, I know, but nothing helps bipolar symptoms more than getting enough rest. If you can manage it, get at least eight hours of sleep, and it will help stabilize your mood and give you more energy to deal with the tough days.
You can improve your sleep habits by setting a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, and creating a relaxing bedtime routine. The bipolar brain seems to work best with regular routines, so the more habits you can follow, the better.
2. Diet and Meds
Second, eat a healthy diet. Again, I know this is easier said than done. I’m the first one reaching for the bag of Cheetos at the end of the day.
Eating nutritious foods will strengthen your body and mind. The added power makes it easier to withstand the ups and downs of bipolar disorder. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables will make you feel better than downing a bag of potato chips or a box of doughnuts. It’s a theory I prove often. Yes, Krispy Kreme, I love you, but you make me feel worse.
It’s essential you take your medications every day and close to the same time each day. There will be many days you fight it. Taking my daily pills is a battle for me every time I have to put one in my mouth, but I keep reminding myself how much better my life is when I’m stable.
The biggest key to my stability is my meds. If you won't do it for you, take your colorful pills for the people you love. They deserve the best of you.
Finally, exercise regularly. Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. Even a short walk around the block can make a difference on days when you’re feeling low. I notice the biggest impact when I exercise outside, but that’s not always an option. The goal is to spend at least 30 minutes in physical activity, three or four times a week.
Exercise also improves sleep quality. A tired body rests easier. Just be careful not to go overboard with physical activity. It can be a fine line for people with bipolar disorder, so track how you respond to each activity.
Extended strenuous workouts can trigger mania, so start slowly and with lower impact activities. Walking is a great beginner’s exercise and one that’s easy to scale.
Bipolar disorder is a challenging illness to live with, but there are ways to make it easier. These are just three of the things that help me get through each day.
You can also find benefits from things like practicing mindfulness and gratitude, meditating, and writing in a journal. In addition, I keep my mind in the right place by pursuing positivity.
Focusing your thoughts on uplifting things is one of the best tools for your mental health. It’s the reason behind why I created the Speaking Bipolar Positivity Club and why so much of my online content focuses on how to stay upbeat.
Remember, you’re not alone in this. There are others out there who understand what you’re going through and can offer support and advice. Reach out to them when you need it, and take care of yourself the best you can.
I hope this gives you a brief insight into what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder. It can be tough, but it’s possible to manage the condition. If I can do it, anyone can.
I refuse to give up. I’m fighting my mental illness every day, even on the days when it’s trying to crush the life out of me. Bipolar disorder is a part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me. This is my story and I’m choosing to write the next chapters.
Be determined to keep fighting no matter what. Tough days will come, but you will survive them. Use your better days to practice tips like those above and you’ll find you have fewer of the worst ones.
Do you have a story about what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder? Please share in the comments below. Thank you for reading.
Until next time, keep fighting.
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Originally published at https://speakingbipolar.com on June 29, 2022.
About the Creator
Bipolar for 49 years, chronically ill for 36. The voice behind the Speaking Bipolar blog. Wrestles taxes by day, wrangles words at night. Thinker. TV Addict. Poet. Links: https://speakingbipolar.com/socialmedia
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