We’ve all been there. We look back and suddenly realize that, wow, more than eight years have gone by since our Bipolar I diagnosis and we’re still alive and kicking! No? Huh. Must be just me, then. Nevertheless! For all of you who are curious, and especially for those who desperately need it, here’s the “Ultimate Bipolar I Survival Guide” from someone who’s eight years into the business of surviving.
(Disclaimer: I’m not an expert. If symptoms persist, consult your doctor.)
With that said, let’s dive into my list. Everyone likes lists, right? Excellent.
1. Don’t kill yourself.
I don’t know why I have to write this up there, this is common sense, but for those of us who are drowning in the deep: there is an anchor, and you will be lead safely ashore. Don’t kill yourself. This is crucial: to survive something, we must first (say it with me:) not die. And killing yourself can and will lead to death, which is not good. So: don’t kill yourself. Hang in there (not literally). You’ll get through this!
2. Drink your medication.
Okay, hear me out: drink your meds because they’re good for you. I know, I know. It sucks. We don’t like our meds. They make us fat and sleep a lot, they make our hands shake, make us lose hair, give us rashes, etc. etc. Whatever excuse you have—bring your complaints to your psychiatrist and they’ll see what they can do. Take it from someone who took literally years to adjust to her medication: you will find the right blend for you.
3. Acknowledge your limitations.
Accept that you have Bipolar I disorder. (Essentially, you’re a PWD now) This might take a while. Take time off from work or school and just think it over. Give yourself time to grieve. It’s fine. It’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. Breathe. This does not make you any less human, any less a person. You still matter. You still have intrinsic value. You might lose some friends or lose your job—that’s okay. Those friends weren’t worth it, and you will find a job again. You will. Trust in the healing process. You’ll pull through.
4. Be grateful regardless.
I know it sucks. You didn’t ask for this to happen to you, but again: it’s not the end of the world. Take stock of what you have around you, be grateful for the family who stuck by you, for the friends who took the time to listen to you and learn about your illness with you. You will find hearts and ears unexpectedly open to you, just allow yourself to let go of the unexpected bitterness that you might have within you. Life is still beautiful, still worth living, despite the lows. You have things to be grateful for, so be.
5. Read the literature.
You have a lifelong illness which will affect your lifestyle, your family, your work, and your friends. Read some books about it. Look up videos online. Ask your doctor for book recommendations and look them up online. There are a lot of free books on Bipolar disorder on Amazon, and there are tonnes of testimonies on YouTube from fellow Bipolar individuals. Learn from their mistakes, don’t be discouraged, be enlightened. Educate yourself.
This should actually be at the top of the list, but it’s not because of reasons. (Haha.) Okay, sleep. For some people with Bipolar I, they intentionally lose sleep to get into a state of hypomania where our thought processes are sped up: dopamine and serotonin are high and all our cylinders are firing at a faster pace. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS. After hypomania, there’s a danger of falling into depression or proceeding right into that jolly good time called mania (NOT). Please take care of yourself by practicing good sleep hygiene! Wake up at a set time each morning and get adequate hours of sleep each night.
7. Exercise. Exercise. Exercise. (At least 3 times a week)
This is something I struggle with, but research says that running or exercise has as much power as an anti-depressant. This is crucial for us so that we don’t fall into depression. Not only that, but Bipolar individuals have a tendency to be overweight due to our meds, so exercising will help us maintain our weight. Make exercise a lifestyle choice—not only is it good for us mentally, but exercise increases our likelihood to live a long-lasting, happy life!
8. Watch what you eat. Coffee can kill you.
Well, not literally. But coffee is really bad for Bipolar individuals for a reason. Drinking coffee disrupts our sleep cycle and (again) lack of sleep or disruptions in the Bipolar’s sleep cycle affect us more than most. Lack of sleep can, after all, lead to mania, which is statistically more prone to kill us than depression. Also, bananas are really good for us. Too much sugar is bad for us, and we can all benefit from drinking a lot of water to flush out the excess toxins we get from our meds.
9. A creative and social outlet is necessary.
Bipolar individuals are usually creative souls. Find an outlet for yourself that will take some of the burdens off your soul. Also, find a circle of arms where you feel like you belong. For example, I write and volunteer for a Christian organization that deals with sexually abused children called Restore. I also consider my home church family. So find an outlet where you can give a little bit of yourself to keep your mind off the abyss that you feel is within you.
10. God. You need Jesus, ya sinner.
I don’t think I can credit Jesus enough for His role in my life. He indeed allowed this to happen to me, for He gives and takes away, but if it wasn’t for this illness, I wouldn’t know what humility was. I wouldn’t know complete dependence on God. I wouldn’t have known how much my family loves me. Whatever His purpose is, there’s a reason why we have this. Your suffering is not in vain. As John Piper said, “[God] is working within you an eternal weight of glory.” God’s molding us, shaping us, into the people He wants us to be. Dependent on our medications we may be, but we must ultimately be dependent on God.