I read my first book on bipolar disorder probably about five-and-a-quarter years ago. It was The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide: What You and Your Family Need to Know, by David J. Miklowitz, PhD. I already knew my diagnosis, I had for many years. I had sought therapy for the first time a few months prior, and was lucky enough to find the only professional I ever connected with, as therapists go.
I trusted her, which is not something I ever do, I cried in front of her and didn’t feel ashamed afterwards, I disclosed many things I had never before disclosed – even to friends, let alone some strange woman.
She listened to me, she really and truly “got” me as a person, and thus she was able to give me the best feedback any therapist ever has.
Our time together was very limited, because she quickly reached the conclusion which I had. I was bipolar, and how. She was not a doctor, “just” a LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), and she told me – gently, but in no uncertain terms – that what I had was beyond her scope and specialty. She suggested I get a few books on the disorder to read, and (if they confirmed what we both already knew in our minds) seek further help from a psychiatrist, an M.D., no more talk therapy for the moment, do not pass go, do not bother with opinions other than your own, go straight for the big guns, the heavy hitters.
Did I mention that I was in the throes of one of the most profound episodes of depression I have ever in my life experienced?
That isn’t the point. The point is that I chose three books from the shelves at Barnes and Noble, and Dr. Miklowitz’s was the one I opened first. I had no idea then that there would be over 40 more I would read, cover-to-cover (and counting).
It’s funny, because I vividly remember sitting on a little balcony attached to a home whose owner’s cat I was minding while she was away. Me and kitty enjoyed the shade while I read. If I recall correctly, and I might not, I may be hyper-focusing on a specific theme – but if I do the book was rife with direction and imperatives about how someone with bipolar disorder must alter their lifestyle choices. Regulate sleep and wake times, regulate meals, regulate social interactions, regulate exercise, regulate what time you brush your damned teeth!
Okay, it wasn’t quite that militant, but in my memory it was close. If you haven’t noticed, I tend to be a bit of a free spirit, and scheduling my life equated to living as a different person entirely. I was absolutely sure it would never work for me. I slept when I was tired. I woke up when I had to. What the hell were meals? I had spent all of my adult life as a grazer. Social interactions I was either up for or I wasn’t, not a big deal. Exercise? Did walking from my garage to my car and later back again count?
I knew it would never work for me, I was certain it would never work for me.
But after a little while, I came to think about how the reason I had read that book (and many others by then, which all said pretty much the same thing) was because what I had been doing for well over a decade seemed not to be doing much good for me either.
So I gave it a try. I gave it my all. I am exhausted just to think of how hard I worked to conform to a lifestyle which I was told by all knowledgeable sources, in no uncertain terms, was key to my stability and recovery.
***WARNING: The rest of this post is where the bad modelling thing comes in, and none of it applies to anyone but me. Trust me on this.***
I tried for years, and I tried so hard I eventually helped contribute to blowing out my mind. And do you know what I came to realize about scheduling and regulation being cornerstones of my life, were I ever to be stable again? It was horseshit (except for taking my medications in strict, scheduled intervals, but that’s just my metabolism – you aren’t actually supposed to have to do that with the meds I take).
The reason it was horseshit had nothing at all to do with the theory, though. The theory is quite sound, and most manic depressives I know would agree that you have to have regulation and scheduling as a major part of staying well. The reason was much simpler, and infinitely more complex. The reason was me.
I’ll spare you a diatribe on how trying to be someone I was not was a deeply depressing and unhealthy thing for me to do. But what it comes down to is that since I have said ‘F*** you’ to things that my body and mind have been screaming from the background are not right for me, I have made so much progress. Am I working and supporting myself and married with two perfect kids and a wonderful, loving husband? None of the above. But I am much happier and calmer and peaceful and self-aware, and I am moving toward more functional. My definition of more functional, which includes having vastly improved my ability to move with the tides of my moods.
I sleep when I’m tired (or try to, anyway). I wake up when I do, or occasionally if I have an appointment or engagement, when I have to. I graze. I socialize when I’m up for it. And no, of course I don’t exercise. ;P
And the net result is that when I do have a mood episode, I acknowledge it and deal with it and don’t make things worse by fighting with it.
Okay. Maybe that very last sentence falls into good modelling instead of bad.
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I am one of those textbook “follow- the- letter- to- the- t -and- dot- the- i” kinda people. When I’m hypomanic, all that goes out the window. I stay up too late, drink too much, eat whenever and whatever I want, exercise with a passion and am extroverted. I’m on top of the world, so productive and think I require little sleep. Go, go, go, go, go. Can’t sit still; can’t stay home. My hubby wonders why I’m so discontent.
My normal state of being is reserved, calm, slightly introverted and semi disciplined. I tend more towards depression than not. I’m very comfortable alone and in the quiet. I’m content and thankful for where I am and who I am.
The ticket for my well-being and maintaining a healthy mood is SLEEP. If I don’t get 6 1/2-8 hours of sleep in a row, I start to slip. If I have 3 nights in a row of interrupted (middle insomnia) sleep, my thinking goes in the toilet and very negative. I’m very emotional and irrational. After a 3 year period of hypomania, I had forgotten how to sleep. I had to learn again how to self-soothe and stay asleep. After 3 months of deep depression when I slept most of the time (except at night), I headed into rapid cycling. Sleep was elusive again. It took a med change from Tegretol to Lamictal and adding in melatonin and Trazodone to finally get good sleep hygiene mastered. I am extremely faithful with my med/supplement regimen too. As for eating right and exercising? I try.
I agree that we have to be who we are and do our life which fits us best. I’m glad that you figured that out Ruby.
ps. I was diagnosed 2 years ago and I have consumed so many books, articles, websites, blogs about bipolar too. I love learning! I hope to help others with my vast knowledge of this disorder. Thanks for sharing!
Shelly, you and I are so much one in the same. I try my best to follow the routine to a T. But, it took a long time to get here.
As I said in I’m Going to Die in the Walmart Parking Lot, in #17, I have always had trouble regulating my body functions – just like Ruby. Even when I’m not in an episode, I don’t know when I’m hungry, I sleep funny, etc. I take a pill for all of that, to wake up, to sleep, to regulate weight, etc. I have the unfortunate situation of rapid cycling otherwise.
I didn’t even know what I was really like in my even state (I refuse to apply the word “normal” to anything about me) until recently. But you’ll have to wait a couple more weeks until October’s discussion comes out to know how I knew the difference.
Before I knew that regulating would make the difference, I went with it. I thought that my body and mind knew what was right for me. And I set off so many unnecessary episodes as a result of sleep deprivation and drinking, mainly. I sometimes get caught in the peer pressure and do it all over again; i won’t lie.
I’ve never been happier since I’ve regulated. I sleep well. Both my body and my mind feel good and I’m able to do all kinds of things I couldn’t do before. I’m a better parent. I can hold a job and have a healthy relationship with the man of my dreams.
It may not work for everyone, but it definitely worked well for me.
Lulu, I’m also glad you found what works best for you. We’re all very different, and thus require different solutions. None is right or wrong or could be applied across the board, all that matters is that we can recognize what’s beneficial to us and what’s detrimental. 😉
Shelly, thanks for reading and sharing what works for you. I debated on posting about this one, because I didn’t want someone who was newly diagnosed or had a poor understanding of the disorder to point to it and say, “See, she doesn’t need scheduling and regulation!” Also why I included the big bold WARNING, because I know that I am highly unusual in this respect.
It sounds like you figured out what works for you as well, and I think that’s great. That’s all anyone can expect in this life.
I’ve found that each person has to do what is right for them. It’s like CBT and me. I can’t trick my brain very easily. Therapy doesn’t work for me because I can’t find any real world applications for stupid suggestions. But I’ve had so many people rave about how it is such an important part of their support network.
Mantras, writing, reading, and all of this blogging are what helps me. You were right in your post on “Just Thinking” about the accountability thing. That is the one thing that can keep my life rolling when I feel frozen.
Thanks, Lulu. You’ve also got an added layer of accountability, because you can’t shut yours down, he lives in the same house as you, he can wake you up in the morning or the middle of the night, wanting something, and you can’t really just put him off to finish later.
Oh, and your son too, of course! 😛
Lulu, I think you are absolutely right about each person doing what is right for them. And I can say without fear of contradiction that Ruby is absolutely right. All of the routine and scheduling is “horseshit” – insofar as it applies to her. That just isn’t how she’s meant to live.
I’m somewhere on the spectrum a little closer to Ruby, but obviously with my kids I do have to adhere to some sort of schedule. I’m not a huge fan of the concept of scheduling in general, but when you attach an obvious reward – like the unconditional love of the most beautiful girls in the world – I can make it work for me. 😉