Survival Tactics: Bipolar Disorder Edition

DeeDee newIn the first episode of this 2-part post on survival tactics, I went over a few things that I do to minimize the daily miseries of ADD. Today’s focus is on strategies for bipolar disorder, which is somewhat more tricky because the symptoms are more diverse and unpredictable.

Unlike ADD, which is a disorder that I literally struggle with every day, bipolar is something that comes and goes for me. It’s an issue much of the time, but not all of the time, so it’s harder to feel adequately prepared. Plus, I’m still getting used to this whole bipolar rigamarole from a formally diagnosed point of view. I’m hoping to learn a lot more in DBT later this spring.

Mood Swing Management Mechanisms

I’ve been slogging through depressive episodes for 20 years, but I’m only just now getting a grip on how to handle hypo/manic episodes. I don’t have as many explicit tactics for handling this stuff, though, and some of it is just setting firm limits to prevent my behavior from spiraling out of hand. A little is OK, but a lot is bad news when it comes to practically everything.

  1. Problem: Too miserable. Can’t function.
    Solution: Set the absolute minimum requirements for the day at the outset: shower, dress, check email, do one work task, prepare something healthy to eat. Add other optional things to the list, just in case. Never, ever back down on the minimum requirements. I can do these things, no matter how bad I feel.
  2. Problem: Too high. Can’t function.
    Solution: Set the completion tasks for the day, the things that absolutely have to get finished. Do not start anything else until those tasks are done. The anticipation is painful, but once the requirements are completed, flutter about to my heart’s content. I’m hyperproductive during these episodes, so it’s usually all good. Keep notes of all the other ideas that come up as they come up, but do not act on them until the requirements for the day are met.
  3. Problem: Food preparation when depressed or stressed. Just because things are crap doesn’t mean I shouldn’t feed myself appropriately; failing to do so just makes everything worse.
    Solution: Plan ahead. I know the depression will come back, so why not be ready? When the produce is rolling in from my CSA during the summer, which is also when I generally feel pretty good, I freeze and can a lot of food. I make extra-large batches of soups, stews, and chili, and freeze half of them. This is how I prepared for the final sprint of dissertation writing; I knew I would often be low on time or energy for cooking and yet, I can’t tolerate over-processed foods, so it has to be homemade. Set a limit on how often I can go out to eat (once a week, usually) and make it a date with Mr. Chickadee. Buy frozen lunches for high-stress work periods; I choose the Kashi meals because they have few additives and are pretty good nutrition.
  4. Problem: Binge eating with atypical depression and/or under stress.
    Solution: Portion control. I use silicone cupcake liners to hold a serving of M&Ms, nuts, dried fruits, or whatever other snacky thing. Never, ever eat out of the bag/jar/package. Take portion and sit down to eat it. Make myself get up and go to the kitchen to get more. Having to do that more than once makes a point that I need to stop.
  5. Problem: Failure to eat when meds suppress appetite or manic, leading to low blood sugar meltdowns.
    Solution: Rely on others for cues about when to eat. Listen for growling tummy. Feed it when it cries out for nourishment.
  6. Problem: Lack of motivation, typically due to depression.
    Solution: Explicit rewards – with limits. They can be substantive (buy a CD or go out for a bubble tea when I complete this chapter) or trivial (get up and clean something, make tea, anything other than work when I complete this task or set of tasks.)
  7. Problem: Excessive consumption of intoxicants to self-medicate.
    Solution: Teetotalling if I really can’t handle moderation – cranberry juice and seltzer water looks like a mixed drink and tastes good enough to keep sipping. Trying strategies like Moderation Management if I feel I can exercise enough control. Setting limits in advance, and making a game plan for social events that will involve drinking. Having a default limit, e.g. never under any circumstance more than 3 drinks unless a different prior plan was established. During conferences or business trips, picking one evening to get rip-roaring drunk, and limit myself to 2-3 drinks for all other days.
  8. Problem: Required business travel triggers mood swings.
    Solutions: Complex – see more details on my blog.

I’m sure other Canvas authors and readers have more great strategies for managing highs and lows. It’s hard, and we all have to approach it differently because of our symptoms, history, and skills. So, what works for you?

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5 thoughts on “Survival Tactics: Bipolar Disorder Edition

  1. Reblogged this on Maree MacLean and commented:
    Here is the second post in a two part series about managing ADD and Bi Polar from DeeDee re-blogged from the excellent website A Canvas of The Minds which is a unique web based collaboration of different perspectives on mental health and life. Denmark is the country in the world where most citizens have to leave the labor market because of mental illnesses so DeeDee’s Survival tactics are relevant to my primarily Danish read blog.
    This discouraging fact is evident from a new comprehensive OECD-report, writes Berlingske. The report reveals that when four Danes were approved for incapacity benefits or a flex job in 1995, the reason was mental illness in one out of four cases. This makes Denmark the global front-runner of an international trend where more and more workers find themselves bedbound due to mental illness. I’m sure other authors and readers have more great strategies for managing highs and lows. I know that for me daily exercise and nutritious food are two crucial factors in managing my mood. So, what works for you?

    • Lifestyle management is certainly important – I try to make sure I get consistent sleep, eat well, and get out for social contact regularly. I need to make more of a point of exercise but it’s not something that I enjoy or that comes naturally for me.

      • Yes. It’s so important to get into good routines and stick in them so our wicked smartness can shine through!!! It’s so irritating when you know what you need to do but get sidetracked for one reason or another and the whole day just falls apart, I just get so disappointed with myself which makes everything worse. I’m feeling particularly emotional at the moment because I’m doing Carol Tuttles chakra healing program that is purging so much self hate from my system. It makes me feel very raw but it’s also very necessary to grow and I even have flu like symptoms from the healing bugging me. I think its the best 99USD I ever spent to be honest. I think the thing with exercise is that you can only only do what you love and I promise, there will be something for you too. I don’t know whether that is roller skating, surfing, trekking, kick boxing or a body pump class but you have to find your bliss with it and it will transform you feelings about exercise. It is also important to vary it if you are ADHD well for me anyway, I’m both as well so I really understand that you get bored shitless by it. So, you just remember to vary it and you’ll be sweet as a peach. i.e. I will do a body combat class which is literally based on different marital arts i.e tae kwan do,kung fu and kick boxing so you are punching and kicking the shit out the air for an hour which is actually great for dealing with angry feelings which I get that build up and lead me to self destructive behavior if I don’t do the body combat. In the summer, tennis is another great one because it’s social and when there are two of you it just seems like fun rather than exercise but it really is good for agreesion release too. Then, i might do a Body Pump class which is squats, lunges and lifting weights to ridiculously funny music. I know it sounds [stupid] but you have to try it because I thought I would end up looking too butch and I would hate it but the opposite happened! Now I’m quite simple really hooked and I’m muscular without looking butch. The changes to your body are very fast and the strength you build then spur you on to try other things, like yoga because your legs are stronger and you really get a lot more out of the poses. I kid you not the trick is not doing the same thing twice in a week (unless your body asks for it and then in that case you better listen) Because of the charka healing, my body wants to do a lot of yoga type stuff this week and I guess that is literally helping to move the emotions and toxins out of my body. I don’t do pure yoga because of the boredom. I do body flow which is a combination of ti-chi, pilates and yoga and I think perhaps you should look at these type of classes which are multidisciplinary where it’s impossible to get bored because it’s so interesting. You can do it! I can’t believe i didn’t know that there was a correlation between sleep and mood but their so obviously is so thanks for pointing that out. I’m also very happy for your analyzing your mood data posts I’m going to reblog both of them later when I have more followers. I think they are pure gold for people who are pro-active about managing themselves and their moods.

        • Yeah, I want to do yoga, but doing a class always seems hard to fit into life. I travel a lot so that interferes and will be changing jobs soon. I used to do a lot of rollerblading and ice skating, but my hubby can’t really join me in that because his feet are so narrow that the skates don’t fit him (and mine are so wide that it’s similarly tough to get a fit.) I do bellydance fitness videos sometimes, but not lately, and I use an elliptical sometimes, but again – not lately.

          I do love hiking and backpacking, though. It takes time to do backpacking and a little driving to do hiking, so it doesn’t happen as often as I want. Hopefully we’ll be hitting the trails a little more often soon. I agree that you can only do the exercise that you love, and I just don’t get into most of the “convenient” stuff. I walk a lot but it’s not really that good for fat-burning. Oh well. I’ll get into a new routine soon, since everything is getting changed up in the near future.

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