At best, dealing with bipolar disorder is very difficult. More often than not it is a living hell. The illness never completely goes away even during ‘normal’ times. We all need ways to cope at some level to be able to deal with this horrible disease.
Over the years I’ve developed many skills to help me through the difficult times. I’d like to say that I have the ability to completely control my symptoms and manage my illness, but the truth be told, that just isn’t possible. Not for me anyway. But I have been able to find some ways to at least take the edge off.
I physically carry a lot of tension in my body. One technique I’ve learned is to lie on my back on my bed with my legs slightly spread and my arms by my side. I clinch my toes as hard as I can, then I let them relax concentrating on letting all the tension go. Once I have my feet relaxed, I start moving up my legs the same way. Clinch the calf muscles then completely relax. Then I move on to the thighs, and the hands and the forearms, upper arms, torso, shoulders neck, and head. It takes a while to go through the whole body, and concentrating so hard on relaxing blocks out any other thinking. Often I use this technique to help fall asleep when my racing thoughts are keeping me awake.
After years of the forced relaxation I’ve gained enough body awareness that I can disperse the tension anytime. There are several areas where I’ve become very successful just letting go. My legs ‘bounce’ all the time, but I can focus on forcing them to stop. I carry a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders too, and can just let go and relax. It works every time. The problem is, it only works for a minute, and then the tension builds up as strong as ever. I can keep relaxing, but it’s a never ending process.
I use breathing in a couple of ways. One is to help with the relaxation techniques. Breathing in deeply, and then pushing the tension out with the exhalation. But more often I use it to control my thinking. I focus on each breath, feeling the air fill my lungs and then exhaling slowly. Sometimes I’ll even count each step. In, one-two-three; out one-two-three. Focusing so hard on this physical act helps me stop thinking about other things.
As I’ve said many times before, there’s always some kind of music playing in my head. Often times it’s totally random and nonsensical, such as a variation of my phone’s ringtone. Other times it’s a song that has deep meaning, usually in a negative way. When I have the negative songs playing, I have a couple of tunes I can consciously think about until it over powers everything else. The Romeo and Juliet fantasia overture by Tchaikovsky is very moving to me, and I can usually concentrate on my favorite parts replacing whatever else is playing in my head. Other times I can just pick random songs that have no meaning at all to over ride the negative. Like self relaxation, it may only work for a few minutes, but as the bad music creeps back in I stop and focus on something new.
Psychiatrist and therapist always talk about visualization. They tell you to ‘go to your happy place’. Well, the reason it’s mentioned so often is that it can work. For me, that place is the beach. When I’m getting overwhelmed I can close my eyes and imagine I’m sitting in a chair on an oceanfront balcony with a cigar and a scotch in my hand watching the waves go up and down. Frequently there’s a noise from somewhere like a HVAC fan that I can ‘convert’ into the sound of the waves. And again, focusing so hard on something helps push out the bad thoughts.
Forcing myself to be around friends and family can help too. It can be very difficult, and even impossible sometimes especially in a deep depression. But If I can make myself put on a happy face and get out with others then I can distract myself for at least a little while.
And I write. I try to update my blog once a day, but many times I just start writing about nothing. Just putting down whatever thoughts are in my head. Like most other things I have to focus and organize my thinking to put together something worth posting, and putting my random thoughts into words helps me control the thinking. Something about the process makes me realize that my thinking is out of control or negatively focused
Of course there is therapy and medications. One thing I’ve learned is to be completely honest with my therapist. I think we all have a tendency to hold back things and avoid certain topics. Not being truthful however doesn’t help me to make the most out of my time. With medications, I have to always, always, always continue taking them no matter how good I might be feeling. And I need to talk with my Psychiatrist as soon as possible when the medicines aren’t working.
Unfortunately, all these techniques are only temporary. And many times the mood is too strong to be able to do anything about it at all. I do have better luck dealing with the depression. My manias tend to be over the top and most times I don’t even realize I’m having an episode. With a depression I move much more slowly and have the time to respond to things with these coping mechanisms. But if they worked all the time, I wouldn’t be struggling with the ups and downs of this illness. It would just be a matter of using the right skills at the right time and this could all be controlled. But even though it doesn’t always work that way there is the chance that I can at least take the edge off and get through a moment. I just can’t completely give in to this illness and not even try. I am constantly trying to find new ways to cope, and welcome any suggestions or feedback from others.
I have to use every skill I have to fight and live with this horrible disease.