Holistic Self-Management of Bipolar

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My primary chronic illness is bipolar disorder. Most chronic illnesses, whether physical or mental, require the individual to take regular action to maintain the highest possible level of health. The illustration most commonly used is diabetes — people with diabetes must check their blood sugar regularly, follow a plan of diet and exercise, take oral or injectable medications, examine their feet often, and so forth. Failure to carry out any of these actions can lead to serious consequences including kidney failure, hypoglycemic coma, amputations, or even death.

Self-management of bipolar disorder also requires certain actions, but it is much more difficult to know just what these actions are when a mental illness is concerned than it is when it is a physical illness. The easiest action to discern is taking prescribed medications. Having gone off my meds several times in the past, including once for almost a year, I know very well what can happen. I know the insidious downward spiral of bipolar that can lead to the brink of death just as surely as a disease like diabetes can.

So taking meds is number one, but it is not the only habit I must develop. Here are some others that are equally important:

  1. Therapy — For some reason, I’m having a problem doing this often enough.
  2.  Eating properly — Research suggests that the Mediterranean diet is the best for bipolar.
  3.  Exercising regularly — I have a shirt my mom bought me that says “Exercise? I thought you said ‘Extra fries!'” That is my usual attitude towards exercising, but I know that regular exercise, outside when possible, is crucial.
  4.  Spiritual practices — This is one I have lacked for a long time, but I am beginning to realize (not for the first time!) that I have to depend on God to help me with the symptoms of bipolar, especially my bad temper.
  5.  Having a routine — Although I enjoy visiting my daughter and my mom, the break in my routine that results can be very disruptive to my mental health. I need to keep my routine as much as possible even when I am away.
  6.  Laughter and relaxation — Laughter can definitely be a powerful medicine! If I don’t practice relaxation, I develop excessive anxiety.

Of course, there are others, but at present, I will address these. Where does holism come in? Many of these issues overlap. For example, I can keep up with all of them better in the context of a routine. Prayer and meditation are spiritual practices that help me relax; yoga is a relaxing type of exercise. A healthy diet gives me the strength to exercise and to think rationally. These are not independent bits of my life that are related only because I am the one doing them. Rather, they are strands of activity that are woven together to create the fabric of my days

I shall go into each one in future posts and then revisit how they work together.

Word for 2017: Holistic

I just read a post on Colline’s Blog in which she discussed her word for 2017, discipline. This is her theme for the year. She described how the word discipline relates to her goals for the year.

The idea intrigued me, so I looked inside myself for a word that could be my theme for the year. I thought of spirituality at first,  but I finally decided on “holistic.”

I tend to focus on just one area of my life at a time, a habit which is probably related to my bipolar disorder. In spite of medication, I still have episodes of depression, hypomania, and mixed states. During these times I may obsess over my physical health, compulsively work on my writing, or ruminate about my relationships, to the exclusion of everything else.

In 2017, I want to keep in mind the “big picture.” All areas of my life are important: spirituality, physical and emotional health, family and friends, relaxation and leisure, writing, housework and cooking. I often feel overwhelmed when I think about doing all that! But part of the overwhelm is that I think of it as doing everything at once and doing it perfectly. I will need to remind myself that I am human and that’s okay. Trying to be aware of my whole self may feel like herding kittens sometimes, but I think it’s worth a try!

World Suicide Prevention Day

WARNING: MAY CONTAIN TRIGGERS
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I don’t know if I was ever completely serious about taking my own life. I know I wanted to hurt myself, though. And some of the things I did to hurt myself could have killed me, whether I intended that or not.

I felt so miserable at those times. No matter which way I looked I felt pain — unending, mind-crushing pain. There seemed to be no way out. I believed that I was a bad person, a complete failure, and that I had no business being on this planet making other people unhappy.

Bipolar disorder is a strong risk factor for suicide. The rate of suicide for the general public is about 1%. For those with bipolar, it is 15-17%. Suicide is the leading cause of premature death for bipolar patients. It is more likely if the person is undiagnosed or untreated. By “untreated” I mean “not taking medication.” The person may have the medication but refuse to take it. This is a very common problem for bipolar individuals — because they feel so good when they become hypomanic or even the early stages of mania, they don’t want to take a drug which will prevent both downswings and upswings.

I wonder how many people with bipolar take their meds as prescribed? Do you take them properly, or do you go with the temptation to skip them sometimes?