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:
- Therapy — For some reason, I’m having a problem doing this often enough.
- Eating properly — Research suggests that the Mediterranean diet is the best for bipolar.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.