Five Ways I’m Beating Bipolar Every Day

Dec_MarshallFamilyI was diagnosed with Type I Bipolar in the spring of 2006, several months after suffering two separate manic episodes almost exactly two weeks apart. Each had landed me in a psychiatric ward, and both times I was terrified of what was happening to me. My mind had unraveled, and despite my desperate desire to return to sanity, the initial days of my hospitalizations were the same: fighting the nurses as they tried to give me antipsychotics.

Things have changed drastically since those first instances of my illness occurred, and these days I take a proactive, enthusiastic approach to keeping my mental health in check. Here are the five methods I use to stay on top of my symptoms so that I remain healthy and balanced, both in body and mind.

  1. Speaking up: It seems like it was so long ago, but it was only last month that I started writing openly about the fact that I’m living with bipolar disorder on my blog. This simple act of deciding to come out from behind my anonymity changed so much for me. I suddenly felt more empowered, like I was physically stomping out the stigma associated with my illness. I have no regrets about my decision to be brave and speak out as a mental health advocate and I am proud to be a part of the movement which in time will erase stigma against people living with mental health issues.
  2. Scheduling out: Having things on my calendar to look forward to is very important to me. I love anticipating trips with friends and family, birthday parties, charitable events, and even simple things like picnics at the playground with my kids when the weather is nice. I make sure to always have at least two things each week that I am looking forward to doing, so that I can get excited about something that is coming up in the near future. Using my calendar effectively also helps me to prioritize my work and exercise, so that those things don’t get neglected in between all the other commitments I’m planning.
  3. Focusing on the positives: If I were to dwell on all the negative things that have happened as a result of my diagnosis, I’d still be consumed by the deep depression I battled in 2006. Instead, today I choose to highlight the positive outcomes that have resulted from learning to live with my illness. I have become a more compassionate person. I’ve revealed my identity and am telling my story in an effort to inspire others who may still be questioning whether things will ever get better. I’m realizing how happy I am when I’m writing, something I always knew was a huge part of my life; I just never allowed myself to say that writing is my vocation. Today I call myself a writer. And I’m more content now than I’ve ever been in my entire life.
  4. Staying committed to my treatment plan: I see my psychiatrist once every two months, or more if I need to. Mainly my time with her is spent checking on my meds, making sure everything is working the way it should. Because my psychiatrist doesn’t do psychotherapy, I have appointments with my therapist about once a month, and we talk through anything that is bothering me since my last visit. My treatment plan involves medication, psychotherapy, sleep management, good nutrition, and exercise. I am dedicated to following through with my plan because I know how important it is for me to balance all the components in order to stay healthy.
  5. Not being afraid to ask for help: this is the big one. I have incredible support in my family and friends. If I am ever feeling as though hypomania is teetering too close to mania, or I am beginning to slide down into depression, I know that I can call on someone who will be there to help. If I need to catch up on sleep — the way I needed to after my recent trip to Seattle for a writer’s retreat, or how I’ll need a day of recovery after The Overnight Walk for suicide prevention the first weekend in June — I make plans in advance to have a family member stay with the kids while I get back on my sleep schedule. I am extremely grateful and thankful to have a solid support system around me, because I know that they’ve helped me to reach this point in my life where I feel like I’m beating this illness. I wouldn’t be where I am today if they weren’t by my side, supporting me along the way.

It has been estimated that one in four Americans lives with some form of mental illness. In the beginning stages of diagnosis and early days and weeks of treatment, things can seem so far from normal — hopeless, even. But that doesn’t have to be the case; there is hope. My hope is that by speaking openly about how I live with a mental illness, and by sharing my coping mechanisms, I may inspire others to reach a sense of acceptance. With acceptance comes comfort. Comfort in the knowledge that we’re not alone. That others are going through similar challenges to ours and we can help each other through. This is what life is all about.

Jennifer is 34 years old, a wife and mother of two young children. She experienced her first manic episode over seven years ago. Over the course of several months and many doctor’s appointments, she was diagnosed with Type I Bipolar Disorder. Her blog is her way of keeping herself accountable and healthy for her family, as well as documenting her progress. Jennifer is working on writing a memoir, and also has several side blogging projects with WhatToExpect.com’s Word of Mom community. She has contributed to Lamaze.com’s blog, Giving Birth with Confidence, and an online anthology of women who have struggled with mental illness called It’s All In Her Head. By writing, Jennifer hopes to help fight stigma and inspire other young people who are struggling with the same feelings, fears, and insecurities that she was at one point. She says, “There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You just need to keep fighting hard to get there.”

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  • jude

    jude

    June 5th, 2013 at 3:52 AM

    It must have been very scary to experience this and have two young children in the home that there is this part of you that still knows that you have to care for and be responsible for too. I think that it is very brave of you to share your story with others, because I know how hard it is to talk about when there is something wrong and you do what you can to hide it and cover it up. I am glad that the writing feels like a little bit of treatment for you because I promise you that for your readers it helps them out too.

  • Dalton.K

    Dalton.K

    June 5th, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    Happy to see that you found your way to calm yourself and to feel better.Writing is a good outlet.Different things can be the avenue they need to feel better after having gone through something or even going through something more continuous.Some find it and do end up feeling better whereas for some others it feels like there is nothing that can make them feel better.i think that very thought defeats a person half the way and the lack of motivation defeats them to an extent from which there is no coming back.Kudos to coming out and talking about your condition.Peace.

  • Jennifer Marshall

    Jennifer Marshall

    June 6th, 2013 at 5:10 AM

    Thank you so much, Jude and Dalton. I truly appreciate your thoughtful insight and encouragement to keep on writing and sharing my story.

  • Lana

    Lana

    June 6th, 2013 at 1:34 PM

    Thanks for sharing this. Asking for help is the one I need to work on. I feel like my sleep schedule shouldnt be so important, but the fact is that it is. It would be better for me to ask someone to keep the kids than to get hypo manic or deeper depressed from lack of sleep…

  • Jennifer Marshall

    Jennifer Marshall

    June 7th, 2013 at 5:31 AM

    Thanks for reading, Lana. I know what you mean about asking for help. It took me awhile to learn that I needed to speak up, because it was what was best for everyone.

  • Kathy Morelli,LPC

    Kathy Morelli,LPC

    June 7th, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    Hi Jennifer – Thanks for sharing your story, it can only help us push for mama-baby units across the country!

  • Magdalena

    Magdalena

    July 22nd, 2013 at 4:27 PM

    I like that a real person is telling what works for bipolar
    Not just a doctor or counselor
    This is a real person who has bipolar

    Thank you for telling us what helps you
    I want to hear more real people who have ways to help mental problems like bipolar
    We dont need a doctor always telling us what to do

  • Naomi S

    Naomi S

    October 25th, 2013 at 12:16 AM

    I am 31 years old and living with bi polar. I had my first manic episode at 19 yrs old. I was hospitalized for over 3 months and after getting out the hospital and seeing a psychiatrist she took me off all my meds. This was in 2001 I was off meds for for

  • Naomi S

    Naomi S

    October 25th, 2013 at 12:31 AM

    I was off meds for 11 1/2 years no manic or depressive episodes. I thought my life was back on track until 2012 I had 2 more manic episodes after being hospitalized twice a month apart. I was put back on meds again this time for much longer a year and a half. I decided to ask my psychiatrist to wean me off or abilify and lithium after her tell me she don’t recommend me getting off my meds she still helped me wean off of them. I want my normal life back and it seemed like the meds was keeping me from doing that. So now I’m trying to beat the illness. Med free. I kn

  • Krista P

    Krista P

    November 12th, 2013 at 7:36 PM

    First I’d like to say thank you to Jennifer, it takes courage to “come out of the closet” with mental illness and come out to the world as being diagnosed bi-polar (or any other mental illness or disease). I was diagnosed bi-polar 9 yrs ago and for the first 3 to four yrs hide it from everyone. There is such a horrible stigma attached (unfortunately). Just because people can not see our sickness does NOT mean it doesn’t exist.It just makes it harder for some people to understand because it’s not a physical illness. I Know that I have gotten extremely “sick” for extended periods of times and have had to be hospitalized on numerous occasions because of my illness and still have had people say it’s mind over matter you just need to be strong in your mind. HAHAHA. Did you ever hear anyone say that to anyone with cancer or diabetes? the flu even? I just hope with education and more of us speaking out that are on the right medication and living productive lives the stigma will be laid to rest for good.

  • Krista P

    Krista P

    November 13th, 2013 at 7:01 AM

    Oh and as a added note.. Coming off meds, at least in my experience, always ultimately results in a MANIC episode which starts fantastic and ends horrible!! Everytime I would say I just want to live a normal life, i don’t want to take all these meds, I hate how they take my happy away. I’m sure my doctor was sick of hearing it over and over. Then I’d convince myself I’d be better off without them and the whole cycle would begin again. So I suppose it’s not so great to have to take meds everyday but it could be MUCH worse, and believe me majority of the population’s happy or sads (to put it lightly) are NOT the same as ours. Be very careful Niomi in your decision, I wish you think things through and talk to your dr before acting. Good vibes to all! :)

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