First off, I need to say that I hate this question. It’s flippant and impersonal. Why do we greet each other with a seemingly intimate question when we could not care less what the real answer is and find it irritating if someone answers truthfully? Anything more than “Fine, you?” and you’re wasting someone’s time. It’s shallow and I hate it. Okay, soapbox over.
All that said, it is vital that you ask yourself this question often, and you should answer yourself honestly. It doesn’t have to be a particularly emotional assessment. Personally, I like numbers. I rate my mood on a scale of -5 to +5. Zero is neutral. The negative numbers are depression. The positive side is anxiety/hypomania/mania. It’s fairly simple. I don’t have to engage that much in order to self-assess. That’s important for me, especially in the areas of -1,-2 depression. During this phase is when I tend to shut down. I ignore myself and others. I put as little effort into everything as I can get away with. Because of this, if I’m going to try to recover instead of head further into a depressive state, I need to ease myself into connection. Once a number is established, then I can start asking questions.
The problem with bipolar disorder is that there is no one answer. Self-assessment is hard. There’s no way around that, but it’s the best action you can take for yourself. Knowing what to do with the information you get from self-assessment is just as hard. Okay, so you’re depressed and want to hide under a blanket and binge-watch shows without actually taking anything in. Now that you know that, what do you do? Is that okay? If it’s okay today, is it okay tomorrow? Well, before you end up in that situation, it’s best to have a plan in place.
This is not the “Do I need to go to the hospital? I think I’m starting to have a psychotic episode,” plan. That is also important, and if your personal brand of bipolar disorder means you should have that plan, then you need to make that plan.
This is an everyday/management plan. Let’s be clear, though. It’s not a schedule. It’s a contingency, and it should be flexible.
So where do you start?
You have to have a point of comparison. You’re feeling depressed or anxious compared to what or when? What’s your ideal state? What is your ideal role? This is the most important step. All of the actions from here will be based on this ideal. Don’t make it too lofty and don’t let yourself off the hook. Be brutal and be honest. I’ve shared some of my thoughts on normality before. Inform yourself and make your own normal.
Recognize and take note of what you’re feeling when you’re not at that ideal state. If you’re depressed, note your specific symptoms and any situation that surrounds them. Do the same for mania. Bipolar tends to work on a pendulum. Just as it’s difficult to make adjustments if you don’t have a base, it’s difficult to make adjustments if you don’t know how far out you are.
Recognize and remember your triggers.
Have you not had enough time alone? Have you not gotten enough sleep? Are you taking your meds correctly? Start trying to notice patterns during mood shifts. Knowing your triggers puts you ahead of the game. Even if you can’t avoid what’s coming next, at least you’re prepared.
This is where the “How are you?” comes into play. You actually have to take that moment to determine where you are, whether normal or abnormal and at where you would like to be. Ask yourself multiple times a day. Do you need to put a number to it like I do? Go for it.
What were the answers to the previous questions? What about your personal questions? What got you off your normal? Sometimes the solutions are simple. If you didn’t get enough sleep, then you should sleep more. If you’re over-stimulated, you should take a break. Not taking your meds correctly? You need to take your meds correctly! I realize that life happens and that saying you should sleep more will probably make you burst out in crying laughter at my naiveté, but you need to take care of yourself. That is the commitment you have to make every day. Sometimes the solutions are not so simple, but you still need to find them.
Following your plan isn’t going to be a sure thing. Nothing is ever sure, but your best bet is to try. Hopefully, with practice, you’ll be able to say “Fine!” and mean it.