I want to reconsider my bias against self-care. The increasing restrictions and disruptions we must now follow have broken my routine, and I’m worried about myself.
Adhering to a routine is crucial to living well with bipolar disorder. Mine was so strict as to seem monastic. Following it was one of the key ways I cared for myself.
I don’t usually write about self-care. In fact, most of what I read about self-care is bunk. I believe the best way to care for ourselves is to care for others, and too much time spent focusing on ourselves can aggravate feelings of alienation.
But suddenly the house is full of other people and my routine has been shattered. This has just started, and with each day’s news cycle it appears that it will be a long time before any of us can return to the routines that have served us so well.
My daily time of solitude, writing, meditating, walking the dogs and getting out and seeing friends is now impossible. Instead, my daughter is home from school and I’m scrambling to learn how to home school her, and my wife is working from home and I’m doing what I can to support her.
They’re the two most important people in my life. I love the time with both of them. But now we’re together 24-hours a day and the routine that I used to stay well, my most important effort at self-care, doesn’t serve any of us at all.
We’re putting together a schedule and budgeting free time for each of us. We’re establishing new routines lest we fall into a pit of idle wasted time and soul-crushing boredom. But the house is small and everything in the city is closed.
Suddenly, I’m feeling the rumble of a mixed-state creep into me. All this change is only beginning, and people tell me they’re already feeling the walls close in and panic is welling within them.
None of us have ever been through this before. We’re making it up as we go along.
We all need to quickly discover and establish routines and stick to them with the discipline and resolve of the monks in the monasteries I’ve visited. It’s the only way to survive a world of interior seclusion.
But first we must monitor ourselves for mood changes as our current routines falter. We must prepare ourselves for the pattern detailed in the Social Zeitgeber Hypothesis. By being aware of it, and determining where we are on its timeline, we can intervene with effective therapies. We can care for ourselves and rally the help of those close to us and avoid a violent mood swing.
The hypothesis predicts the following progression in a person with bipolar disorder when their routine is broken.
- Life events affecting interpersonal relationships and social roles
- Change in social prompts
- Change in stability of social rhythms
- Change in stability of biological rhythms
- Change in somatic symptoms
- Mania or depression
While this progression is common, it is not inevitable. At any point on the list one can intervene with an effective therapy or self-care method and avoid the predicted episode of mania or depression.
Carefully contemplate where on this list you may be and communicate this with those around you. Manage stress and express your feelings about what’s happening in the world and in your life.
Put together a new, workable routine and stick to it. Awareness of your moods enables you to begin to manage your moods. A routine does this better than anything.
Yes, reach out to others, help whoever you can, but don’t forget yourself. Take your meds, guard your sleep, do something creative, exercise and eat well. Get some fresh air. Meditate if you already have a practice. Learn to meditate if it doesn’t lead to dangerous rumination.
Discover a new routine and adhere to it. Take care of yourself. Check in with others. We’ll all get through this.
And if we pay attention to the changes on the list above and act, we can get through it without challenging mood swings.