A person learns a lot managing a mental illness over a lifetime. I recently heard from a reader who’s been doing it for decades.
The woman, Althea, said that she has been dealing with bipolar disorder for 30 years. That’s about how long I’ve had a diagnosis, so I asked her to write a note on how she manages the disease. She was caring enough to allow me to reprint it. Althea writes:
Re: manic depression, there are some things I do and some I don’t. Let’s start with the negatives.
No drugs unless prescribed by someone with a degree
Keep your mouth shut. Very few people know my dx; my immediate family, daughter’s fiancé, GP and provider. This is how I intend to keep it because I’ve learned that folks on the other side get really uncomfortable and won’t want to deal with you.
Introspection- too much is bad, just do what you need to do and don’t overthink it.
For me I need a bit more sleep than the average person, on work days 9-4:30 am and when I’m off I get a bit more. My sleep habits are extremely important in keeping my condition in check.
Food- organic when I can- check out the dirty dozen. Whole Foods, we do almost all our own cooking. Glass containers and never heat food in plastic.
Relationships- they’re work but they’re worth it.
Outside- walk outside on your lunch break, especially if it’s sunny.
Plan fun- put this stuff on your calendar and you’re more likely to do it.
This is great advice for maintaining you mental health. Three points deserve comment.
First, calling the illness manic depression. Some of us old folks still prefer this term. I do. It’s much more descriptive of what we suffer from and a lot less inclusive of other less disruptive mood disorders that camp out under the rubric of bipolar disorder.
Second, the reference to keeping your mouth shut. Yes, there is a terrible stigma against people with bipolar disorder. Some of us talk about our struggles with the disease, and others choose to keep it secret. They must be respected in their silence.
Today many people live openly with bipolar disorder, and people love to read about celebrity struggles with disruptive moods. However, people diagnosed this century have no idea how challenging it was to function in society years ago, pre-HIPAA, if employers, acquaintances, bankers, your kid’s friends’ parents, co-workers or neighbors knew you had a mental illness. It was not accepted. There was a lot less tolerance for crazy people. For some of us, there still is.
Finally, the comment on introspection. I’m very curious. Loved ones often tell me I think too much. Sometimes, when I fall into deep rabbit holes of introspection I come out the other side in a full blown episode. But I’m a writer, that’s what I do.
Most people successfully operate on a need to know basis. Therapy is important for many of us with mental illness, and therapy, of course, is an exercise in introspection. But it’s guided. It’s designed to be safe. Our own intellectual musings may be less so. Althea is not saying be ignorant, she’s saying be careful.
Know the things that will help you, and avoid the things that won’t. Find your comfort zone in how you manage your mental illness and stick with it.
For information on my upcoming book: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis, join the Facebook group Practicing Mental Illness.