Friday, August 19, 2011

Coping with Bipolar

If there is one thing that a bipolar person struggles with on a daily basis, it is how to cope with the inevitable ups and downs.  For many years, I fought the roller coaster tooth and nail.  I would refuse to admit I was going into a depression or a hypomanic episode.  I would continue with the things I had to do no matter what, until eventually I completely crashed.  Finally one of these crashes landed me in partial inpatient program.

I was forced to use FMLA time at work to cut my hours in half while I recovered.  Three days a week, I spent half my day at the program (IOP) and the other half the day at work.  The other two days, I took the morning for myself and spent the afternoon at work.  This lasted for nearly two months.

At first, I hated going to IOP.  I felt like a failure.  I was failing my job, my boss, my family, my friends, my psychiatrist, and anyone else who ever tried to help me manage my bipolar.  How could I possibly have let myself get so bad?  But that is just the thing.  I didn't let myself get that depressed.  It is a chemical reaction in my brain that I can't completely control.  I can mess with it a little through medication and lifestyle choices (a regular schedule, plenty of sleep, exercise, etc.), but even when I do everything exactly right, I will still have episodes.  It is hard to see that when you are in the midst of a deep depression though.  At that moment in time, I was convinced I could have controlled it and I failed.  I was worthless because I couldn't control my own emotions.

As I continued this program, which is really like an intense therapy program, I grew to appreciate it.  I had weekly contact with my psychiatrist for quick med adjustments, I had daily contact with multiple therapists, but most importantly, I learned a huge number of new coping skills to replace the unhealthy ones and the ones that stopped working all together.  These coping skills help me prevent a return to IOP.  And now I want to share some of these tips and tricks with you.  For the next couple days or weeks (depending on how often I post), I will pull out a coping skill from my stash to highlight.  Learn it.  Practice it.  Love it.  Add them to your arsenal.  Then come back here and let me know how it worked for you. *

Focused Breathing*

For today, we will start simple with focused breathing.  This is a very simple coping tool, but it is very effective for some people.  This technique works best with your eyes closed.

Try your best to block out the sounds and noises around you and focus only on the sound of your breath.  Listen closely as you inhale deeply, hold your breath for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly.

Now inhale again while counting to 5, focusing on the sound and feel of your breath.  Hold your breath for a count of 5.  Now exhale while counting to 10, focusing on the feel as you release the air from your lungs.

Again, inhale, really filling those lungs, feeling your chest expand in all directions, for 1-2-3-4-5.  Hold for 1-2-3-4-5.  Now exhale slowly and revel in the release for 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10.

Repeat this process, focusing more and more on your breath until you feel relaxed.  Always remember to take longer to exhale than inhale.  This will prevent hyperventilation.

Once you are relaxed, you have two choices according to how you feel.  You can continue what you were doing before you became overwhelmed, or you can take a break completely and do something else that makes you happy.  If you simply cannot complete the task, it is ok!  Hand it off to someone else or put it off til tomorrow (or another time you are feeling more stable).  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.  You don't have to be Superman/Superwoman.  Chances are whatever it is will not be the cause life or death (unless you are a surgeon or something, then finish the surgery.  hehe.).

*Note:  I feel like I need to put a disclaimer of some sort.  I am NOT a doctor of any sort.  I am a bipolar patient merely sharing tools that help me cope.  If you have concerns about anything I post, please consult with your psychiatrist or primary care doctor first!