When I started having greater mood swings and episodes than the other kids around me, I was about 12. At 15 I was diagnosed with cyclothymia, and at 18 this was changed to Bipolar 1. I use ‘realised’ instead of ‘diagnosed’ because I knew what was going on with me long before diagnosis, and I don’t think diagnosis is the be all and end all. I hold the label of bipolar very dear to me, but through my own definition for what it means in my life. Bipolar disorder is an awful thing, and many people die from it. But through necessity to survive, having bipolar disorder has forced me to expand my view of myself, the world, creativity and more. And for that I am very grateful.
I was also grateful to realise I was bipolar, but I do know this is not the experience for many people. Regardless of whether you are happy or not, or expected the diagnosis/ realisation, discovering that you have bipolar is a big thing. So here are some things I wish someone had told me/ wish I’d known when I realised I was bipolar. Whether I would have listened to them is a different issue, and the journey to discover them is something I wouldn’t trade for the world. However if you have been recently diagnosed with bipolar I hope maybe this list will help you make sense of it all. Please take what resonates and leave what doesn’t:
- Understand that you are the same person as before your diagnosis and any bipolar diagnosis is not a death sentence, it is completely manageable.
- You get to define what bipolar means to you. It is your label to claim or not, your language to choose if you use or not.
- Connect and learn from others.
I’m not talking just medical doctors, I mean real people with real experience, whether that be through peer support groups (which exist), reading books and biographies, learning about different mental health practices, nature, social media etc.
- Define what healing means for you.
This is so important – no one gets to tell you what healing looks like. It may never be the idea of healing society gives (and probably should never be given how the human body actually works even for neurotypicals). Maybe it is creating a life where you have the space to be less productive, or maybe it’s not no depression but shorter depression etc etc. If you define your healing, you will be ok.
- For practical things you can start right away:
- Track your moods (I use the app e-moods)
- Limit alcohol and drugs
- Keep a journal (can help work out thoughts and keep track), or have another self reflective practice
- Start a gratitude practice
- Create routines – sleep in particular is often a very important thing to have routine around for bipolar people, although I am notoriously bad at it
- Connect with your body. Exercise is very good, but I also mean on a deeper level of learning how to listen to your body, where tension and trauma is being held and how to release it etc
- Research any medications.
Medication is often touted at the main treatment for bipolar disorder and I am not saying that is isn’t life changing for many, because it is, but many of the drugs have different effects and side effects that you may not be fully aware of before starting them, so please take the time to research independently if you can.
And also – you do not have to take medication. If a bipolar person stops or chooses not to take medication they are often seen as very unwell, unrealistic etc. Some are forcibly medicated. I hope to see an end to all forced medication one day. It is not right for everyone and you should be able to make that choice. But obviously please give it serious thought – and never come off medication without consulting doctors first on how to do so because withdrawals can be really damaging.
It’s not a lot, but it is a start. Take it one day at a time and healing is possible. You are not alone. If you have any other questions please let me know! Sending love and support to you all today xx