Whenever I speak to a large group of people about being bipolar, they always want to know about my coping strategies. They want to know what I do when my life is going a little too fast, or when I am moving to slow to get help. They want to know, how I get through each day, month, year and remain safe, stable, and happy. I feel that though my strategies are based on my individual personality, most of them are rather universal. So, here is a list of the things that help me get through life relatively smoothly, for now anyways...
A Support Network:
I can't move forward without some form of support network. (Actually, I could if I had to, but they sure make life a hell of a lot easier.) My family has fought long and hard to help me get the treatment, doctors, medication, and education I need both to help me cope with my first onset of bipolar, and my life today. They were always there to stand with me, even when I may not have wanted them there. On that note, my doctors, counselors, and psychiatrists have all been amazing sources of stability. They are my solid ground when my life begins to sway, shake, or completely break to pieces. My boyfriend has also been an amazingly huge influence on my life. He has been through my rougher times and was the one to help me move from a extremely harmful lifestyle to one where I feel comfortable not drinking, doing drugs, or constantly partying. I also have amazing friends that sat with me in the worst of days. Wonderful ex-boyfriends, old roommates/best-friends and adopted sisters always make life much easier to swallow.
For me this was one of the hardest choices. If you ask most 18-21 year olds what they do on the weekends, especially those in a college or dorm setting, they will tell you that they drink. They go to parties. They go to bars. And I was just your average 18-21 year old, minus the fact that I was bipolar. I was a little more then effected by the late nights, the excessive drinking, the drugs. I was stuck in a cycle where all of my friends drank, and all of my coping mechanisms involved putting my mind in a different state. In the first years of my diagnosis I didn't want to think about how awful I felt. I wanted to be "normal." I wanted a quick distraction. I wanted to be everything I envisioned a "bipolar" person being: a mess. It took a lot of work, a lot of self talks, and good friends, and eventually some pretty scary moods swings to get me to move into the healthy lifestyle I live now. It would also have never happened without fate leading me to good friends who lived healthy lifestyles. Good friends who had been through pain, substance abuse, and eventually the decision to get straight. Good friends who inspired me to change my ways. It is also amazing that one of these good friends has become an amazing boyfriend and best friend.
Today my lifestyle has included sleeping well, eating well, meditating, flossing, running, yoga, reading, music, and lots and lots of writing. I try to allow myself time to do the things that I know make me happy. These also happen to be the things that make my previous life of parties and anger seem like such a waste of time and energy.
Now, this is something I think about a lot, but it has also been a big conflict within me. When I began skills training with a counselor in high school she used to tell me things like, "look at yourself in the mirror and say, I am beautiful..." and I used to leave and swear that I would never go back to an appointment with her again. But I did, and every time she used to say some other hooky skill I should use to make myself feel better. The next counselor I went to used to tell me to look in "my boxes." And I would again leave feeling angry and skeptical and decide I never wanted to see her again. It took me years to get to the point where I found a counselor I trusted enough to tell them that I hated those homework assignment kinds of exercises. I told her that I didn't want to be counseled by Oprah. I didn't want to be told to be kind to myself, unless it was hidden in something else she was saying. It was through my true honesty about my treatment that I began to actually use some of the advice I received from my counselors. Today I have developed a group of core skills that help me get through the rough patches in life. It was only through the skill of my counselors and the trust I eventually developed that I began to find life skills that worked for me, (that weren't cheesy or what I thought of as stupid.)
This was a hard one for me. I am not always a fan of medication. It has not always had the best effect on me and at two different moments it literally almost killed me. Now, I am a girl that likes my body to be healthy and natural, I don't want a bunch of chemicals deciding what mood I am in, but after two hospitalizations I have come to terms with the fact that medication isn't always bad. Today I am on Lamictal and Trileptal. It has taken me about 13 medications to get to two that work for me, and I have now been on these for about two years. I am on medication now because I know that I am not ready to be off of it. Even though I have changed my lifestyle and have become much healthier I am still not an expert on my body or my illness (if you can call it that.) I am still not aware of the natural ways to get out of a paralyzing depression or an extreme case of mania. And until I know that I am ready and able to use my new skills to get me to a safe place I will stay on medication. It is a slow process and I have only been diagnosed for four years. One thing I do know, however, is that I will not be on medication forever. I will get to the point where I am aware and educated enough in my body and mind that I will feel comfortable being off medication. Someday I may want to travel to a third world country to save children, or someday I may want to have children of my own. If these things happen, I want to be free of medication. I do want to find a natural way to deal with my minds many states, but for now, I will continue my self-education from the safe place of medication.
These are just a few of the things I think about everyday when it comes to my health in my body and mind. I hope this is insightful, if not helpful, and please realize that each persons coping skills are different based on their own needs and understandings of the world.
(The picture in blue was taken by Ms. Morgan Minear at the MOMA while we were watching a video installation)