Can You Learn to Limit the Impact of Your Next Break?

This post was inspired by a recent post at SpeakingBipolar.com.

About 30 years ago I met a psyche doctor who told me the more often you have a break, the greater the likelihood of having a break again. This was directed at the highs and lows, and this doctor requested me to go off alcohol which I have for 30 years and caffeine (which I did for 12 years and then stopped). Knowing this propensity was a great motivator in seeking and obtaining good self care including meds and other forms of care over the years. I tend to call this managing risk. If I manage or minimize the risk of one break, in theory I am (or am I?) managing or minimizing the risk of that or a similar break occurring again in the future.

This seeking good self care and med management and risk management did not start immediately for me but did begin once I was on Clozapine in 2008. This was my bottom out low is as far as it goes time.

Using this logic if it is accurate means that in some respects if I can “learn” from a prior episode, I am more likely to be successful in staving off or managing severe bipolar symptoms the next time. One success begets more success.

So how do you get to the place where you are learning not to break from current or on-going trauma? How can managing a current break help to minimize the risk of a future break? These are steps that I take. They don’t always work 100% of the time but they do help me learn to go around an episode and/or lessen its impacts and/or avoid another one head-on that is so severe that hospitalization is required. This has been the case since 2008 — fourteen years.

  1. I keep a journal of thoughts and self care and regular activities and feelings on a daily basis. A quick sentence or two for each day is all that is needed. I share the journal with my therapist.
  2. I get psyche meds prescribed from a psyche doctor and stay with the regimen. (In the past I have not done this.)
  3. If the regimen is not working I negotiate a change with the doctor.
  4. I keep in regular contact with my therapist. I seek to be as transparent as possible. Secrets tend to create a life of their own.
  5. I read my journal back to myself and see if I am acknowledging and managing triggers or not. This requires knowing what my triggers are like poor sleep, taking too much on in the day, talking down to myself, limiting that internal critic and so forth.
  6. Also I give myself credit for making baby steps in my journal. Perhaps I did not walk 2 miles every day for a week but did walk 2 miles for 4 days last week. Tell myself how much progress this is. Give myself credit for baby steps instead of listening to the critic talk that I am not doing enough.
  7. I get as much exercise as my mental health will allow. I start with small steps like a half mile walk and gradually build up to 2 miles plus. Or practice yoga with a class or on my own.
  8. Tire out my body in order to tire out that mind.
  9. I reach out to my support circle and let them know how I am feeling. Sometimes just acknowledging how I feel tends to diffuse the tension. It helps me to know others are aware I am having an off day.
  10. Eat well if and when I can. Avoiding empty calories. This includes accepting body image impacts of taking meds – ie. weight gain.
  11. Reach out to a friend I haven’t talked to in a while. Arrange a time to meet and walk or just enjoy talking with that person over the phone.
  12. Remind myself that there are always those who are struggling as much if not more than I am. This does require being part of a community. A church community, a mental health community, an on-line mental health community, a neighborhood community? A community hit by hurricane Ida? I seek to reach out and make some sort of contribution to the communit(ies)I am a part of. It helps me to know I can be of help to others even when I am not at the top of my game.
  13. Finally, be kind to myself. It is not my fault I have bipolar disorder. It is not my fault that certain consequences and behaviors trend to follow that diagnosis. I have to learn to forgive myself for sometimes “crazy” or ill-conceived acts. Ill-conceived acts here refers literally to acts I have taken while ill. I seek to forgive myself as readily for those acts as I seek to forgive others.

What do you think? Do you think we have any control over the propensity to have a full-fledged breakdown over time? If we cannot entirely steer clear of it can we at least learn to experience less dramatic highs or lows? Does this argument erroneously assume that the patient has the power to learn a better outcome or is the outcome already set in stone?

What Makes a Marriage Work?

This is a reworking of a comment I left on a prior blogpost I read and commented on….

I did not meet my husband (one and only) until I was 38 years old. Before then I had been in a series of relationships, some lasting a while (almost three years) and some not lasting long at all. I seemed for years to go back and forth between men who were like my father and men who were like my step-father. This yoyoing back in forth consumed all of my twenties and some of my early thirties. I was engaged to be married to someone before my current husband arrived on the scene.

I learned from that failed engagement that a couple does well to share a belief in God and to argue well. My fiance had clinical depression so on that level we understood each other’s behavioral health challenges. I have bipolar illness. But our relationship was toxic. We always had the same argument over and over. Why aren’t you opening up? Why aren’t you letting me in? Eventually he would call off the engagement, but it was a friendly parting. Years later he wrote and seemed to wonder about our getting back together. I had already moved on.

After the engagement broke off, I began a period of celibacy. This lasted for almost 7 years. During that time I stopped with the yoyo dating and focused inward on myself and my job. It was very important for me to validate myself during those years with something other than a relationship (short-term or otherwise) with a man. I did not even kiss a man for this 7 year period before I met my soon-to-be husband.

I met my current husband (one and only) at an online data service in 2001- this was very early in the web dating sphere. That is a story in and of itself. The first thing I noticed was that our mutual faith in God seemed to make things easier. I also noticed a couple of other characteristics of our relationship as it started to grow and mature. These are my insights into what has made my marriage a successful endeavor for someone with bipolar illness and someone with addiction issues.

For me there are three keys that help my marriage work – though I cannot guarantee these will work for everyone. Hold some sort of faith belief in common. It helps me through the darkest hour if that is not a topic that I argue about with my spouse but one that grounds me in that relationship. Second, be able to argue well. I try not to always go back to the I told you so’s. I try to make each argument have a beginning, middle and end. I try to learn from it once it’s over instead of drudging it up over and over. Finally, a sense of humor goes a very long way. I find it important to be able to laugh at myself and with my partner. It is amazing how a good laugh clears the air.

In addition to these three items, I am adding the ability to be thankful to God for people who are helpful in my life’s journey. I am still working on being thankful every day instead of always asking God for something. There is so much to be thankful for. So here is my two moments of marriage wisdom. Took me until I was 38 to figure it out – still figuring it out at 56. Oh well, later is better than never. 🙂