How to Get Unstuck (Escaping Bipolar Monotony)
Bipolar exists in many forms.
For Bipolar I individuals, it is an all-consuming (and generally slow) cycle of severe depression and mania.
For Bipolar II individuals, we are faced with less severe mania (hypermania) mixed with severe depression.
Those with Cyclothymic disorder alternate brief hypomanic episodes with brief periods of depression.
Some bipolar individuals are identified with mixed features, in that they may display inappropriate responses or feelings which are opposite to their current mood state.
And then there are some who rapid cycle – experiencing four or more mood episodes within a 12 month period by definition, and there are also ultra-rapid cyclers, who experience these cycles more often, sometimes changing weekly or even daily.
A lot of people who aren’t bipolar don’t understand bipolar disorder because, especially if you are in a rapid-cycling episode, it seems like mood swings. And who doesn’t get mood swings, right? But bipolar can be much more serious, and to those living it daily, it can be crucifying. And for those of us that have characteristics of many of those types? You’re spent walking your life on a balance beam, knowing that you may fall or rise, but stability is a thing of the past, a distant memory of a better time.
I was diagnosed with rapid-cycling Bipolar II with Cyclothymic tendencies in post-partum. I went to the doctor thinking I was treating the post-baby depression, when in reality, I was being labeled with the very thing that made sense, both to my current life and my childhood.
See, my doc asked the typical questions. You know—the annoying ones, the ones where they ask you to tell them about your family. She asked it after she had obtained my profile and I didn’t think a thing of it when I described my father’s reckless disregard for his marriage, our family finances, his frequent change in jobs, or his non-existent relationship with his daughter. But once I told her that he went into Charter Ridge when I was 15 for depression and then lied his way out, it clicked.
At the time of my diagnosis, I was freshly-clad with a beautiful university diploma, demonstrating my knowledge in the area of psychology. I chose psychology because of my father, actually, telling myself that I could be a better doctor who would’ve seen through his blatant dishonesty that day at Charter.
I had learned about Bipolar in many of my classes, and I had even studied the medicines used to treat the disorder and behaviors associated with the disease. I still didn’t recognize the signs in myself or in my father.
But once she said the words, I understood. I understood that I would be living a life of gymnastics, and medication, and this constant dizzy feeling of not knowing which way was up.
I didn’t know, at that time, that it would be so much. That it would be this constant tumble between introverted and extroverted, constant apologizes on repeat, this delicate decision to medicate or not to medicate (because many doctors won’t prescribe you an anti-depressant without a mood stabilizer, because just treating the depression will cause you to go UP, but mood stabilizers stop the UP, so all you’re left with is DOWN). It would be a lifelong stuck feeling, of being stuck in this body and unable to escape, of being stuck in a recliner in front of a TV playing some program that you’re not even digesting, of looking on at your life from a fixed position, stuck, wondering when/if you’ll be able to rejoin reality.
Bipolar allowed me a lot of excuses. I explained away my alcohol abuse, my sexual promiscuity, my reckless behavior. I medicated, and then went unmedicated, and then medicated again. I set goals, and lowered them, and lowered them some more, only to be disappointed that I had no goals. I still make excuses. I still make apologies on repeat. And now more than ever, I’m doing what I can to stay on the middle ground between depression and mania, finding a happy place that is both maintainable and different enough to keep me interested.
There are a lot of side effects and aspects of my bipolar that I can’t control. The stuck feeling is one of the most prominent feelings I have with regard to this disease, and it’s one of the few that I can actually put words and actions to. There are a few things that help me get unstuck. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t, but I can tell when my body and mind get restless and I need a change of scenery. I want to share them with you so that if you are stuck, you can give them a try. And please, please, please, if you have an unstuck tips, comment below. I love to try new things, especially because even the best-laid of foundations can crumble at any time in this bipolar world I’m living in.
(I’m NOT a doctor!! Feel free to listen to what worked for me, but understand that I am not trained in this AT ALL.)
1. Move furniture. This one is huge for me. It probably seems silly to you “normal” people, but I’ve always loved moving my furniture around. Sitting on the couch in the same spot gets really depressing after about 3-6 months. Staring at my computer screen through a whole work day is daunting, and sitting in the same position in my office for 6 months straight distracts me severely from my work.
2. Listen to music. Any kind of music, really. Sometimes I need the depressing shit to get me through the day. Other times, I need something extra-energetic that puts a smile on my face.
3. Move. Exercise helps bipolar a LOT. But a deeper curse of bipolar is the constant depression and fatigue that make exercise seem frivolous and like a lot of unnecessary work. Moving just a little is not too daunting, and it really helps. A yoga ball in place of my desk chair at work has been a huge savior.
4. Dance. Music + moving? That’s going to have double the impact. No, I don’t blare music through the house and dance down the halls (well, I do occasionally, and it’s very therapeutic). Usually, I play music through my headphones while I work and bounce to the beat, or I max out my speakers in my car (well, now I don’t max out because I’ve already had to have one speaker replaced!!) and jam while I drive.
5. Fidget. Depression and/or bipolar mimic a LOT of other diseases. I am not trying to take away from those other conditions, but I am just lending to the idea that things that help one person might also help another person with bipolar. When I’m feeling stuck, I am very ADD. I have trouble focusing on anything of importance, and I fidget frequently. Now, I try to embrace the fidgeting. I wear MANY bracelets that I can play with throughout the day, and my yoga ball helps with the body-fidgets. I can sit on my ball and bounce, and it helps to reduce the “thumper” leg shaking. Also, since I’ve gotten my ears pierced, my earrings are a great fidget for me too.
6. Find safe ways to experience controlled mania. This can be totally dangerous if you’re not careful, and I’m not a doctor. Repeat—not a doctor! I don’t recommend this for someone who doesn’t feel like they can return to a state of normalcy, and I also don’t recommend it for someone without a support system. But, it helps me a LOT. Promiscuity was a big marker of my uncontrolled bipolar years, before I was diagnosed. My husband and I discussed early on in our relationship having an open-ish relationship, and we have taken advantage of it a few times. (I’m lucky enough to have an amazing husband that sticks by me through the repeat apologies, and is willing to explore things like this with me. It’s not for everyone. But, we find it to be a significantly better option than not doing anything to address the issue, which has led to cheating in the past.) It’s not really the DOING it that helps the stuck feeling, but it’s knowing that the options are there.
7. Go outside. I don’t think this one really needs much explanation. Even though my stuck feeling is psychological, there are a lot physical markers in my life that contribute to it. Furniture, enclosed spaces, messes. Embrace some nature, sunshine, and the amazing sound of running water. It does wonders for the soul.
Do you have any special ways that help you get unstuck?