themighty logo

Listening to Your Body When You Live With Bipolar Disorder


We’ve all been told at some point in our lives that exercise will make us feel better. And while that may be true, it’s not always that easy for those of us who live with a mental illness. Especially those of us with bipolar disorder.

See, with bipolar disorder there is a fine line between mania and depression, and then there’s the gray area in between. Triggers can make exercising and routines difficult to achieve, and here’s why.

In order for me to have the energy to work out, I need caffeine… which just so happens to be my biggest trigger. If I have too much, I’m hypomanic, but eventually take the spiraling plunge to the inevitable crash that follows. It’s like being pumped full of adrenaline to ski down a slippery slope and suddenly losing control! Before you know it, you’re crumpled at the bottom of the hill, but with no energy to climb back up again.

So then I’m faced with a dilemma: do I do something that I know triggers me so I can feel better for a little while and then end the night crying and yelling because I’m so tired and irritated? Or do I skip working out and end the night feeling so tired, and a little less irritated?

In a difficult to explain kind of way, caffeine is my trigger, but exercise is my solution. Because you know, luckily for me, I have been able to learn my body and gauge how I’m going to react to the trigger of caffeine. When you have been struggling with bipolar disorder as long as I have, you tend to learn your body and moods to decipher what will work and what won’t. I can tell when I’m “up” mentally but “down” physically, if I take anything with caffeine I will put myself into overdrive, only to crash later. But if I feel tired mentally and tired physically, I know if I have just a little bit of caffeine, I will be able to get through a workout and not crash after. I also know, if I am “down” mentally and “down” physically, taking anything with caffeine would be a disaster and instead of making me hypomanic I would become more depressed.

That’s the thing with mental illness. There’s a balancing act we struggle with all day long. Even when it comes to making decisions that could benefit our health… sometimes it could make our health worse. If you’re anything like me, all you would like to do is be the type of person who can exercise every day, work hard at a job you love without struggling to keep up and be able to balance those things with a productive and exciting home life.

I’m naturally too hard on myself, so I convince myself that if I can’t achieve those things I am not worthy of a happy life. But I also have to remind myself that I can only do my best and I need to accept when I’m struggling, and that it’s OK to take my time with exercising to feel better.

Some days I rock at life and some days I need to skip the gym, lay in bed in my PJ’s and pig out on soul food. It’s called balance, and that’s OK.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via fizkes