3 Ways to Recover From a Bipolar Mood Episode

When people talk about the challenges of bipolar disorder, they sometimes talk about the irresponsible decisions made during a manic episode or the unimaginable low points of a depressive episode. They rarely consider one question: how do I pick up all the pieces when I’m stable? This is a part of the disorder that I’m particularly self-conscious about. Why isn’t my life up and running smoothly when I’m not having an episode? Why haven’t I just gotten over it?

It often feels like a mood episode, especially a depressive episode, results in time lost. Time lost doing what you would normally do. Time lost functioning. Time that others are using to socialize, work and go about their day. When I’ve just escaped a mood episode, I look at the wreckage left behind and feel overwhelmed with the task of rebuilding.

Here’s what I had to learn the hard way:

1. Give yourself a break.

I’ve learned that stability, at first, means taking things slowly. It’s hard to imagine doing that when you’re back on an even keel and wanting to get things back in order. But working too hard at it can result in burnout, and lack of rest can even trigger another episode. Once I was out of a depressive episode, I found myself doing too much at once — clean the house, apply to every job under the sun, get everything in order. I was too hard on myself and I was exhausted as a result. I had to force myself not to do it all in one day, because at the end of the day, I’m still a human being. Stability is not a superpower.

2. Make a list of what is meaningful to you.

I lose sight of what is truly important to me during a mood episode. When I was hypomanic, I could barely keep focus and started a million projects I’d never finish. When I was depressed, I wouldn’t want to do anything at all. Keeping a journal helped me work through what I wanted out of life. What aspects of your life do you want to focus on? Maybe you had a hobby you haven’t worked with in a while. Maybe you want to reconnect with an old friend. Whatever is important to you is worth going after. I neglected my writing for the longest time, and forgot how much I loved it. The work I produced once I was stable wasn’t great, but it was something. I kept at it, and got better as I went along. Don’t judge yourself if things don’t work out right away. It’s like learning to walk after a cast comes off. It will be hard at first, but it becomes more manageable with time.

3. Self-care still matters.

Once you’re feeling better, it’s easy to backslide on self-care. I figured that I wasn’t “sick” anymore, so I didn’t deserve to take care of myself. But my bipolar disorder doesn’t go away just because I’m feeling better. I had to learn that self-care isn’t what I do to spoil myself. It’s an important part of maintaining my mental health. I don’t need to be worthy of self-care — it’s a portion of the work it takes to manage my disorder.

Recovering from an episode is never easy. There are residual feelings of guilt, insecurity and uncertainty. I’ve realized that this isn’t a time to clean my entire life up. It’s a time to rediscover myself, maintain my health and remember that my condition does not control everything in my life.

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Thinkstock photo via agsandrew

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