What 'Self-Care' Means When You Have Bipolar Disorder
Self-care has been all the rage for a while now. Sales for bath bombs and face masks have been through the roof, I’m sure. And there’s also been some clap back about the difference between pampering and self-care. I’m not here to argue about what counts as real self-care and what doesn’t. These are just the things I’ve noticed have helped me walk the line between my best self and my best self with bipolar disorder.
The Easy Stuff
I know, I know. I said I wasn’t here to define. But you have to start somewhere, right? This suggestion comes from knowing what makes my day a little better. In a manic state, I want to feel luxurious, to feel like royalty. And there is no easier way than to pop on a mask, toss a bath bomb into my tub and put on some empowering mood music. It encourages me. It energizes me. In depression, these things remind me that I deserve to take care of myself. That I may not feel empowered, but I am still fighting. These little pampering moments are my rewards for making it through the tough days.
I’m still struggling with this one. Everyone suggests exercise to improve your mood. But I’ll let you in on a secret: I hate working out. I hate sweat. And that means I have to get crafty with my workouts. Swimming, tai chi, calisthenics and low intensity workouts mean I’m not lying in my bed waiting for sleep, and I also get to burn a little of that manic energy. But workouts aren’t the only physical self-care! Staying hydrated or taking your vitamins are quick ways you’re putting yourself first. Your body can’t function to the best of its ability if you’re not giving it the stuff it needs. And speaking of: if you manage your conditions with medicine, take them! There is no shame in having a prescription so your body can keep going. If your meds aren’t working as well as you want them to, make an appointment and see if you can change up some things!
It’s OK to have bad days. Give yourself permission to be human. If I’m having a tough time pulling myself out of a depressed cycle, I usually take a day or two to just be there. I may not believe it will get better, but I don’t have to force it. I can sit at home and focus on resting, drinking water and healing myself. On the upswing, I have a lot of frantic energy when I’m manic, and that can get me into some interesting moments. Even though I won’t want to, learning to take breaks and give myself five or 10 minutes where I try to refocus (or do a meditation to ground myself) can make the difference between a bad decision and being in control. Lean into the emotions. Give yourself breaks. Be human.
Being spiritual and being religious don’t have to mean the same thing here. If going to church or synagogue or mosque lifts you up, do it! If going outside and breathing in fresh air or planting succulents in cute DIY containers gives you peace of mind, do that! Find something that connects you to a higher feeling: prayer, meditation, community service or whatever gives you a sense of peace and purpose are things that you should regularly engage in.
This one is a big one for emotional types. Do you feel energized or depleted when you’re with a bunch of people? Is there someone you go to in order to recharge your batteries? Do you know when to keep your plans or cancel? Set boundaries for yourself. It will feel like you’re cutting social engagements out, but in the end you’ll have more energy (more spoons too!) for events you really want to attend. Sometimes this will be hard to swallow — I know I’ve missed a couple friend activities because I spread myself too thin and had to back out. Sometimes this will be the best decision in the world — like refusing to take on another shift at work so that you can rest. Whatever your boundaries look like, make them and keep them. They’re for the best.
Self-care doesn’t have to break into “right here, right now” categories. Some of the best ideas for self-care (for me) are actually preventative ones. I make little survival packs in case I can’t handle the task later. Meal prepping is a great example of this. I usually get a couple days of weird moods before I go fully manic or entirely depressed. These few days (as much as I won’t want to) I spend making food for the next week or so. It helps future me stay on track and gives me a little breathing room. I’ve also got long-term preparations that I call survival packs. These are filled with comfy clothes, coloring books, essential oils, my favorite candy and inspirational sayings for when I’m too depressed to do much else. For mania, I include some cash (my spending budget for when I want to shop), a list of DIY videos to try myself and granola bars (a healthier snack than straight candy bars!). Having these prepared ahead of time means I get to worry less about those emotion-based decisions and more about living through the moods. This isn’t the most glamorous of self-care items, but it’s one that I use the most.
Self-care, however you define it, is meant to help you live your best life. If you are able to connect with your body’s needs and find ways to healthily cope with life, you’re on the right track. Picking one of these areas is a great place to start, but self-care is about the whole self, and finding balance. Mental illness can take up a lot of your time and energy. Self-care can bring that focus back to yourself.
Have any great suggestions I didn’t think of? Pop them in the comments below!
Photo by Drop the Label Movement on Unsplash