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How I Create Structure in My Bipolar Days

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I used to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal. Work provided the only structure to my days, back when I was able to work in an office. It wasn’t always the same structure, depending on the job, of course. I have worked various shifts over the course of my checkered career — first, second, and third. I adjusted to them fairly well (except when I was working third shift and going to grad school in the mornings).

That all changed when I quit my last office job. I remember feeling so free. I basked in the ability to do freelance work whenever, run errands, go to sleep, and wake up whenever. Of course, I was hypomanic at the time, which I should have recognized because of the golden glow that seemed to envelop my days. Naturally, the crash came, along with the absence of freelance work to do. Then, when I fell into a deep depression, anything resembling a schedule fell apart. I didn’t have a specific time for going to bed or waking up, for eating, reading, errands including bill paying, and even showering. Without that structure, I had trouble finding a reason to get out of bed.

Now I’m stable on medication and therapy, and my days have fallen into more of a pattern. I still work at home, but for a company that gives me ghostwriting work. It has a built-in rhythm to it. Most of my assignments are 30,000 words long and due in 21 days. They want us writers to average 1,500 words a day. I divide that up into 750 words in the morning and 750 in the afternoon. I work weekends at this pace, too.

Fortunately, I find 1,500 words a day eminently doable. My daily schedule consists of mornings spent breakfasting, paying bills, keeping track of appointments, or making necessary phone calls (which is my usual role in running the household).

Then mid-morning, my husband calls on his break from work. Part of the reason is to make sure I’m OK, but most of the time I’m fine and we simply talk, often about what I’ve scheduled for the rest of the week. (I keep track of his appointments and phone calls too. Sometimes I feel like I have a second job as Dan’s secretary.) After we talk, I begin my first stint of writing for the day, my first 750. I’m generally done in time to have lunch around 12:00. Dan calls again in the early afternoon, and I begin my second 750 afterward. When he gets home, we spend time together and have dinner around 7:00.

Those are my daily schedules, which I don’t really need a planner for. When it comes to weekly schedules, I do use a computer app. Our “weekend” is Sunday and Monday because of Dan’s work, but I work on my writing anyway. My calendar is filled with bills to pay by a certain date, appointments we each have to go to (which I remind Dan about), and notes indicating when my 30,000 words are due. I also make note of which weeks are for recycling. (The day before trash day, there’s frantic cleaning.) I have a blog that I post in on Sundays. I have a weekly internal schedule for that, too. I start writing them on Tuesdays, have them at least mostly finished on Fridays, tweak and tag them on Saturdays, and publish on Sunday mornings at 10:00.

Having these systems in place keeps me on an even keel which, after all, is my goal as a person with bipolar disorder. My days are predictable, but not boring because I don’t find writing boring, even if it’s on someone else’s topic. Does it seem too regimented? All I know is, it works for me.

This past week, I went on vacation, so for one week, my schedule was largely out the window. I looked forward to staying up late, sleeping late, having meals whenever we felt like it, spending time reading or shopping or sightseeing or watching movies whenever we wanted. Because, as much as I like my structure, I need a break from it at times. Sometimes I take a few days off between book assignments to work on other projects like organizing my jewelry armoire or my desk.

It’s a balancing act, really. Enough structure to keep me focused, but not so much that it becomes a rut. Dan’s phone calls help. Having time in the mornings and evenings before and after I write helps. And my most important routine, of course—taking my meds in the morning and at night. That’s a part of my day’s structure I never want to neglect.

Originally published: April 5, 2024
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