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A Nurse’s Top 6 Tips for Managing Bipolar Disorder

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Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

So, I’m a registered nurse who struggles with bipolar disorder. I have kind of a specific form of bipolar where I mainly struggle with manic episodes, and just very mild depression infrequently. So, most people on this site who struggle with the severe poles of this illness, I truly feel for you and am here to help you in whatever way I can. I am very fortunate to have this version of bipolar, and I am grateful every day that I don’t struggle with the severe lows of depression. I still have some advice for people who live with this illness, if anyone is interested in listening.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

1. Medication management.

I believe the most important aspect of having this illness is our medication management. Making sure we take them every single day, without fail. It is also important to take them at the same time each day, if you can. Our medications are so critical to managing this illness. I know sometimes the euphoria of mania can be addicting, and the creative edge we can get when the hypomania comes out can be truly beautiful. But the debilitating highs of this illness that damage our lives can truly be prevented with strict medication management and therapy. It is so important to keep taking those medications, because the personalities we find when hypomanic/manic are not truly who we are. They are emphasized versions of ourselves, which can in turn damage aspects of our lives (our relationships, our jobs, our finances, etc.).

2. Maintain a good relationship with your psychiatrist/doctor.

These professionals are experts at managing mental illness, and it is critical to put your trust in them. There are obviously poor physicians out there, but it is still important to maintain respect and be honest with your doctor about your health. Even if they aren’t the most likable, they still have the education about hundreds of different medications that can contribute to our wellness. Taking their advice and adjusting your medications is the key to success with this illness, so forming a positive relationship with your doctor is very important.

3. Support systems.

Support systems are absolutely key to maintaining your mental health. Forming strong relationships with close people in your life is so important for when you get sick. Be open with your partners, have those difficult conversations after each episode. Learn together about how to manage things differently for the next episode. Keep talking about it because the only way your partner/loved ones will know how to help you is if you express how you feel. Sometimes, things can be difficult when you are acutely ill, but when you are stable, having those conversations and being open about what you need when you lose control of your health is so unbelievably important.

4. Counseling.

I’ve found counseling to be so essential to helping me organize my thoughts, especially when I am hypomanic. Sometimes, you just need to let off some steam and talk to someone about your stresses without the bias of your loved ones. Having a professional who is an expert at guiding you through the everyday struggles of life is important to finding stability. Sometimes, we just need someone to talk to, and at times our spouses or friends just don’t have the empathy or compassion to give us what we need in the moment. So, form a relationship with your counselor/psychologist and truly use their expertise to your advantage.

5. Self-assessments.

From my experience, it is also important to take mental notes after each episode you experience. Think about what happened prior to the episode, what symptoms led up to it, what medication dose were you on — there are so many things you can reflect on that can make your next episode better. Self-assessments are absolutely key to getting better at managing this illness, in my opinion. Assessments are the absolute root of what nursing is about — assessing symptoms, looking at trends, monitoring details all play a critical role in maintaining someone’s health.

So, doing self-assessments when you are sick, stable, almost sick, absolutely any time in your mental health journey I’ve found is truly key. Personally, I like to journal. I like to write out how my episode was and what I could have done to make things better. I also like to just let my words flow and get all my manic ideas on paper. It can be very therapeutic, and it can be fun reading what your ideas were post-episode.

6. Try to be positive.

My last bit of advice is to try to be positive when it comes to your illness. Everything can be so dark and dreary when we think about our mental illness and how it affects our lives, but having that positive perspective can truly change your life. Be the boss of your illness and how to manage things. Take control of your life and truly be the best version of yourself, by following through with your therapies and listening to the advice from your support team.

Try to keep smiling, because this illness does not define you. You are so much more than your diagnosis. Take things one episode at a time, and things will just get better and better.

Getty image by Halfpoint

Originally published: August 31, 2021
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