Living with bipolar disorder can feel challenging at times, but there are ways to cope.
With symptoms such as depressed mood or swift mood changes, bone-deep fatigue, and dark thoughts, living with mood disorders like bipolar disorder can be difficult at times.
On the days when your symptoms peak, you may feel especially frustrated and overwhelmed.
But you’re not alone in these feelings, and you can learn to manage these symptoms.
We asked people who live with mood disorders such as bipolar disorder to share what they’d like others with the same conditions to know. Most are speakers from This Is My Brave, a nonprofit organization that hosts live events and aims to “end the stigma surrounding mental illness through storytelling.”
The next time you feel overwhelmed, consider trying these helpful tips.
Living well with bipolar disorder means managing your symptoms and finding a treatment plan that works for you. Therapy is often a pivotal part of bipolar disorder treatment.
According to T-Kea Blackman, a mental health advocate and speaker who has bipolar disorder with mixed features, try finding a therapist who can help you:
- identify triggers
- learn healthy coping tools
- set boundaries
Depending on your specific mood disorder, effective treatment might also involve taking medication.
Already tried medication or therapy to no avail?
“It can take time to find the right dosage and medication, and [the right] therapist for you,” says Blackman, who encourages others not to get discouraged.
If you’re unsure where to start, you can check out Psych Central’s hub on finding mental health and support.
Sivaquoi Laughlin, a writer and mental health advocate with bipolar II disorder, suggests acknowledging small victories — which she says are actually “huge” accomplishments.
On some days, your small victories might be getting out of bed and taking a shower, says Laughlin. On other days, your victories might be meeting a deadline and going to dinner with friends.
Either way, it’s all important and worthwhile.
When your to-do list remains unchecked and you have a bad day, avoid beating yourself up, says Fiona Thomas, a writer with depression and anxiety. As one of her friends says, “Remember that your best changes when you’re not feeling well.”
Try not to compare today’s output to your output from last year or last week, says Thomas, author of the book “Depression in a Digital Age: The Highs and Lows of Perfectionism.”
“It all depends on how you’re feeling mentally, and if you’re not 100%, then just do what you can — the rest will come later.”
Thomas also suggests doing one small thing every day that makes you feel better, no matter how small it might seem. For example, Thomas says you might:
- drink a few glasses of water
- walk around the block
- talk with a friend
Laughlin fills her days with several enjoyable activities, such as:
- being with her grandson and dogs
These activities will look different from person to person. What you may enjoy, someone else might not.
Thomas says, “There are so many ways to boost your mood little by little. Over time they become habits and make you feel better without even really having to try.”
Suzanne Garverich is a public health advocate who’s passionate about fighting mental health stigma through her work on suicide prevention as well as telling her story of living with bipolar II disorder.
She wants readers to know that you “are not damaged, but [instead] so courageous and strong to live through and fight through this illness.”
Why is recording your positive days so important?
“When you’re having an off day or month or series of months, you can go back and remind yourself that you have felt differently,” says Leah Beth Carrier, MPH, a mental health advocate who has depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and PTSD.
“You’re capable of experiencing emotions other than the numb, black hole you reside in at the moment,” Carrier says. “There is hope.”
“Surround yourself with people who can support you and find an online community who can relate to you, such as the Buddy Project or my community, Fireflies Unite,” Blackman says.
You can also try Project Hope & Beyond and Tribe GBB. Or, you can check out online support groups for depression and bipolar disorder.
Crisis hotlines are also powerful supports.
“It’s OK to talk frankly with someone,” says Teresa Boardman, who has treatment-resistant bipolar I disorder and attends weekly therapy sessions, but sometimes needs more support. “I like to use the Crisis Text Line because I don’t have to break my cone of silence.”
“Expressing yourself truly makes you feel less alone,” says Boardman.
Living with bipolar disorder can be challenging. Acknowledging that you’re feeling overwhelmed or frustrated can help you process your emotions and experience.
You can also use these feelings as an indication to take it easy, be extra kind to yourself, and seek support.
And you can use them to remind yourself that you’re not alone, and you’re doing an incredible job, even on the days when it doesn’t feel like it.