It’s interesting to watch the cascade of emotions that arise when the world is changing around us. Even people without bipolar are feeling the roller-coaster emotions that those of us with bipolar live with naturally. I’d like to share some prompts and strategies that are helping me find peace amidst the chaos.
In the last three months, I’ve had over 100 mood swings. I already deal with rapid cycling, but this is ridiculous. I have a form of bipolar disorder called “ultradian rapid cycling.” This means during times of stress I can have a mood swing every day and sometimes have more than one mood swing a day. This is not a common form of the illness.
Bipolar never warns you how it’s going to react. It might be that some have responded extremely well to isolation, stress, and physical distancing, but I doubt they are looking for help on a site dedicated to sharing information and inspiration about bipolar disorder.
Since you’re here, I’m going to assume that you
or someone you care about is struggling. I want to share what I’m doing
and offer specific questions and strategies you can use yourself to find some
peace amongst the chaos.
Questions for Finding Calm in Chaotic Times
#1 What Do You Need?
Is it stability? Or maybe you need more energy? What
if your desire is human connection? I’ve found that getting clear on
what I actually want and need is the first step to
I am going to use myself as an example to share my
system. Bipolar is so freaking chaotic that I will often go after
what isn’t really good for me at all—so starting from a place of clarity
#2 What are you avoiding, putting off, or turning up your
nose at that just might actually make you feel better?
I Need Human Contact.
I’ve had trouble with isolating for a long time, and recent
events have only made things worse. I poo-poo online meetings, as they are
a lot of trouble, and sitting through them hurts my back! This is
If I am in a world crisis and my need is to be around others and I can’t physically go to a friend’s or family member’s house, then I darn well better get off my high horse and learn to be online for companionship.
So, I signed up for a trivia Zoom event this weekend.
I LOVE trivia, and it’s put on by the pub where I often do
marketing, so I know the owners. I will not cancel, and I will be with
#3 Does your brain allow you to make your
own decisions about what you need?
I Bought Alcohol.
Here is what I find odd about this. I don’t like drinking, and I
truly don’t drink alcohol. Eating is my addiction.
But, one day, I simply couldn’t take another evening of being by
myself, and I bought a drink to have at home. It didn’t do what I hoped it
I was still alone!
If you’re drinking more alcohol, overusing other substances, or—like myself—having a really hard time with overeating right now, remember, you are simply human.
Did you know we can never get enough of
what we don’t really want?
I am going to be nice to myself and try not to gain weight.
Weight loss probably isn’t possible. I am just going to focus on
health. It might not be the time for you to stop whatever you’re
using or overusing—but aiming for moderation is a start.
We are in a crisis, and this is not always
the best time to end rough behaviors, but it IS a good time to be kind
to ourselves so that we use less.
If any kind of substance use or overuse has really become a
problem, ask for help. I can’t say this enough:
Ask for help.
#4 Is there something you assume you can’t do—but that you
might be able to do?
I Am Going to See My Doctor.
I have done telemedicine for months, but now I simply need to
see her. We will practice all of the required physical distancing and
safety measures and be very careful, but I need this. It is essential for me,
as someone with bipolar, a psychotic disorder, a head injury, anxiety, and
pain (this body!) to have some form of human contact.
If you need the same, then what can you do to have human contact
with your doctor? You don’t know if it’s possible until you
At first, my doctor had to meet people in the parking
lot in full protective gear. I live in a place where it is relatively safe, and
we simply have to follow protocol. I know that you might live somewhere
that requires total isolation, but I am putting this out there just
in case you can see your doc, safely, in real life.
I will be in the car until our appointment. I will not stay
in the lobby. I will not touch anything I don’t have to, and I will have
on a mask, as will she.
To Recap: Start at the Very Bottom, the Root of Your Troubles
My first question was, what is my foundational
I realized, quickly, it is to be with people.
Drinking didn’t bring me closer to people.
Calling friends, sending pictures, asking how people are doing, focusing on positive posts on social media. These things help me. The trivia will help. I just have to make sure I don’t cancel if I’m not feeling well. I will show up, darn it!
Who Knows What Helps You? You Do! What Do You NEED?
We will get through this—depression and mania might be our companions, as well as psychosis and anxiety—but bipolar is an illness, and these symptoms are a natural reaction to a world crisis.
If you don’t have a plan yet for the next few months, what can
you start today?
Here’s how I started my day: I was feeling restless, a bit
hopeless, and grappling with thoughts that my friends had abandoned me.
I felt this way because I can’t just go see people. My
feelings were real, but they were not reality.
I can move my body to end the restlessness.
I can do what feels good to add hope to my life.
And I can darn well pick up the phone and call someone if I am
What is your main need and how do you fill it?
Action creates stability. We are in
this together and we can find peace.
Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get It Done When You’re Depressed, and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. She is a columnist and blogger for bp Magazine, and she won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lilly Reintegration Achievement Award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for ShareCare, a site created by Dr. Oz and Oprah. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals, including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists, and general practitioners, on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis, and Depression." You can find more about her work at JulieFast.com and BipolarHappens.com.
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