Love Through Bipolar

This post might be triggering, as it discusses loving someone with a mental illness, so here is the official **TRIGGER WARNING** Topics discussed in this post include bipolar disorder and loss.

I Was Enchanted

I could go on for a while about all the good things about Jake because there were so many.

But yet, he struggled, like many of us do. When I met him, I really had no idea. Mental illness really isn’t the first thing most people talk about when they first meet someone. In fact, our first conversation was about Julian. However, ADHD and autism is a whole different story from bipolar disorder.

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Jake had beautiful blue eyes and a smile that would melt your heart. I didn’t know that he hid so much, even up until the very last day I saw him, the day before he died.

Meds and the Truth

I’ve tried many medications for migraines and one just happened to be Depakote. This is also used to treat mental health illnesses, including bipolar disorder. We were talking about this one day and finally…

I take that too, but not for migraines.”

What?? Was this it? I’d been waiting for Jake to say something. I’d seen signs of something going on, but I wasn’t sure what. Sometimes we would talk constantly and then go days without speaking. His birthday had just gone by and instead of wanting to hang out, he had said he’d rather be alone. He’d even told me he considered himself as a “project” for me to take on. I didn’t see him like that at allย and made sure he knew it.

“What do you take it for?”

He looked away for a minute and then back. “Because I have bipolar disorder.”

Well, then, that was explained. He actually asked me if that changed how I felt about him (nope, not even a little). Apparently, this had caused issues in the past. Some people just aren’t equipped to deal with it, but that’s still really painful for the person involved.

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“The stakes are high, the water’s rough..” – “Ours”, Taylor Swift

Jake’s darker side did make a few appearances, but never once did he get aggressive towards me. We argued a bit, but that’s it. In two years, he only yelled at me twice. Me? More. But then, I’m just naturally loud.

Meds? It’s a well-known fact that many people that have bipolar disorder (and other illnesses) have compliance issues with taking medications, and he was one of them. Along with his brother, I tried to remind and encourage him to take his medications, but it didn’t always work.

Jake and I learned how to read each other- I have always been good at reading others. Thanks to this skill, I was able to tell when he was or wasn’t taking his meds, or when he was or wasn’t having a good day. This helped on his end when I was deeply upset and didn’t want to talk.

He tried so hard to hide this from me, but I still saw everything. I told him that I wasn’t scared of what he was trying to hide. I needed to see it to know what I was dealing with. There were days he just wasn’t the person I knew. He wouldn’t talk or return my texts, but everything was in his eyes.

In his manic episodes, he’d barely sleep, get paranoid (this went really bad a couple months before he died and we didn’t speak for a month), and other things would happen. In a depressive episode, he basically shut down. I would literally have to wait for him to come out of these periods.

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Google Became My Friend

I started researching. I knew a lot already about mental illness, but how to love someone with one? Totally clueless. I learned to give Jake his space, even though it hurt. I made sure he knew I was there when he needed me. I learned not to take everything so deeply, especially if he was agitated and it just wasn’t him. None of this was easy, and it hurt so much to watch him struggle.

This wasn’t perfect, not from the first day. Let’s start with the fact that I’m married. Jake was a huge flirt, and that’s a whole different post. I had to learn that just because he didn’t show me that he cared in the ways I thought he should have didn’t mean he didn’t care at all. He just cared differently. He made sure I took my migraine meds and had breakfast at work, asked me daily how Julian was doing, let me cry, and among many other things, he cared about me for me. That is the best thing he could have done. I did exactly the same for him.

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I know you can’t love someone out of a mental health situation, but you can definitely help them through it. Love helps with that. Jake was a bit quiet and distant in the days before his death, but none of us saw anything like what would happen on September 1, 2015, coming.

It is entirely possible to love someone with a mental illness. Just remember to take care of yourself, don’t let them get away with everything because of whatever they may have and as always, reach out if you need to.

NAMI

DBSAlliance

Essential Facts to Know About Bipolar Disorder

**Trigger warning: this post discusses mania, depression, suicide and other topics that may upset those who have lived experience. Please read with caution.**

Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health illness. It affects millions of people (2.6% of the American population), but yet, you may not see the signs for a long time. I have friends that live with this illness and while they do struggle, they also have great days, weeks and even months between episodes.

It hurts my heart when they are not doing so well, but all I can do is support them if they want it. The disorder and its many presentations differ among people, even among episodes. One episode can be a mixed episode, the next can be full-on depression. There is no way of knowing, even if there is a known pattern of episodes.

There are facts that can expand your knowledge of and help someone you know that has bipolar disorder.

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More Than Mood Swings

Almost everyone has mood swings- some days we are happy, some we are sad. In the case of bipolar disorder, these changes affect a person’s ability to function in daily life- work, relationships, school, etc. These changes include mania (“highs”) and depression (“lows”). Suicide attempts are common in those with bipolar disorder, especially during a depressive episode. The risk is even higher when there is a history of previous attempts.

Bipolar disorder can be treated with therapy and medication. Some have issues staying compliant with their medications because of side effects and/or once they feel better, they don’t see the need for medications.

It is vitally important that once medications are started to stay on them unless otherwise directed by the prescribing physician. Many people with this disorder can live full, productive lives. Most people see their first episode between their late teen years and mid-20’s.

What does mania look like?

  • Feelings of euphoria and elation, in some people- this can come out as irritability or anger
  • Impulsive, high-risk behaviors- this varies among people, but this can include spending sprees, sexual promiscuity, daredevil-like behaviors, and drug and/or alcohol abuse.
  • increased energy, rapid speech
  • decreased sleep and appetite
  • disorganized thoughts and difficulty concentrating

What does depression look like?

  • Feelings of hopelessness and sadness
  • Inability to sleep/sleeping too much
  • Loss of interest in regularly liked activities
  • Feelings of worthlessness/guilt
  • Changes in appetite, weight, or appearance

Causes, Types and Risk Factors

There isn’t a single cause for bipolar disorder, but there are multiple contributing factors.

Genetics- This disorder tends to run in families. Please read Mental Health and Genetics: The Main Connections for more information on how genetics play a role in certain mental health illnesses. Scientists are working on finding abnormalities in specific genes in this case.

Biological- Researchers believe that some neurotransmitters don’t work correctly in the brains of those with bipolar disorder.

Environmental- Outside factors, like a major life change, may trigger a biological reaction or genetic predisposition. It’s hard to know for sure, but it is seen as a possibility.

The Different Types of Bipolar Disorder:

  • Bipolar I: An individual has both manic and depressive episodes of different lengths.
  • Bipolar II: Less severe manic episodes than Bipolar I, but the depressive episodes are the same.
  • Rapid-cycling: experiencing four or more episodes of mania, depression or both within one year
  • Mixed episodes: Mania and depression occur at the same time. This means someone can feel hopeless but yet energetic enough to do risky things.

Risk Factors:

  • A family history of bipolar disorder or other psychological disorders
  • Alcohol and/or substance abuse
  • Major life changes
  • Stress
  • Medication interactions- for example, some antidepressants can induce mania.

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Knowing When to Get Help

When someone you care about seems a bit “off” for a period of more than a few days, it may be time to get them to go to a mental health facility, therapist or other assistance. The concern can be sudden or gradual after seeing someone not taking care of themselves, acting out of character, spending large amounts of money, or showing other signs of mental distress.

It may be hard to talk to them about it, but it may be what they need most. Knowing that someone cares for them may be the push they need to get help. Bipolar disorder does not get better on its own.

Their treatment may include medication, CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) or other options as needed. They may even have a co-occurring condition that may also need to be treated. The most common conditions are ADHD, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

If you or someone you care about is in a bipolar episode and experiencing thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide, please get to an ER immediately, or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. You can also text HOME to 741741. Both are free.

Support and Love

Those with bipolar disorder need two major things from those they love and care about: support and love. It’s not easy to battle your own mind every day. It can get exhausting. I’ve watched my friends battle through issues with medications, hallucinations, depressive and manic episodes. This is not fun, but they did not choose their chemical makeup. They just try to get through life like the rest of us.

If you love someone with bipolar disorder, please read Mental Illness and Relationships

It can be a bumpy road, as I learned, but it’s entirely worth it.

Pics courtesy of unsplash

Information courtesy of Mayo Clinic

Psych Central

The Benefits of a Daily Routine

Routines can get a bit boring…day after day, we get up, eat, go to work, come home, hang out, go to bed…or some variation of this. Some of us stay home with kids, some travel frequently for work, etc. Either way, almost everyone has a routine.

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My Attempt at a Routine

I’m at home with the kids and we have a routine. It’s pretty stable because Julian and Lily do their best with one. I do okay with a routine, but if things get shaken up, I am okay. The kids require a bit of notice. Otherwise, one or both can get quite upset and nobody wants that.

They like knowing what will happen when they get out of school- snack, homework, dinner, shower, TV/screen time then bed, with some outside time thrown in if the weather is okay.

This changes when there are school breaks, of course, or in case of horrible flu outbreaks like the one in January. In that case, nobody moves and we watch a ton of TV when we are awake to do so.

We don’t schedule much on weekends- those are open for fun things with friends, family, and my weekly Yoga for Recovery class.

Why Is Routine Important?

Would you want to go through your days not knowing what’s happening next? This does not sound fun, in fact, it would likely create a lot of anxiety. You would become anxious at not knowing where to go, what to do, or even when to eat (besides your stomach telling you).

Routines can create a soothing effect, even if you don’t realize it. It can be comforting. You can leave work or otherwise come to the end of your day knowing that you can relax, however you choose to do so.

Having a routine is also great for kids. It decreases anxiety and creates stability. They can eventually learn to plan things around their routine, like extracurricular activities, with your help.

Routine is also helpful for major life changes and trying to adjust after them- it helps restore a sense of normalcy. It helps make you feel like you’re getting back into real life, not the event that you are coming out of- divorce, a death in the family, moving, or other changes.

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How Can I Start a Routine?

If you aren’t a routine-based person, it’s okay. Not everyone is. If you want to try starting one, it definitely requires small steps. Throwing too many changes at yourself can cause overwhelm.

Try these tips:

  • Try a small breakfast, quick meditation or other activity in the morning. It can be good to try something new while building a routine.
  • Don’t get angry at yourself if you get out of routine. It happens.
  • When coming home from work or going out for the day, try an activity to help shift to being home. Most people go through the mail, change clothes, listen to music, etc.
  • Try to stick to your routine as much as you can but stay open to change. Rigidity increases anxiety and even anger. Example: having to stop amd pick up a forgotten ingredient for dinner or pet food isn’t the worst thing that can happen in a day.

Results

Depending on why you decided to change or create a routine, your results may be a bit different than someone else’s. Everyone can benefit from a routine, from kids to the elderly.

Have you changed or created a new routine lately?

Self-Care Isn’t Just Bubble Baths

I love the idea of self-care. Everyone needs to take care of themselves. It can, however, become somewhat of a burden, when you are struggling just to get out of bed. Those are the days that brushing your teeth seems too hard.

I’ve had those days. I don’t like them, but then who does?

Putting Effort into Yourself

You are worth the effort you put into yourself. Even if it is rolling out of bed at 2 PM and putting on a pair of sweats. That means you’re moving and attempting to put yourself together. This, to me, at least, is a form of self-care.

Bubble baths and face masks are fantastic. I am not knocking them at all. I do a face mask once a week. The self-care that I discuss in this post is a bit deeper.

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Questions to ask yourself:

  1. When was the last time I made an appointment for or went to my annual physical checkup?
  2. When was my last gynecological/prostate checkup?
  3. When was my last dental appointment? (I know lots of people hate the dentist, but this is an important one.)
  4. If you have a chronic medical condition, when was your last appointment for it? (Some have as needed check-ins, like migraine, and if you don’t need appointments for that, then give yourself a pat on the back.)
  5. If you are in therapy when was your last session? Are you on track?

After answering these questions, take a moment to make a list of the appointments you may need to make. Taking care of your physical and mental health is key. These appointments may not be delightful but you may feel better after.

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An Easier Daily Routine

In the midst of a hard time, it can be hard to get out of bed. Motivation can be hard to come by when you feel like there is a mountain of chores and/or work in front of you.

How can you get past those thoughts? How can you do the minimum and still function?

  • Give yourself a certain time limit in bed. After that, it is time to get out of bed. That’s it.
  • Eat a small meal or snack.
  • Try a small task first, like sorting mail or picking an outfit, then build up.

Take a break if this seems to be too much, then come back. If it feels okay, build up to a shower. Maybe try the dishes. The idea is to not push yourself too far because that can create even worse feelings.

The more self-care you do, the better you will feel about yourself, even if you don’t see it at first. In time, you may want to do more.

Expanding The Knowledge

If you do enjoy pampering yourself, manicures and spas might be a good place to go. So are bookstores and parks just to walk around- quiet, peaceful and just as fun.

Self-care is also about finding things that you enjoy and doing them. These activities help combat feelings of stress and depression among other emotions.

I do want to make something very clear: self-care isn’t selfish. This is about doing what you need to so that you are the best person possible. It can even be the steps that occur so you get out of bed.

Take these tips and get a checkup. You and your health are worth it.

Do you have any helpful self-care tips? Feel free to share!

Pics courtesy of unsplash