After a three-year remission from bipolar 1 disorder, I gave birth to my son and almost immediately fell into a full bipolar relapse. My baby is 15 months old now and my mental recovery has been painfully slow. I assumed that the combination of time, therapy, and meds would bring me back to stability by the baby’s first birthday.
Boy, was I wrong.
The remission blessed me with two very important traits: a low threshold for pain and an expectation for full recovery.
When I plummeted into yet another scary depressive episode while visiting family to celebrate my son’s first birthday, I finally hit bottom and got mad. That feeling used to scare me, but after seven years of therapy, I’ve learned that anger is actually a gift. It’s an emotional barometer to be paid attention to, felt, and processed.
Baby Step 1 – I made a list of recent triggers:
2. Out-of-town visitors.
4. Over commitment.
8. Toxic relationships.
9. Negative thinking.
Baby Step 2 – I decided to eliminate my triggers after discussing them with my therapist and husband. It seemed impossible, but the fear of the psych ward sure motivated me into complicity.
Baby Step 3 – Actually eliminate the triggers by taking contrary actions.
1. Traveling: I say no.
2. Out-of-town visitors: I say no.
3. Confrontation: I turn the other cheek and try not to place my cheek in a position to be harmed in the first place.
4. Over commitment: I let go of unnecessary commitments and say no to new ones.
5. Overworking: Three of my four bookkeeping clients went away without me doing anything.
6. Overspending: I’m not making emotional purchases.
7. Overeating: I’m not engaging in emotional eating.
8. Toxic relationships: I let go of my toxic relationships and am not starting any new ones.
9. Negative thinking: If I don’t water it, it won’t grow, so I’ve stop watering my negative thoughts as quickly as possible.
Baby Step 4 – Nature abhors a vacuum. The first time I quit drinking I replaced it with nothing and subsequently had a nervous breakdown and relapsed. When I stopped drinking and replaced it with the 12-steps and meetings, I was given the gift of sobriety (at least for today, I make no assumptions for tomorrow).
1. Traveling: I’m exploring my own neck of the woods.
2. Out-of-town visitors: I’m loving my alone time at home.
3. Confrontation: Instead of pointing the finger at you when the urge to be right comes up, I look within. If I know my truth, our disagreement is moot. I am never more wrong than when I need to be right.
4. Over commitment: Relaxing more.
5. Overworking: When my fear of financial insecurity comes in, I don’t act on it and I focus on ways to generate income from my writing and public speaking.
6. Overspending: I’m finally addressing the financial mess I made in my postpartum mania and my compulsion to overspend. I’m listening to Dave Ramsey on YouTube and applying some 12-step program tools as well.
7. Overeating: I’m using an iPhone app to count my calories and am living within a food budget. I’m going grocery shopping once a week so I won’t get caught without a meal and therefore overspend and overeat.
8. Toxic relationships: I wrote an entire post on this process here.
9. Negative thinking: I tend to really spin when I’m driving, which I do a lot, so I listen to spiritual teachers on YouTube (for free!). My personal favorite is Wayne Dyer just because he seems very sincere and his words really resonate with me.
These changes didn’t occur at the same time or of my own volition – they’ve been over the past three months. It’s like an allergy – once I’m balanced, I add things back in slowly; if I have an episode, that activity must be removed again.
Since eliminating these triggers, I’ve made it three weeks between episodes. This isn’t ideal, but it’s progress and therefore welcomed and celebrated.
This fight has been one of the hardest things I’ve been through in my life, but I’m grateful for my strong spirit, faith, and willingness to keep looking up. I’m quite certain that I will be balanced again – it may not be tomorrow – but it will come.