Three Things Being Euthymic Has Taught Me
This time last year I was days away from being hospitalised for psychotic mania. That was the second time I had been psychotically manic and to date it is the most unwell I have been. During my previous episodes of psychosis (I have also been psychotically depressed), I had only experienced visual hallucinations, but during last year’s episode I also experienced auditory hallucinations for the first time. I thought I would see people’s auras and I heard a voice that told me I could fly (which I believed). Five weeks later I was discharged from hospital.
I am glad to say that I have been well since and this has been the longest I’ve been euthymic since the onset of my bipolar disorder twelve years ago. So what have I learnt in my near year of euthymia?
1. Look after yourself
It is immediately after an episode that I feel acutely aware of the fact that I need to take care of my health. In those first few weeks of being discharged from hospital my routine becomes centred around my health. I make sure to get enough sleep, but to also set an alarm so I don’t spend the day in bed, I eat well and exercise (when hospitalised for mania I always leave having gained weight because of the extra medication), I do the things I enjoy, I stick to my medication regime and I make an effort to socialise appropriately (for example: talk to at least one person a day when depressed and put a limit on socialising when manic/hypomanic to avoid over-stimulation).
Now, because I am euthymic, I don’t have to give constant attention to self-care but it continues to take priority. I still exercise and eat healthily and most nights I get adequate sleep. I have always been a very driven person to the point where my health suffered. One of the big things I have learnt is not to view days off (and sleep-ins) as a waste of time. I’ve come to not only appreciate downtime, but to ensure I have days in my calendar that are reserved for relaxation. Additionally, I no longer do things I don’t enjoy because life is too short and there is no point in doing things that don’t make you happy. Needless to say, this philosophy does wonders for my mental health and ironically it is one I probably wouldn’t have adopted if I didn’t have a mental health condition that made me realise this.
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff
Recently I had a psychologist session where I turned up to the appointment angry after having a fight with a family member (I want to point out that this was a normal fight – not one that arose because of a short fuse due to elevation or depression). My psychologist asked how stressed I was out of ten to which I replied with ‘zero’. My psychologist was quite surprised given my anger and stated she thought the anger would be making me stressed. I told her that after being psychotic, suicidal, hospitalised on several occasions and having electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), it takes a lot for me to get stressed. I reasoned that feeling a bit of anger was not a big deal and that the fight would eventually be resolved so there was no point in letting the situation make me stressed. And it’s true. Having dealt with the consequences of bipolar means I have dealt with many more stressful life events than a lot of other twenty-six year-olds and this has given me perspective. A lot of things that used to make me nervous or upset no longer hold stock. So I have to give a presentation to hundreds of people; so what? At least my health is OK. So I made an idiot of myself when talking to a senior at work; so what? At least my health is OK. So I don’t look like a supermodel – who cares? At least my body functions. Bipolar has taught me not to swear the small stuff.
3. Take risks
This may seem a bit unexpected because who wants to end up manic or depressed, let alone psychotic? But by ‘risks’ I mean positive risks.
Last year I accepted the fact that my bipolar disorder is here to stay. But I have also realised that if managed well, it doesn’t have a huge impact on my life. Though, I am not naïve enough to think that I will never become unwell again, because I know I will – regardless of how I am living my life. With this in mind, I am not going to stand idly by, living in fear that I will become manic or depressed. I am going to go out and experience the world and get what I want out of life, and if that means becoming unwell from time to time, then that is a risk I am not only willing, but want to take (for example further study, job offers or travel). Of course, I will put measures in place to give me the best chance of remaining healthy. However, I don’t see potentially becoming manic or depressed for a period of time a reason not to do something that could have long-term rewards. The biggest lesson I have learnt this year is to not let bipolar stop me from doing the things I want to do. And it is the most liberating lesson I have learnt in my life.