Just the phrase bipolar disorder conjures up a lot of thoughts in your head when you hear it. Many of these ideas are probably based on the loose understanding that the general public has of bipolar disorder, and they’re probably not very positive or encouraging. People with bipolar disorder are often unfairly written off as crazy or unstable, and that’s not a label you ever wanted to be applied to you. But you’re feeling like it is, because you’ve just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. So now what?
First: take a moment to breathe. Having bipolar disorder doesn’t change who you are or make you a bad person, and it doesn’t mean that you’re crazy. Like depression, OCD, and any other mental health disorder, it’s just a way of summing up certain facts about how your brain works, and how they can make life harder for you. Getting an initial diagnosis can be sad or even scary, but in time you might come to find it freeing– lots of people do! Knowing what’s going on in your brain can help you to find support, treatment, and accommodations that will make your life easier and happier. Now that you’ve received a diagnosis, here are your next steps!
Start to Study Up
Bipolar disorder is something that’s widely misunderstood, and it carries a lot of myths and misconceptions along with it. As someone who’s been newly diagnosed with this disorder, these might be myths that you’re applying to yourself, which only serves to make you feel worse. For example, you might believe that bipolar disorder is rare and unusual, which it isn’t, or that a manic state is something fun or productive, which is also untrue. As soon as you’re diagnosed, start learning as much as you can about what bipolar disorder actually is. It’ll help your mindset to be less skewed, and help you to feel better about yourself.
Keep an Eye on Your Own Moods
Bouts of depression or mania are the characteristic symptom of bipolar disorder, and they can be scary, disorienting, and dangerous to your general wellbeing. However, most people with the disorder don’t swing wildly and unpredictably between these states without any warning. If you’re paying attention to your own moods, impulses, thoughts, and behaviors, you can usually spot the warning signs of an upcoming manic or depressive episode, and you might be able to identify triggers over time, like stress or poor sleep. Learning to anticipate an episode before it arrives is a crucial part of learning how to live a full and happy life with bipolar disorder!
Develop Healthy Coping Skills
Once you know how to spot a manic or depressive state coming on, you have to learn to deal with it when it arrives. The coping skills you build become habits that you can fall back on to help keep you stable when you aren’t feeling your best. These can include things like emphasizing sleep, healthy eating, and physical activity to prioritize your health. Cutting back on sugar, caffeine, and alcohol can make a big difference for some people at these times. Your coping skills can also include spending time with friends and loved ones, or speaking to a therapist or other mental health professional. Experiment with different strategies and find what works best for you. Every person with bipolar disorder is different!
Create a Crisis Plan
Your crisis plan is different from your coping strategies. Coping strategies are for helping to mitigate an episode and prevent it from becoming intense or dangerous. A crisis plan is the series of actions that you map out for when things cross the line into dangerous territory, like if you’re feeling so low that you can’t get out of bed and are considering self harm, or if you’re so deep in a manic state that you can’t sleep and feel out of control of yourself.
Your crisis plan should be something that you write down and inform other people about, since when you’re in the middle of an episode, you probably won’t be in the headspace to remember the details. It should include:
- emergency contacts like family members and your doctors or therapists
- a list of other health conditions you have
- a list of all medications you take and their dosages
- your treatment preferences, like where and how you want to be cared for, who you want taking care of you, and any medications that you know don’t work well for you
It’s also not a bad idea for your crisis plan to include symptoms that can indicate that you need help or that you need someone else to take responsibility for caring for you. This helps trusted people around you to recognize when to step in, and it can be a helpful reminder for you when you’re in the midst of a crisis to acknowledge you’re struggling and accept help.
Seek Out Treatment Options
Seeking out treatment options is one of the best things you can do for yourself once you’ve received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Medication, therapy, and coping strategies are all effective ways to manage the condition on their own, and they’re even more useful when you use them all together. Signing up for a clinical trial like the ones at the Lehigh Center for Clinical Research can be a great way to get access to cutting-edge new medications, as well as seeing a board-certified physician at no cost. You can also speak to your regular doctor for advice about medications and therapy options.
Remember That You’re Not Alone
Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition that can make it a struggle for a person to live normally, but it is also extremely treatable, and many people who are diagnosed with it lead happy and healthy lives with positive relationships, fulfilling careers, and self-satisfaction. An initial bipolar diagnosis can be very disheartening, but try to remember that you’re not alone! Many people have this disorder– in fact, someone you know probably has it, and you may not even realize it. Knowing that you have bipolar disorder allows you to adjust your lifestyle to accommodate your needs, improving your life and bringing happiness and stability within your reach. Now that you know, it’s time to get up and start your journey. You’ll be grateful you did!