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Living and Thriving With Bipolar Disorder

I've struggled with depression since age 5. I was correctly diagnosed with bipolar I disorder in 2002 after the birth of my daughter.

Me and my kids when they were little.  I found joy in the midst of my illness and you can too.

Me and my kids when they were little. I found joy in the midst of my illness and you can too.

Depression Started Very Early for Me

Surviving depression that started at age 5 hasn't been easy. I first felt suicidal in 6th grade. My teacher met with my parents about it, and the only thing my father said to me was, "We will NOT talk about this again." I felt devastated and didn't think I deserved any help. I continued to live with this until I graduated from college at 21, and I suffered miserably all of that time. I finally began therapy with a therapist I trusted and liked the following year, and my journey of improving my life began.

Maybe you have a story similar to this one: Depression, being unable to feel anything good about life, wanting to die so the pain will end, not knowing how to feel better, and it's all so horrible.

I Wasn't Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder Until Adulthood

In 2002, when I was diagnosed, I felt mortified. I was a nurse, and, sadly, bipolar disorder meant "crazy" to me. I didn't want to be labeled, looked down upon, different from everyone else, but I had no choice. It was explained to me that bipolar I comes with at least one episode of psychosis (delusions, hallucinations.) I had delusions at the time and thought God was speaking to me directly to save others. Many people associate bipolar disorders with extreme highs and lows (mania and depression.) That isn't true for me, and I get about three days a year where I feel "good," as in not depressed and with a burst of energy.

How I Cope With Bipolar Disorder

Coping with the depression has been my greatest challenge and that is what I want to share with you: coping techniques to live a better life. Over the years of my illness, these things are what I've learned to do to cope, not just to survive, but to thrive.

  1. Sleeping at least eight hours a night. This is the most important thing for me. Lack of sleep throws me into deep depression. I'm fortunate to have a great psychiatrist who works with me to help me sleep. I've tried numerous medications (meds) and have finally settled on Seroquel. Each person is different, but this works for me.
  2. Medication: My psychiatrist administered a genetic test (mouth swab) that identified the right meds for my system. Even better than that, she instructed me to take vitamin B complex which helps my body absorb and use my meds better. It takes time to find the right meds, but once it happens, it's a miracle. I haven't had a single episode of suicidal depression in two years, and my life is so much better. Prior to finding the right meds, I struggled with suicidal depression 2–3 times a year resulting in psychiatric hospitalization. I'm thrilled to be avoiding that now.
  3. Therapy: It's been essential to my wellness to see a therapist. She provides a safe place for me to be brutally honest about what I'm feeling and thinking. I can't imagine having success with my illness without her.
  4. Meditation: Many people incorrectly think that meditation is clearing the mind of all thought. We are human and can never completely clear our minds. I meditate three times a week for 30 minutes each session. During that time I focus my mind on one particular thought such as wellness, happiness, etc. There are lots of meditations available for free on Youtube. Initially, I started with guided meditations that "talked" me through the exercise. Those irritate me now after doing this for so long, so I just play beautiful, relaxing music.
  5. Exercise. Yes, the dreaded "E" word. I exercise three times a week for 30-45 minutes just by walking. I live in a snow state, so in the winter, I walk inside a mall or store. This boosts me and drives away the depression.

What I Do When I Feel Depressed

Let's talk about what to do WHEN feeling depressed:

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  1. Do not isolate yourself. Spend time with friends, family, friends who are family. Ask them to come to you since you are having a hard time. At the very least, call someone to talk. I often use social media to stay in touch with others. Isolating is one of the WORST things you can do.
  2. Do not stay in bed. This is the hardest for me. When I feel like staying in bed (for a day, a week, or a month) I set three simple goals for the day, things I HAVE to get out of bed to do. Taking a shower/cleaning myself up is almost always goal #1. I tend to ignore my hygiene when I'm depressed, and it's a telltale sign for me that I'm in trouble. I force myself to do it, sometimes through tears, but I always feel that I've accomplished a great thing afterward. My other two goals are usually related to the house such as load or unload the dishwasher, sweep the kitchen floor, simple things that are usually quick to do. Again, I have to force myself, and it seems impossible at the time, but doing it keeps me out of bed for the rest of the day. Once I'm up and moving, I REFUSE to go back to bed.
  3. Journal. I realize this isn't for everyone, and you know best whether this will work for you or not. I journal about how I'm feeling, but I always end my entry with something positive. It's usually that I met my goals, I DID it. I didn't give in and let the depression win.

Final Thoughts

I hope this has been of some help to you. It's years of practice, of hit or miss for me, but I'd love to be able to save you all of those years in your journey. Don't EVER stop fighting for your life. It takes a lot of work on your part to do it, but you CAN do more than survive. You can thrive.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Michelle Pekel

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