“This is the day I get out of this horrific episode.”
My bipolar depression episode has ended. It was three weeks and it was a humdinger. Here is a picture of a humdinger. I can’t stress enough that the BEST thing about bipolar disorder is that it’s an episodic illness. Episodes end. Every day I would wake up and say,
Eventually it worked.
I spent at least four to five hours a day working on bipolar disorder management tools I know have worked in the past. Especially the strategies in Get it Done When You’re Depressed.
You can get better. Your loved one can get better. Your client can get better. My depressions used to last for years. They now last weeks at the most.
Think of reducing the length of your mood swings as a goal. This helps me find success.
—by Martin Baker
“I know what you could do, Marty! You could write a book about what it’s like to be friends with someone with bipolar disorder.”
October 2012. The English Lake District. With those words, my American best friend Fran changed my world. Not for the first time. We’d been friends since meeting online the previous May. We would not meet in real life (as they say) until June 2013, but despite living 3,000 miles apart, we’d grown a strong, mutually supportive friendship that had weathered episodes of wild mania, depression, debilitating pain and fatigue, with suicidal thinking never far away.
Fran Houston, my best friend, lives with bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME), and fibromyalgia. These are her diagnoses. They shape her days, but they are not who she is. As we shared our lives through social media, voice, and video calls, we learned what needs to be common knowledge, but isn’t: that caring relationships between “ill ones” and “well ones” are not only possible, but can be deeply and mutually satisfying.
We also learned it doesn’t matter where you are in the world—which is great, because friends and loved ones often live far apart. In the Internet era no one is too far away to be cared for, or to care. That is our message, and it is a message of hope.
Four years on, and our book—High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder—is about to be published. It’s been quite a journey. We hope our book will inspire and inform others who want to support a friend with mental illness. But High Tide, Low Tide is neither the only, nor the greatest, reward.
Fran is still alive. She has told me many times she would not be here if it was not for our friendship. There’s no way to know how true that might be, but I take her words at face value. To some, that might appear to put an inordinate strain on me and our relationship, but it doesn’t. We are not still friends because either of us is afraid of what might happen if we were not. We are friends because we want to be, and because—well or ill—that is how a committed friendship works.
I am more than I was. These five years have challenged me to be the best I can be. More, they’ve helped me discover who I am. I knew little about mental illness, stigma, and discrimination before I met Fran. I knew less about empathy, compassion, and caregiving. I still mess up, of course, with Fran and with other people. But I’ve grown. I am more aware than I was. I am more than I was. I am a better friend, father, and husband—a better man—than I was or would otherwise have become.
I have found my tribe. I never felt I belonged anywhere, outside of my immediate family. I found a best friend, but also the joy of connection with people at home and the world over; people who know how to live genuinely and honestly. That is joy indeed. I have found my voice and discovered I have something to say. I have found my place in the world.
High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder, is released by Nordland Publishing, October 2016.
About the Author
Living in the north-east of England, Martin Baker is an ASIST trained Mental Health First Aider and Time to Change Champion. A member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mind, and Bipolar UK, Martin is primary caregiver and lifeline to his best friend Fran Houston. Passionate about making invisible illness visible, Fran lives in Portland, Maine.
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Three bipolar disorder symptoms you probably think are a personal failing:
1. Inability to sit down and work like you know you should be able to and could do if only… you could sit down and work darn it!
Here is why this list is important. I HAVE THESE SYMPTOMS WHEN I’M NOT MANIC OR DEPRESSED.
I remember when I wanted to say that bipolar disorder was more than mania and depression and my publishing company said, Nope, it’s a mania and depression illness. We can’t say that the above are actually symptoms. They are a subset of mania and or depression.
Well, I know have ten more years of experience than when I wrote my book Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder and now know for sure that we have baseline symptoms that are present when we are not manic or degreased. They
Here is how I over come these symptoms. I wrote Get it Done When You’re Depressed for #1. I use the tips daily. I still struggle, but at least I am able to do my foundational work very well. Coaching. Writing is my challenge.
The second symptom is also discussed in Get it Done and darn it, if it’s the last thing I do, I will figure this out. Diet and caffeine play a role here as does my surroundings.
Lack if insight. How do I deal with this? I remind myself that I have lack of insight. This doesn’t always give me insight, but it does let me go easier on myself.
This is a complex illness- I call it the garbage pail illness as we have symptoms of ALL mental health disorders on any given day.
I believe in your and your ability to manage this illness. If I can write this post while crying due to a panic attack and then feel better simply from writing the post, it means that you can work and get on with life even when the bipolar is messing with your brain chemicals.
I will not stop until I have come up with a better plan for my life. I am close. I have come so far. If you are newly diagnosed, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder explains my plans. If you want a more advanced management system, especially if meds don’t give you enough relief, my Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder is available on my website BipolarHappens.
I know, this is a long post. This is how I heal and make it through the day so that I can now do my email without crying.
You can get better! I can get better! Julie
My new book for kids has too characters named Wimple and Weejit. My illustrator, Kaytie Spellman must see inside my mind. This is exactly what they look like when they are messing with my brain chemicals. HEHE.
PS: Read the three symptoms again. Do you experience these during your daily life? What triggers them? How can you get help?
When overwhelmed, negative mood swings arrive, they can bring out some very unsavory behavior.
1. No table at a restaurant pleases.
When I have one of these mood swings, I recognize that I’m overwhelmed and I take action. It usually takes me hours to get myself to calm down and those are often lost hours. I have to stop myself from driving randomly. I will park, go in a place, feel uncomfortable and leave over and over again if I let myself. I will eat sugar to feel better and to calm down. I will snap at people and yell and scream and pedestrians who do something stupid.
I don’t want to be this person, so I check myself before I wreck myself.
1. Notice the position of my shoulders. Yep. Up against my ears. I just lowered them. Doing this helped me take a natural and deep breath.
2. Focus on breathing. I put my arms behind my head and clasp them together. I push my shoulders back and breathe.
3. Go through a short EFT tapping session. Ah, that feels better. I am now back in my body instead of floating with anxiety.
4. Create a short to do list. Get it Done When You’re Depressed reminds me that to do lists can be short and in the moment. I have one task, to answer email and bill my clients. I have five hundred other things I need to do as well, but this is what comes first. So my to do list can be short. Answer email. Send invoices. I don’t have to make the list any longer than this.
5. Feel the anxiety and do it anyway. Work anxiety is my bugaboo. Grand goals send me out of my body and into a universe of worry. Getting myself BACK IN MY BODY helps me focus on what is in front of me instead of what might happen or what might go wrong.
6. Praise myself all day long. I do my best. You do your best. We are doing our best. Bipolar disorder is a challenge we can rise to and meet.
We are strong. What project do you want to start today? What are the first three, tiny steps. Do those little steps and go from there.
I can do it. You can do it! We can do it!
This is the Mental Health Bipolar Disorder Brigade from my new book Hortensia and the Magical Brain. (The Kickstarter will be ready in September!)
This Brigade is there to help kids with their wayward thoughts. I love this fun sketch from my amazing illustrator Kaytie Spellman. (There is more info on this book project in earlier posts below.)
Remaining playful during a panic attack helps. Yes, I just talked myself through a panic attack. You can do the same!
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This site should not be seen as a substitute for an official diagnosis or for professional health care.
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