My motto to TREAT BIPOLAR DISORDER FIRST was put to the test recently in a way I never imagined. I currently live 20 minutes from the Nice terrorist attack in France and spent a long day of ups and downs in this beautiful country that I love so much.
I’ve noticed that people with bipolar disorder are often curious world travelers who have strong opinions on the world. This serves us well when we are stable and may be one of the reasons so many of us write books!
In exactly the opposite way, this characteristic can also be a ticket to disaster as it’s hard for us to turn off this curiosity in order to protect our bipolar disorder stability. I know all about the anxiety created by an obsessive following of the latest world disaster. My mind takes off in a way I find hard to control and this started to happen yesterday after my school in France held a meeting in our theater to discuss our safety in this country. The head teacher stressed how we all need to get on with our lives while being vigilant in the face of yet another terrorist attack in France.
I would like to share with you the plan I use to protect myself from bipolar disorder mood swings during world crises.
#1 I Turn Off the News. Being aware and knowing when your bipolar disorder has had enough is an essential bipolar disorder management tool. There is a HUGE difference between being obsessed and being informed. You can find what works for you.
It may be a zero tolerance policy….
I care deeply about the world, but for my own stability and in honor of the people around me who need my love and attention, I turn over the management of this problem to the people who are well enough to take this on without getting sick . It is not my job to change the world, but it is my job to take care of my own world and stay well. If this means I have to stay off of my social media for a few days, I’m willing to do this for my own health.
There is also moderation…..
I will look at the news in the morning and then limit how I talk about the situation when I’m with my friends and family. I will remind myself that 24 hour news is not a requirement in my life and it is possible to be informed by looking at the media in a moderated way. I can also ask others for updates and then make the decision to change the subject. I am responsible for myself and as a person with bipolar, it’s not selfish or callous to limit my media intake.
Or you might have to ask someone near you to change the topic of a conversation…..
I know this is a world crisis and we need to stay informed. One part of my stability plan is limiting my anxiety around the media coverage of world events. Can we talk about this a few minutes- so that we can share how we feel- and then move on to another topic? It’s not because I don’t care. It’s because I care too much and this is a sure way to create a mood swing. I want to stay stable and enjoy your company.
My mother is always a good barometer to test my media overuse. She will say, “Julie, you just wrote a blog about limited media and you’ve been watching CNN for the past 90 minutes.”
She said this to me last year after the first terrorist attacks at the concert hall in Paris, before I moved to France. I remember exactly what I thought when she said this, “But mom!!! I have to be informed! I’m just looking for information!” It was then that I realized I had been sucked in by our 24 hour media world once again and I turned off the TV. I am doing the same now that I’m actually in France.
#2 I Carefully Manage My Sleep. Last night I experienced what I call skim sleeping. This is how I know I was more affected by what happened in Nice than I originally thought. It’s as though I’m awake the entire time I’m asleep. I moved to France for my physical health. I came here to change my life and challenge myself to become a fully stable and happy person. A very large part of this is learning to sleep without sleep medications. It has been a success in many ways, but I made a mistake last night. I tried to sleep without medications on a night I truly needed sleep for my stability. The result was a night of under sleeping and I’m now paying the price with tiredness and a bit of anxiety. Bipolar disorder stability and healthy sleep simply can’t be separated. They go hand in hand. Sleep should have been my priority last night and it wasn’t. Tonight it will be. Here are a few ways I manage sleep:
- Media exposure ends a few hours before I go to sleep. This is an emotional and physical need- emotionally, my brain needs to relax and calm down in order for my melatonin and serotonin process to actually work. Looking at a flickering blue light screen right before bed is a sure way to wake up my serotonin!
- I go to sleep at the same time on as many nights as possible. I didn’t do this last night as I was talking with my family about my life here in France. I will get back to my earlier bed time tonight. It’s a conscious decision. I don’t like doing this. I would much rather stay up and hang out with friends, but that won’t help me stay stable. An early bedtime will.
- I take medications when needed. Last night was a dumb move on my part! Talking with my family in the States was essential and we made sure our conversation was fun as everyone in my life knows I can’t do serious talk right before bed, but wow, I needed to take the meds afterwards!
And now for a strategy I use during all of my world travels:
#3 I Determine My Own World View. You decide how you see the world. Not the media, not terrorists and certainly not what your bipolar disorder wants you to believe. Depression clouds how we see the world as does mania. Knowing who you are in the midst of a bipolar disorder mood swing is the strongest tool I know to manage this illness. I’m an abnormally optimistic person who sees the world as a beautiful place. I know this is my baseline personality. When I start to see the dirt instead of the beauty, I always check my mood and usually find that I’m depressed. Look around you. How are the stable people in your life managing the latest world crisis? We can learn from stable people- they have boundaries and tend to understand themselves well.
It is possible to see what is happening in our world and still maintain a positive world view.
If you look at it by the numbers, there is more beauty than ugliness in this world. I see it in France every day.
I’d like to share a story on how I maintain my positive world view from the day after the attacks here in Cannes, France where I currently live. Here is what I wrote in the moment as I posted the following picture on Facebook:
Something beautiful from the South of France. Just 20 minutes away from the tragedies of last night in Nice, beauty is happening right before my eyes. I heard horns honking as I sat in my regular outdoor cafe in Cannes and saw this beautiful image. I ran up to them and said, “My friends in the United States are worried about all of us here. Can I send them your beautiful picture?” They said yes. And look what this lovely man did with his hands!!!
Vive la France!!! We love you and support you France! Julie
This is the image I take of my life here in France and it’s one I will return to when my mind wanders towards the dark side of our world. I hope you can hold this image in your heart as well- just as the amazing man in this picture is holding us in his hands.
Here is a bit of French for those who enjopy the language.
Je suis heureux de vivre en France. Cette image est la vraie beauté de la France. Les gens sont la vraie France! Les habitants de #Nice sont dans mon cœur. J’aime la France! Vive la France! Julie