Seven bipolar survivors share #1 tip for living well with mental illness. I asked one simple question of some very inspiring men and women I found online who are living with bipolar illness and have written about it in hopes of helping others: “What is the #1 thing you recommend to help with mood swings in addition to, or other than, taking psychotropic medications?”
That’s it. Every person gave invaluable advice and I love each and every one of the tips below. I did have to tell Anne Naylor hers would be listed last as she wasn’t big on the ‘other than taking medications part’ – lol – and got a bit punchy in her answer but most kept to the script.
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Mental illness treatment is not all about medication. I won’t rant (I’m way worse than Anne in that category!) but we need more alternative treatment approaches and better diagnosing of physical illnesses that are often a primary cause of someones mental suffering. Health issues that can be successfully treated. We all deserve to be well and live fulfilling lives.
What is Your #1 Tip for Living Well With Bipolar Disorder?
Some incredibly talented and accomplished folks (more so than I) are included below. I am honored to get to share each and every one of these top tips for living well with mental illness.
1. Vicki M. Taylor
“The number one thing I recommend (besides taking meds) is having a “Coping Box”. In this coping box you can put items specific to your situation or episode. My “Coping Box” contains items such as my Wellness Recovery Action Plan.”
Vicki adds: “I also put in items such as: a few magazines. word search puzzles or other puzzle books, journal, Bible, inspirational books, bubbles, snacks, stress ball, tissues, pens, pencils, highlighters, sticky notes, book marks, coloring books, crayons, colored pencils, affirmations, devotionals, Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson and a fiction (escapism) book.”
“These items are specific to me and being able to cope with an episode. Other people may find other items that help them cope. As an aside, not in the “Coping Box”, but another of my coping strategies is to watch shows like “Friends”, “Cheers”, or anything that is not dramatic or cause emotional reactions. Another thing that helps is listening to music, either on Pandora or iTunes.”
About Vicki M. Taylor: Vicki is an award winning writer (fiction books, novellas and one self-help book). Her most current accomplishment is Words Heal – A Self-guided Creative Writing, Expressive Therapy & Journaling Process. It is available on Amazon here.
She blogs about bipolar and her life as a devout Christian and writer at: Living Stone Faith.
You can connect with her on Twitter: @bipolarblogs.
2. Anne Cain
“I would say out of all of these (see below), being & staying positive has helped the most. I read positive affirmations throughout the day and really make an effort to live by them.”
Anne also wrote: “I have really been focusing on taking my medication as directed, eating healthy, exercising (mainly walking,) surrounding myself with positive influences, and I also diffuse essential oils.”
About Anne Cain: Anne is a mental health advocate, wife, mother to two teenage daughters and a classically trained Soprano singer. She was diagnosed with bipolar in 2006 after suffering postpartum depression and major depression. She blogs about life and her experiences with mental illness at Bipolar Survivor.
You can connect with Anne on Twitter here: @bipolarsurvivor.
3. Tom Roberts
“Recovery; i.e. managing mood swings is a process of changing my attitudes, values, feelings, goals, or skills. Focusing on helping others facing challenges from bipolar keeps my mind living in the moment.”
He continues: “It is a way of living a satisfying, hopeful life even with limitations caused by the illness. Recovery involves the development of new meaning and purpose in one’s life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of mental illness.”
“All of this is grounded by a consistent sleep schedule. I go to bed at the same time and get up around the same time each day. That keeps hypomania and/or depression under control. Medication is extremely important, of course.”
About Tom Roberts: Tom was Assistant Professor of Broadcasting at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas and later taught Technical Communication for the University of California Berkeley School of Engineering Extension. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1993.
Tom is now a mental health writer, advocate and speaker and also the author of Escape from Myself: A Manic-Depressives Journey to Nowhere. The book is available on Amazon here.
He blogs about mental illness and speaks out about stigma in hopes of helping others at Tom Speaks Out. He has suffered the loss of two of his siblings from mental illness (suicide).
You can connect with Tom on Twitter: @tomspeakingout.
4. Nellie Russell
“Practice meditation and persue your spiritual life.”
She elaborates: “Meditation, prayer, and my deepening relationship with God has allowed me to get off medication and find a peace I had never known before. It has helped me to manage mood swings and I have been off medication for going on three years, made it through natural childbirth and had no symptoms of post partum depression or mania, and thrive through some of the most difficult seasons of my life.”
Note from Molly: You know I am familar with your story but still find it amazing reading it anew today. Not all can get off meds – or want to – but some can and all need to know it is possible, with the guidance of a qualified physician (who knows how to taper slowly). Never stop taking medications abruptly or without help, it can lead to a severe illness episode.
About Nellie Russell: Nellie-Jean is a devoted wife & mama, writer, spoonie, nature lover, and slow living enthusiast ever seeking God and reflecting on the WILD ride as she goes. She has been writing for over a decade and sharing her journey through mental and physical illness, recovery, and spiritual awakening with the public.
You can find her and her blogging team reflecting on faith, family, health, and happiness at Adalmar Life.
You can connect with Nellie on Twitter here: @adalmarlife.
5. Monica A. Coleman, Ph.D.
“The number one thing I would say is regular exercise – especially cardiovascular activity.”
She added: “Followed with a conscientious diet. That would be my number 2.”
About Monica A. Coleman, Ph.D.: Monica is an award-winning writer, scholar and minister. She is Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions at Claremont School of Theology in southern California and the author of six books.
Her most recent work is Bipolar Faith – A Black Woman’s Journey with Depression and Faith. It is available on Amazon here.
She blogs about here experiences with mental illness, treatment and how she connects her healing and work to her faith at Monica A. Coleman.
You can connect with Monica on Twitter: @monicaacoleman.
6. Anne Naylor
For me the #1 thing I do to help with mood swings in addition to, or other than, taking psychotropic medications is: ‘not much’.
She continues: “And with (my) bipolar, therein lies the problem. And presumably, hence why your round up post. I will be most interested in what other people say. I go to my doctor straight away. She adjusts my meds. This is the only thing that works quickly and consistently. Next best is when things are really bad I book into a day patient program, one day a week for 6 week or so. They do meditation etc. But that’s only when things are really bad.”
“Then, there are some things I am told will help, and I am sure that they do help, and I have hope that they will help, tomorrow, or the next day, when I try them. I think that they are more preventative.”
- Exercise (who can exercise on the middle of a mood swing?)
- Meditation and mindfulness (as above)
- Tai chi (tried that)
- Talking to your friends (that’s why I don’t have any friends)
- Painting and writing, (they trigger highs as I stay up all night doing them)
As a footnote, Anne added: “A pathetic answer that is most unhelpful, but is the truth for me, right at this moment. Maybe tomorrow I will be able to come up with something better. I had an anaesthetic yesterday and it’s done my head in.”
Note from Molly: Not pathetic at all, and many – myself included – will relate. Manic Depression is a severe mental illness with illness episodes that often require hospitalization. The times before I was put in the looney bin I wasn’t walking around the block with my dogs enjoying the fresh air…
About Anne Naylor: Anne is an author, artist and teacher of the Deaf. She has a Bachelor of Education, a Master of Special Education, and is a NAATI qualified Auslan (Australian Sign Language) Interpreter. In 2005, an unexpected and intense desire to create artworks accompanied the advent of bipolar disorder.
A mental health and disability advocate, Anne is dedicated to raising awareness challenging stereotypes and fighting the stigma of disability and mental illness. She has written a memoir: Art from Adversity: A Life with Bipolar. It is available on Amazon here.
7. Me – my two cents
“My #1 Tip is Regular Exercise.”
I was glad to read Monica’s suggestion as I think exercise (brief, short, daily, nothing strenuous) is incredibly important to dealing with a mood disorder. Getting outside if possible for a short walk, or maybe a quick jaunt on a treadmill in your yard or home office.
This isn’t training for a marathon, it’s about trying to de-stress, invigorate your body and also counter-act weight gain that often accompanies being on medication.
I know how hard it can be to do anything when ill (Anne’s rant many will relate to, myself included) but my point is to make an effort, try to incorporate it into your life as part of your ‘treatment’. To help prevent episodes.
Also – since everyone else got to say more than one tip, I do too! – my other advice is to seek alternative forms of care if possible and to learn about health issues that may be causing your unstable moods beyond the ‘Chemical Imbalance Theory‘. That’s a huge part of what this blog is about. And in fighting for access to alternative medical care for everyone.
You can connect with me on Twitter here: @mollymchugh.
A huge, heartfelt thank you to everyone above. I am now busy reading your blogs and have three new books on my reading list (John’s, Vicki’s and Monica’s). I just finished Anne Naylor’s “Art from Adversity: A Life with Bipolar” and loved it, highly recommend.
I will tweet and share on my Facebook page as much as I can the work everyone here is doing to help those living with mental illness.