I live with and deal quite effectively with multiple mental illnesses. One of them is Bipolar-2 which means that I experience hypo-manic episodes (an increase in activity and productivity accompanied by an overwhelming sensation of not knowing when to shut-the-fuck-up, and some minor impulse control problems.) This is followed by a longer and more aggressive period of depression that can lead to loss of functionality, for lack of a better way to put it.
The depressive episodes can, for some, be worse than clinical depression. I don’t think of it that way for me. I know that I haven’t experienced depression on the level that some people do. While I have gotten far down into the darkest part of myself and mined around until I found some fucked up things to do/be/say in those depressive episodes, I know others who found worse.
This is not to be confused with Bipolar-1 where the effects are flipped. The mania is not hypo it is hyper and much more severe than what I deal with, while the depression is said to be less destructive and dangerous.
If mental illness is a spectrum, I’d say I’ve gotten lucky enough to only fall into the severe categories of a couple of mine and not all of them. My Anxiety and ADD (or ADHD1 as it’s mostly referred to now) are pretty rough. The Bipolar-2 and any others that haven’t been fully explored or classified are mild. At least, they have been so far. For that, I am grateful.
It’s not that the hypomania doesn’t make me feel crazy (it does), and it’s not that the depression doesn’t suck me down into my own pit of despair (it also does). I like to think, instead, that having dealt with these things for as long as I have, I’ve developed ways to cope. Things I do to manage both aspects of this specific disease.
Here I will lay out three for the hypomania and three for depression.
As I said above, hypomania can be classified as a period of extreme productivity and an increase in motivation/drive/energy. For some, to the extent of being unable to sleep more than an hour or so a night. That doesn’t happen to me, thank God. I need my sleep. But, in these hypomanic episodes, I also need to do.
As I like to think of myself as an aspiring novelist, blogger, and mental health advocate, the best way I know how to channel all of that excess energy is to write. I’ve written two novel-length works in the last year. Both were products of hypomania, at least in the beginning.
Now, I’m not saying that these “books” are good, per se. Really though, it’s not about whether they are good or not. Right now, the fact that they exist at all is good enough for me. The fact that I finished something that I started in a hypomanic frenzy is actually pretty amazing to me. And I’ve been able to use these works. Each time I start to feel myself climbing towards that peak of mental instability, I dive back into them and give my excess energy an outlet.
If there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s feeling like I have to clean every day of my life. With a small child, it’s, unfortunately, a reality. But one that I am grateful for. I’ve learned that, especially during my hypomanic phases, the cleaning gives me a healthy release of as much energy as I need to expel.
In fact, I’ll call it a blessing that my three-year-old runs around like a tornado on coke. If he didn’t, I wouldn’t have nearly as much to keep my hands occupied when my brain goes into overdrive. There’s something about wandering around my house, fixing and putting away odds and ends, blessing it little by little, that restores a sense of balance to my mind.
I went to college for a couple of years. I studied courses I found interesting and took as many pre-requisites as I could that didn’t have anything to do with Math or Science. What I learned was more than test scores and essays. What I learned was how to learn.
In primary school, my ADD made it hard to pay attention to anything that didn’t catch my interest. In College, I got to decide what I learned and discovered that I’m pretty good at it…when I want to be.
One of my favorite hypomanic activities is actually studying. I have learned a lot in the last few years. I’ve learned about ancient societies, world religions, people who should have been icons but weren’t because of the color of their skin (looking at you Billy Preston!). I’ve learned about myths, legends, mysterious discoveries. I have learned a lot more about the world than I ever cared to look for. It’s an outlet, and it’s productive, like the rest of the things on this list.
The thing about the depression part of this disease is that when I’m down in it, as far as I can get, I don’t want to do anything, let alone any of the things I listed above. When the depression hits, it becomes hard to remember why I like doing those things in the first place. It becomes hard to keep my eyes open. Hard to walk from the living-room to the kitchen, even though it’s literally seven steps. Here are some things I force myself to do:
Realistically, a beautiful bubble bath with candles, maybe a crystal, some bath salts would be ideal here. But let’s be honest, if I’m having trouble getting up to walk to the kitchen, I’m probably not going to want to do all of that prep, even if the payoff is worth it. So I shower. Sometimes, I sit in the shower, even. But regardless, I wash. I wash and scrub and sometimes I cry, but either way: I get myself clean.
It’s amazing what a shower can wash off of you, spiritually.
Extra credit: wash, condition, and brush your hair. Trust me, your scalp will thank you
2. Go Outside
Yeah, I know. Everyone says this. “Get outside, nature is a natural anti-depressant.” The thing is, it really works. And no, you don’t have to go hike a nature trail or camp in the woods. Literally stepping outside your front door and giving yourself sixty seconds, if that’s all you can handle, is enough to change your energy.
Fresh air, sunlight, moonlight, starlight, wind, rain: they all extract us from our self for a moment and offer us a new perspective.
At the worst, sometimes the most I could do was open my door and let the cold winter air wash over me. But it helped. Try it.
I don’t care what God(s)/Religion/High Power you prescribe to, I just know that without mine I wouldn’t still be here. So pray. Find a higher power. Find Jesus, or find someone else. Find something to have faith and belief in. If you already have it: great. Pray to it. Pray and remind yourself that you’re here for a reason. Pray, meditate, and seek a knowledge higher than that of Earth. Because Earth is messy. It’s populated by people that are just as troubled and uncertain as we are.
Connecting to my higher power always brings perspective back, even if it’s for just a short period of time. God calls me to remember that He is in charge and that my power is nothing short of a gift from him. The power of prayer, the power of discernment, the power of faith. All of it would be for naught if I wasn’t worshipping and believing in something higher than myself.
This probably helps me the most, not going to lie to you.
So there you have it. A few of my coping mechanisms for my Bipolar-2. I hope this helps anyone who might be experiencing any of these things. If you have other mechanisms/rituals/habits that make you feel better, feel free to leave them in the comments. I love to hear from readers.