Saturday, September 28, 2013

Coping with Bipolar Disorder

I feel bad about not updating my other blog for almost half a year. Not that I've been busy, or lacking in inspiration. The truth is: I have nothing to write there as I no longer identify with being a person with Bipolar Disorder. My illness has been in full remission for more than a year.  I've been able to pursue the many goals I've set for myself. And while life is not perfect, I am certainly happy.

I feel FREE.

It would be presumptuous to preach about what others with the condition should do in order to achieve recovery. After all, you're never really cured from Bipolar Disorder, you're only able to successfully manage the condition. I may come back here talking once more about my extreme highs and lows, highlighting the irony that as a practicing psychologist, I should know better. Remission is not something I take for granted, but the respite has convinced me that things do get better.

So let me just tell you what works for me. Most of them are common sense, even standard content of self-help literature. But when practiced, they can be powerful. You might give some of them a try.

a. Consistent medication. 

Finance managers would tell you to pay yourself first, so that you'll have healthy savings at the end of the day. If you're a person with Bipolar Disorder, you should buy your meds first. Yes, even before you buy food or pay utilities.

Yes, I've had moments when I'm absolutely convinced that I can live a full life without medication. That's a common delusion among persons with Bipolar Disorder once life gets stable. But I've been accomplishing a mood diary/mood chart consistently the past year, enough to know that missing meds eventually leads to mood swings. Take the need for lifetime Bipolar medication as Gospel truth, boys and girls, and you should be just fine.

b. Gratitude. 

I remember well the times when months would go by and I've barely accomplish a thing. So now when I get something done, even if it's as simple as a 5-minute chat with an old friend, I log it down. I savor the fact that I have a life, and I can live it.

More importantly, I appreciate what I have. I've met enough people to know that, for all the bad times, I live a life that's the envy of others. I have setbacks, true, but I also have blessings. Gratitude gives you perspective.

c. Boundaries.

I used to be a people-pleaser. Worse, I take on the world's cares when enough guilt trip is thrown my way. I am incapable of expressing anger. Now though I feel comfortable telling people to "f@#k off."

We lost our home two months ago. But I refuse to feel guilty about not being able to recover it; it's not my fault the house was mortgaged in the first place, and not my fault the family has no clear re-payment plan. The family survived. We're now renting a smaller house, living a simpler life. More importantly, I am letting those responsible for all our troubles take on the consequences of their actions. I do my part, which is pay the rent every month and provide my mother an allowance. After that everything is my business. I refuse to surrender my extra cash to cover up other people's under-performance.

And I have no qualms getting rid of those who hurt me or those who drain me dry. I will cry for a bit when I experience betrayal, but I readily move on. I know now that what you lose --- whether friends, property, or opportunity --- is often replaceable, and sometimes even recoverable. A bad day or a bad person is not equivalent to a bad life.

d. Balance. 

So I am not earning as much as most people. So I am not as polished as others. I do have what most don't: a a balance life.

I earn enough to fulfill my responsibilities, I do what I love, I have time to bond with family, I have close, supportive friends, I can indulge in movies or workshops or clothes, I have ministries and outreaches, and I have a love life --- of sorts. And each area of my life is moving forward; I am satisfied with everything.

I am even open to the possibility that I may have to re-write my life, surrender some of my loves, to make room for new experiences that will complete the picture. I am not stuck; I can take on challenges.

e. Self-compassion.

And lastly, I can be gentle with myself.

You can choose to let people hurt you, or choose to understand that bad things sometimes happen. You can choose to accept that it's alright to make mistakes. And I can choose to move on, even choose to open up to the prospect that closed doors make you notice the open ones you don't visit. The future is unwritten, but it's ripe with possibilities.