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The first time I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I sat across from my psychiatrist and watched her draw a wavy line on a piece of paper.
“These,” she said, “are your moods.”
The line immediately made me think of the ebb and flow of calm waves in a harbor. I cocked my head to the side and thought, “That doesn’t seem so bad.”
Then she reached for a thicker pen and began drawing again. This time the waves were bigger, the peaks much higher, and the valleys dismally lower. The bay turned into a violent ocean, whipping debris from all the ships stranded at sea.
“These,” she corrected, “are your moods when you have bipolar disorder.”
This simple illustration landed hard.
It explained the days of elation, like I could conquer the world. It also helped me understand the dismal depression that I often felt. Those waves explained why one moment, I could be charging hundreds of dollars on plane flights and then be suicidal just hours later.
I’ve lived with bipolar disorder for almost two decades now. Like many chronic illnesses, there are days where it’s seemingly unbearable. There have been moments when I’ve been convinced that my brain was broken beyond repair. But, more than that, there have been stretches of months where life is good. Where I’ve built a family, a career, a life that I love.
Trust me, my path to wellness has been a journey. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way that have helped me manage my mental health:
It’s easy to disregard our mental health symptoms as “having a bad day” or as “being too emotional.” If your mental health is impacting your daily life, I suggest seeing a specialist for a diagnosis. A specialist has experience with the nuances of different mental health issues and can provide you with more effective treatments than a general practitioner.
Perhaps it’s coffee with a friend, a heart-to-heart with a trusted family member, or (my favorite) a weekly session with a licensed counselor. Maybe it’s a combination of all of those. Either way, find someone that you can trust and confide in on a regular basis.
Find what feels good for you in this season and go with it. It could be walking your dog. Powerlifting. Perhaps it’s swimming laps or playing soccer. Studies have shown that regular exercise helps increase your brain’s serotonin production, so try to exercise 3-5 times a week.
A mental illness trigger is something that tends to make your symptoms worse. For me, it’s lack of sleep. For other people, it can be alcohol, spending too much time on social media, or perhaps a toxic person from their past. Take some time to learn what your triggers are and work hard to navigate around them.
At the end of the day, I encourage you to remember that mental illness is a diagnosable disorder. It is not a lack of personal discipline, an inability to shift to a more positive perspective, or a weakness of character. All illnesses can benefit from wellness practices such as movement, meditation, and self-care. Often, though, these practices must be balanced with professional medical supervision and medications. Repeat after me: there’s no shame in my SSRI game.
Want more mental health and wellness talk? Follow Paula on Instagram at @paulatamarahoss to read more about her story and tips!
When you think of self-love what do you think of? Bubble baths, walks on the beach, facemasks, or what? Self-love can mean so many different things but when we think about self-love, we have to acknowledge loving ourselves both on the outside and on the inside. The way that we show ourselves love is one of the most important things we will ever do.
How do we treat ourselves? How do we talk to ourselves? What foods are we putting into our bodies? How are we thinking about our overall well-being when practicing self-love?
As self-love defines and redefined itself for you over the years, here are a few foundational tips to think about when easing into your self-love journey.
Don’t we love this one? Loving ourselves has a lot to do with the boundaries that we have for ourselves, with others, and for others. Take time to think about your own emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual needs when setting boundaries that reflect your personal needs. Boundaries don’t have to be big and scary; they are here to remind us that you get to have your lived experience and still have expectations about how you’d like to be treated and what you’d like to feel.
When thinking about your boundaries, ask yourself:
In a world where perfectionism and curated existences have been rewarded, begin to cultivate compassion for yourself. You are a soul having a human experience and it’s totally okay if things are not perfect.
Mindfulness exercises such as Breathwork, self-care activities, and self-compassion, all help train the mind, emotions, and even the body’s stress chemicals to be able to deal with undesired situations. Self-compassion means, can you be nice to yourself? Can you find empathy and kindness for yourself in the middle of what feels chaotic, stressful, or unwanted? Self-compassion means that we get to make mistakes, have our plans not work out the way that we wanted, and we still get to celebrate that we are doing the best that we can and it is enough.
When thinking about self-compassion, ask yourself:
In every sense of the word “nourishment”, begin to learn what nourishes you and what depletes you. Nourishment doesn’t just mean food for yourself; it means that whatever you are consuming whether it be media, podcasts, people, energy, information, etc. all impact the way that we think, feel, and experience life.
Nourishing yourself definitely goes right along the lines of having your boundaries intact and practicing self-compassion.
When thinking about nourishment, ask yourself:
That’s it. Those are the foundational steps to cultivating a self-love practice that you can ease into your daily routine. Come back to these questions often, because like anything else, self-love is a practice and it takes effort, time, and intention to maintain.