How I Cope with the Challenges of Bipolar Disorder
Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:
In the labyrinth of seeking a restorative solution for my deteriorating mental health condition, I have created a care plan that has significantly helped. After my diagnosis of bipolar I disorder, a mental health illness characterized by depressive lows and manic highs, I was unable to afford medication to manage my diagnosis. My initial diagnosis was financially supported by close college friends, who formed a contribution group and raised the amount I needed to be catered for diagnosis and admission to the psychiatric ward. Consequently, I endured more pain and suffering after leaving the hospital due to inability to acquire further medication. This brought about multiple physical and mental evolutions of different magnitudes which have shaped my life in the most impactful ways.
Some of the physical transformations include achieving more fit and sculpted muscles that have significantly changed my outlook, an aspect entirely attributed to a disciplined indoor workout regime I developed as a coping mechanism. Exercise has helped to manage and stabilise my shifting moods. Emotionally, I have become more attached to reading personal development books that have built my mental capacity in the greatest way.
As someone who currently lives in a third world country within the sub-Sahara African region, an environment where matters of mental health are highly stigmatized, I am certain that it is almost impossible for people in a similar space to acquire the best solutions, especially if they are financially challenged. Therefore, I am writing this article to openly share my ordeals and the approaches that eventually saved my life, in hopes to act as a virtual peer support system in the global sphere.
Dealing with the Depressive Lows
First of all, the misconceptions that any chronic mental illness condition could be a life sentence are baseless and misleading. If anything, there is always life on both sides of the rainbow. As someone living with bipolar disorder without medication at the moment, achieving a balance in my daily activities has been the most difficult struggle to handle, although possible.
For the depressive episodes’ approach, I have developed a personal journal for detecting its signs. Some of the common signs are general loss of interest in people, activities, and even some food. Depression commonly creates patterns of only feeling comfort in isolation. One will typically feel safer when enclosed in their environment than when outside. Since I am unable to acquire antidepressants, which work best for such situations, my combative approach has been becoming engrossed in activities that can be best done indoors, where I feel safer during these periods. Some of my common activities include reading personal development books, engaging in indoor workouts, and writing randomly about my feelings in a book for future reference.
Exercising is combative to my depression since it frees the mind and increases mental capacity, creating more optimism than pessimism. Reading of personal development books imparts new positive ideas into the freed mental space which exercise creates. This creates a more positive life view during depressive episodes.
On instances when depression seems too much to even get motivation for such practices, writing down my intrusive thoughts and frustrations randomly provides a forum for venting and working through my bad feelings, which controls depression greatly. This is an approach that I have written about in my books, which I constantly refer to. I have to accept that periods of depressive lows have been significant in my healing journey. In addition, I have read books that account for more than half of the milestones gained in my recovery. I have therefore catalogued a list of books that have come in handy in my journey that I can share freely with my connections upon request.
Dealing with the Manic Highs
On the other hand, the energy levels I gain during the manic and hypomanic periods have been key in building my social capital, something that has greatly rebuilt my sense of self after a psychotic episode that manifested during my mania. It would be an overstatement to say that such periods have not been destructive at all. For instance, some of my physical evolutions, like having facial tattoos, tend to be incoherent with my key values, but something I did during manic periods.
The tattoos have sometimes caused my psyche to wrestle with the incongruity between how society perceives me and who I believe myself to be. I have acquired several face tattoos, which include a double cross on my forehead to signify my connection with God who has helped me through the illness, three teardrops on my left upper cheeks as a sign of being remorseful to the people I care about, as I thought they felt disappointed in me, and a musical sign on my neck to express my love for music, which was the only comforter after almost everyone left my space after the mania. In my view, I thought that I could be in full control of each episode I experienced, so I felt like I had let down those who believed in me. However, I have come to realize that these episodes were totally out of control and no amount of tribute, such as my tattoos, can change the past. I have since engaged in multiple attempts to erase the tattoos through laser surgery, which takes longer than one can imagine, but I embrace the experience as something that contributed to my emotional growth.
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After learning the trigger signs of mania, which are typically opposite to the depressive episodes, I have developed a self-help approach that has significantly worked in my favour. Some of the common trigger signs are racing thoughts, which lead to rapid speech when I engage in any communication, elevated moods characterized by unusual optimism or irritability, and a general decreased need for sleep. Once I detect the signs, I engage in activities that combat the accompanied impulses to balance the emitted mental energies through channeling them into a useful task.
In this regard, engaging in outdoor exercising like going to the gym, writing articles on my blog and sharing personal experiences with social media connections have been the best way to use the energy. In the wake of modern technology, social spaces have become massive and one cannot fully utilize all the resources available. However, a key challenge in such instances, for one managing mania, is that one may lose a sense of their own limits and overdo activities. On my side, I set limits by writing down the extent of involvement for every activity that I have on my to-do list, something that I set during my stable moments with the help of internet research. Through this, I have been able to achieve a greater sense of balance.
Dealing with Stigma and Misunderstanding within the Environment
With all the strategies to achieve greater balance in place, there still exists an elephant within the room. The level of stigma and misunderstanding that stems from within my physical environment has been massive. Because of where I live and the resources available, people have little knowledge regarding matters of mental health. Many tend to believe that the only illness that requires attention is the physically manifested conditions and that anything mental is but a personal story to support their actions and behaviours. Such stigma can sometimes be felt even within families, friends, co-workers, and strangers too.
In dealing with this, I have engaged in active advocacy for mental health through writing articles that educate, inform, and share experiences and personal stories on mental health. My hope is to create a processional effect that encourages others to spread a similar gospel. Through this practice, many people have been able to understand the topic better.
Strangers that I meet on a daily basis tend to look at my facial tattoos so curiously and creepily that I am drawn to engage with them. I explain a bit about the tattoos and connect with them on my social pages and blogs to read more about the reason behind the tattoos. The misunderstanding has been the most difficult part to deal with. I have even been turned down for a hospitality job placement due to my facial tattoos, even after explaining this to the interviewing panel why they exist. Nevertheless, this has not stopped me from constantly applying for more jobs and candidly explaining to those who appear inquisitive or those who ask about the facial marks.
For anyone in a similar space, I can affirm that explaining to those close to you and to whom you trust about your feelings and conditions is the best way to keep up the journey of ending the stigma in society.
Creating Community and Support from People
Alongside putting all the above strategies in place, it has been key for me to create both virtual and physical communities and seek emotional support from people. This has acted as my major emotional and mental recharging mechanism, especially when the pressure of the illness is weighing heavily on me. The online spaces have been much more effective since it feels easy to connect to the like-minded communities within those spaces.
Through actively engaging the online resources and spaces, it’s easy to overcome the stumbling blocks that tend to draw one back while dealing with their conditions. Besides, I have made more healthy connections online, with like-minded individuals who are more than willing to support my projects with the advocacy programs at no charge. For instance, the friends I have made within the social media platforms have actively engaged in sharing the link to my personal blog spot that champions advocacy programs of mental health within their social spaces to reach out to many people who may be struggling silently.
As someone building a peer-support network from scratch, the social capital from online allies has been very significant in my journey. The safe space created in virtual communities and groups makes it easy to share experiences that one may fear telling people openly. In turn, they significantly ease and free one’s mental capacity hence making the recovery and healing journey seamless even without medication.
Conclusively, inability to afford medication for one’s mental illness should not be a death sentence. One can still live a fulfilling life while battling their mental health conditions, as long as they have a clear-cut comprehension of what the illness is all about. The key for me to keep myself afloat, while unable to acquire medication, is to have a keen awareness of my environment, the appropriate coping mechanisms. I kindly implore you to share your feedback on my strategies, comment and distribute to anyone who may require it to help deliberate many who have lost hope in life due to the inability to afford medication for their conditions at the moment. If you would like to connect with me further on this journey, do not hesitate to reach out through my social spaces and addresses since I am always amenable to any discussion on the topic.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Gabriel Nathan | EDITOR: Laura Farrell | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | SITE ORIGINATOR: Bud Clayman