After ten years struggling through the highs and lows of manic depression, I have made my fair share of mistakes - from spending thousands of dollars on items that I didn't really need numerous times, to marrying someone I hardly knew at the time because I felt like it was meant to be.
While the lows of bipolar disorder can be debilitating and last for years on end, the highs of mania can do just as much damage.
Fortunately, after learning my lesson the hard way, I've discovered some ways to identify a manic thought and shut it down down before it takes my life off the rails. While it will take me many years to recover from all of the mistakes I have made, here is what I have learned.
While you may feel completely normal internally during a manic episode, there are bound to be signs that are easy for other people to notice.
When you first get your bipolar diagnosis, it's important to establish a support structure of people who know you well and can help you spot when things are off. They may notice that you seem abnormally energetic, are more talkative, or are gravitating more towards a spiritual or ‘meant to be' view on life.
There are also signs that you can notice for yourself. Pay attention to how quickly thoughts come to you. If it feels like your mind is experiencing increased traffic, you may be hypomanic.
Then, of course, there are the hallmark symptoms of mania - decreased need for sleep, a change in appetite, and impulsivity. You may find it helpful to chart your moods and symptoms over time if you find it difficult to predict or identify your episodes before they become a crisis.
A mood chart can also help you discover patterns in your cycles such as becoming more manic during certain times of the year. By anticipating the mood change, you can get ahead of it.
Before you decide to make a major decision such as a large purchase, a new relationship, or a move to another area, you have to thoroughly consider whether or not you are making the choice with a sound mind. Otherwise, there can be major consequences when your mood levels off.
I can't tell you how many times my mania or hypomania has made it seem like starting a new business or career is the right move. A year ago this Christmas, I decided to give up writing and asked my boyfriend to quit his job as a plumber to start a company hanging Christmas lights around my sister's neighborhood.
I told him we would make thousands doing it, and so we decided to go to Best Buy and take out a credit card to buy some gadgets to help with the business. We ended up only booking a few gigs and are still behind on our bills from the loss of income.
I could blame my boyfriend who doesn't have bipolar disorder for thinking it was a good idea and taking the plunge with me. However, in the end it doesn't matter who made the decision. We have to live with the consequences.
If you don't want to end up in a similar situation, set a rule for yourself that you won't make any major life decisions within a month of coming up with the idea. Give yourself the time it takes to establish integrity in your desires. Learn to tell yourself no in the moment, so in the long run you will be happier with your decisions.
If you have trouble doing this, it may be a good time to get a therapist. They will talk through your choices with you and help you see through the highs and lows of the manic depressive mind to establish your identity outside of the illness.
Then, they will teach you techniques so that you can act in accordance with your values and actualize your desires, not as the result of a manic thought, but through patience, diligence, and sacrifice.
Remember, anything worth having takes time to establish. Rome wasn't built in a day. Focus on putting things into your life that have lasting value beyond the monetary and you will never regret investing in yourself.
Radical acceptance is a key concept taught in both substance abuse recovery groups and dialectual and cognitive behavioral therapy for mental health issues. The basic idea is that when something goes wrong or leads to a negative outcome, you have to choose to say to yourself, "it is what it is", and life goes on.
One of my favorite writers of all time is Hunter S. Thompson and one of his most famous quotes is, "Buy the ticket, take the ride." At its basics, that means you have to live with the outcome of your choices and once you set a course of action into motion, you have to let go of the outcome.
While this can be a difficult thing to do when your manic behavior led you to spend money you didn't have, put an important relationship in a compromising situation, or lose a job, picking yourself back up and starting again is the only way forward.
Ask for forgiveness when you need to from the people you've hurt, and then go about your day. The people who choose to stay are the ones worth having around, and the people that can't handle it, you're better off without.