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David Baxter

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Living With Bipolar Disorder: Six Key Coping Strategies

G.J. Gregory shares the top six coping strategies that have helped guide him through the ups and downs of bipolar disorder.

I?m often asked how to cope with bipolar disorder. It is a question all of us with the disorder are asked. The truth is, sometimes we cope successfully, and sometimes we do not. And I will be the first to admit that my manifestation of bipolar disorder is not the same as the next person?s, and their level of functionality may be far different from mine. But the principles of coping should be the same no matter what. I have a way, silly as it is, to remember my personal coping method. I?m not a rapper, but I have rapped.

Routine
Routine is a huge part of my life. When I get pulled out of my routine, I run into problems. This can make for a boring person, but it also makes for a healthy person. I try to go to bed at about the same time at night. I get up at the same time. I work out at the same time. I go to work, come home, eat, write, or do other activities, go to bed and do it again. When my body and mind know what to expect, they are so much easier to work with.

Activities
This is what makes life enjoyable to me. I don?t live to work, so my activities are what I really enjoy. I love to watch my daughters play soccer or basketball, and I used to love to watch my boys play football. I love to camp, fish, and bike. I take a hunting trip with my father and brother each year. My wife and I love to visit garage sales on Saturdays in the summer. In other words, I have a lot to look forward to. I hate to miss any of them, and will do everything I can to be healthy enough to participate.

Passion
To some degree, this goes along with ?Activities?, but it encompasses so much more. What is it that you?re really passionate about? That thing you lie in bed at night thinking about? That calling, that activity, that thing that you can?t wait to tackle, that gives you that rush of excitement and satisfaction? We must have passion in our lives. Now for a caveat: I am not talking physical passion. That is a different type of passion which, while enjoyable and perhaps necessary, can be perilous to our frame of mind for so many reasons.

Purpose
I strongly believe we all have a purpose in life, and I don?t believe that purpose is pre-ordained. Through the hardships we face, and the decisions we make, our purpose usually becomes increasingly clear as we move through life. It also changes based on our stage in life. As young adults, our purpose may be to raise the best children we can, or be the best spouse, employee or student we can. As our lives change, so will our purpose. The important point is to keep watching for the way that we can make a difference in the world. Believe it or not, one person can change the world.

Exercise
I can?t stress enough how important an exercise program is to a healthy mind and body. We all give lip service to exercise, but the vast majority of us just don?t do it. You can improve your mood, stabilize your swings, improve your memory, lengthen your life, avoid life-changing illness, boost your self-esteem ? improve everything about you with a serious exercise regime. There is a book that has changed my life, and it will change your life if you let it. It?s called ?Younger Next Year? by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge. There is also a separate version of the book specifically for women. It?s written with an over-40 audience in mind, but will motivate and change anyone?s view of exercise in life. It?s an indispensable book.

Devotion
We all need a spiritual side to our lives. We need to be devoted to our particular form of spirituality. I?m not about to tell you what is right, as finding it is one of our great purposes in life. And what is right for me is not necessarily right for you. But when things get bad, we need that hope, that way of reaching out and embracing our beliefs. A wonderful gentleman in one of my support groups has a very strong spiritual side. When we share our challenges, and he?s had a bad week, he doesn?t hesitate to tell us how his God has pulled him through the week. I admire his faith, his devotion, and the way it helps him find his way. Not everyone at the meeting shares his spiritual views, but we all respect how it guides his life.
 

David Baxter

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McMan's Eight-fold Path to Living Well

McMan's Eight-fold Path to Living Well
by John McManamy
Friday, May 4, 2007

My colleague at BipolarConnect, GJ Gregory, in a recent blog posted a list of six crucial strategies he employs to manage his illness, which I strongly urge you to read. GJ got me thinking about MY strategies, which largely overlap with his, which in turn largely overlap with those of ?successful patients? I have talked to over the years. For managing my own illness, I regard each one of the following as every bit as important, if not more so, than the meds I take:

Knowledge is Necessity
Studies have found that ?expert patients? who put in the effort to learn about their illness and actively manage it have far better outcomes than ?passive patients.? Everything about managing our illness ? from establishing good working partnerships with our clinicians to how we choose to lead our lives - depends on our willingness to educate ourselves.

Mindfulness
Several years ago, Melbourne researcher Sarah Russell, Ph.D surveyed 100 ?successful patients? with bipolar. What they told her essentially boiled down to ?mindfulness.? In the context of our illness, this involves being microscopically attuned to subtle shifts in our moods and energy levels and behaviors. We need to pick these up before our clinicians do, or our friends and family.

For instance, if you spot yourself sleeping less or getting angry more, you need to do something about it right away, while the situation is manageable, before your mind spirals out of control. Often, the solution may be as simple as ?stopping to smell the roses? or getting a good night?s sleep.

Avoiding and Managing Stress
The brain in crisis or overload is probably the greatest risk factor for a mood episode. With mindfulness techniques, we can often avoid stress before it eventuates, or manage the stress we can?t avoid. This is where a whole range of personal coping skills comes into play, from learning to substitute erroneous thoughts with rational ones, to developing better interpersonal skills, to finding ways to gain control over your life, to learning how to relax.

Good Sleep is Crucial
Sometimes I am convinced that sleep is the main illness and that the mood disorder is the downstream effect. The one ironclad statement I can make about our illness is this: If you struggle with your sleep, you are certain to be struggling with your illness. Stick to a daily routine and a regular sleep schedule, and practice good sleep hygiene

You Are What You Eat
There is no one right diet, but there are millions of bad ones. The excessive sugars and saturated fats in our diets set us up for everything from sharp mood and energy swings to mental sluggishness, jitters, low self-esteem, to medical complications galore. A 20-oz Coke contains the equivalent of 15 teaspoons of sugar. And you wonder why kids bounce off the walls at school.

Be careful about diets that set you up to fail. It may be better to set modest goals and to aim for eating a bit smarter.

Exercise
Numerous studies have linked exercise to elevated mood and reduction of depression. This includes aerobics, walking, and yoga. Simple advice: Find something you like to do (such as walking) and fit it in to your daily routine. Find an activity that is fun to do with others (such as dance lessons).

Connectedness
This includes being connected with who you are, with other people, and with something greater than yourself (be it God or your own intuition). Without these connections, you are inviting in depression and frustration and anger.

Fittingly, all these levels of connectedness interconnect. Finding personal piece of mind has a lot to do with seeking out and maintaining the type of relations that nurture and challenge us. Be ready to step outside of your comfort zone ? if you are standing still you are going backwards.

Resilience
We may be a vulnerable population, but you are a lot tougher than you think. Take credit for the strength and courage you have already displayed in the teeth of one of the worst illnesses on earth. Even the best of us enter states of hopelessness. But even in our worst states, we have a small element of control, and that is cause for hope.

Final Word
Your illness will always remain a challenge, but you can take comfort in the fact that the world?s foremost expert in the art of being you is hard at work on your case. Live well ?
 

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