Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sleep is a powerful medicine

In my first manic episodes, things didn't really get out of hand until I had gone without sleep for a few days. I had convinced myself that as long as I got rest, sleep was not necessary. I have since learned that sleep is the brain's reset mechanism. It's not just for the body, it's essential for the mind.

A healthy amount of sleep is around 7.5 hours/day. If you're falling substantially short of that, see your doctor or go to the store and get some diphenhydramine. Ideally, you want to learn to sleep on your own whenever possible, but don't dwell on that. Get your sleep however you can.

When you're in depressive mode, you may have the opposite problem. You want to sleep all the time. This is a reaction to your emotions and the best way to combat that is to simply ignore the urge. If you know you've had enough sleep, get up and find something to do. Take a walk, clean the house, read something.

In manic mode, your thoughts can often keep you awake. You have an idea or train of thought that's stuck in a loop and you can't let it go. One thing that helps is to make use of external memory, that is, write it down. You can go to your computer or pick up a pen and paper and just write yourself an article, essay or letter. The idea will be there in its entirety should you decide to pick it up again tomorrow or later. If you're re-thinking all the things you need to do tomorrow, make your to-do list and set it on the kitchen table. Get all the things rolling over in your head onto hard copy. You'll find it quite relieving.

Alcohol is not a good solution. Trust me on that one. Turkey soup, however, does help. Another trick is to count backwards in your head, slowly, from 1000. If you lose count, start over. If you get to zero, start over. It's tedious and boring and keeps your brain occupied. Eventually your thoughts drift and you'll find yourself nodding off. Also, if you're consistently not getting enough sleep, layoff the caffeine for a while. You don't have to give it up forever. You can live without it for a week or two.

The need for sleep is a biological fact. It's important to acknowledge that because your brain will sometimes try to convince you otherwise. The world will still be there when you wake up. It's okay to ignore it for a few hours. In fact, you'll deal with it much more efficiently if you do.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Obsession - Are You Doing Other People's Homework?

When I was in high school, things came pretty easy to me. I had empathy for those who did not pick up on things so quickly. So much so that I would often take it upon myself to help them catch up in class. This actually put me in a position where I had to stay late to finish some final projects because I hadn't spent enough time on my own work.

I was not experiencing bipolarism at the time. It was just a bad habit. But, when you are chemically imbalanced, this same type of behavior can exhibit itself in the extreme.

In my own experience, during one fairly lengthy episode I took to joining scientific forums and going on for hours about the cosmos, it's origins and the nature of physics. I'm not a scientist, just curious. All this would have been fine except that I had two businesses barely hanging on and I was spending five hours a day or more on something that was not benefiting myself, my businesses or my family in any way, shape or form. Fortunately I caught on after a while. Now when I notice myself falling into some kind of obsessive behavior, I try to direct it toward something more productive. I'll still find an hour or two a week to ponder the universe, but if I'm going to spend 1/3 of a day on something, it better be making me money or improving my lot in life in some way. No more doing other people's homework.

Be on guard for such behavior. You may not be able to control the chemicals that run through your bloodstream, but again, you can control your reaction to them with practice. If you find yourself spending a lot of time pondering one thing, or engaged in a specific type of activity, stop and look at the situation objectively. Does it make sense? Are there better ways to spend your time? What are your goals for the next 6 months, 3 years, 5 years? What can you be doing now to get you closer to them? Why aren't you doing that instead of trying to become the Sudoko champion of the world?

A good way to start is to simply make a list each morning of the things you'd like to accomplish today. If you get them all done you can spend a little time in trivial pursuits. Eventually you want to mesh the things you have to do with things you like to do. You can do this by trying to find entertainment value in the things you have to do, as well as constantly reevaluating what it is you think you want to do.

If you can find a way to pursue your interests in a way that benefits someone else, you've stumbled onto a potential productive enterprise. We call it capitalism. Don't be in too big a hurry. You don't have to figure it all out this week. Just keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities and take them when they arise. In the meantime, don't lose sight of your present reality. Do your own homework.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Get comfortable being uncomfortable

The big problem with being bipolar or subject to chemical imbalance is not so much the way it makes you feel, it's how you react to the way it makes you feel and how those reactions affect those around you.

Drugs can mask the problem, but they wont repair the system. You can actively manage the system, however. Work with what you have. Don't wait for your body chemistry to change. Get familiar with it and make the necessary adjustments.

I was a severe party-er in high school and college, which may have been some subconscious self-medication, or it could just have been that I enjoyed it. No matter. I got to a point that I could be completely wasted and you'd never know it if I didn't tell you. I became so familiar with being inebriated that I was able to function normally when I had to, whether I was inebriated or not. Of course, the damage to the internal organs was the same. Only my behavior was different.

The point is that one can do the same with any stimulus. You can feel the anxiety without demonstrating it. You don't have to put your mania, or your depression on display. If you need help, of course, go get help, but if you've reached the point where your emotions no longer alarm you, you don't have to put them on display. You can "play hurt". If you are not among people who understand and can help you with what you're going through, making them aware of it can actually make your immediate situation worse. You're just going to scare them. As I've said, fear is not your friend.

I'm not saying you should hide your condition or not get help in managing it. I'm just saying that if you're experiencing a panic attack while standing in line at the bank, finish your business at the bank, then go get help if you need it. If a bout of depression comes over you during a presentation, pinch yourself, focus on your task, put a smile on your face. Do your job, then call your friend, doctor, wife, or whoever you need to call. If you're not at a point where you can safely pull these things off, don't try to. Just know that it is possible. You can re-train your brain. You are in control of your behavior even if you're not in control of your emotions or body chemistry. You don't have to wait for a cure to have the happy, productive life you want to have. You are the cure.