Routine

Last weekend, I had a houseguest. An old friend from the city I used to live in needed a short break from her surroundings, so I spoke up and invited her to come over for a weekend. She jumped at the chance.

We had fun. We ate some very good food at a number of good restaurants I know around the city. We visited a famous site where she’d never been and took a tour. I’d been to this site only once before quite a few years ago, so I was delighted to get to go again. We also went to the mall and walked around the shops. We happened across a high-end chocolatier, and I splurged on some very good chocolates. We also got to spend time with a mutual friend, and that was delightful.

I did my laundry on a day that I don’t normally do that chore. I skipped cutting my hair on Saturday morning. I also didn’t go for my regular powerwalk.

On Sunday afternoon, I drove my friend back to the airport and hugged her goodbye. I then drove home and stayed inside for the rest of the day. I played on the internet and read a book and relaxed.

Monday, I was oddly distracted all day. It was hard to concentrate on work, and my colleague asked if I was feeling okay.

Then it struck me that I was irritable. I wasn’t feeling completely normal. I felt a bit off kilter, if that makes sense.

As I was realizing this, the reason flashed across my mind. My routine had been completely upset over the weekend. I didn’t get to do anything at my normal times.

I’ve understood this before. Routine is very important to individuals with mental illness. It’s a way we self-manage our illnesses. By performing the same tasks in the same way over and over, we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that the time is passing calmly. It’s a way to maintain equilibrium.

It has taken me a few days, but I now feel like I’m back to my old self again. My routine is in place, and my equilibrium has returned.

I am grateful for this reminder. I am also grateful I could enjoy the weekend. It felt wonderful to participate in activities that enriched my life. I loved seeing my old friend again. Even though my routine was discarded for a few days, I was able to cope, and then I regained my routine shortly after and got back to my comfortable feelings.

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Changing Medication

I’m going to try to ease back into blogging regularly by mentioning that I changed medication in October. I was taking two different medicines for bipolar disorder, and those have been replaced with one.

I have had a nice side effect. One of the old medicines caused a great deal of weight gain. Now that I’m no longer on that old one, I am shedding pounds. It’s almost effortless. I think I’m at the end of that stage, though, and any more weight loss will require effort.

I have had some not so nice side effects. I went through a period of irrational, high anxiety, and I’ve experienced general irritability. Both are common with my new medicine. I have an anti-anxiety medicine I can take, but I don’t like to. It makes me sleepy. The irritability is another matter.

I have made an important decision. I have stopped explaining and qualifying my experiences. I am what I am. I feel the way I feel for complex reasons. I have stopped apologizing.

A person with a visible disability is not required to volunteer information. I stop the same. I proclaim my independence from judgement.

Interior Wounds and Exterior Smiles

I hurt.

I have just come from a psychotherapy appointment where I laid bare my latest problems. I’m hyper-sexual, and I’m spending money.

I can’t remember whether I’ve written about this or whether that even matters, but bipolar disorder has many seasonal symptoms. I have first-hand knowledge that when the seasons change, my illness demonstrates its hold on me. I often don’t realize it, until it’s almost over or completely over. I’m in one of those periods now, or perhaps I’m coming out of it.

Hyper-sexuality and spending money are symptoms of mania, and I’m manic. My decisions are sometimes flawed now.

However, I have a resolve not to feel shame or guilt. I spoke openly about my recent sexual forays to my therapist, and I will continue to do so. Next, I have to gain the courage to call my nurse and report my mania to her. Sometimes her bedside manner is lacking, and I’m reluctant to talk openly. I am thankful to have friends, old and new. The healing began after my last post here when a correspondent wrote me offering to listen. I wrote back about my troubles. That opening allowed me to chat with my best friend without fear, and then today, I spoke at depth to my therapist.

My money situation is not a problem to my mind. I budgeted some large purchases very recently. All my bills are covered. I will not accept negative looks and judgement about my actions there.

Outside, I’m all smiles.

It’s a mask, and I’m not ready to write about it.

How to Date a Person with Bipolar Disorder

My most popular posts are ones relating to dating and bipolar disorder. I’m glad there are so many people interested in this topic. I’m also a bit puzzled by it.

Are there rules for dating a person with bipolar disorder? Yes, and they are the same ones for dating a person without any diagnosis of mental illness.

Here’s my list of rules for dating a person with bipolar disorder:

  1. Be genuine.
  2. Think of the needs of the person you’re dating before your own in so much as you can without harming yourself.
  3. Laugh when the other person is happy, and comfort them when they are sad.
  4. Communicate clearly your needs and listen carefully to what the other person needs, too.
  5. Get to know a little about bipolar disorder by researching it on the Internet, through books, or by asking healthcare professionals.

Again, I don’t think this list is exclusive to dating a person who has bipolar disorder. In my opinion, it pertains to any relationship. A person with bipolar disorder wants what any other person does from a romantic relationship. We want intimacy, understanding, and ultimately, love.

Having stated what I consider obvious, I’ll give some thought to what many see as the difficulties of dating a person with bipolar disorder.

I have read several online forums in which some people complain that the person they are dating who has bipolar disorder is moody. I read recently one description of a bipolar person running hot and cold. In other words, the person with the disorder seemed quite close and caring and affectionate one day. The next, they were distant and curt and even mean. My thoughts on this situation are few. Please, don’t ever ask the person with bipolar disorder whether or not they are taking their medicine as prescribed nor if their symptoms are flaring up. What you might try doing instead is explaining to the bipolar sufferer how you feel when they behave this way. Talk about your feelings and not about their disease. Try to keep any discussion centered on your feelings about observed behavior.

In fact, I would suggest that you not talk about their disease at all, unless they want to. I have bipolar disorder, but it doesn’t define me. I am many things, and having bipolar is only one piece. When you are together with the person you are dating, find other things to talk about, like art or music or movies or really anything other than the disease. Don’t talk about their medication regimen or other aspects of their treatment, unless they want to.

Plan activities they like, too. Ordinary things can become extraordinary. Baking cookies together can be quite flirtatious. Romance in the kitchen is a lot of fun really. A person with bipolar disorder needs to eat and so do you. Cook a meal together.

If you want to be extravagant, cook the meal for your date. Don’t let them assist you. Make him feel like a king or her like a queen. Tell him/her to sit and relax. I really enjoy having friends over and cooking something with love to give them.

If you talk by phone often or send text messages regularly and that suddenly stops, don’t assume the worst. Your date may simply be having a low period. Your date may not be good at expressing what is happening, and they may not desire to. Don’t take it personally. As with other things I’ve written here, ask what you can do to help them feel better. Offer hugs, asking nothing in return. Don’t assume it’s the disease. There are myriad reasons for a person with bipolar disorder to feel low. We are just as prone to sadness as anyone in the general population. A low point does not automatically lead to serious depression, which calls for a doctor’s intervention.

I can’t help but reiterate a person with bipolar disorder that is under treatment wants what every person does. We aren’t different.

What does one do when the disease really appears to be altering your date’s behavior? There may be times in which you find them behaving unreasonably or even in a bizarre fashion. All I can do is relate my experience and personal knowledge. I am not a doctor. However, I am a Certified Peer Specialist in mental health, and I have been trained in how to relate to other people with mental illness.

Here are my suggestions for dealing with a person who is acting out of the ordinary:

  1. Be genuine.
  2. Make sure you and your date are safe.
  3. Communicate using “I” statements. Don’t pummel your date with “you” statements and accusations.
  4. Speak about concrete examples of behavior that you are observing.
  5. Be respectful of your date and yourself.

I think it’s important to point out, however sad it may be, that the disease can affect a person negatively, and your feelings may get hurt. Only you can decide whether to continue dating an individual with the disorder. Only you can tell if that person is actively seeking help or not. Each situation is unique, and every person is special.

Mental illness carries a tremendous stigma. It is not fully understood by doctors and is less so by the general population. Having one does not mean that a person is not worth the effort required in forming a romantic relationship. All relationships need work.

If you are dating a person who tells you they have bipolar disorder, you should feel honored they shared that information. Thank the person for opening up. I dated a man for eight or nine months and told him my diagnosis only to have him abandon me, leaving my life without a trace even though I was completely stable during our time together. It scarred me.

Dating is all about enjoying yourself. Ask your date if they are enjoying their time with you. Talk often; listen more. Explore your own feelings and your date’s. Don’t assume any particular behavior is a symptom.

Finally, be genuine.

Diet and Exercise

I am about 30 or 35 pounds (13.6 to 15.9 kg) overweight. It’s ugly weight on my gut. Ugh.

Some of the medication I take for my bipolar disorder causes weight gain, but I know there are ways to alleviate the worst. Diet and exercise are a vital part of feeling better when you have mental illness. Well, they help everyone feel better.

A week ago, I started a low-fat diet, and I restarted my daily walk again. Yes, I stopped my daily walk back in July, because I was very busy with extracurricular activities. I was exhausted. I stopped walking, but I didn’t change my eating habits. Thus, I gained even more weight.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the fact I have only one pair of jeans that fit. All my pants, and I mean all, are too tight. So, I went shopping online for new pants in my larger waist size. Then…

…it hit me…

Why buy new clothes?

I did not like the way I looked or felt about my size, so why not change my unhealthy eating habits and start power walking again?

I have a group of friends online that I chat with daily, and I asked them if they would help motivate me. They all agreed, and some joined me in my new quest. They have been a great encouragement. When I feel like splurging and going off my new healthy eating habits, I send a message to one of them, and I receive words in return that help me through.

Weight gain is a problem for almost all people taking medication for mental illness. Losing weight while on these medications is very difficult.

I do not have unreasonable demands. I want to lose 30 or 35 pounds in four months. If something happens between now and then and I hit a plateau, I will not berate myself. I will continue to eat sensibly and exercise daily. I will be happy with whatever I’m able to lose.

I want to feel better. I want to do it for me.

Please, read those last two statements again. They represent enormous strides in advancing my self-esteem. I hated myself for a very long time indeed. I am beginning to love myself, and I believe it comes by doing lovable acts.

Taking care of myself is an act of love. Reaching out and being of service to those who need it is an act of love.

It’s a circle. By getting out of my head and into service for the good of mankind, I feel better about myself inside my head.

At least for today, I feel good.