There are MANY things that are frustrating about bipolar. I hate the meds, the side effects of the meds, the stigma from other people, weight gain, and on and on. I deal with paranoia, depression, insomnia, racing thoughts and other mood symptoms. For some reason though the anger, agitation and anxiety that are part of my bipolar just make no sense to me. The anger is more often than not unprovoked. It’s just an internal boiling that makes no sense. There are situations that may spark an anger response. Perhaps I got cut off in traffic, or someone is rude in the store line, etc. These everyday situations can escalate and last in my mind and body longer then is rational. It makes zero sense to me. When I’m angry I do a quick self-check. Was I wronged in some way and how? Did I view something as unfair? Am I just tired? Am I hungry? Can I remove myself from situation? What can I refocus my energy to? Is this a rational response? Usually by the time I ask one of these questions I can change the course of the emotion, usually. I am not a fan of being angry. I don’t like the way it makes me feel and I’m sure no one else around me appreciates it either. The presence of increased anger is a red flag to a mood shift, and it shouldn’t be ignored.
The increased presence of general agitation/irritation is also a major red flag warning. The agitation/irritation will most likely be noticed by others first. It has to get pretty bad before I notice it. I am very impatient. I’m probably less verbal or conversational. I get bothered by sounds, my clothes feel wrong, nothing feels like it’s going right. It’s like the air around me and everything in it is just wrong. I have no way to verbalize what exactly is wrong. I just don’t feel right.
Anxiety is another story all together. I am constantly anxious. I worry about everything all the time. I get overwhelmed by many situations and without warning. If I leave the house, I worry I didn’t close the garage door, or something might catch on fire in the house. Did I lock the door? Did I trap a cat in the laundry room on the way out? Public situations can be very overwhelming. Am I talking too fast? Am I talking too much? Am I talking too little? Can people tell I’m bipolar? Are they judging me? Do I seem weird? Large crowds of people can sometimes be overwhelming. I HATE going into stores like Costco where everyone bumps into you and its crowded. The amount of time my brain spends on worry and overthinking is ridiculous. Anxiety is exhausting. For the most part I am never without it. If I’m manic it’s there, if I’m depressed it’s there. The topics or triggers of anxiety might change a bit, but I am never free of it. My brain is never quiet.
So, the question now becomes, aside from medication tweaks, what can I do about these mood red flags? Depending on how bad each mood change is most likely it’s just time to touch base with my med management team. I also need to take a look at where I am in my mood cycle. I usually have a major mood episode twice a year. They have become fairly predictable, and I have a plan of action to help manage them. However, if the anger, agitation and anxiety changes are happening at different intervals I need to check in more regularly. Sometimes just a small addition or increase in medication for a week or two is enough to help reset my brain.
I have also made a few lifestyle changes to help battle mood. I’ve gone to a mostly vegan diet and cut back on caffeine. More importantly however, I have added daily exercise. Let me just say this first, I HATE IT! I hate getting on the treadmill every morning. I hate that I let myself get so out of shape in the first place. I hate that my knees hurt. I feel like a chubby hamster on a wheel going nowhere. The flip side however is that it has become an invaluable tool for mood management. I now get up in the morning, have my coffee, eat a snack and get on the treadmill. It helps manage anger and agitation, keeps anxiety down for a few hours, and helps with sleep. In general, it helps mood management. If I’m extra anxious or angry, I walk some more.
My watch and phone track my time and distance. I started in December 2020. I walked one time that month for a total of 29 min and barely made it to 0.65 miles. I was frustrated, tired, and discouraged. By the time I finished with January of 2021 I walked 20 times, for an average time of 27 min and was up to over a mile. February saw 20 walks, 38 min and over 2 miles. The month of March so far has an average of 43 min on the treadmill. I’m not going to run a marathon anytime soon and I’m sure there are tons of people that are doing better. But I can see improvement. These baby steps have felt like monster accomplishments. My morning walk has also helped to keep my moods in check. So much so that the morning exercise has replaced my morning dose of medication. Now, I don’t recommend this for everyone, and this is being monitored by my team of doctors and therapists. But for me, right now, it has helped enough that I am at half the medication I was four months ago. Does this mean I will never need that second dose? Probably not. This is a trial. I still need the bipolar medication. I still struggle with mood management. I still have to monitor changes. Bipolar management is a full-time job that I can never retire from. You know what though? If walking on this stupid treadmill helps to give me a few calm hours in the day, I’ll take it.