It is starting to change over to fall here in the PNW. A beautiful but also challenging time. Even if I stay on top of my sleep schedule and medication, I can almost guarantee two major mood episodes a year and one always happen in the fall. I’m not talking about the days that just present challenges that throw me off balance for a few days. Or to the days when my lack of sleep effects my state of mind and inability to use coping skills. I mean a major depressive or manic shift. No matter how vigilant I am taking meds, going to therapy, or keeping a strict routine an episode happens. The longer I deal with bipolar the easier it is to spot small changes in how I am reacting to everyday things. I know that if I don’t pay attention and remain vigilant, I’m headed for trouble. Every fall I go through a depressive episode. How bad of one sometimes just depends on how soon I recognize trouble and adjust with my doctor. I go through a self-checklist that helps me identify trouble.
- Am I sleeping? How much?
- Am I showering every day? Am I getting out of pjs before noon?
- Am I eating? Am I ordering in or cooking?
- Have I been on the treadmill or at least left the house?
- Am I taking my meds at same time every day?
- Have I made it to all my counseling appointments?
- Am I overly impatient?
- Am I zoning out when someone is talking to me?
- Am I finding everything irritating?
- Has my temper increased?
- Have I worked on my blog?
- Have I taken any photos or baked recently?
Depending on how I answer these questions plus the input from my partner and counselor I may need to look at any red flags that have come up. It is exhausting!! In my mind I feel like all I do is these self-check questions all day long. The constant self-check of how I ‘m feeling or how I’m reacting can be a lot. If I quit asking myself these questions however it’s also a sign of instability. Much like medication these self-check ins are a necessary evil.
The last few months I’ve been dealing with the addition of body pain. What a fun! I haven’t been unable to exercise due to fatigue and joint pain. The exercise helped a great deal with mood management. The increase of fatigue, different from depression fatigue has been a lot to deal with. The overall body and joint pain are drastically affecting my quality of life. My hands, knees, feet, and back ache all day long. I’m currently working with a rheumatologist to find some answers. When you don’t feel well physically it takes a toll on you mentally as well. I didn’t need this additional challenge. Hopefully we can find answers soon. The addition of physical pain has made the self-check more difficult to do. Am I just in pain or is this bipolar? It’s been a rough few weeks.
One of the things I’ve added to my long list of coping skills is photography. I’ve set a goal of taking a minimum of 20 pictures a day. Maybe the best I could do was walk into the backyard. Maybe I just make it outside for a sunset. It doesn’t matter. If I get up and go out and take the pictures, I at least move my body and give my brain something to focus on. The editing process helps distract and organize my mind from both the pain and the mood fluctuations. We set a goal of going down to the river this weekend for some photos. My body was hurting this weekend. I put it off on Friday. Saturday morning was rough, and we pushed it to the afternoon. I really wasn’t in the mood, but we loaded up and walked down to the river. I usually find the river very calming. It was not on this day. My legs hurt, it was hot, there were tons of people. So…high irritation. This was a red flag. I went through the checklist. In the end I chalked it up to no sleep, and pain. I took the 20 plus daily pictures and we walked back to the car and left. When I got home and downloaded the pictures and went to edit, I hated them. Bad composition, bad light, boring pictures. You could tell I wasn’t interested in taking photos. I tried to look at the positive. I completed the goal of 20 pictures, and I got out of the house. So small victories, I guess. That’s the hardest thing about mental illness. Sometimes you must give yourself a break and embrace the small victories. So, give yourself a pat on the back if you made your bed today. Or maybe you got dressed before noon. Took a shower and made yourself a meal. Sometimes those things are the most we can do. Keep plugging along. Every day is a new opportunity and fresh slate.