In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, this week’s episode of Self-Care Sunday will focus on some of the physical aspects of dealing with a mood disorder. You DON’T need to have a mood disorder to appreciate the advice that Sarah shares about self-care! If you have a family member or friend who suffers from a mood disorder (depression, bipolar, anxiety, etc.), read this to find out what it feels like to suffer from the sufferer’s perspective.
Maintaining Balance When You Have a Mood Disorder
Sarah Ojeda has lived with bipolar disorder since the age of 18—but it went undiagnosed and worsened from mild symptoms to major symptoms for three years. You can read more about her journey here. She’ll talk about the five keys to maintaining balance when you suffer from a mood disorder.
Tell us a little bit about your physical health when you first discovered that you had bipolar disorder.
When I first discovered that I had bipolar disorder, I was in the middle of my second and worst manic episode. I weighed about 185 lbs. (my normal/current weight is around 140) and I had mild acne. I got about two or three hours of sleep per night, but I had plenty of energy so sleep didn’t seem very necessary.
How was your state of health compared to when you were a teenager?
As a teen, I lived a very active lifestyle. My family often went on hikes and mountain bike rides on the weekends (I grew up in Montana), and I liked jogging. I played volleyball all throughout high school. Even though I struggled with eating disorders for some of my teen years, I was never overweight. I had great sleeping habits (I made sure to get 8 or 9 hours of sleep every night), a healthy diet, and clear skin.
Before your diagnosis, did your lifestyle do anything to exacerbate your condition?
My bad eating habits may have exacerbated my condition leading up to my diagnosis. When I went through a depressive episode, all I would want was to eat and sleep. When I was in a manic episode, I would overeat as well, but I wouldn’t realize I was doing so. My weight was always out of control when I was either depressed or manic. At one point it appeared that I had binge eating disorder, but it was caused by the depression. When I was no longer depressed, the binge eating went away.
In the last three years, what have you discovered about self-care that makes a difference in your overall health and maintaining an equilibrium with you moods?
Some important items of self-care are eating a healthy and balanced diet, exercising regularly (even walking counts!), having regular sleep habits, and taking my medicine regularly.
For the first six months or so after I was diagnosed, I had my mom remind me (via text message) to take my medicine, which helped me get into the habit. It is okay to ask someone to help remind you to take your medicine on time—it’s so important to take it, and sometimes it’s a hard habit to create when you’re not used to taking medicine.It's ok to ask someone to help you remember to take your medicine. #mentalhealthawareness #mooddisorder #bipolar Click To Tweet
Any advice for people or family members on how they can assist a person with bipolar disorder (things family members should do and not do)?
Family members or friends of people with bipolar disorder should always try to be supportive and loving. If a person is depressed, never tell them to “snap out of it,” because that is impossible and it will make the person feel more helpless because they really wish they could, but they can’t.Never tell someone with a mood disorder to 'Snap out of it. Click To Tweet
If you suspect manic behavior, let the person know if you notice anything unusual about their behavior. If they deny it and you are sure it is unusual, don’t let it slide. From my experience I have learned that during a manic episode, it is nearly impossible for the person in the manic episode to realize they are doing unusual or dangerous things. It may seem very normal to them.
Let someone else know—their psychiatrist or a close family member. One thing family members and friends should NOT do is judge the person’s behavior and develop negative opinions about the person because of something they did during a manic or depressive episode.
This is very hurtful for the person, especially when they recover, because they will then realize that what they did was wrong but they will have a hard time explaining why they did it, and that it “wasn’t them.” Try to keep in mind that this is a mood disorder, and depending on the severity of the episode, they do not have much (if any) control over how their mood affects their behavior.
Any last words of advice on self-care for others with bipolar disorder?
This applies to anybody—trying your best to maintain balance in every aspect of your life is very important.
This is especially true for those with bipolar disorder because imbalances can make a mood episode worse, and that’s the last thing you want.
Try to be balanced in your diet, exercise, sleeping habits (even getting too little sleep for one night can have a negative effect on your mood), avoid substances, and surround yourself with positive people.
Try to avoid stress that could be prevented, like procrastinating (this one is sometimes hard for me!). Bipolar disorder is a serious psychiatric condition but with treatment and effort on your part, it is a manageable illness and you can still live a normal, healthy life despite it.
Keys to Achieving Balance
- Exercise every day.
- Sleep at least eight hours a night (aim for going to bed and waking up at the same times daily).
- Drink plenty of water and make healthful eating choices.
- Take medications regularly (and get help if you need to until you establish the habit).
- Plan your days to avoid stressful situations (don’t procrastinate).
If you have anything to add to this list, please share in the comments! Also, I’m soliciting input from those who suffer from a mental illness or have a family member who suffers. Go to this page to find out more!
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