Beyond hospital walls

Managing a chronic illness outside of institutions like hospitals aren’t easy. Every single moment of your life is touched when your journey with a chronic illness like bipolar disorder begins or flares up again. There isn’t a time machine that will zap you back to where you were before it. And the truth is that your physical and mental health isn’t the only thing that has changed. Your entire life, your routine, and all the microscopic decisions you have to make has also changed.

Life itself has prescribed me a new pair of lenses and I will never see the world the in same way again; my perspective and attitude about life and relationships have changed entirely.

It’s been some time since I left the hospital but it has been a constant uphill battle as I continue to ebb and flow with my bipolar disorder – for better and for worse. For example, I’m finally living the regular ol’ human life after being in a lengthy downward spiral. 3 years later, I’m back on track with all the right medications and coping skills! And as great as I thought this would be… it’s been really really really hard.

I’ve spent the last month trying to ride a unicycle while twisting animal balloons… only to have them pop in my face. Falling flat on my face. Every time. Over and over again.

I’m realizing that there isn’t an easily accessible “Life Skills Boot Camp for Bipolar Disorder.” At least one that I’m aware of. Routine and sleep are the two most important pieces of the bipolar puzzle, and it’s impossssssible to fit it all together without losing pieces left, right, and centre. While I was sick at home and away from work, the “routine and sleep” thing was very do-able. But that was within my artificial bubble. Now that I’ve migrated into the real world, I’m falling ass backwards.

Something as simple as staying out late with my friends at night requires an immense amount of planning that I’m only learning now.

For example, I need to make sure I pack my night time medications and somehow take it discretely without being asked what I’m doing. As simple as it is to explain… not everyone understands or accepts mental health illnesses. It does spoil my night when I have to tell someone, “No they’re not antibiotics/vitamins. I’m bipolar and these are my medications.” Most people aren’t sure how to respond without making it obvious that they’re surprised I’m bipolar.

Then I need to plan exactly when I’ll leave, be firm about leaving at that specific time, and wake up the next morning at a reasonable time. If I stay out too late and sleep in too much, my mood will pay for it the next day. I’ve done this before and boy, oh boy, the anxiety sores high and my mood swings are hung on a wrecking ball… with the ability to ruin everything in its way.

My biggest challenge seems to be alcohol – how do I say no to thy beer or G&T? Learning to balance how much I should drink without messing up my mood the next few days is always in question. The annoying part is that I hardly drink now because I haven’t been able to find that sweet spot so it’s safer to just not drink at all. Even if I have to endure the numerous “Why don’t you/aren’t you drinking?” questions that people would naturally ask.

The last and most important bit is my emergency plan. You never know when a panic attack or hallucination strikes! And though this hasn’t happened yet, I’ve relied on a buddy system. There is always one person who can locate my pill box and escort me to a safe place.

As sad as it makes me feel sometimes that, you know, I can’t just slip on a party dress and head out in a fancy pair of dancing shoes, I know it’ll all be second nature to me one day. I’m still growing with my bipolar disorder. It’s just that adulting in my 20s is challenging enough and now there is this. I know it will all come to me but I am light years away from that. Only for now at least.

xoxo,
Joanne

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