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It’s been over a year since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

I have to resist the urge to use the “rollercoaster” analogy… but it’s fairly apt. It’s been a year when I’ve discovered the deep, deep lows and energising highs that my brain can take me to.

So I thought I’d note a few of the lessons I’ve learned along this first part of my life-long journey with bipolar.

01 – Fake it to make it
CBT teaches that thoughts an actions are linked. Think “if I felt better / more confident / stronger, what would I do?” Then do it. Target action first, and better thoughts will follow. This is probably the most powerful lesson I’ve learned this year.

02 – Psychiatrists are making it up as they go along
Don’t get me wrong; psychiatric medicine is incredibly advanced and in many ways wonderously beneficial for mental health patients. However, the human brain is way more complex that even cutting-edge psychiatry can keep up with. It can be disorientating as a patient when even the specialist doesn’t have the answer, or when they disagree with each other. The lesson is to work with professionals to best help you, rather than expecting their interventions to be flawlessly useful.

03 – Every remedy contributes a few %
I like this. There is no golden bullet, but equally, every bullet counts. Medication can’t cure you, but it helps a few %. So does excercise. Diet. Love. Etc etc.

04 – Love and support is invaluable
When you’re in a mental quagmire, the love, support and guidance of others plays a huge part in pulling you through.

05 – Scientific knowledge diminishes self-blame
Mental health conditions are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Blaming yourself for feeling abnormal is like blaming yourself for having a cold; there’s no sense in it. Reminding yourself of this scientific fact can help you tap into that healing sense of self-soothing.

06 – Solve the big problems
My anxiety becomes all-encompassing, making everything feel overwhelming. There’s usually at least one or two genuinely problematic issues that kick it off, though, and addressing those can cause the generalised anxiety to lift.

07 – Feeling rubbish doesn’t really matter
On so many days, I’ve felt absolutely awful. The funny thing is, almost nobody notices, and nothing in particular goes wrong.

08 – Ignore the statistics
There are some horrible stats out there about how ruinous mental health conditions can be. It’s best not to dwell, as this creates an unhealthy sense of ‘trying to beat the odds’. You’re just you.

09 – Build checks and balances for hypomania
Bipolar mania or hypomania, left unchecked, feels awesome but can cause real-world havoc. Set rules and get loved ones to intervene if necessary. And listen to them! (Easier said than done, I know.)

10 – Talking is fascinating 
I don’t know that I agree that ‘talking about your feelings’ is always a good idea. Sometimes it just gives negative thoughts more space to inhabit your mind. That said, talking about mental health with others can be fascinating. Everyone seems to have a story to tell, and by setting an example of openness you create a space where others feel comfortable and greatful to share.

For anyone who feels they need to, there’s ample support out there to help with mental health. I recommend seeing your GP, contacting a relevant charity or asking friends for advice.

Thanks for reading.

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