One of my several bookcases of binders
I used to pride myself on my total type-A personality. Over-achiever, control freak, wannabe wonder-woman who took on way too much – at work, at home, as a volunteer, and in social settings. My level of obsessive organization was unrivalled: I have over 60 binders for every possible project, labelled and stored neatly in my office.
Needless to say, confronting chaos and embracing change is not one of my fortés.
So when I developed bipolar disorder, I got completely derailed.
It was my type-A personality (combined with menopause) that caused my bipolar
In the spring of 2008, I was working 18-hour days on work deadlines, plus some all-nighters (this was not too unusual for me in those days). I was also in the middle of a legal crisis involving one of my children and their school, so I was in full mama-bear mode, fighting the system and defending our child. I was convinced that I would win, so I poured all my energy into this battle. Add imbalanced hormones from menopause onset to the mix of exhaustion, emotional over-investment, and work stress… and you have a blueprint for mental meltdown.
In my case, this manifested as rapid-cycling bipolar disorder type I.
My perfectly curated life collapsed. Immediately after losing the legal battle, I plunged into a long depression. This was followed by numerous classic manic and depressive episodes, psychiatric hospitalizations… and all the drama that bipolar bestows.
But it was also my type-A personality that enabled my recovery
It was a hard road to recovery. But I got here, ironically, thanks to my type-A personality. Even in my most wild mental states, there was a fragment of the “real me” still clinging tenaciously. That fragment hated the total loss of control that bipolar had brought, and knew that this beast needed to be reined in.
So I gathered the few remaining shreds of my brain that still functioned and began to:
meticulously chart my moods;
make daily lists of my symptoms as well as the side effects I got from my meds;
obsessively track my activities, mealtimes, and sleep times;
diligently study my triggers; and
radically alter my lifestyle to avoid any excessive excitement or stress.
I totally redesigned my life and implemented a new daily routine with militaristic obedience. I did everything and anything to take back control of my life!
After two full years of battling uncontrolled bipolar, I clawed my way back to mental stability. And there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for it.
If you’re still on the journey back to your own stability, I urge you to implement a daily routine that will promote your wellbeing. Take charge of your own mental health and be proactive about your recovery. It’s entirely possible for you to get there!
If you’ve read my memoir, use the tips in Self-Care for Stability (Appendix 3), and any other resources you may have, to develop your routine. Ask for help with sticking to your routine from your support network. Reach out if you have specific questions; I’d love to address them in a future blog post.
See my next post for the science behind daily routines and mental health.
▶︎▶︎ By the way, I’m compiling an anthology of bipolar stories. If you’re interested in sharing yours, see the details here.