I am not talking electroconvulsive therapy, more along the lines of “mindfulness” and “self-care.” I loved “Talk Therapy.” I found that combining talk therapy with my mindfulness and self-care ventures were mutually beneficial. You will run into obstacles and it is great knowing that there is a professional that can help you navigate. The point, after all, is to reach a level of awareness so you don’t have to rely entirely on professional help.
One of the first things I figured out was if I was going to be successful at managing my disorder and my life, I was going to have to make some changes. The biggest change was setting up a daily routine. The issue, of course, is that we are naturally creatures of habit and therefore we all have a routine, even if it isn’t recognizable.
My routine wasn’t exactly conducive to good mental or physical health. My manic episodes meant that I was often sleep deprived and didn’t eat enough to sustain a single-celled organism, both being stressors that kept the cycle going. It also kept my body in starvation mode. I had periods where I was excruciatingly thin but most of the time I was heavier than I should be because my body was hanging on to what little I did eat and storing it in those pesky little fat cells as a reserve. In the beginning I literally set timers and I ate when they went off, I felt a bit like one of Pavlov’s dogs, but it worked.
Next I focused on a sleep schedule. This was harder. I have never been a big fan of napping, and sleep has always been elusive. I am not one of those people that fall asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow. My mind was always going and I couldn’t turn it off. I ran through the what, when, how, where and why of it all and found this wasn’t going to be as easy as training myself to eat.
Part of the sleep issue was that frenzied, little, wheel-spinning, hamster in my mind. I needed to find something to slow that sucker down. Medication helped some, and while in the hospital they would occasionally give me sleeping pills, I wasn’t too keen on taking them unsupervised. I also didn’t like that they made my brain-fog worse. A few people in group suggested evening yoga. I tried it, and was asked to leave three classes later. It didn’t slow me down and I was disrupting class.
Reading, surprisingly, didn’t help either, too much mental stimulation and before I knew it the book I started reading at 7 p.m. is finished and it is 6 a.m.. A lot of trial and error later, I had completely omitted any and all sources of caffeine, eliminated sugar from my diet, and by 5p.m. I instituted my bedtime countdown. Eat supper early (5-6 p.m.), no reading after 6p.m., no electronic devices (including television) after 7p.m., lower the lights an hour before bedtime, light incense (Lavender is calming), listen to relaxing music and BREATHE…deeply. I was shocked but this worked…85% of the time, which for me was awesome.
I realize that this sounds really rigid and I suppose it was but desperate times call for desperate measures. I no longer have to have such a rigid routine but I do still use those techniques if I feel I am stressed more than usual or if I am having bouts of insomnia. Revamping my environment helped me to start taking better care of my physical needs, but I began to realize that there was a new issue. That 15% of the time when I couldn’t get to sleep and my bedtime countdown procedures weren’t effective. That issue was negative self talk and it fuels that spinning hamster wheel.
Photo: Sunset in Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India. Taken by Pamela with a Nikon DSLR 5300