|Image: Synergy Programs|
At many times in my life, stress has sent me over the edge into mania and depression, and has caused me to be hospitalized more times than I can remember. As people with bipolar disorder, it is essential that we try to get a handle on our stress levels. For me, medication, diet, exercise, meditation, lifestyle changes, and therapy, have helped me to manage my stress. When stress seems to be getting out of control, I know I need to do something about it. If I can't handle the stress on my own, it's definitely time to call both my psychiatrist and my therapist. Spending time in a serious state of stress often leads to unpleasant outcomes for me: mania and depression. Hospitalization always seems like a huge setback, plus it's time consuming, often at the worst times, and expensive.
The biggest lifestyle change I've made is going on disability. At the time I went on disability, I was mired in a serious depression that I spiraled into after becoming so inert that I couldn't continue to teach. I had chosen to become a special education teacher because I thought that, as a person who had experienced many years of stability, I was ready to handle the stress, and my diagnosis of bipolar disorder would give me the insight and compassion to help students who were struggling with learning and behavior disorders. I did a good job for almost five years. In fact, I earned several awards and a lot of positive feedback from students, parents, and my principal. But the stress eventually got to me and I became almost immobile and was no longer able to gather the energy to teach. In fact, waking up was hard, as was attending to daily tasks such cooking and cleaning, and even getting dressed. I got to the point where I was barely able to care for myself, and I applied for, and was granted disability.
The period before I went on disability was the lowest part of my life. After I received disability, a lot of the stress I had felt was removed. Ironically, I saw disability as a time to focus on my health. I gradually regained my mental and physical strength. For anyone who has experienced long periods of depression, it's obvious that it's physically unhealthy. Too much time spent in bed or sitting causes muscular weakness, and many people who are depressed don't eat enough, or eat the wrong foods, and the poor nutrition causes a deterioration in health.
After a year on disability, I was able to begin working at a part time job, and now I've been working part time for slightly over three years. I'm feeling much better about myself, and people are beginning to wonder why I'm still on disability. The answer is stress. It has been a breaking point for me in the past and I need enough experience with my stable self to prevent stress from harming me again. I feel that I need a longer period of stability behind me before I go off of disability. My therapist and psychiatrist have shared their opinions that I am not ready to go off of disability yet, if at all.
Although I've been on disability for several years, and have reduced my stress, I've still become manic and have had to be hospitalized twice in the past three years. And I've experienced one serious depression where I was unable to work as many hours as usual for a couple of months. I'm hoping that my medication changes and lifestyle changes will continue to work, and I'll improve in my ability to handle stress to the point where I'll be able to handle the stress of working full time. I want nothing more than to deal with my bipolar disorder in a healthy way and to live the most productive life that I possibly can.