7 Strategies for Living and Coping with Bipolar Disorder
My name is Sharon Chisholm, I live in Australia and I am a mind health coach, advocate, writer and speaker.
Fourteen years ago, at the age of 32, I moved from England to Australia. A year later I was married with a new baby and my life was completely different. When my daughter was a year old, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. It’s been a very long rollercoaster journey of ups and downs since then, culminating in me being re-diagnosed last year with bipolar disorder. The new diagnosis was the missing piece of the puzzle and explained so much of my misunderstood behavioral patterns over the years. I’m now doing much better and am managing my life and my health well on a day to day basis.
For me personally, medication has always been the starting point, because without it I couldn’t even think about exercise, healthy eating or more positive thought processes. However, now that I am more stable, I am much more able to take action on the things that I know will help me. Some of these things are:
- A strict sleep schedule – as someone with bipolar, lack of sleep can be a huge issue when it comes to managing mania (or hypomania as I have). I am always in bed by 10pm now and ensure that if I don’t sleep well, I catch up as soon as possible.
- No sugar – or at least, very little sugar. I have cut out chocolate, biscuits, cakes and sugary drinks and feel so much better for it. Now I find that when I eat sugar, I start to experience anxiety within a very short space of time.
- Better eating habits – gone are the days of living off toast and cookies. Now I try to eat a more balanced diet and drink lots of water.
- Time out – if I find that my mind is getting busy, or I start to feel overwhelmed, I take time out and go for a walk. If I don’t feel up to a proper walk, I spend time in my garden with my animals, which always makes me feel better. Just the fresh air and sun on my skin is a pick me up.
- Connection – when I’m depressed, I tend to isolate myself from friends and family. The self doubt kicks in and suddenly I don’t feel worthy of anyone’s time. Giving myself a little push to reach out and ask for help is always a positive step in the right direction.
- Laughter – humour is very important to me and definitely part of who I am. If I can find something that raises a smile, or even better, a hearty belly laugh, then it always makes me feel slightly better.
- Self-acceptance – not allowing those thoughts of worthlessness and self-criticism to sneak in and make themselves comfortable. We all have feelings of doubt sometimes, but it’s not good if we really start to listen to them.
My own mental health journey has led me to wanting to help others. I now run a coaching practice, where I assist those struggling with their own mind health challenges. My client range includes parents, entrepreneurs, employers/employees and also carers of those living with mental health issues. I work with people around the world, from the newly diagnosed still coming to terms with their new reality, to those struggling with the day to day challenges of living and working with mental health issues.
Often when living with depression or other mental illnesses, we tend to isolate ourselves from those around us – this could be due to a number of reasons; we feel like a burden, we believe we are worthless, we feel guilt, shame, immense sadness and it can seem as though all hope is lost. It’s my job to help people feel less alone, more connected and to offer hope to those who feel it is lacking.
I work via Skype or telephone and my role as a peer coach involves listening, questioning and gently challenging my clients’ thought processes to help them find the ideas and solutions to better manage their mental health. I can assist them in creating a crisis plan or support team or simply getting their head around their diagnosis. My role is to listen without judgement, to support and encourage and to be an impartial ear when needed.
I write for a number of online publications, Flying Solo and bpHope, as well as my own blog and I am a passionate mental health awareness advocate and speaker, sharing my own story and talking about the importance of mental health awareness as a whole. I am also involved in projects with Beyond Blue, The Black Dog Institute, the Council of Small Business Australia and other leading organisations in relation to mental health in the workplace.