Saving Myself

It is hard to live with bipolar disorder. Even though I take medication, I still have symptoms. If I take enough medication to stay symptom-free, I can't hold my head up and work. That level of medication causes me to sleep all day. Medication takes the edge off of my symptoms and slows me down enough so I have time to think before I speak and act--and that has kept me out of a lot of trouble and has allowed me to develop better relationships and also to work full time. But I also have to use a multitude of coping skills to stay well, including setting healthy boundaries.

Because I experienced emotional and sexual abuse within my family, I have to limit the amount of time I spend with my parents to protect my mental health. I have had to keep very firm boundaries about how much time I spend with my parents, what kinds of activities we do together, and what we talk about. My parents are aging and now need extra help--which I give them one day a week at most--usually on a Saturday or Sunday. Sometimes I skip some weeks if they seem to be doing well. I also have to limit the time I spend talking with them on the phone--especially with my mother. My mother is disappointed by short conversations. She would prefer to talk for at least and hour, but I don't have time for that long of a conversation every day. I try to keep our conversations to less than 20 minutes and I call most days to check in on my parents. My sister, who is their Power of Attorney, lives in a different state. We have decided that if my parents need more help than I can give them, they will have to pay for that help by hiring helpers and nurses. I believe in helping my parents, even though I suffered abuse at their hands, but there is a limit to what I can do and still maintain my mental health. I have learned from my life experiences that saving myself is very important. If I am not careful, I can spiral up into mania or down into depression and end up not being able to work or take care of myself for weeks or months at a time. That is a great incentive to stay well!

Because I have a limited amount of energy, my focus is on work. I have friends, and I am involved in community activities, but I don't do everything I could possibly do because rest and sleep are very important to my staying well. I try to have fun every day and spend time with people I like, but I also try to be home by 9 p.m. every night. Sometimes, I make an exception to that rule and stay out late, but I always pay for it later with sleepiness and inconsistent moods. Currently, in my free time, I attend therapy one night a week, take a ukelele class, exercise, have coffee and dinners with friends, and go to movies, plays, and concerts. I am also a member of two social clubs, and I am on the executive committee of one of them. I stay busy, but I also rest and sleep quite a bit. Also, if I am not in a good frame of mind, which can happen at unpredictable times, I bow out of social events and work on maintaining my wellness. I would love to do more than I do, but experience has shown me that if I overextend myself, I cannot stay well. This is what led to me being on disability between 2008 and 2016. I am now trying my hardest to stay well and stay off of disability.

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