People with mental illness have various levels of functioning. Sometimes a good day is when you talk in your group therapy session at the psych ward. Sometimes a good day is getting out of bed. Sometimes a good day is going to the doctor. And sometimes a good day is giving successful presentation to a bunch of executives.
It varies from person to person.
And while anyone can tell you to “take your meds,” that doesn’t really tell you how to get from non-functional to functional. It’s true no one has the exact answer, 33 high-functioning people with bipolar disorder identified six things that keep them moving forward.
As I’ve said before, high-functioning bipolar disorder is a bit of a funny term. High-functioning to one person isn’t the same as it is for another. That’s OK. The idea is to do the best you can with your illness in this moment. You don’t have to reach a magical “functioning” number on a magical “functioning” scale.
What Helps Functioning
According to Murray et al. from Melbourne, there are six categories of strategies that help people with bipolar disorder function:
- Sleep, diet, rest and exercise
- Ongoing monitoring
- Reflective and meditative practices
- Understand bipolar disorder and educating others
- Connecting with others
- Enacting a plan
Why Do These Things Matter?
These sound like pretty good ideas to me. Here’s my take.
- I consider sleep the #1 predictor/cause of mood by a long shot. Rest is up there too. If you don’t have good sleep hygiene now, I have no idea what you’re waiting for.
- Checking in with professionals is critical. You need a touchstone to keep you on your treatment plan and hold you accountable. Plus, it forces you to think about how you are and what you’ve been doing, which makes you more aware.
- I’m so reflective I see my face in a stone, but that’s me. I’m a touch obsessive about such things. But you don’t have to be. Take five minutes a day and be mindful and reflective. Use those five minutes to write in a mood journal. Use those minutes to see how you did on your treatment plan today and what you are going to do tomorrow.
- Psychoeducation has been shown as a critical factor is recovering from mental illness. I know psychoeducation seems like a big word, and it’s a big idea, but learning about bipolar disorder will give you tools to spot its symptoms and handle them better. (Therapists can help you with this.)
- No man, or bipolar, is an island. Even if you really don’t feel like it, spending time with others is essential. Make yourself do it. It will help in the long run.
- A plan has also been shown to be critical in preventing mood relapse. How can this be? Well, you see, after you’ve psychoeducated yourself and know what to look for, you can then see the early warning signs while reflecting and reach out to others as needed. You can hopefully stop a mood dead in its tracks before it gets all dramatic-like. Plans are also great for what to do if you feel unsafe for any reason. Who you gonna call? Your plan should tell you.
Not everyone is going to do all of these things every day. That would take a long time. But what anyone can do is take one part of one of these things and work on it today. How are you going to build a sleep routine? Can you go for a walk? Do you have groceries in your fridge? Have you taken a moment for yourself?
And so on, and so forth. You’re not perfect, and you’re not going to be doing all those things perfectly all the time. But it does pay to remember that there are things you can do every day to help attain, or maintain, your recovery.
Just don’t go overboard with it because you’ll note that perfectionism and obsession were not on the list.
Murray G, Suto M, Hole R, Hale S, Amari E, Michalak EE. Self-management strategies used by ‘high functioning’ individuals with bipolar disorder: from research to clinical practice. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy. Mar-Apr 2011.