Sam has a diagnosis of bipolar 1. Here he shares his experience of bipolar disorder the effect it has on his life, functionality and the lessons he learned that will help others too.

How to manage bipolar

Bipolar disorder is a severe mental illness and one that shouldn't be taken lightly. From my personal experience and research in the field of psychology, I've learned that this disorder can't be "beaten' in the strictest sense, like a bacterial infection. Rather, it is viewed as a chronic illness much like diabetes. Fortunately, just like with diabetes, it can be managed using various methods, ranging from the right medication to the adoption of a healthier lifestyle. Once we find and safely settle on the right medication and use the right strategies, we can reach a point of stability in our lives that we can maintain over time.  

It's been a long road, with many twists and turns but I finally broke through! I've gone from someone who was suicidal, to someone who is helping others find hope in their lives. From someone who couldn't read a single page of text, to someone who has written a book and is doing a PhD on bipolar disorder. I am here to say that there is hope. I am here to say that I believe we can get the upper hand in the struggle that is bipolar disorder. 

I have broken down the method of how I won my war with bipolar, by better managing its grip over me, in four main steps. 

1) Educating myself about bipolar 

It is often said that one of the very first things needed to win any war is to 'know your enemy'. Bipolar is no different. It's important to gather information from as many avenues as possible. You can gain the Intel needed to devise a strategic plan to overthrow the enemy through three main approaches : information from others' experiences of fighting in the war, information from available data, and information from what we have ourselves gathered through personal experience. 

I found YouTube videos and attending a Bipolar UK discussion group beneficial. Engaging with fellow comrades affected by bipolar helped me to discover people I could relate to and deepened my understanding of the disorder. As I would listen to individuals who had been experiencing bipolar for longer than me, I saw they appeared to have a broader understanding and awareness of its inner workings, what the disorder's lived experience was like, and how best to tackle it. 

I also did research of my own. I read relevant literature; I talked to psychologists and psychiatrists; I read books. I tried to soak up as much information as I could. 

I also tried to do some soul searching. Journaling helped me to understand myself and the disorder better. Educating myself using these three ways helped me know what I was fighting and gave me the tools I needed to follow the next three steps. 

2) Learning how to get the most out of therapy 

A lot of people go into therapy thinking that that is where problems are automatically solved: ' if you go to therapy, you'll get better. Plain and simple'. When they don't see these expectations come to pass, they may become disappointed and discouraged, and view therapy as a waste of time. 

What I have learned is that the relationship between therapist and client is like that of a tutor and a pupil. The tutor cannot take exams for the pupil. 

The pupil goes to their tutor with the things they find difficult. In turn, the tutor acts as a mentor to their pupil, by asking them questions and guiding them in the right direction, so that the pupil may arrive at the appropriate solution. Through this process, the pupil learns how to solve the types of problems they have some difficulty with on their own. They can then leave the session and apply the information gained 'in the wild'. 

In order for the therapy to be fruitful, the client must go in with the right mindset, realize that they need to do work outside of the therapy room, and educate themselves on how to apply the knowledge gained in the exams they face in their daily lives. 

3) Learning how to become my own psychologist 

As I previously stated, we as pupils are the ones who take the exams. But in order to do so, we must allow ample room for self-care and structure. These are instrumental pillars that hold us up in the face of adversity that stems from bipolar disorder. Strategies such as action plans, journaling, choosing friends that build us up, embracing vulnerability, and finding purpose in our daily lives are just some of the strategies I use in my day-to-day life that help me to remain stable. 

4) Learning how to be consistent in relapse prevention 

Bipolar by its very nature is a disorder of extremes. Consistent stability is something to be cherished but is, unfortunately, elusive and difficult to maintain. All previous steps I have mentioned are useless unless we are consistent in keeping up with them. If we fail to stay consistent in our relapse prevention, then we will not be able to stay healthy for long, and another mood episode will inevitably follow. We always need to be prepared for another battle on the horizon by utilizing the arsenal we have acquired along the way. 

For more information on how I learned to manage my illness, check out my book, 'Winning the War with Bipolar'. I go into much greater detail into all four of these steps that I have used to help me jump over this hurdle in my life. 

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