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Living with bipolar disorder

Like many others suffering from a chronic condition, people with bipolar disorder can develop stay-well plans to help them manage their condition. A stay-well plan is a guide that helps people with bipolar disorder to clearly identify their own individual triggers and specific warning signs. These may change over time and people gain expertise in managing bipolar disorder from their own life experiences, including experiences of illness.

This experience can include what types of things may trigger an episode of illness, and how to avoid these triggers. Although it is not always possible to avoid triggers, it is possible to develop strategies to minimise the impact of particular triggers. It is also possible to learn to recognise early warning signs when things are about to go wrong. Both triggers and early warning signs are the cornerstones of a stay-well plan.

Although it is usually a long-term condition, effective treatments for bipolar disorder combined with self-help techniques can limit its impact on your everyday life.

Sleep, managing stress and lifestyle factors are crucial ingredients in staying well. However, stay-well plans need to acknowledge that there are times when these activities are much easier said than done. For example, when feeling down, it may be difficult to exercise. A stay-well plan which includes activities such as cycling to work or a daily dog walk with a neighbour can be extremely helpful. Although staying well is rarely just about taking prescribed medicines, medication is an important component of many stay-well plans. Many people also choose to include complementary therapies as part of in their stay-well plan.

Even in supportive workplaces, stress at work can make people with bipolar disorder vulnerable to an episode of illness. Developing personal strategies to manage workloads, and work harmoniously with colleagues, help people to stay well at work. Other suggestions that can help you manage your condition include:

  • joining local community groups - sport clubs, community choirs, book clubs, churches and so on
  • acknowledge that partners, lovers, parents, children, brothers, sisters, friends and colleagues can give you insight into your illness
  • acknowledge that different health care professionals, doctors, psychiatrist, psychologist, and social workers have different expertise and strategies to use to help you manage.

For many people, staying well is not a solitary activity. It is therefore worthwhile to develop stay-well plans with partners, family, close friends, neighbours, work colleagues and healthcare professionals. Keeping others in the loop is also useful if interventions ever need to be implemented.

Strategies such as planning holidays for known 'high stress times' each year, and factoring rest and recreation into a busy working life can help.

You can find out more about bipolar disorder at www.blackdoginstitute.org.au.

Last reviewed: September 2016

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