Healthy Living

How To Survive Being Bipolar During The Apocalypse

04/02/2017 04:55pm ET | Updated April 3, 2017
Abandoned Amusement Park - Spreepark Berlin copyright by Jan Bommes and used under Creative Commons License.

I thought I would begin to breathe again on Nov. 9. My depression always gets worse after Daylight Saving Time, with the days growing shorter, but I had told myself that once Hillary was elected, I could relax and concentrate on growing stronger with good practices like eating well and exercising. But on Nov. 8, the electoral map exploded before my eyes in a sea of red. I grew nauseous flipping between Twitter, Facebook, CNN and other news sources as I waited for some miraculous turnaround—possibly the skies opening up and the four horsemen charging in, going “gotcha!”

But after three hours of sleep, I woke up on Wednesday completely hopeless. And worried. It’s not like I have a lot of extra emotional reserve with bipolar disorder, swinging between major depression and hypomania. I don’t have family near me, nor do I have a stable support system, which is about as desirable as being in a lifeboat with no paddle. Sure, I’m not drowning, but I’m also not going in any specific direction except where the current or my Twitter feed dictates. Even with great support, I, like many others who battle bipolar depression, mostly see empty, stormy seas with no visible landline.

Now we are in Trump World, where the madness of reality might actually match the catastrophic scenarios being generated by our addled noggins. We can use any lifeline we can get, so let me offer a few tips and tricks that may help or just make you feel a little less alone.

Tip #1: Tell yourself you will be okay, even if you don’t believe it.

Say it first thing in the morning, and for the love of sanity do not check the news until you have left your bed and had breakfast or lunch. Mute the people who revel in destruction—they might have a better safety net than you and can afford the despair. Tell yourself it will be okay until it’s only a semi-ridiculous idea. Keep going until you have an inkling of hope that it’s true. Keep saying it.

Tip #2: Give yourself a gold star for every goal you accomplish.

A gold star for us, by the way, is what other people usually do without thinking. I give myself a star for days I wash my hair, brush my teeth, or when I get in the shower (because when at my worst I am terrified of showering). I give myself a gold star when I go for a walk or I pay a bill. I make sure to write these things down, because my brain will erase them. My brain will always tell me I am nothing and that I fail at everything, so I must look at my gold stars and my lists and see that perhaps there are other truths to believe.

Tip #3: Be kind to yourself when living in the Upside Down.

Wear purple underwear every day. Sit in a cafe where the barista knows your name. Wear the same four skirts but with a different shirt when you go to work. Buy extra underwear so you don’t have to do laundry as often. Juggle. Pray. Whatever makes life bearable or even close to decent as news hits us every day about how much worse things are going to get with the current administration. When surviving a depressive episode I have rituals that help remind me I will return above ground someday. I string up enough twinkle lights to rival Clark Griswold’s house in “Christmas Vacation.” I wear a special ring that I tell myself gives me power. I let myself binge on mindless movies in between grading or writing articles. I’m not looking for happiness, just basic hope that there will come a morning where I wake up and feel neutral—neither terrified of what could happen that day or full of manic energy because I barely slept the night before.

Tip #4: Don’t fast forward to the end of the world.

Controlling catastrophic thinking was tough enough before Trump came to power. His current taunts about the current health care system “exploding,” thereby threatening how I get my medication, psychiatrist and therapist visits, or possible in-patient care propels my doomsday-prone mind into overdrive. Just last week I was convinced the pain in my left calf was a blood clot instead of just a sore muscle. I also think that I’m going blind in my left eye, but after an hour of researching “retinal detachment” have come to the conclusion I might be able to rock an eye patch and become a twenty-first century pirate if a full-time job doesn’t come my way. Thinking catastrophically makes me miss the smaller maintenance items of everyday life. I can spend hours researching blood clots yet wait years before visiting the dentist (who is always mystified that I still have teeth to clean).

Tip #5: Keep fighting.

I logged onto Twitter while writing this essay to see we have lost a warrior: Amy Bleuel, founder of the semicolon project, passed away. Another fierce poet loved by many is battling for her life in a treatment center. In 2012 my best friend died by suicide, and for the next year I wondered if I might eventually follow a similar path. I am 46 years old now, and experience depression and anxiety on some level every day. But when weary—as I am this spring, with Trump’s constant Twitter rants against women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, the environment, and anything else that constitutes matter in the universe; when feeling more invisible than I have felt in a long time (in part because I am 46 years old and am beginning to slightly resemble Patrick Stewart when I smile); when a voice tells me I won’t make it to 50—I remember that my friends didn’t think I would make it to 25. Now I must live to see a new president in office or Trump’s 2016 tax returns, whichever comes first.

But keep fighting, my darlings. Keep showing up. There are many of us here, alone, wearing purple underwear and talking to unicorns. Keeping trying, keep believing, because together we are an army of voices that need to be heard, that will give hope to others. We will be okay.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National
Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free,
24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please
visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database
of resources.