Coping skills: The lost art of my self-preservation

“I hate when I tell someone I have bipolar and see a look of terror in their eyes.”

– Christine Kirtin

For me, coping skills are, for lack of a better phrase, a bunch of bullshit. I have no concept of any sort of coping skills, especially in the moments I need these supposed skills to cope.

Coping skills have always been, for me, a piece of paper with bullet points on it, handed to me by a doctor or therapist of some sort.

A list.

Take a walk. Journal. Practice your breathing. Count to 100.

It’s aways a list, and one that has never been applicable to bipolar disorder.

For me, anyway.

But there are many triggers that can be identified for bipolar mood swings and the most common ones for are:

  • Stress from major life events, both positive and negative
  • Lack of sleep
  • Erratic schedules
  • Caffeine and alcohol
  • Certain medications, such as antidepressants and corticosteroids
  • Seasonal changes (for example, winter can worsen depression, while summer can increase the risk of mania)
  • Stopping bipolar meds or varying the treatment schedule
  • Thyroid problems
  • Substance abuse

Then here are some coping skills for mental health in general:

  • Meditation and relaxation techniques
  • Social relationships
  • Spirituality
  • Pets
  • Learn the warning signs of a manic episode and get early treatment to avoid disruption in your life.
  • Take medicines as instructed by your doctor to help reduce the number of manic episodes.
  • To help prevent a manic episode, avoid triggers such as to caffeine, alcohol or drug use, and stress.
  • Exercise, eat a balanced diet, get a good night’s sleep, and keep a consistent schedule. This can help reduce minor mood swings that can lead to more severe episodes of mania.
  • Have an action plan in place so that if you do have a manic episode, those who support you can follow the plan and keep you safe.

And here is a list of general coping skills for people with bipolar disorder:

  • breathing deeply from the diaphragm
  • repeating calming words or phrases
  • visualizing a relaxing experience
  • reframing a situation logically
  • listening actively to another person
  • making an action plan
  • using humor to defuse a situation
  • taking time out alone
  • going for a run or walk to redirect energy

Just another standard list of what should be considered common sense, yet one that I can’t use or doesn’t apply to me when I’m having an episode.

I don’t mean to sound pretentious. Hell, I wish I could find a way to cope or a way to handle things better. It just seems most “coping skills” for bipolar disorder are more for preventative measures and do not include something I can use during an episode.

This isn’t meant to be an educational post and I know everyone and every situation is unique, but after everything, I still haven’t found any coping strategies that work for me.

And I’m up for any suggestions.

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