Rhythms are important. They’re our best chance at staying safe. They’re also something I’m used to. Focusing on my self-care rhythm is how I stay stable: sleep routines, medicine routines, and regular check-ins are all ways that I make sure that my bipolar disorder doesn’t get the best of me.
I'm sharing these with you not because I think they're a cure-all. They're not. Even if you get enough sleep, you might still feel sad and that's okay. But when I do these things, I'm setting myself up to be able to handle some of the more difficult pieces of my mental illness.
I have a really hard time falling asleep, so most of my sleep habits focus on how I can get to sleep faster. I wake up at 7:30 am every day, including the weekends. Sometimes, I wake up, make breakfast and then take a nap, but I always wake up.
Waking up earlier means that I get tired when I’m supposed to – around 11. At night, it can take anywhere from one hour to three hours for me to fall asleep, so here are my rules: once I’m in bed, I’m in bed. If I can’t sleep, I can’t write a paper, I can’t jot down an idea. Nothing. That way, there’s no reward for my brain running on overdrive. Eventually, my brain will get quiet, but I had to train it.
My sleep schedule is the number one indicator of how I’m doing. Sleeping too much or sleeping too little are both signs that I should pay attention to what I need. You might not be dealing with clinical depression or anxiety, but maybe you feel sad a lot right now, or maybe you feel cranky or nervous – focusing on your sleep will help you. I promise.
Coffee + Alcohol
I adjust what I’m drinking based on how I’m feeling. I’m technically allowed one cup of coffee a day. If I’m manic or too anxious, I’ll just drink tea instead. When I’m feeling sad or depressed, I grab a water instead of a cocktail. I know you’re at home and it’s easy to grab that second cup of whatever you’re drinking, but don’t.
Check on Your Friends
It’s helpful to remember that other people exist, and that they need love and kindness just like you do. Checking in on the people you would normally check in with helps with grounding. I don’t need someone to always know how I’m doing, but I do need to know that someone will know if I disappear. I think a lot of us need that right now, so don’t be a stranger.
Lean In & Lean Out
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from a dear high school friend who told me to listen to music that was the opposite of what I was feeling. Please feel what you’re feeling, yes. Tell your friends when you’re not doing well. Make sure someone knows to check on you.
But if your anxiety or your depression are defeating, it’s okay to lean out of them a little bit. Sometimes your brain is lying to you, so do the opposite of what you want to do. Find a playlist that you can bop along with. Coax yourself out of the house for a walk. Grab some flowers the next time you go to the grocery store. Go for a drive. If all you want to do is stay busy, find a way to slow yourself down – do some yoga, listen to something that calms you down.
Sometimes all of these little things feel really overwhelming – like more reminders that something feels broken. The week before stay-at-home orders started, I put a bottle of hand sanitizer in my car. Every time I got in or out of my car, I sanitized. After a really busy day, I got back in my car and before I could get the sanitizer out, I burst into tears.
Maybe that’s how you feel right now – like one more hand wash will send you over the edge. But the small rhythms, like taking my medicine, are reminders that there is some hope in doing the small things – that eventually I’ll start to move in the right direction. My hope is that one of these routines will help you take one step towards some stability.