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Life with Bipolar Disorder: Untangling Your Personal Puzzle

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

While bipolar disorder can significantly impact a person's life, with proper symptom management and support, people living with bipolar disorder can manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder affects people in a variety of ways due to its episodic nature and the severity of its symptoms. The primary characteristics of bipolar disorder are significant shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. During manic or hypomanic episodes, an individual may feel euphoric, invincible, or extremely agitated. In contrast, depressive episodes often bring about feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.

While bipolar disorder can significantly impact a person's life, with proper symptom management and support, people living with bipolar disorder can manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives. If you or someone you know may have bipolar disorder, it's important to seek help from a mental health professional, however the following list of tips is a good place to start in coping - and thriving - through the phases and impacts of bipolar disorder.

Getting to Know Yourself

For people experiencing the challenges of living with bipolar disorder, the transitions between manic and depressive phases can create confusion, distress and, if left unsupported, may have significant impacts on many aspects of everyday life.

However, by getting to know their early warning signs (EWS), people experiencing bipolar disorder can reduce the disruption caused as their mood transitions between phases.

By becoming familiar with how these signs and symptoms manifest, you can learn to proactively get more on the front foot. This will allow you to more quickly shift to the appropriate tools and strategies relevant (and personalised) to the oncoming phase and significantly reduce the impact of the mood shift.

There are several ways to learn and monitor your transition symptoms, including:

  • using smart, personalised prediction apps,

  • engaging in in-person reporting of mood and physiological changes through therapy,

  • keeping a mood journal to notice when a shift is occurring,

  • employing the 'traffic light system"

  • and even keeping aware of external influences such as seasonal changes.

By keeping more on the front foot with tools such as these, it becomes easier to manage yourself through the next phase with a greater sense of autonomy and confidence.

a adult walking along a path leading to a forest

Managing Impulses Whilst Unlocking Your Creativity

Did you know that there are an incredible number of successful artists and creators throughout history who exhibited symptoms of bipolar disorder? Historical examples include Vincent van Gogh, and Virginia Woolf, and some more modern actors and musicians who experience bipolar disorder include Mariah Carey, Mel Gibson, Sting and Selena Gomez. People in manic phases have often reported an intensity of creativity, which may become somewhat muted during a depressed phase.

While this creativity may be exciting and fulfilling, a difficult reality of a manic phase can be the experience of impulses, which at times can be dangerous or harmful to oneself or others. So how can someone living through a manic phase manage these impulses whilst unleashing and capitalising on their creativity?

Even though each person's experience of bipolar is deeply personal, there are several skills and strategies that can be added to a self-management tool kit to help piece this puzzle together. Some of these include:

  1. Self-reflection - check in on your thoughts and try to identify what triggered the thought and if the impulse may lead to negative consequences.

  2. Limit access to items or environments that can make impulses easier to act out, such as access to alcohol or situations that can trigger impulsive behaviour.

  3. Implement a 48-hour rule - this means waiting two days and getting enough sleep, before acting on impulsive ideas.

  4. Use the Two-Person-Feedback Rule - check in with two trusted people before making any big decisions.

  5. Use mindfulness based urge surfing techniques and channel excess energy into creative or other productive pursuits instead.

Everyone’s experience of these strategies may be different and there will often be extra or individualised skills and tools that work best for some, but not for others. Often, working with a professional, such as an experienced clinical psychologist, can help with creating a tailored plan to thrive during these periods when creativity and impulsiveness collide. It can be empowering and rewarding to unlock your creative potential and it is possible to learn to do so safely.

Building a Bipolar Support System

Living with Bipolar Disorder can be or feel like an isolating experience. There are many elements involved in managing manic and depressive phases, as well as the transitions between these phases. However, these paths do not have to be travelled alone and many people with a bipolar disorder diagnosis find that building a trusted support team, both personally and professionally, can make a sustained positive difference in their relationships and quality of life.

Building a team around you and always staying connected allows trusted external voices of advice to ring through and shepherd you compassionately through the challenging phases and transitions. This provides a crucial added layer of protection from the more negative consequences of Bipolar.

This can seem like a daunting task, but there are some small steps that you can take help build and maintain this support team:

  • Share your diagnosis and its meaning with the people closest to you. By bringing this information into the open and discussing the challenges that you may face, trust and understanding can be fostered between friends and family. You can share as much or as little as you feel comfortable with and organising a quiet catchup for focussed conversation can be helpful in feeling safe and heard.

  • Be prepared to offer information to your support team. If your closest friends or family ask questions about bipolar disorder and how it impacts your life, you can share general resources and knowledge that are available online, or from your therapist. It can also be helpful to discuss bipolar disorder from your own perspective too, as everyone’s personal experience is unique.

a group of people wearing white and holding hands

Find professional support. This can be in the form of a trusted therapist or support groups that you can find through advocacy organisations, such as Bipolar Australia. Online community groups and organisations can also be a great place to seek support and understanding.

With a trusted support network around you, you’ll know who to call during times of impulsiveness or crisis. This can make an enormous difference when navigating triggers or complicated situations.

Finding Your Strengths

People living with bipolar disorder face many challenges, especially in finding balance and avoiding burnout in their professional lives. However, bipolar disorder has been strongly linked to many positive traits, including creativity, intelligence, spirituality, empathy, realism and resilience.

Through psychological intervention fused with executive coaching, our psychologists can provide support for professionals who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, empowering individuals to embrace their strengths and thrive in their personal lives and in their career.

To learn more about the effects of bipolar disorder, and how phases and transitions can be managed using tools and strategies, please reach out to us. Our team of psychologists are highly experienced and ready to help you work out your personal puzzle.

If you or someone you know is struggling with bipolar disorder and its impact on life, seeking professional support can be helpful in working through these challenges.

If you would like to speak with a mental health specialist, please don't hesitate to reach out for a confidential chat or for support: 1300 187 448 | |


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