In order to cope with being manic depressive, you have to learn how to monitor your moods and know if you are manic or getting manic. Same goes for depression. If you don’t know how you are feeling, you will not be able to understand why you are doing silly things, and you will not know how to adjust your actions (and perhaps your medications) to compensate for the mood swings.
The first thing you need to do is to recognise what are your signs (indicators) for being manic or depressed. I have listed the indicators for what it is like for me to be manic or depressed as well as the official signs for depression or mania.
We will not all show the same signs, and we will manifest them slightly differently; so while your signs might look a lot like mine, they will not look exactly like mine. For example, someone told me that they walk faster when they are manic; which is something I don’t do.
You will need to make up your own list of indicators for mania and depression. Don’t forget to write the list down.
Of course you need to know if you are manic or depressed in order to notice the signs. It is a bit of a chicken and egg process – you have to realise you are depressed to notice you do one or two things consistently when depressed. But once you know these one or two things, then you can start using them as indicators that you are becoming depressed.
The monitoring thing comes with time. I didn’t suddenly know when I was hyper or when I was slightly depressed. Also, I didn’t suddenly realise all in one day that all the indicators on my list were related to my mood swings. It took many many months of observation to realise when I was up or down and to notice which things happened fairly consistently in which mood.
You won’t always get your signs right. That’s okay – it took me about two years to realise that some of the signs I thought were indicators of mania were actually indicators of depression. Even now I don’t always get it right. But have confidence in yourself, and don’t worry about getting it wrong sometimes. That’s life and you can always add or remove things from your list of indicators.
The advantage of having indicators is that they can warn you if you are becoming hyper or depressed. By getting an early warning signal, you take some kind of action to delay the onset of the depression, or stop it from happening, or close off what you are doing gracefully, or at least warn people around you of what is happening.
For example, I know that a tense jaw is an indicator that I am getting hypomanic. Once that starts happening, I can take try some things to make me relax more (which delays the onset of the mania), or I can take Tegretol which will prevent me from becoming hypomanic. And I can warn people to expect me to be irritable and snap at them at the littlest thing.
Or if I realise that I am starting to get confused about what I am doing, a sign of depression, I can tell my office mates that I will be working a bit slower than usual, or I can tell C. to expect me to act a bit uncaring or distant. It isn’t a perfect solution, but at least C. doesn’t feel snubbed.
Not all of the indicators are negative. One of my indicators is the ability to talk fast and play with language. Once I am at speed I can win any argument or presentation against anyone on any issue, and I can charm the socks off anyone when I am ready. I’ll be damned if I consider this a nuisance.
Another of the major reasons I learnt to monitor myself was so I could get rid of my bad “habits” and learn to relax. Take for example the irritability. I snap at people more often when I am hypomanic. It’s not a nice thing to do, and I’d rather not do it. So I monitor myself, and if it appears that I am more annoyed at people than I feel is typical, I say to myself, “Jinnah, recognise you are overdoing it again – calm down and approach things a with a little less emotion and a bit more common sense.” And sometimes it works. And sometimes it doesn’t. But I try.
All this is really no different that a “normal” person trying to get rid of stress and bad habits. Us manic depressive persons just have a bit more incentive to do so.
At the end of the day, I monitor myself because (a) I don’t like my bad habits and I do want to change them, and (b) I hate being on medication, and will do anything to reduce my dosage to a minimum. I’m finding out that monitoring myself and taking action to stabilise my mood swings can help in coping the problems of rapid cycling and does actually allow me to reduce the medication, particularly those that deal with mania.