Bipolar disorder is debilitating. The mood swings involved are more than just happy to sad and back again. The hopelessness of depressive episodes can lead to suicide. Manic episodes can lead to taking incredible risks and erratic behavior. This is bipolar at it’s worst. It works on a spectrum, those examples at one end and close to symptom-free on the other. That end is called “high-functioning.” It’s the overall goal of any bipolar disorder patient and is certainly attainable, even for those who are considered low-functioning. There are six key strategies that those who are high-functioning follow in order to stay that way.
LaRae LaBouff lives in Maine with her husband and her dog. She’s an amateur photographer and enjoys traveling, reading, writing and roller derby.Due to personal experience with Bipolar Disorder, she delved into the literature and research of the human mind. She currently writes of her own life experiences both with Psych Central and on her personal site.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
First off, we have to determine what exactly that means. It sounds like a completely subjective term, but it’s not.
There are concrete goals that must be met in order to be considered high-functioning. These include:
- Following the treatment plan as prescribed by your doctor, including medications, therapy, etc. with regular appointments to assess whether adjustments need to be made
- The ability to maintain a full-time or part-time job
- Being in a living situation that includes meeting responsibilities
- Meeting financial responsibilities
- Building and maintaining social relationships (friends, family, etc.)
- Having a support system in place in case symptoms break through. These can include friends, family members or healthcare workers.
These criteria focus on an average of how you’re functioning overall. If you have a bad few days but recover, that does not disqualify you from being considered high-functioning, but you do have to work hard to maintain it.
There are 6 strategies that high-functioning patients use to keep ahead of the highs and lows of bipolar disorder:
1. Set a daily routine and stick to it.
Having a routine lowers stress levels. Set a personalized sleep schedule that gives you enough sleep, but not too much. Make sure you eat enough throughout the day and not just one large meal. Also keep an exercise routine as exercise can actually ward off depression.
2. Constant vigilance
Continuously monitor your mental state and look out for any changes. The earlier you notice symptoms, the easier it will be to decide what, if any, changes need to be made as far as lifestyle or medication.
3. Reflection and meditation
There are quite a few ways to achieve reflection and meditation, for example, yoga, Tai Chi, music, writing or any other creative outlet. These provide a lower-stress environment to assess how you’re doing without any judgement.
4. Educating yourself and others about bipolar disorder
You can rely on your doctor to provide you information or you can do it yourself. The internet is a powerful tool if you know how to use it. The more everyone knows about the nuances of bipolar disorder, the less intimidating it is and the easier it is to accept.
5. Make personal connections
This is your support group. That can mean a literal bipolar disorder support group or it can mean your social circle. Your friends, your family, your co-workers or anyone you regularly come in contact with make up your social circles. Establishing relationships with people gives you a base of support that you can reach out to when you need it.
6. Have a plan and act on it
There will be times when your symptoms break through and you slip into a depressive or manic state. At this point, you need an action plan. Figure out with your doctor what you need to do when you start experiencing symptoms. Have a written copy to reference so you don’t have to rely on memory.
These steps are not a guarantee, but they are reliable. There are plenty of people with bipolar disorder who are completely functional and the more society realizes that, the easier it will get for those who are not high-functioning to get the support they need.