photo of man sitting outside taking notes

By Natasha Tracy, as told to Hallie Levine.

I have been living with bipolar disorder for almost a quarter of a century. It is not an easy condition to have. Over the years, I have hit some lows. Twelve years ago, for example, I was hospitalized for an attempted suicide. It was a tragedy that should not have happened.

Since then, I’ve learned to manage its ebbs and flows so that I do not hit rock bottom. While no one can master the highs and lows of bipolar disorder, it does not have to take over your life.

Recognize the subtle signs. The key step you can take to manage your bipolar disorder is to see hypomania coming. For me, one red flag is that I am not able to sleep, but I still feel fine. If I wake up after I’ve slept just 4 hours and feel refreshed, I know it’s time to act. Another subtle sign of mine is constant chatter. When I am about to enter hypomania, I can’t stop talking to other people, to my cat at home, to myself alone in the car. I may also notice that everything seems funny, and I constantly laugh and giggle for no reason.

These are all active signals that something is going on in my brain. When I see this, a good night’s rest is paramount. I take sleeping pills to make sure I sleep, which helps reset my brain to avoid full-blown hypomania. Everyone’s signs of hypomania are different. But if you find yourself doing something that you would normally never do, like having sex with strangers, then it is a sign that your bipolar disorder is out of control.

Deal with depression. I always tell other people who live with bipolar disorder that it’s much easier to deal with a minor problem rather than a big one. I constantly battle depression. But when I enter a bipolar low, my emotions take a deep nosedive. I constantly belittle myself and grapple with suicidal thoughts. When I notice this, it’s not enough to just make lifestyle changes like get more exercise or enough sleep. I call my psychiatrist immediately to adjust my medications.

Show yourself some grace. When I go through a bad bout of depression, there is no way I can keep up with my work in the way I usually do. I make allowances for myself: I scale back on work and make sure I carve out time to rest in bed with my cats. I give myself permission to do what I need to do to recoup and recharge.

Take care of both your mind and body. There is no question that when you have bipolar disorder, a healthy diet and regular exercise are the way to go. If your diet is crummy, you’ll feel crummy. That doesn’t mean you have to eat perfectly, but you want to make sure you are not on a 100 percent junk food diet. Unfortunately, I have some other complex medical disorders that make it harder for me to stay active. But one thing I do is exercise my mind. I practice mindfulness, which has helped me tremendously since it allows me to accept my thoughts. I recognize now that my brain has bipolar disorder. As a result, it sometimes gets sick and spits out thoughts that aren’t healthy for me. Once I recognize this, I can let go of grief or shame associated with these thoughts and move on.

Ramp up your social support. Humans are social creatures, and we need to be around others to be healthy and happy. Unfortunately, mental illness makes you want to isolate. And since I work from home, I can easily go days without seeing people. So I schedule socialization into my week. This way, I know I have built in times to see friends during the week or on weekends. Social support isn’t just for the good times, either: it can catch you like a net during tough times. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called a friend and just talked to them. Of course, they are not a doctor, and they can’t “fix” me, but just the fact that they listen is a huge help. Social support can be of the furry variety, too. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have with my two cats. There’s nothing like when one of them jumps onto my lap and purrs to snap me out of a low moment.

Find an outlet that works for you. For me, it’s writing. When I first began, I wrote anonymously. I found it beneficial and cathartic. I was able to say things on the written page that I couldn’t say to people around me. It can be anything creative -- art or music. Anything that allows you to release emotions, ideas, and thoughts that you’re not comfortable to share with others.

Finally, recognize that there’s no cure for bipolar disorder. When I first started to see a psychiatrist at the age of 19, they told me I would fully recover. But that’s not truly possible when you have a serious lifetime mental illness. Thankfully, I can live a life of my choosing. I work for myself from home, have friends, and lead a happy, fulfilling life. But there’s no magic pill to take to cause bipolar disorder to vanish. You must learn to live with it, just as people learn to live with other ongoing conditions.

© 2022 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Show Sources

Photo Credit: Westend61 / Getty Images


Natasha Tracy, 44, a mental health advocate living with bipolar disorder in British Columbia, Canada.