One of the readers of “Bipolar For Beginners” has been chatting with me online the other day, then she mentioned she was having a glass of whisky as we spoke.
My automatic reaction was “don’t do it!”. Alcohol stops correct processing of medication by the brain, and in conjunction with Depakote/Depakine it wrecks your liver real bad. Unfortunately, alcohol is also something people enjoy. In fact, even while I was on Depakote, my doctor told me it would be fine for me to have one beer per day. It’s just that at the time I weighed over 100 kg, and so one beer was hardly going to make a noticeable effect, so once I finished my pint all I wanted was another one.
Another piece of advice which is easy to dispense but not so much to follow: “Avoid stress”. We can do certain things to limit the amount of stress. We can look for a less stressful job, avoid watching or reading things that we find triggered. But let’s say your brother contracts a deadly illness. How exactly are you going to avoid stressing over it? Or – an example from real life – your parents constantly smoke weed, and you live with them. Your friends smoke too. How easy is it going to be for you to avoid using yourself?
Exercise is another thing: suppose you decided to start jogging. It was all fine and dandy until December came and snow covered the ground. I know there are people who jog through the snow. I’ve seen them. They had purple calves. If it was me, and I looked outside and saw piles of snow and temperature of -5, the most exercise you would catch me doing would consist of trips to the fridge to see if something sweet appeared inside.
In my book I put together a lot of advice on what to do and not do. But I don’t expect people to follow ALL of it. In a way you could think of yourself handling bipolar as a number somewhere between 0 and 100. 100 is going to be impossible – you can follow ALL of the doctors’ recommendations and still get a mood swing because, say, spring comes. (This is my case – beginning of spring throws me completely out.) You should be aiming somewhere towards 80 – as the creator of Dilbert, Scott Adams said, 20% of work is used to achieve 80% of the results, and then 80% of work is used to get that elusive remaining 20%. The point of self-management in bipolar is not to turn your life into hell of alternating between boredom and hard work. Each piece of advice brings you a bit closer to 100. Ignoring it brings you a bit closer to 0. But having that one beer is not going to completely erase all the other work you are doing (unless you are extremely sensitive to alcohol). I know I shouldn’t be using caffeine, but it doesn’t stop me from having three coffees per day. They don’t seem to affect my mental state, but then, how do I really know without having a twin brother who would do exactly the same things I do AND avoid caffeine?
At the end of the day, we do what we can, to the best of our ability. If we are not doing well, perhaps it’s time to look at the checklist and see if we could improve some things. If we are doing amazingly well, but feel unhappy and trapped in our very well regulated life, perhaps we could relax a bit. We may suffer from bipolar disorder, but we are still people; we want to have fun, enjoy our lives and do other things than update our mood charts and swallow the pills. And that’s why “Bipolar For Beginners” contains advice, not a list or rules. At the end, nobody can force you to follow all this advice anyway. If you feel like having that glass of whisky, by all means, do – but not every day, and perhaps make sure it’s not a very big glass. You’ll find out soon enough how it affects you. Last time I had a glass of whisky, I threw up violently. Looks like it’s not something I can compromise on. But it’s just me. If you can drink safely, in moderate amounts and keep it to rare occasions, more power to you. Meanwhile, if you need me, I’m busy eating chocolate croissants.
Photo: “Yamazaki, Japanese whisky” by kusabi (CC 2.0)