When I first began walking the road of being a loved one of someone with bipolar disorder, I had no idea what that meant. Now, five months later, I have learned quite a bit, but have so much more to learn. One thing that came up over and over in my reading was self-care. Caring for yourself in order to be well and able to care for your loved one makes sense whether your loved one has a medical issue or concern or not. While my guy and I were dating, we talked about it a few times and I reassured him that I had taken steps to care for myself. As time passes I learn more and more what that means. This past month after breaking up and being apart from each other, my understanding of self-care and being healthy have broadened quite a bit. Here are a few things that my experience and reading have taught me are important for self-care.
- Having an outlet. I initially dreamed up the idea of this blog so that I could help others who find themselves caring for someone with bipolar disorder. Over the last month, on the hardest days, this blog has been what I needed to get over a hump or out of a funk. I would sit down and type and let it all out and then not post the blog. Or, sometimes, even thinking about what I would write was all I needed to process what was going on for me and help me get through the day. I’ve never been a good journaler, but I can now see why it’s so important for some people. If you’re struggling through a tough time, write it down. It does something for your mind when you can get it out. I’ve read the same advice for the person with bipolar disorder, find a way to get whatever is happening out of your head.
- Find someone to talk to. I have a friend who I know will be honest with me and is also a terrific listener. I asked her if she would be my outside support person while I walk this path. She calls me about a once a week to check on me and see how I’m doing- not how he’s doing, but how I’m doing- which is vitally important. Loving someone with a chronic illness is not always easy. I haven’t found a moment yet when I didn’t think it was worth it, but I have definitely needed some outside support. My friend lives out of state so there’s no worry about her spilling the beans and “outing” him, which was a very important factor in my decision about who to talk to. It can be very isolating when you can’t share your loved one’s diagnosis with those around you, so having someone you can trust to talk openly with is really important.
- Be willing to go to counseling. I have not started counseling yet, but had planned to. My guy and I talked about it and I told him that once he started, we would ask his counselor/therapist about whether or not I should see the same person he is or someone different. When he started therapy, he wanted to focus on that and not be distracted by our relationship, so we broke up and took a break from each other. So this part of my self-care regimen is on hold. I believe it’s important to have an established relationship with a counselor so when/if things get really hard, you have someone to go talk it out with.
- Take care of your body. This month has been really hard. I miss my guy and the influence he has on me more than I imagined that I would. Some days it’s been all that I could do to hold it together during the day and make it home from work before the tears flowed. Then other days, I felt great. I still missed him terribly, and prayed for him almost constantly, but my mood was stable- I wasn’t grumpy or irritable or on edge. Last week, after feeling really good on Thursday, I remembered that I felt really good the previous Thursday. I started thinking through my days/weeks and realizing that I had gotten more sleep those days. And low and behold, on Monday when I didn’t get as much sleep as I normally do, I had maybe the hardest day I’ve had so far. I got through it by coming home and blogging and then going to bed. I’ve gone to bed by 9:00 pm every other night this week and my mood has been really balanced. I’m learning that many of the principles that my guy works so hard to abide by, they’re really healthy for me too.
- Lastly- and most of all- give yourself grace. Be willing to forgive yourself. On this journey I’ve made so many mistakes. Mistakes that have triggered my guy, mistakes that have made things harder for both of us. These things can range from slapping the dashboard in the car while telling a story to pushing him too hard. Today I’m working on giving myself grace. When we broke up, we decided to take a month off from talking. Monday was a month, which is part of the reason that my anxiety was so high that day. I had decided that I was going to wait for him to contact me. But after Monday, I wasn’t sure if I could manage the uncertainty that comes from the waiting, so I decided that I would contact him sometime on Saturday if he hadn’t contacted me. And then today. I really have no idea what made me do it, but I, rather impulsively, texted him a message. It was short and direct- that I was praying for him. But I did it. Not knowing how he has been doing, or what he had going on today, or if he would be receptive, I did it anyway. And I’m so disappointed with myself for it. I spent so many days resisting, being strong, and leaning on God. And today, in less than a minute, my weakness won out and I texted him. There’s no way of knowing what kind of damage I did today- or if I even did any damage- until I get to talk to him. So right now, over and over, I have to give myself grace. And trust God that He covers my weaknesses. I was reminded tonight by a song that only God is strong enough. And that He has it all in His hands. I don’t know what God has in store for the future for me and my guy, but I have to trust that He’ll take care of it and that He’s bigger than my mistake. I feel so badly, but I have to forgive myself, lean on God, and hope my guy can forgive me too. I wish I could express to him how badly I feel for my moment of weakness, but contacting him again will not help. So now I’m back to waiting for him to contact and will have to live with the consequences of my impulsive action and accept the uncertainty that waiting brings. And offering myself grace over and over again.
I hope those tips help! Speaking of self-care, it’s time for me to head to bed. Thanks for reading and prayers for your in your journey alongside your loved one who happens to live with bipolar disorder.