Something I have found to be common across a number of mental health challenges is the fear around being unwell before your’e actually unwell. I often get myself into a little stress cycle of not feeling great, then worrying that I don’t feel great, then worrying that I am not being proactive enough in response to a warning sign and then feeling overwhelmed. This is generally an unhelpful thought process but stems, in many ways, from actually being too good at my wellness recovery action place (WRAP). WRAPs are a tool to help you and others monitor your mental health, they generally talk about what you’re like when you’re well, what the warning signs are that you’re becoming unwell, what your triggers are and what is helpful or unhelpful. They are particularly good when using mental health services as they help professionals to see what you’re normally like and what is unusual for you. For example I am a fairly chatty person which some people could interpret as being hypomanic but in fact I am just that irritating all the time.
When you’ve had to use a WRAP plan regularly like I have, albeit it a while ago now, you can sometimes be oversensitive to mood changes. Sometimes I have a productive week at work and finish each day being like ‘woahhh, I smashed that’ then being like ‘hmm, did I smash that too much’? For me warning signs of becoming unwell are usually: going out too much, having problems sleeping, being super organised and productive for a sustained stint, wanting to stop meds, being lethargic and sleeping too much. The problem is that lots of those can also be within a normal fluctuation of mood. We all have times when we’re feeling super productive or conversely are just exhausted and feeling a bit more introverted. So how do you know what to recognise as a warning sign and what to chill out about?
In a couple of weeks time I am moving in with my partner to a new flat, that’s a big deal for me as many of you will know, my home is my little sanctuary in which I can manage my mood easily and implement controls that support my mental health. Living alone has been fundamental to my recovery so it is testament to how awesome my partner is that his presence has supported my mental heath rather than triggered it. Although living together was initially forced (a result of lockdown many of us have been coerced into) I have decided he’s actually pretty alright and I’d like to keep him around. Moving can be a trigger for a number of reasons: I struggle with change, it requires you to be very organised and proactive for a sustained period and in this case it is a drastic change to my living situation. This week I have burst into tears approximately 6 times for feeling incredibly overwhelmed and by default being very worried about becoming unwell.
I have felt very flat this week, been utterly exhausted and struggled to feel organised. This has followed a week of feeling very proactive and on the ball (hmmm). Compounding this has been a very busy time at work, like many I have had a quiet period at work in light of covid but as lockdown has lifted things have picked up and got exceptionally busy. I’ve therefore been required to be high energy and efficient at work and also in my personal life. This sort of stress (even when it’s a result of something positive) can often trigger a period of hypomania because it encourages one of my warning signs – being super organised for a sustained period. The fear of potentially becoming unwell during a time where I would a) like to be feeling excited and proactive and b) will be experiencing change and need to stay on top of my wellbeing is very real. It’s important to recognise that this is likely a normal fluctuation in mood and a result of some real life stresses. I can also acknowledge that my medication does not eradicate episodes but dampens them, so what could have been a major manic episode can become a more mild, shorter term hypomanic episode. Therefore feeling incredibly buzzy and struggling with sleep last week and then feeling flat this week could be a medicated version of a smaller hypomanic episode followed by a mini low mood episode. This kind of escalation and then dip in mood is common with Bipolar.
Whether it’s a dampened mini episode or just a normal fluctuation what’s important is to kick in all the things that help, I can get a bit lax with these when things are going well but when the going gets rough the tools get going. So that means:
- Eating well
- Ensuring I go to bed at the same time and get some good sleep, if I don’t accepting I will need to take a sleeping tablet the odd night to even me out
- Increasing meds if necessary, I have around a 50mg tinker allowance before I need to ask a psychiatrist for support so I’ve upped my meds by 25mg just to knock it on the head
- slowly working through a to do list for the move rather than allowing it to be something that requires me to be a ball of stress just before. This means there isn’t as much room for an escalation of mood closer to the move
- Exercising, is anyone else feeling remarkably blobby at the moment? I’ve been ensuring I do at least one long ish walk a day. I even ran this week, I hated it.
- Pacing myself at work and recognising my capacity and seeking help where I need it rather than going into overdrive to get things done
- Similarly allowing myself some annual leave around the move to give myself a breather
By doing these things I can keep on top of my general wellbeing and curb any episodes. Implementing these sorts of tools are in some ways kind of boring and annoying but I also acknowledge that it is more annoying being unwell so sometimes I have to whip these things out of the toolbox. I also recognise that more and more I a) don’t need to use these tools as often and b) get better at noticing when they are helpful. It means that what previously might have escalated into a real shift in mood gets curbed nice and quick. This is all about educating yourself about yourself and being proactive in learning what your WRAP plan looks like for you. Once you receive a diagnosis you’re able to start this process straight away and you have the space to learn what works for you. The quicker you can implement your safety net the quicker you can stop yourself from falling.
For more information on WRAP plans you can read my post HERE
You can also access templates and more information HERE