Bipolar and learning to self-soothe

Hello lovelies,

This is actually a post written by me. 😁 I've lost my voice and don't have the urge or confidence to write much these days, but I've been mulling over this post for some time.

Before I had bipolar, I was really good at occupying myself. Housework, personal care, Netflix, reading, tv........there were any number of things I could do to take up time and keep myself busy. Now I have bipolar this has changed and I've reverted to a child-like state where I've lost the ability to self-soothe. 

I'm like a newborn baby who needs everything brought to them. I'm very dependent on my family to keep me 'entertained' for want of a better word. On days where I see my mum and step dad and we go for drives I feel at ease in myself. When I'm stuck indoors I struggle to keep myself busy and entertained, and I want to cry or sleep, just like a baby. When I'm left indoors on my own it's even worse, I just lay around feeling miserable unless I can force myself to go out for a walk.

I know when I'm bored or sad that reading, watching a film, doing some personal care (or anything else at all) will make me feel better but it's like I'm caught in a quicksand of inertia and doing things I know will make me feel better is really damn hard.

I'm writing this after discussing it with my lovely friend Faith and hoping that it can bring a bit of solidarity to anyone else with bipolar who struggles to keep themselves busy or look after themselves. I do believe I'm getting slightly better at self-soothing and Faith's idea of a self care box to reach for when I'm feeling particularly down is a great idea. I could fill it up with books, dvds, self-care items and so on to help me feel better.

If you had a self care box, what would you put in it? If you've got bipolar, do you find it hard to self soothe?

 Thanks for reading. Leah xoxo


  1. I wrote a long comment and now Blogger won't let me post all of it, so I will try posting it in smaller parts. :)

    Listen, Leah. I struggled with this kind of stuff a lot when I was diagnosed with Aspergers at 35 as a surprise to myself. I'm specifically talking about one sentence you have written here.

    "Before I had bipolar, I was really good at occupying myself."

    I remember saying something along those lines to my Qualified Adult, though I think mine was "Before I had Aspergers I was ok with being around other people and now I feel awkward and weird and like I can't make eye contact with anyone".

    My qualified adult said to me - but you have always had Aspergers. It is just you didn't KNOW you had it. You have always been good at being around other people because you learned how to make eye contact and not be awkward and weird. You learned how to pretend to be like the other people.

    The thing is, now you *know* you are pretending, and that is what is making you feel awkward about it. You've read that people with Aspergers have trouble making eye contact, which is making you focus on making eye contact.

    For a lot of us a diagnosis can change us in ways we were not expecting, but the reality is we still are the same person we always were, it is just now we know something new about ourselves.

    1. That's a good point about always being the same person. I haven't always had bipolar though - it was brought on by the trauma of Voldemort, but I see what you mean.

    2. I probably don't know enough about it myself but everything I have read suggests bipolar is there from birth, and it can take a while to show itself and/or be diagnosed.

      Me personally I was seeing a psychologist right through my teens from 13 onwards and she never once picked up on my Aspergers. Back in those days it was not recognised very often.

      I do think sitting down with someone and going back through your life can be very valuable in spotting whether bipolar might have been an issue all along just in a far milder less noticeable way.

      My qualified adult and I have done that - it was a bit of a process - but once I started putting the pieces of the puzzle together it became a LOT clearer. Things that did not seem like much of a thing to other people, now I understand why they affected me so much.

      I'll give you one example. When I was growing up my parents built a new lounge room onto the house. It had slate floors and high ceilings and absolutely nothing in there to muffle any of the sound. I could hear the television in my bedroom and there was no way I could sleep, it drove me up the wall. I would have to sneak out once they fell asleep in front of it to turn it down.

      That is actually an Aspie thing - sound sensitivity. They could never understand why I would get so annoyed about it and ask them to turn it down all the time. For me, sound is like the "streams" in Ghostbusters. I absolutely cannot cross them, I can't have two streams of sound running at once. It is mostly music and TV where this is a problem for me.

      BUT, now comes an Aspie superpower. I can be in a room full of people, say a call centre. I can be on a call myself, focused on what I am doing, but at the same time my mind is listening to everyone else and filing away every conversation they are having, and at a later time I can pull that information up if I need it. It was very handy in my last job because I was the person who dealt with escalated calls, and I would already know what the operator had said to the caller without having to ask or be briefed. People would want to tell me what they'd said, and I would be like, it is cool, save yourself the time because I heard it.

      In that situation all the streams do not bother me - but if someone plays some music, that stream will dominate. I will lose all ability to focus on anything, and my mind focuses in on the music. I have to consciously concentrate on what I am doing in that instance and that is really hard for me.

      I think it might be worth going through that process - it will certainly help with the depression right now in any case, to be speaking to someone, so I definitely think you need to seek out a qualified adult if you do not already have one. In Australia this is provided as part of a mental health care plan for free - I am not sure what the deal is in the UK, probably best to ask your doctor. :)

      Many *hugs* for you. :)

  2. I would say part of what you are feeling is due to the diagnosis, and a big part of it, perhaps even more than you realise or understand, is because you are not living in your own place with chores, jobs, responsibilities and stuff that needs to get done.

    Trying to remove the thought of the "worthless man" (as I like to consider him, I could use some swear words but I won't!) from the equation, think about what you used to do when you were at home on your own in your own place. Are these things you are doing now, or are they being done by the people you are living with?

    It is going to be different for everyone but for me, after getting my diagnosis, keeping my daily routine was very important to me.

    You've had the rug pulled out from under you as far as your daily routine goes, you've lost your home, and around the same time you have been given this diagnosis. It would be very easy to place all the "blame" for this on the bipolar but the other things are to blame as well, perhaps even more than the bipolar.

    I guess what I'm trying to say, I am feeling like the bipolar is copping a lot of flak here. But you've always had that, you just didn't know you had it.

    And I suspect if you still did not know you had it, you'd be feeling pretty much exactly the same as you do now, only you'd be putting the blame for it on that worthless man and having to leave your home and having more time on your hands where life is not all about him anymore. And that is probably where the blame rightfully belongs, for a lot of this.

    1. Yes, you're right about me not having as much to do now as I did then I occupied myself every day with chores and took a lot of outfit photos, which required editing and so on. I also had a whole flat to do things in, rather than just one room, so that was a luxury.

      I know there's some thought about bipolar being there for life before being triggered, but I don't necessarily agree with that. I was never manic until Voldemort did his thing.

      I actually wrote this post after talking to another bipolar sufferer and her struggle to self-soothe too.

  3. What you are saying about the quicksand of inertia, that sounds like depression to me, not the bipolar. I say that as someone who has suffered from depression for many years both before and after my diagnosis. There were days when just managing to have a shower felt like a major achievement to me, and I certainly could not have come up with a plan to make myself feel better.

    I do think it is very important for you to be able to separate all these things out from each other because if you do not, then bipolar is going to cop all the blame for it, and you are going to end up hating bipolar for all these things when it does not deserve that hate.

    If you had been diagnosed while still with the worthless man and still in your home and still with your daily routine, you might feel very differently about the bipolar. And I say that because once I got over the awkwardness of Aspergers, I began to understand how this diagnosis was actually a gift to me. I probably should write about this on my blog some, I've kept a lot of it to myself.

    Does this make any sense? ;) Does any of this resonate at all?

    1. My sister is bipolar and was fortunate to have a very good doctor. One of the things he told her was not to let her disease be a label and define her life. She lives in the city, San Francisco and is very independent. She has had two major manic episodes, requiring hospitalization. However, she manages very well now and has a good understanding of her stressors. A couple things are she keeps a routine, gets enough sleep and eats a healthy diet. She has to avoid alcohol and drugs, as they can be triggers. She did get therapy in the early years, but has been diagnosed for more than 20 years. I think she has more control over her life than most people. Maybe because she had to deal with this for so long, she's more in tune with herself. I don't know, but she's braver than me.

    2. To Snoskred - After having my antidepressant dose upped recently and now feeling less inertia, I have to agree. It's nice to want to do SOME things again, although I still have a way to go.

      To Christie - Because my condition is new to me perhaps I do let it define me, but that's a personal choice. It's like Fibromyalgia and ME define me because they sure as hell define what I can do with myself. But again it's all down to personal choice. As time goes on I may feel less defined by it, but it's not even been 6 months yet. It's still very raw.

  4. I hope you have a qualified adult with whom you can talk about all of this, but I have a feeling maybe you do not, because any qualified adult would likely have said all of this to you already.

    I am 7 years out from my diagnosis now, and while at first it felt like an earthquake and all the ground underneath me disappeared, and I was floating in space for a bit.. once I began to learn more about it and understand what Aspergers is all about, I found my feet again. After that I looked back at my life and began to understand how Aspergers had played its part in everything which was a huge eyeopener for me. And after that, I began to understand the gifts that it had given me.

    If you want to chat about any of this face to face, well buy me a plane ticket to the UK LOL. No, I have google hangouts and we can video chat if you think it might help. I have spent a lot of time with qualified adults and a lot of time with depression, and I do have a close friend with bipolar.

    Much love to you, and I hope it is ok that I wrote this. ;) Maybe read one part of it each day for the next few days and sit with it, see whether any of it feels like it might be right. :)

    1. Thanks for your comments Snoskred. I have taken them all in and agree with much of it. One thing I'm not good at these days is having a lot of words to say myself, but it is appreciated.

  5. I have the depression part, as does most of my family. As I mentioned, my youngest sister is bipolar and was diagnosed as a teen. I feel my brother may be undiagnosed. I need to make sure I get out of bed every day, shower and dress. Sometimes I have to force myself, but I do it. Otherwise, I will be in my nightdress for days. Just having that first step makes me feel human and able to begin the day. Try making one task a must do. Don't try everything at once, or you'll get overwhelmed. I find it helps if I talk to another human once a day. Sometimes it's just my favorite grocery store clerk, but it perks me up to laugh with someone. I am single, no kids and my dad has Alzheimer's. So I tend to be cut off from people sometimes. I had to make sure I get to talk to someone, so I'm not stuck in my own head. If you are not doing therapy, maybe try some group stuff. You can hear other people's issues and it helps to know that we are not the only ones.

    1. I've had my antidepressant dose upped and I'm getting a little better at wanting to do things. So much in my life has changed that it's going to take a long time for me to get any kind of routine in place (other than basic self care) but I will get there. I haven't thought about therapy yet, but I think it might be a good idea once my depression is better controlled.

  6. A self soothe box is a great idea, and it would be so helpful to have all those things handy to keep the thought and effort into starting a new task to a minimum. Two movies that always comfort and inspire me are Little Miss Sunshine and Elizabethtown. I also have the Beautiful You book and find it soothing to answer a diary prompt when I'm down.

    As I think about it more, I can't think of many other things right here on the spot that I'd turn to for comfort. And if I can't think of them now, when my head is clear and I'm feeling center, there's no way I could think of them on a bad mental health day. This is something I'll put more thought into, and I hope you're able to collect some resources that'll comfort you when you need it too.


    1. Thanks Liz. I still need to make myself that box up, but I've started by buying a bunch of DVDs so I have something to watch when I'm feeling low.