Schedules Promote Stability
Trains run on a schedule and so do I.
When trains don’t run on time, things can go very wrong and affect actions and people. The same is also true with me.
Even before my diagnosis of bipolar I, I discovered that my days and nights were better when I kept a fairly structured schedule. When my days and nights were scattered, unplanned, and tumultuous, I found that I became this way, too. It did take me some years to recognize that I had the power to control my schedule and therefore I had the power to control me. And my mood.
Here’s an example of structure and schedule.
I have had lifelong sleep problems. It may be familial because my mother is an insomniac. But the difference between us is that when my mom does not get enough sleep she usually becomes tired and cranky the next day. If I do not get eight hours or more of sleep, there is a likelihood I may become manic. I can control my mania potential by getting enough sleep.
Here’s another example.
It is my decision to take meds for my bipolar disorder. I am med compliant and I take them as directed at the same time every day. I use pill trays as an aid to make sure I take all meds at the right time every day. If I were to take my meds sporadically, at different times than prescribed, I can almost guarantee that I am inviting bipolar symptoms into my life.
Why do I care about keeping a tight schedule every day with my sleep, meds, and activities? As I told Sarah Fader, Stigma Fighters founder, it saves me every day.
When I do everything at the same time every day, it can be just as powerful as taking my bipolar medications. Keeping the trains running on schedule ensures that my body’s internal clock improves my mood and helps me manage my sleep. Tick tock. It really does work.
I want my wake/sleep time to be on a regular schedule. For insurance on this, I take melatonin at night to assist my body’s circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are physiological cycles that occur in your body every 24 hours. Interestingly, researchers have studied the makeup of these biological rhythms and have found them to look different in people with bipolar disorder. Why is this relevant? Bipolar disorder may be linked to irregularities in the circadian system.
I choose to take a melatonin supplement, but our bodies do produce this hormone naturally. It is a traffic signal that is monitored by light. As night approaches, melatonin levels rise. Light stops melatonin so we can be alert in the morning. Besides taking melatonin, I go to sleep in a darkened bedroom and use blackout curtains so that early light does not wake me before the eight to nine hours I require.
This is an experiment you can try to understand the effect of melatonin on your system. Go out early in the morning to allow light to absorb into your system. This will help turn off melatonin production and also help you waken to start your day.
Here’s another experiment I personally used. I recently traveled to Germany and tried very hard to keep my schedule in spite of traveling across several time zones. My psychiatrist made a suggestion to me that on the day I arrived, after a red-eye flight, I should sit outside in the sun for one hour. I’m sure this was somehow related to circadian rhythms and it worked!
Our brains thrive when our trains run on schedule. This is especially true with bipolar disorder. I’ve shared some of my structure and routine, and have summarized four ideas here as a suggestion to anyone desiring to keep their own trains running on time in order to buy insurance on stability with bipolar.
Sleep, sleep, and sleep.
Go to bed at the same time every night in a darkened room and avoid stimulants such as watching television or a viewing a computer screen.
Eat on a regular schedule.
I eat small meals several times a day for a few reasons. I’m concerned about weight gain and also I don’t want to get over hungry and overeat. Several small, healthy meals a day works for me and probably for you.
This is so difficult for me, as I’ve never understood the allure of a gym. But I do know it helps my schedule and exercise definitely helps my sleep. So what I do is yoga and walk my dog several times a day. Plan an exercise regimen you can easily follow.
Owning a pet.
Speaking of walking my dog, owning a pet has many rewarding benefits for people with a mental illness. Feeding and walking are responsibilities that add additional structure to your schedule. In my case, my dog is a comfort pet. I live alone yet I’m not alone because of my dog. Some breeds make better comfort dogs than others, and if you’re considering a pet, it’s worth researching. Cats are great, too!
If you are struggling with bipolar symptoms, I encourage you to reflect on your daily habits and consider tightening up your schedule. Making a written schedule for yourself is a good first step. After a while, the structure becomes a natural lifestyle and an impactful way to manage your bipolar disorder.
In Writing Life, Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. A schedule defends from chaos and whim.”
I hope you find solace, as I have, using these ideas to help create an island of stability through a livable schedule to manage your bipolar disorder.