I have, however, learned a few things about my condition and it's affect on me over the years that help make the day to day a little smoother. Nobody's perfect, and so despite these insights, I don't always take my own advice, but I have realized the that the closer I stick to these "rules", the better I feel. I thought I'd share them for others who may perhaps be struggling with a mood cycling disorder or who feel they might be. I also thought that it might help our friends and loved ones, to perhaps explain a bit of why those of us that battle these conditions have the patterns and behaviors that we do.
1. I must get seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Any less, and I'm not only exhausted, but my moods are much more likely to cycle. Sleep is a huge contributor to mood instability in humans in general, but especially to those with mood cycling. Oddly, I find if I get much more than this (unless I'm really making up for lost time), the effect isn't great either, though better than a sufficient deficit.
2. I need routine. This doesn't mean I can't be spontaneous, but it means that my general patterns need to be relatively stable. It's ideal for me to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day. If I work out (which I try to), I try to keep it at a consistent time of day. Ideally, meals are around the same time. Because so many things can affect my cycling, the more consistency the better. Otherwise, things get thrown off balance, and off balance for someone with a mood disorder is never a positive. My brain is already all over the place. If my outside world is as well, my brain really has no stable point of reference.
3. Too much caffeine makes me hypomanic. Two to three caffeinated drinks is generally the max. It's slightly different if I'm getting water-downed refills of diet soda at a restaurant, but I can't do nonstop Venti coffees all day. Perhaps it's ok when I'm especially exhausted or in a depressive episode, but I generally avoid too much.
4. Anxiety/stress/fear makes me cycle badly. It's not so much of a "physical" fear /anxiety that affects me (ie I'm afraid of public speaking) but an emotional stress that gets me. For instance, if I get in a fight with someone I'm close to, feel like I've disappointed someone etc, I get beside myself, and I cycle, usually quite rapidly. I'm not sure why it speeds up the frequency of cycling, but it seems to.
5. I need to eat healthy, and certain foods do affect my moods. Too much dairy, sweets, or fatty foods can help put me into a depressive cycle. I have no scientific evidence of this, and I didn't set out to prove any theories about it, it's just a pattern I've noticed for myself.
6. I need time alone with my brain, heart, and soul. I love my friends, and I'm very social person, but there are times when being social seems like too much pressure. I need to reflect, relax, or even just zone out and do as little as possible. Perhaps engross myself in a good book so that my brain doesn't have to focus so hard on the stressors in my life. So please, don't be hurt if I turn down an invitation. Trust me, it'd be worse if I was there and started to cycle. I'm slowly learning my limits and when to say no.
7. I need to feed my creative and imaginative side, and I need to do so often. This is the part of my cyclothymic brain that actually thrives! It is when I truly feel most "at home" within myself. If I don't have this opportunity, I start feeling stuck, to the point where I feel I'm losing my sense of self. It feels like there's something welled up inside of me, sitting there, waiting to burst out. The more I feed it, the more relaxed I feel, and relaxation seems to lead to less cycling.
8. I need to be true to myself. Yes, I'm emotional and sensitive, and I get stressed out more easily, and wish I had more self confidence and could be that "cool girl" who is laid back and just goes with the flow. But I'm not. Well at least not all of the time. I've accepted it. I do not do well trying to be like others and fit in with their rules and ways. It stresses me out and I cycle.
9. I need to take every single dose of my meds, every day, at the right time. This is the most important of all. Yes, I can miss a dose and not immediately cycle. But meds build up in your system, and if you miss a dose this day, and that day, and next week, eventually, you have a lower amount of meds in your system than you should. My meds are a life-saver. Do I like pulling out a bunch of pill bottles in public like someone's great-grandma? No. But the alternative is much less desirable.