An Olympic training approach to managing bipolar disorder

I was talking with a friend at the National Council on Behavioral Health’s annual conference in Nashville. We had just watched a movie about Andy Irons a world class surfer who had bipolar disorder and died at 37.

It was an emotional documentary. I felt sad. But the emotion that got my attention was anger. Angry at a terribly cruel and devastating illness.

I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty for my ability to successfully manage a serious mental illness that often robs people of life and disrupts any sense of normalcy.

Though I too have succumbed to many tragic experiences because of bipolar disorder, once I set my mind to figuring out how I could manage the symptoms with as little disruption to my life as possible, I successfully am living a healthy life.

But it dawned on me as I said to my friend Carol that not everyone may think to take an Olympic training mentality to conquering a mental illness.

It’s no easy task to become an Olympian. In my view managing bipolar disorder is far more difficult. But applying the same driven mentality can be a game changer for managing bipolar.

For me it comes down to four main components.

1. Desire. The desire to want a life that is manageable and purposeful despite a disability.

The desire to learn how to manage with often much needed medications, which generally have terrible side effects-especially when first initiated.

The desire to fight for a healthy peaceful life.

2. Dedication. Relentless vigilance monitoring symptoms. Advocating for yourself with the doctor. Keeping appointments as if your life depends on it. Because my life does depend on it.

3. Discipline. Finding a treatment plan and sticking to it. Meticulously taking medications every day, without missing a dose. Getting the proper sleep. Exercising even when it’s hard to motivate.

4. Determination. Maybe the most important aspect is never giving up the hope for recovery. Never quitting even when the game seems out of reach. Taking the setbacks in stride and keep on pushing.

I realize not everyone has had the experience of becoming an Olympian. But I also know people can apply these same principles to their own individual situation.

My goal is to share my knowledge with others. Every life matters.

In a sports analogy bipolar disorder can be defeated. But it is an opponent that is always relentlessly trying to take us down.

Fight it as if your life depends on it. Because it does.

One Person Who Cares Makes a Difference: Be that ONE

Several years ago I was traveling through the Denver International Airport during one of my business trips. I was in intense therapy and was having flashbacks on the 1 1/2 hour plane ride from Phoenix.

By the time I got off the plane I was an emotional wreck. I couldn’t stop crying and I was physically shaking. I found a chair and sat down with my head in my hands, looking up only periodically. I didn’t know if I could regain my strength to move on with my day, so I just sat here feeling helpless.

Moments later a young man stood in front of me and said, “I’m not sure how to help you, but are you okay?” I glanced up and looked at him and with a quivering bottom lip I stammered, “Not really.” He then turned to me and said, “I wish I could take all your pain away. I wish I knew what to do to help you. But please know that someone cares about you. Can I call someone for you.”

I shook my head “no” and he walked away.

I stopped crying and sat there a few more minutes. Did the stranger instantly solve all my problems? No. But it did matter that someone cared enough to stop and ask me how I was doing and let me know that someone cared.

In our crazy, busy world we often get so consumed with what we are doing we forget about noticing the people around us. Sometimes we forget to notice those who are even close to us. I want to challenge each of you to notice others. We don’t have to have the right terminology or a scientific procedure to ask a simple question, “Are you okay?” You’ll be amazed at how people will respond.

In a world of complexity the simple solutions reign. Will you be the ONE who changes someone’s day and gives them hope for tomorrow?