Having a circle of support is invaluable. These are the people who love you not because you are perfect but for all of your beautiful imperfections. These are the ones that say the uncomfortable things, these are the ones, who in my experience save my life.
This past Oct I was in Seattle for a meeting with the Stability Network. The person who introduced me to the Stability Network is someone in my circle of support. She and I have not known each other long. However, we knew there was a bond between us that was unmistakably strong. Strong enough to say the things we need to hear (and might not want to admit). She is my go-to person for all things mental health.
Within minutes of reconnecting, she knew something was different. And as we continued to catch up, she was able to identify certain areas of my life that seemed to be coming undone. And as I got more and more comfortable with her again, I let my guard down. She got to see the messy, uncertain, heartbroken me.
In September I’ve moved my mom into an assisted living residence because of her late onset dementia. My husband left his full-time job to follow his passion, and the focus of my work has shifted and morphed due to exciting changes in the program.
The ironic part of all of this was until I began talking about what was going on in my life, I hadn’t realized the impact and how it was affecting me. My experience was I was surviving each day without noticing the small and pervasive stressful events that would have me be exhausted by 7 pm. And I thought I was just busy! How could I have missed that?
How changes in your life ( Good and Bad) can affect your stress levels
I began looking at what was happening in my life and realized that the changes in my mom’s health and her new living conditions were causing me both emotional and physical stress. The effect is like double bubble gum. Blowing bubbles without the gum sticking. Yes, I was tired from the additional physical stress I was under, however, the emotional stuff was new to me and affecting me in ways I didn’t even notice. My patience was shorter than before; my frustration levels were triggered easier, and my behaviour was less than stellar.
Living with Bipolar means learning how to take care of myself in ways I never used to have to think about before my diagnosis. I had gotten to be pretty good at doing the things that support thriving in life. However, over the last couple of months, I spent all of my regular self-care time with my mom. And while I feel a great honour in supporting her in what she is going through, I forgot what I needed.
Increased Mistakes at Work
I began noticing mistakes I’d make in my work. I’m familiar with a way of working that continuously supports a high level of performance, these errors were out of character for me. The suppressed emotions of fear, sadness and heartbreaking grief I was having for my mom was taking up critical thinking space in my brain, and I could not hold information. This diminished capacity was scary for me as anything that changes the makeup of my brain (stress levels) could potentially be a trigger for a bipolar episode. This type of catastrophic thinking is always running in the background, and while I don’t talk about this often, it’s a consistent loop that plagues me and exacerbates some of the anxiety I experience.
Sleeping was a challenge too. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and rather than go back to sleep, and I’d be up thinking about everything I needed to do (both for my mom, work, and my life). I usually have consistent healthy sleep patterns. Finally, I noticed I was tired each morning. I’d experience the feeling of not having enough sleep or enough restful sleep.
As my colleague and I continued to talk about everything that was going on in our lives, she suggested I might look at what Burnout is and it’s signs and symptoms. She was concerned that the level of stress I was under if not taken care of, could lead to this thing called Burnout. It was hard to accept this, that I might be going through something and I wasn’t able to handle in my life. I’m usually the strong one, the one that gives others support. It was the first time in a very long time which I realized I would need to make some changes to my life and how I was operating in it.
She gave me a gift, and I’ll call them: Four Strategies to Avoid Burnout:
1) Decrease the number of responsibilities you have. She said: You have some things you can control in your life and others you can’t – let go of those you have control over.
2) Make of list of those things that give you energy and those that don’t. She suggested doing the things that give you energy and don’t do or limit the things that don’t give you energy.
3) Get back to taking care of yourself consistently. She said: if your not able to take care of yourself what good are you for your mom, your work, your husband, and family? The world needs your contributions, make sure you are taking care of yourself like you do others.
4) Ask for an accommodation at work: Talk to your colleagues and see if there is anything you are responsible for that could be delegated to someone else.
It’s been about four weeks since I had this conversation and here is what I’ve done:
1) With the things I can control, I’ve let go of some responsibilities. I am feeling better about my work. I have noticed I am no longer making mistakes and don’t feel as distracted as I did. One of the areas I’ve given up is being a Peer Support Facilitator for the Toronto Bipolar Peer Support Group.
2) I made my list of things that give me energy and am incorporating them into my day to day schedule. Meditation for 20-40 minutes during my work day has been extremely helpful to combat afternoon drag and low energy. Walking in nature is a welcome change and works on many levels of self-care.
3) I realized my health and wellness days were no longer on my calendar, so I have I’ve blocked off a “wellness day” every ten business days for the next 12 months. Just knowing I have some downtime decreases my anxious internal thoughts.
4) I’ve increased my sleep and am using Lavender oil on my feet before I go to bed. I’m now sleeping through the night and am getting restful sleep. When I wake up in the morning, I’m feeling rested and have good energy for the day.
Question: What do you do to combat stress? Do you have any strategies that could help? I’d love to hear them. You can leave a comment by clicking here.