I’ve never had a positive relationship with my body image for as long as I can remember. I look back on pre-baby photos and ask myself, “What on earth was I worried about. Why did I dislike my body back then?”
But in September 2017, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, and my life and body image issues started to make sense. After being diagnosed, I went through a denial phase and the medication rollercoaster. Still, as things died down, I began to learn more about my illness and started to tap into my thoughts, feelings, emotions and actions and, I began to notice patterns.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
For those who don’t know much about Bipolar, The Black Dog Institute describes it as:
A chronic mental health condition with strong changes in mood and energy. One in 50 (1.8%) adult Australians experience bipolar disorder each year.
People experiencing bipolar disorder can have:
- depressive episodes: low mood, feelings of hopelessness, extreme sadness and lack of interest and pleasure in things
- manic or hypomanic episodes: extremely high mood and activity or agitation, racing thoughts, little need for sleep and rapid speech.
These changes in mood can last a week or more, and affect our thoughts and behaviour.
Bipolar disorder needs long-term management, which may include medication and psychological therapies. Bipolar disorder affects how we can function in everyday life. Untreated, it makes it hard to cope at work, home, school or socially.
How I manage my bipolar
To correctly manage this chronic illness, in addition to medication and therapy, I have had to practice self-awareness. I’ve been learning to identify my depressive and manic cycles, recognising my thoughts, I’ve had to relearn my depression triggers, understand how long my cycles last and remember to give myself a break as often as possible.
Not long ago, I started to notice a pattern with my self-image; it’s a pattern that really surprised me and which I’d never recognised before.
How my self-image changes with my mood cycle
During a depressive cycle, I am super critical of my body, constantly weighing myself and looking at myself in the mirror criticising every part of my body. During a depressive cycle, my self-esteem and confidence are usually at an all-time low, not just with body image but with friendships and work; it’s an ultra-sensitive phase. These feelings fuel my depression and worse; I resort to eating sugary foods which often has the opposite effect, making me put on weight.
After a stage of depression, I usually normalise, but often I go a little hypomanic, too. When this happens, my energy soars, I’m super productive, I want to clean, and I like to buy new things. But one thing I’ve found during my ‘manic’ cycle is my sudden change in self-esteem, literally in the space of a few days. There have been instances where I’ve looked in the mirror and told myself, “Gee, you don’t look too bad at all, what on earth were you worrying about the other day?” My entire view of my self shifts, like all of the bits I hated magically vanish from my body, it’s like I see a completely different reflection in the mirror. My favourite knickers look sexy again, I no longer need to suck in my ‘Mummy Tummy’, and I look GREAT in jeans! Yet this is only a few days after my depressive state; I am the same person. Crazy, huh?
Negative thoughts aren’t real
Bipolar and anxiety make life very confusing, and the mind chatter is exhausting. But I always refer back to what Psychotherapist Nancy Colier LCSW, Rev. said about negative thoughts, why they aren’t real and why we shouldn’t believe them. She explains that what makes a thought feel so real is the attention we bring to it. We turn a thought into an actual object by putting a focus on it and relating to it as though it’s something that is happening (when it really isn’t). Then, the thought and the object are linked when, in fact, they aren’t connected at all. The thought will not affect the object unless we believe it does so grasping this concept means that if you do not attend to a thought, it will literally cease to exist, a thought will literally be nothing.
Since being diagnosed with Bipolar, I’ve become a big believer in mindset; we have so much power over our minds; they don’t control us. Just as I try to remind myself as much as possible, remember to remind yourself that your negative thoughts aren’t real. Stick post-it notes everywhere as a reminder, if you have to.
Remember: A negative thought does not take a solid form, nor does it exist anywhere outside your body. No one else but you knows about what you are thinking, and if you choose not to believe it, it will not continue, it will disappear.
This article appeared first in the Hot & Healthy Magazine.