I was reading the forum on bipolar success stories today on PsychCentral. The thread with the most replies currently is titled, "I Took A Shower Today." That really struck me, because some days I just don't get up for a while and I don't take a shower and I don't do yoga (or much of anything) except that fortunately I'm really good about taking my meds. Now, maybe this is true, too, for a good number of people who don't even have a mental illness. I mean, some days you probably just don't feel like getting out of bed, maybe especially on weekends or vacations, so you don't. But for me, it's a sign. With bipolar disorder you have to watch yourself closely for signs of depression (not taking care of yourself, not keeping commitments, etc.) and mania (racing thoughts, pressured speech, lack of sleep, over-activity, etc.) It's literally hard to stay balanced when your mood swings.
One of the best resources I ever found to help keep track of the signs of wellness for bipolar disorder is a workbook or journal where you schedule your activities in advance (as much as you can) and then check to see if you at least did what you planned to do and also, if you've like, stayed up all night painting the walls or something on a whim. If you keep at journaling on a daily basis, It can become a routine after a while and depending on how much you have going on, you may or may not be able to make a mental checklist. Why this is so important though is that bipolar disorder can make it really difficult to accomplish simple activities or to control your impulses.
I liked to see the thread about taking a shower, because I didn't feel so alone. I admit it, I just don't always shower regularly, or brush my teeth (let alone floss) or exercise regularly. I'm doing much better than when I wasn't on meds, though. Without meds, when depression hit I would stay in bed for a week and cry. When mania hit I'd max out a credit card and just go somewhere random by myself. I've been both obese and anorexic (sometimes a separate food journal is a good idea sometimes, too). As a result, my health has suffered, I couldn't keep jobs and I ruined my credit rating, not too mention just doing a lot of "risk taking."
I wrote an article about how these days I "pass." For the most part, I can keep up appearances. That doesn't mean that I haven't been anxious all day, as usual, and that simple tasks, like hygiene, are sometimes a big challenge. Now, it just so happens that I did take a shower today, so I was proud. And it made me realize that I keep comparing myself to people who don't have this illness and feeling like I'm hiding the fact that I fall short of "emotionally balanced." So, I think it's important to remember that if you have a mental illness, you give yourself credit for each little accomplishment and each impulse-control. I'm happy for the person who took a shower today. And I'm happy for all those of us, mentally-ill or not, who just keep trying to get through the day. The important thing is not to give up. You may even surprise yourself.