(image: Plum Village)
Up and down. Up and Down.
Round and round.
Having Bipolar Disorder can sometimes feel rather like being in a washing machine!
Luckily my illness is now under control. But it has taken a long time to get here, and was not always so. Mindfulness has played a big part in my ongoing wellness, alongside a tweaked medication regime.
This is my list of just how mindfulness has helped me cope with BP over the past few years…
It has levelled out my moods – I was last in hospital in 2014. Mania. Psychosis. Sectioning. The whole lot. Since that time, my moods have at times, fluctuated a lot. But mindfulness has helped me. It has made me a calmer, steadier person all round. A quick 20 minute session before bed does wonders for my mood if I’m feeling down, and can bring me down if I’m feeling a little hyper. More stability = less episodes. Less time in hospital.
It has helped me to sleep better – As I mentioned above, I tend to meditate before bed. This has the possible negative effect that I sometimes fall asleep while doing it. You may not get the whole benefit then. No matter, just try again the next time. My bed time ritual does help me to establish a routine before going to sleep. This routine helps me sleep.
It has deepened my self-knowledge – “Know Thyself” was written over the Oracle at Delphi in Ancient Greece. The principle being that knowing oneself, self-knowledge, is of prime importance in life. Mindfulness aids that process greatly. Through meditation, and self-observation, you learn to understand your own motivations and reactions to events. With Bipolar, mindfulness helps you learn your triggers for high and low moods much better than by thinking alone.
It has helped me eat better – Odd one this. How it works is that eating mindfully – that is slowly, deliberately, consciously – helps you to taste food better. Rather than scoffing down each mouthful, you instead savour the food, eat slowly, actually taste it. Because of this, you end eating better food, and less of it. I was doing this the other night, just taking 5 minutes to eat it food and really tasting it. It intensified the eating experience tenfold.
It helps me to remind me to take my meds – . Since I meditate before I go to sleep, it reminds me at the same time that I must take my medication. This has helped me to be almost religious about taking my meds, and improved my stability at the same time.
It helps me to pray and connect with God – In the Christian Tradition mindfulness is called “silent prayer” or “contemplation”. It has been used for thousands of years to connect with the Divine and purify the spirit. And in all religions, too. Today’s secular mindfulness derives from Buddhist meditation. Anyhow, my practice enables me to spend time with God every night, and further my spiritual relationship and growth with him. It’s a healing time. I couldn’t have got through my illness without my faith. Its been invaluable.
It gives me a feeling of achievement – This feeling can be vital when I am between jobs and often have little to give substance to my day. Even if I am feeling low and have achieved very little that day, I can always say I’ve done my 20 minutes quiet time. Just this can give me a boost, and leave me feeling settled whereas before my bad moods will have dragged me down previously.
The scientific evidence is in favour of mindfulness for helping Bipolar – A 1995 study in the Biological Study Journal concluded that mindfulness is effective in levelling out Bipolar moods. A landmark 2005 study by esteemed neuroscientists from the University of Massachusetts also discovered that the brains of meditation practitioners had much more thickness, density, and activity within their prefrontal cortex — just like physicist Albert Einstein. The pre-frontal cortex is the area of the brain associated with emotion, and emotional control.
Mindfulness has also made me a more patient person – with others, and with myself. This level of self-patience and self-care has helped me to cope with my Bipolar a lot. Meditation has removed much of the agitation and bad moods that used to plague my everyday life.
Most of all mindfulness has made me more appreciative of the now, and the beauty of living in the present– so much of our lives – Bipolar and mentally well – are spent elsewhere, in our heads, instead of focusing on what we are doing right now. We are typically either ruminating and regretting things in the past, or worrying about the future. Enlightenment, as I understand it, is not withdrawing into some grand philosophical way of life, but a renewed focus on the now. “The Power of Now” as the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle puts it. My recovery from my Bipolar was not so much about grand realisation but an increased awareness of what I was doing, moment by moment – the food I was eating right then. The person I was talking to right then. Everything happens in the now; the rest is just illusion.
This is a guest post written by Kevin Morley. Kevin is a spiritual seeker and runs a meditation and spirituality blog called Satori Mind (www.satorimind.co.uk). He has Bipolar Disorder, but has many other more important character traits too!”