I taught public school for 11 years, and every spring we received a special training in “active monitoring.” Nobody looks forward to active monitoring. It is the job teachers take on during the end of year state assessments. All certified teachers must stay on their feet during the majority of the test, walking up and down the aisles, making sure nobody is looking at another test, or marking in another section, or eating, or ANYTHING that would cause them to get marked up as a “state testing irregularity.” I dreaded these days every year, because I knew if I lost focus for one second, something could happen and I would get marked up and have my state teaching certificate questioned or revoked or torn up or SOMETHING horrible would happen.
Living with a mental illness requires active monitoring. Much like how I used to roam the aisles of my classroom, eyes alert for any misconduct or twitch of movement, I constantly roam my brain and my body for signs of disorder.
I should add this aside – I am not on medication. This scares a lot of people familiar with bipolar disorder. Well-meaning individuals, out of care and concern for me, have approached me and asked me if that is a good decision to make. I didn’t go off my medication without the prompting of a wise psychiatrist, and I maintain wellness by implementing a wide range of strategies, one of them being monthly check-ins with a licensed counselor who specializes in bipolar disorder.
That being said, active monitoring is key to my “remission.” I stay alert for triggers. When my thoughts start racing, and my mind starts getting buzzy, instead of doing what my mind is telling me to do, which is staying awake for hours on end to accomplish a goal of some kind, I go to sleep. I practice 4-7-8 breathing. I go to yoga. Intentional breathing, inhaling through the nose, holding it, and exhaling, activates my parasympathetic nervous system. I also have to be careful around alcohol when I am feeling this way, because it is easy for me to overindulge in an elevated mood and that can trigger an episode.
I never experienced lows to the extremes that I experienced highs, BUT I still have days where I feel a sense of hopelessness and purposelessness or pure laziness consume me. I take action before it gets any deeper than that. I choose an early bedtime on the days I feel this way. I make myself go to the gym for some cardio therapy. I talk to a close confidant. I take epsom salt baths and concentrate on breathing.
The key with catching the highs and lows is EARLY DETECTION. Just like when I was teaching, all my senses on alert for student misbehavior, I am always on alert for every feeling that seems off. I tend to run at high speed through life, that’s just part of my personality. So it is very important for me to find time to rest and recharge. The more consistently I’m speeding through days, the more likely I am to get off course in my mood stability.
I take care with my nutrition. Sugar is a neurotoxin, gluten causes gut inflammation, and excess dairy throws off my gut as well, which impacts my mental functioning. I aim to eat leafy greens rich in folate every day and choose animal sources for B12.
I recently learned that I have various genetic mutations that keep my vitamin D levels low, inhibit optimal absorption of B12, and cause my body to be unable to convert folic acid to the useable form of folate. I avoid products with synthetic vitamins for this reason (like refined carbs or low quality supplements).
When I look at my mutations and see how they affect my neurotransmitters, it is evident why I struggled so much in my younger years. I took little care with nutrition, didn’t supplement with the vitamins I was genetically lacking, and I took medication that depleted my body of the very things I needed for sustained mental health. All of that led to a perfect storm. Thanks to my newfound knowledge of epigenetics, I am learning to change the expression of these mutations through every bite I take, every supplement I swallow, and every movement I make.
Active monitoring means acting versus reacting. I step into life prepared and alert. I know what I am up against, and I know how to take steps to treat my illness BEFORE it takes over me.
I will do whatever it takes to keep my certificate of life intact.