The Creatives’ Guide to Living With Bipolar Disorder: On Trying to Be Productive

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Last year I discovered this piece on being accountable to the Muse. It’s great advice and totally worth following … unless you have bipolar.

My problem is that I tend to hyper-focus on specific stories or novels for a period of time. In the past this has been tied directly to my manic periods (which usually last around two weeks). This can also be awesome when it comes to producing short stories but sucks for novels, as I usually burn out half way through.

I was going to plan my year out, block off time for a couple of specific projects (mostly novels). Except that doesn’t really work for me, aside from putting more pressure on my otherwise short attention span and stress levels. Now keeping my stress levels to a minimum is my most important focus: stress triggers my mania, Quetiapine be damned. I’ve recently up my dose to 600 mg and feel back on something of an even keel (I’ve learned I get six months before I need to up my dose and, as far as I’m aware, the maximum for Quetiapine is 750mg).

© Angelia Trinidad/Passion Planner
© Angelia Trinidad/Passion Planner

One thing I have found invaluable is my Passion Planner (it’s a Limited Edition Twilight Compact, making it A5 sized and the perfect size). Except rather than using it to plan out what I’m going to do, I instead use it to mark what I’ve done. With lots and lots of stickers. I find recording what I do is particularly cathartic, be it bus journeys, rejections, submissions or meeting friends. I even stuck a photo of me with my new nephew in there to remind me of how cute he is.

I mark out my day, who I met, what I did, using the main page layout. I note submissions/rejections in the Space of Infinite Possibility (blanked out to preserve a couple of details I can’t make public at this time). I try to have one or two things I need add into the To-Do Lists (personal in this case is my life and on-spec story projects, work is used for Kickstarter-related projects, sold stories and notes). I try to have a focus each week, in the above case it’s getting the final edits done for A Star Filled Sea finished and sorting out the cover changes with Scarlett. I also spent an entire week changing website hosts, wiping my WordPress installation due to a bug in Jetpack and reinstalling my lovely new blog.

Le Sigh.

I’ve also found myself getting addicted to stickers; I like making my Passion Planner truly mine and have quite a selection of Japanese washi paper stickers/Sailor Moon ones and random planets I bought from Paperchase. I like the personalisation aspect as the more I like something, the more I’m going to use it. The washi ones (made by a Japanese company called Mindwave) are almost like watercolours and look beautiful, I’ve also found somewhere that’s not Etsy to get them stupidly cheap which helps. I treat these friparies as a way to spend a little money but boost my mental state significantly.

I find the time used meditative, as well as reminding me of how productive I actually am (which is helped by turning Facebook off), especially from a writing/life perspective. I get out most days and that also helps as, if I’m writing, I find my local Starbucks to be an ideal place do it. I get warmth and coffee, power and WiFi, people to pet my hound and I don’t suffer the almost claustrophobic anxiety I get while at home.

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The one thing I am trying to do, as it helps my productivity no end, is go to the gym and Zumba twice a week. The gym allows me to warm up/do a mission of Zombies, Run! and Zumba, which forces me to stop thinking about everything and focus on not dying of a heart attack mid-session. I’ve done a class long enough that I know the song and movements off by heart which really allows me to push that extra mile and sweat. Plus there’s the social aspect of catching up with friends and actually getting out, even if it’s bloody freezing to walk to and from in Winter.

But there are some days, like today, when I just can’t write creatively. So I blog, I Netflix and YouTube and I try not to beat myself up about having a bad/non-productive day. Sometimes a down day makes for more productivity and following day.

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