I don’t really keep it a secret anymore that I live with chronic mental illness. It’s something that touches every aspect of my life. When it’s impossible to hide, as it has been these past two weeks, worrying about stigma makes it worse. The only thing that makes it better is knowing other people who very much live in the public eye don’t hide it. They own it, and it makes me think “I can own my illness, too.” Even if more people own the depression side of bipolar and refrain from mentioning mania at all costs.
(Look at that title. So much for that.)
I’ve lived with bipolar I, among other mental illnesses, since I was 14. It’s the easiest to identify as my bouts of depression and mania typically run on a seasonal clock. Summer brings depression, early autumn brings hypomania, late autumn brings moderate depression, and the end of winter is marked by brutal mania. Usually the mania is controllable, but sometimes it lands me in the hospital. The last time I had a flare of mania bad enough to be hospitalized was 2007. Nine years of not being hospitalized–what a streak! There have been times where I probably would have been better off in a hospital but…that’s something I can’t financially afford, so I do the best I can to keep myself functioning. It’s crucial that I watch my habits and behaviors like a hawk. If I see a dip or a swell, I have to act quickly before it takes me under.
And this is where Habitica saved my butt.
Habitica is a neat little RPG that turns daily tasks and behaviors into a game. When you accomplish things, you gain experience, gold, and pets. As a lover of RPGs and a person who needs to watch behaviors and habits very closely, I figured I’d give it a try. And it did help, especially with keeping me motivated to accomplish my tasks. It helped me figure out what my averages were for how much I could realistically accomplish and how much energy I had.
When I had to add “not sleeping” to my habit list I wasn’t overly worried. Sleep is always a battle. My brain hates it. Doesn’t know how to do it.
But then I was adding “take Pristiq earlier” and “limit bright light” to the list. I was knocking out an amount of tasks that would have been impossible in December. Feeling almost better, if faster. My brain had finally found the accelerator and after months of depression, I’ll be frank: it was a relief to be getting stuff done. I fixed things that had needed fixing months ago, but I was fixing them when I’d had two hours of sleep and had been up for eighteen, nineteen, twenty hours. Thirty hours. My body was exhausted, but its pilot had dropped a brick on the accelerator. And I was so exhausted that checking off behaviors was the only thing that made the lightbulb go off in my head that I was in major trouble.
If I hadn’t been tracking my behaviors and habits so closely, monitoring them via a game every single day, I’m not sure whether I would have been able to steer myself out of the slide and called the doctor. Would I have done that if I hadn’t been watching my behaviors? I don’t know. But the thing that made me realize I was in trouble was the little game on my phone.
I’m still having trouble navigating this flare, but the doc is confident that I’m watching myself enough to get through this. I have the little game on my phone helping me know when I need to come in again again. I have an incredibly strong support network. And even though I don’t like the medicine that slows me down, I take it because without it, I can’t function. So having an app that reminds me to take my meds, enforce rest times, and call on my support network really helps–much like the routine I’d follow in an acute unit or partial hospitalization.
My hair is a really unfortunate shade of blonde, my house is bizarrely spotless, and I’m still exhausted, but I’m confident I’ll get through this. I’ve got the tools to do it.
Thanks for watching over me, Habitica.