Problem-Solving for Mental Health
My approach to personal mental health changed when I began to accept the reality of the challenges I faced. Instead of asking why this happened to me, I focused on what I could do about it. I was passionate about continuing my career as a professor, and I wanted to show up well as a mother for my daughter. So, I sought professional help and took action. I improved my sleep hygiene, adjusted my diet, prioritized time outdoors, and made time for healthy connection with people so I could continue to pursue what I’m passionate about in life.
My name is Ruth White. I am a professor of social work and public health, and I have lived with diagnosed bipolar disorder for fourteen years.
Childhood experiences affected my approach to mental health and life more broadly, because they shaped me into the resourceful problem-solver I am. I grew up in a mixture of cultures and experiences. After being born in England, I spent my early childhood in an idyllic coastal town in Jamaica before going to high school in the rough, fast-paced city of Kingston. At fourteen I moved to Canada, where I was one of a handful of black students in a predominately white school. An athlete for most of my life, I’ve always prized wellness.
Recognizing & Addressing Bipolar Disorder
I’ve also known since I was a teenager that not everything was right in my head. But, it wasn’t until I was a graduate student that I actually got help. I would swing from the mania to the depression of bipolar disorder and back again. Before seeking help, I would enter manic periods where I could keep going and going and never sleep, which I knew wasn’t healthy.
As soon as I moved to a point of acceptance with the condition, I began to experience more self-compassion and patience. I didn’t have issues complying with medicine because I saw its value in stabilizing my experience. Without medication, I could go without sleep in my manic episodes, until I collapsed in depressive states. I now see these effects as the natural result of not addressing the manic seasons, which would exhaust me.
Learning about my condition, I remained committed to pursuing my profession, which I’m passionate about, and doing everything in my power to set myself up for success. A third-world sensibility I have from my childhood caused me not to question the randomness of the condition and inspires me to not let it make me a victim. I dove into the neuroscience to understand it as much as possible. This helped me accept the reality of the condition, and identify things in my own control that could change my experience of it.
Shifting Wellness Practices to Reduce Symptoms
There are many practical steps that can help moderate the symptoms of bipolar disorder. I’ve integrated wellness practices into my life, starting with the prioritization of sleep and healthy diet. I eat blueberries and other foods that support positive brain function. My psychiatrist has been wonderful to work with, and I see it as a collaborative relationship. Because I was aware of how psychotropic medicines can affect my mental sharpness and functioning, I’ve tried to minimize my medicinal intake over time. We take an approach where I try to shift my behavior to reduce as many of the symptoms as possible, and then use medication prescribed by the psychiatrist for the rest of the symptoms, with the doctor fully aware. Over the years, I’ve been able to reduce dosage and frequency because I’ve adopted these other practices in my life.
Motherhood, Teaching, and the Outdoors: My Joys
Today, I prioritize experiences that bring me life and support wellness. I love being outdoors, particularly around water, whether that’s by kayaking or simply being by the ocean. My experiences as a dedicated athlete growing up help me find a lot of satisfaction and peace from engaging in exercise where I can push my body. Teaching and writing are joys of mine that have unfolded into new channels through this experience. I’ve always been a writer, but I never believed I had a book in me to write, or at least that’s what I would tell my friends. But, the experience of walking through bipolar disorder and being able to not have symptoms for years became the foundation of my first book (Bipolar 101: A Practical Guide to Identifying Triggers, Managing Medications, Coping with Symptoms, and More).
I greatly value the classroom experience, where I get to think quickly on my feet, be witty, have intellectual stimulation, and engage with others. I’m proud of the way that I’ve continued to pursue my passions in the face of these challenges, and for working to be a functional, loving mother to my daughter.
If you’re out there struggling with bipolar disorder or another mental health disorder, know that it can get better. See your psychiatrist as a collaborative partner with whom you can craft a plan towards wellness.
Learn more about Dr. White and the book she has written at www.ruthcwhite.com, or follow her on Twitter (@ruthwhite).