Whether you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or not, chances are you have specific types of actions and behaviors that you know are signs that you are headed for or deeply entrenched in a mental crisis. For those of us who have received a mental health diagnosis early detection of our signs and symptoms of crisis can be the difference between life and death. Creating the best mental crisis checklist will require a willingness to look in the mirror and to ask for outside feedback. Chances are asking someone for details about how you were acting the last time you were in crisis or when you are super stressed out can come with some reflections that may not shed the most desirable light on our character. However, they will shed critical light on where we are on our journey from mental illness to mental wellness. 

The following steps helped me feel safe enough to relax into my diagnosis without constantly looking over my shoulders for symptoms.

I started feeling like I couldn’t trust myself and had to live my life in fear of another Bipolar episode sneaking up behind me. Here’s how I chose to respond and how it could help you too.

Step 1 – Create a list of my coping tools

Question to ask yourself: How DO I cope?

We all have things that help us cope with daily life whether it be a relaxing bath, a run or a drink at the end of a long hard day. Create a list of yours while completely removing judgement on whether or not it’s a “good” tool or the “best” tool or even the “right” tool. Get a list of your coping tools, the good, the bad and the ugly. These are the actions you take when you are looking to find your way from a place that feels uncentered to a place that feels centered. They are likely the biggest signals you have for how close you are to your peaceful center so spend some time here really digging in. 

Step 2 – Create a list of my unhealthy behaviors 

Question to ask yourself: What are MY unhealthy behaviors?

Just like we have coping tools we also have unhealthy behaviors we lean into when we are processing something that feels heavy. Some of my unhealthy behaviors are drinking, eating misaligned food and going to bed too early. Unhealthy behaviors are behaviors that do not lead you closer to your center and are otherwise behaviors you’d like to avoid. It’s also possible that an unhealthy behavior can evolve into an addiction, if left unmonitored. Drugs, alcohol and sex top the list, but are certainly not the only possibilities. 

Step 3 – Create a list of my symptoms

Question to ask yourself: When I am in crisis what do I experience?

A mental crisis has symptoms and it’s important for you to understand yours. What do you experience when you are a little stressed? How about a lot stressed? How about at category 5 stressed? Feel free to replace stressed with the emotions you experience during a crisis and create a comprehensive list of symptoms. The symptoms I’ve experienced with Bipolar Disorder are mood swings, sadness, elevated mood, anxiety, euphoria, crying, impulsivity, unwanted thoughts, racing thoughts, false sense of responsibility for others, paranoia, days of insomnia, inability to track time, and frenzied speaking. 

Step 4 – Create a list of my self care tools

Question to ask yourself: What would I put on MY list of self care tools?

What are the things that can help bring you back to center? Or put another way, what tools would your well self offer your currently unwell self? These are important tools that can be utilized if you are seeing early warning signs of a crisis. My self care list includes going to the gym, running, jacuzzi time, saunas, float tanks, massage, meditation and check-ins with my best friend. Truth be told, I have a very extensive list of self care tools that I’ve amassed over the years and provide options for any amount of time and any amount of budget. 

Step 5 – Create a list of emergency actions to take

Question to ask yourself: What can someone do to help me if I am in crisis?

What happens if you are in an all out crisis? Who should be called? What hospital do you want to be taken to? Who are your doctors? What information would someone need in order to be able to get you help if you asked them? I know that I can not easily navigate information from the middle of a Bipolar episode so having this available ensures I can easily communicate my needs with the simple search to find a Google Keep document.

Step 6 – Create my circle of trust

Question to ask yourself: Who can I go to for an objective perspective if I think I might be on the edge of crisis?

Now it’s time to find friends, family and coworkers to place in your circle of trust. Your circle of trust is sacred. These are people who only want your well-being and will be honest with you while remaining objective in their analysis of whether or not you are in crisis. These are people you could come to them and tell them you are concerned about your mental wellness and they would sit down with you and help you evaluate whether or not you are in crisis. And YOU WOULD TRUST their analysis, that’s the key. If you would dismiss them they can’t be in your circle of trust. You can have one person in your circle of trust or you can have 10 people, the key is to have someone to help you see your blind spots. 

Step 7 – Hold myself accountable

Question: Am I in crisis? If yes, what’s next?

No one knows you better than you know yourself. Use these resources to conduct self assessments along the way. And don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll be able to come up with these lists and centered perspectives from a place of crisis. You won’t. Instead, provide yourself with a tool to self assess and create a circle of trust to help you see what you can’t. You can’t see your face without a mirror. But you CAN see it WITH one. Look yourself in the mirror and be honest. 

We are all on a journey to mental wellness and we will all find ourselves in situations where our balance is off. It’s a natural part of being human. Taking the time to dive into how you respond from a place of crisis will ensure that you can detect a crisis before it escalates into something unmanageable. Further, if you feel comfortable sharing your document with your family and possibly select coworkers it ensures they understand your wishes and their options for getting you help, if you request it.