Several years ago my life spiraled out of control because of my bipolar disorder. Thankfully, soon after Thanksgiving in 2011, I began inpatient treatment at a mental health facility that specializes in treating individuals with severe mental illnesses like bipolar disorder. The staff there helped me stabilize, laying the foundation for me to manage the disorder. Yet I knew it would still take significant effort to sustain that stability once I checked out. In the two years since I left the facility, maintaining mental balance has boiled down to five fundamental needs I have to think about every day. 1. Medication Taking my medication every day is the most important thing I do to manage my bipolar. There's some trial and error involved when you first start on any of these medications. You have to suffer through that initial period when the dosage level isn't quite right. And even after the doctors make adjustments, some people don't respond well to certain drugs like lithium. But for me, within three days, lithium lifted me out of a severe depression. It was amazing. Currently, I take three different medicines once a day right before I go to bed. Since I take them all at the same time, forgetting to take one means forgetting all three. If I go to bed without them one night, the next day I feel very weird. I'm more irritable; thoughts start racing through my mind. It doesn't take me long to realize the mistake-they make such a huge difference. But I pair taking my medication with brushing my teeth, so it's not very often that I forget. 2. Sleep I've always been a morning person, so going to bed at a decent hour isn't particularly challenging, but that's not to downplay how absolutely essential it is for my mental health. The only time I didn't get enough sleep was when I was manic. During an episode I would sleep-at most-four hours each night. Now, I'm usually in bed by 10 p.m. If I go to bed later than that, I don't feel well the next day. In the middle of work, all I want to do is crawl under my desk and sleep for three hours. Just like with the medicine, any deviation from the routine and I notice it very quickly the next day. 3. Exercise Before I went to the mental health facility-even before my diagnosis-I noticed how beneficial exercise was for my mood and my mind. I follow my morning routine pretty religiously, walking a mile before work each day and 2.5 miles on Saturdays and Sundays. It's harder to stick to the routine during the winter months, but I just have to push through it and get up and out. I can miss a day of walking or being active, but if I go two or three days without exercise, I definitely feel off. I'll get more stressed out-and stress can easily trigger a bipolar relapse. 4. Diet When I was manic, I wouldn't eat, and I kept losing weight. So once I began feeling better, I just started eating heavily. In the last few years, I've gained a lot of weight. In part, it's a side effect of the medication, but I was definitely overindulging. I eat pretty well now. While splurging used to mean eating a whole cake, now it's putting too much Nutella in my yogurt. Most mornings, for breakfast I'll have an energy bar and coffee; for lunch, I'll have a salad, sometimes with chicken; and then for dinner, I'll go out with people from my AA group, or my boyfriend will cook for the two of us. I remember one day when I didn't find the time to eat; because of the lack of food, my mind began to race and I started to panic. After that day, I realized that eating consistently is just as important as eating well. I try to munch on some almonds between meals to tide me over, so I don't risk going too long without food. And it's not about what you should eat, but what you absolutely can't consume, and for me, that's alcohol. Before I started medication, alcohol was the medication. For years, I relied on white wine to slow down my thoughts. Now, I'm over two years sober. 5. Talk Therapy For about 4 to 6 months after I left the mental health facility, I would go to talk therapy once a week. I only stopped going because they quadrupled the copay cost. Plus, working full time, it was hard to squeeze it into my schedule. For me now, talk therapy is the AA meetings I go to in the evenings. On top of that, I still see my psychiatrist every other month, and I know I can always talk to my sponsor or call my sister, who used to be a therapist. I feel like I have enough support and camaraderie through these other outlets to forego weekly therapy. But I highly recommend talk therapy for people who are trying to keep their life in balance. It's a wise choice, especially early on. The bottom line is that I can't allow my emotions to go too high or too low. So being intentional about these five things helps me keep myself regulated and on track. I've been told that most people with bipolar who were as sick as I was don't come back or even survive. In the back of my mind, I feel like I'm doing everything I can to stay well. And that gives me great confidence for the future. Carey is a mother of three and can be found every morning walking a mile in her neighborhood in Atlanta, Ga.