I turned 50 in January 2009. For a while, I felt that my only "mid-life crisis" would be the cute little green VW Beetle convertible I bought. But menopause brought with it a lot more than just a car. I had always been an energetic and passionate person. I was very involved in my community and was constantly overcommitting myself. I kept up such a facade in my life, pretending everything was all "kumbaya" -- the happily married professional woman who's also a great mom and an enthusiastic community member. It was exhausting. But once menopause hit, the changes in my body, my hormones, and my life all forced me to tear away the masks that I had created years ago to hide the person I was inside. I lost my filter. If I wanted to say something to someone, it wasn't difficult for me at all, regardless of the consequences. At one point, I got very close to assaulting my boss! The hormonal shift of menopause actually made me feel liberated, like I could do anything I wanted. But it was too much liberation. I did things that weren't healthy for a marriage, for a family, for a job. I felt that, in many ways, my world was crashing around me. I didn't know who I was, what I wanted, what I stood for. Everything was about me, me, me. I adopted a "devil may care" attitude, unaware of others' feelings. I separated from my husband and moved into our basement. But this manic phase started to wear off, and I slipped into a depressive state. I wasn't secure in many of my relationships. I felt alone and abandoned, and I totally lost my sense of self. I felt jealous of friends and family that seemed to have it all together, some of whom I felt were excluding me-even ganging up on me. It may seem strange, but it felt like there were always these barking dogs in my brain. It's hard to describe what that felt like. I was self-aware enough to recognize that I wasn't acting normally, but I felt powerless to confront whatever was overtaking me. I knew that my behavior wasn't sustainable, that something was off. I just didn't know what it was or how to deal with it. Fortunately, one of my sisters observed my behavior and told me she wouldn't stop nagging me until I got a psychiatric evaluation. In my first session with the psychiatrist, we talked for a couple of hours and she told me that it sounded like I had bipolar disorder. I burst into tears. I was able to put a name on my problem. I now understood that the patterns I'd been struggling with actually meant something, and that there was treatment for it. My psychiatrist prescribed an anti-convulsant, which is typical for bipolar treatment, as well as talk therapy sessions. I also found a life coach to connect with twice-monthly. I knew the treatment was working when I felt the chatter in my brain dissipate. Those barking dogs I had heard in the past finally quieted down. I was astounded at the difference. My relationships began growing stronger, and my husband and I are working on our marriage. I couldn't believe I hadn't sought treatment years earlier. Through my treatment, I developed lots of tools to help me stay balanced. Here are some of the most important ones: 1. Avoid stress as much as possible Mindfullness: I learned techniques that help me be aware of how and why I’m feeling a certain way, and they help me to stay grounded. Reflection: I’ve worked on developing my personal spirituality, which provides a foundation for further growth. Exercise: I make sure to work out so I can exert my energy in healthy ways. Yoga: I practice yoga in order to calm my body and my brain. 2. Eliminate distractions Restrict internet use and email: I try to check my email and Facebook at the top of every hour. Keep the bigger picture in mind: I keep track of my schedule both on a paper calendar and the calendar on my phone, just to be safe. Declutter: I’ll often attend a “clothing swap” with my friends in order to clean out my closet. I check in with a friend (my decluttering buddy) so we can both celebrate our progress. And I keep a “Downsize Diary” to make note of decluttering successes, complete with before and after photos! 3. Follow a routine Maintain structure: I take my medication twice a day, at about the same time. 4. Track yourself Keep a journal: It helps me to keep tabs on how I’m feeling, what I’m eating, how I’m sleeping, etc. That way, if I feel off, I’m better equipped to determine why. Set goals: I make sure to identify a clear goal or deadline so that I know what I need to do to meet it, and I can get an idea of the necessary timeline 5. Recognize accomplishments Pause to celebrate finishing a project: I used to move right on to the next idea, but now I take a second to mark its completion and celebrate it. I treat it almost like a ritual, and performing an action helps to do that as well. I’ll often make a donation to a cause I’m passionate about in order to mark the occasion. 6. Stay accountable Find someone to whom you’re responsible to: Self-motivation and self-control can be difficult for all of us, especially for those of us with bipolar. I talk to a life coach who I keep updated with my accomplishments and my moods. She’ll ask that I text her when I’ve met a goal, so I feel accountable to someone outside of myself. Slowly, through treatment, I've became a role model for myself, and I'm proud of where I am now. Bipolar isn't a crutch I lean on; it's a way of understanding my behavior and way of thinking so I can be my best self. Now, I call my life "Operation Adventure." I try to dwell positively in the mystery that is the future, instead of worrying about the past. Audrey is an Atlanta-based freelance video producer who is active in interfaith initiatives. She's the mother of three children and one grand-dog.