Feel free to visit those of us in /r/bipolar2, it's a supportive community.
I'm newly diagnosed but I've been dealing with the symptoms for a very long time. I use a combination of medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, good habits, lots and lots of data, and self-awareness. It's a defense in depth. Each one is a layer and a safety net.
Mood stabilizers reduce the highs and lows. If you start slipping, you might need to get some medications adjusted. Recommend having a specialist for this.
Antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds can deal with depression or anxiety that can come from bipolar.
Helps combat negative thoughts. If I know I'm getting stuck in circles of bad or stressful thoughts, I pull out a worksheet and spend 15 minutes identifying what's wrong with my thinking and come up with positive thoughts to counteract the bad. It doesn't make depression and anxiety go away but it does lighten my burden significantly.
The book I'm learning this from is called The Feeling Good Handbook. I strongly recommend having a therapist as a guide.
I go to sleep at the same time every night, as much as possible. Sleep is absolutely critical to maintaining stability, so I make it a priority.
Routines are extremely helpful when you're not 100%. Relying on your brain's autopilot really helps. If you're not too depressed, keep up your exercise.
My best habit is to not let failure stop me. I have bipolar, I will fail and I will fail hard. Failure does not mean I give up. If I can salvage a victory, I better damn well try. This mental illness will not control me.
On my phone, I have a bullet journal (stored in Apple Notes) and a mood tracker (Daylio app). Both of these things help me get stuff done and keep track of my life. Every important detail of my day is recorded. Every month I review both of these and look for patterns. What are things that affect me? How can I make my life better? And most importantly, what good things have I done?
This last one is critical to my success. There are so many good things my memory misses. Bipolar lies to me and tells me I'm worthless. My journal tells me I'm awesome.
I also use calendar alerts and timed reminders, to combat my time blindness.
This is where routine, good habits, and data meet. Because I'm constantly checking and measuring myself, I always know what mood I'm in. I know what I'm capable of in each mood.
I know that when I'm manic, I overestimate my own ability. So my good habit is not allowing myself to commit to anything beyond what I can handle when I'm mildly depressed. I allow myself 1 weekly obligation outside work plus 3 bi-weekly ones.
If I'm heading into depression, I cut everything optional from my schedule and buckle down for a long, difficult road. I plan to do a lot of housework and reading. I plan meals with good friends at least once a week so I don't isolate myself.
This is a lot of trial and error but eventually you figure out what works and what doesn't.
Right now, I feel really good and I'm thinking that I don't need meds or therapy anymore. THAT IS A LIE. Routine saves me. I am not allowed to skip meds or therapy homework because I don't think I need them. I have seen what happens to my uncle when he skips meds. It's not pretty. I WILL NOT BE HIM.
Treating bipolar is like treating diabetes: take your meds, sleep, and eat right. Do not ever think you will not have it. It is life long and requires constant maintenance. The good news is it gets easier.
The fact that it's mentally taxing and time-consuming means that it's likely working exactly as intended!
CBT saved and changed my life when I was at my darkest about six years ago. I've gone through some CBT here and there since then, but a lot of the lessons I learned the first time around have stuck with me and have helped over the years. To my understanding, CBT at its core is ultimately about learning to identify, catch, and fix your distorted thinking as it's occurring. This can be quite uncomfortable and exhausting at times, but it's 100% worth it in the end.
Also, if you aren't clicking with your therapist, find a new one! If you don't click with them, try another. That's not to say that you haven't found a great one already - just don't get discouraged if you don't feel like you mesh well. That's just part of the process, and therapists truly want clients they think are the best for each other.
Finally, I would really encourage you to stick with it for at least 8 sessions. It's tough but it's worth it if you really need it! (Although, I firmly believe that anybody could benefit from CBT - even perfectly healthy people who don't have any mood disorders.)
If you're looking to learn more about CBT and maybe try out some therapy in conjunction with what you're doing with your counselor, I would highly recommend The Feeling Good Handbook. This book is all about working through CBT on your own and provides a ton of extremely helpful exercises and overall informs you very well on the whole process. Keep in mind it's best used in conjunction with an actual therapist, especially if you're going through an episode of particularly bad depression or anxiety.
Welp, this ended up being a lot longer than I expected - I guess that's because CBT is very important to me, scientifically proven to work very very well, and I'm super excited for you to begin your journey with it. Keep at it, friend! In any case, good luck with your endeavors, and feel free to ask if you have any other questions. :)