The Words That Changed My Outlook on Living With Bipolar Disorder

My name is Emily. I’m 19 years old and I have bipolar disorder. Last year, I ran away from home, driving nearly 254 miles away from my family and friends. I was ready to drop out of high school, live off of the clothes on my back and somehow survive with no income and my car.

I felt like I didn’t have a place in this world, but that wasn’t the only thing that drove me away. Living with bipolar disorder is no joke, and neither is any mental illness. The best way to describe my brain is comparing it to static on a television. The constant white noise with black and white pixels jumping around on the screen makes it hard to find the balance between manic and calm. My thoughts jump around, making it hard to focus and relax on one task at a time. 

Finally when I decided to come home, I placed myself into a psychiatric hospital where I could find the proper tools to help cope with this disorder. 

A dear friend of mine told me the day before admission into the hospital, “You are not your illness. You have a bipolar disorder, but Emily isn’t bipolar. Emily has bipolar disorder.” Those words rang through me like a bell. Those words still resonate with me and anyone else I know personally with this disorder. I repeat those words to others in the hopes it will be as helpful to them as it was to me. 

After being in the hospital for a week, I still was not finished with my treatment. I lived in an inpatient facility where I had my own apartment and an amazing roommate for three months. My first step was to graduate. I had a tutor in the mornings while my five-hour afternoons were filled with therapy. I was prescribed medication that at first I refused to take. But when I finally started to take them, I noticed the static in my brain was slowly starting to fade. My thoughts were finally calm. Therapy and medicine were the best choices I made. 

Here I am, a year later, finally understanding my place in the world. I have a new outlook on life, and living doesn’t feel miserable anymore. Time helps healing. It’s been a long, grueling process, but I did it.

This message is not for sympathy, but simply to help bring awareness to mental illness. My only goal in life is to be happy for myself and to help the world in the most positive way I can. I know saving the world isn’t possible, but if I can help even one person, I’ve done my job here on Earth. There is help out there, and you shouldn’t be ashamed to reach out for it. Giving up isn’t my choice, and it shouldn’t be anyone else’s either. I hope my story can help you reach out and remember you are not your illness.

Watch the original video here

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us about the first time you reached out to someone about your mental illness. Whether it was a friend or a professional, we want to hear about why you opened up, how it went, and why you’re glad (or maybe not glad) you did it. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


Woman’s Invention Could Make Life Easier for People With Alzheimer’s Disease

After her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Sha Yao noticed how challenging everyday tasks became for her.

“Every time I saw her suffer, I wished I could have done something to help improve her quality of life,” Yao says in the video below.

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Yao with her grandmother. Photo via YouTube screen capture.

Her grandmother has since passed away, but Yao’s desire to people facing those same challenges remained. While volunteering at a center for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, Yao noticed that many patients had difficulty eating and using utensils.

So Yao, an industrial designer based in San Francisco, created Eatwell tableware, a dining set that makes eating easier for people who live with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other cognitive delays.

Eatwell set

The brightly colored dining sets looks simple, but each Eatwell utensil was specifically designed to benefit people with cognitive and motor impairments after years of research, according to the Eatwell website. For example, Yao chose red and yellow color schemes because people with dementia tend to consume more food when using brightly colored utensils, according to a 2014 study conducted by Boston University. Cup and silverware handles are large and easy to grip. The bowls feature right-angle sides, which helps prevent spills, and spoons are specifically designed to fit the curvature of the bowl. All utensils have gripping material on the bottom to keep them from slipping or tipping over.

Eatwell2 Bowl and spoon

Yao hopes Eatwell tableware can make mealtimes easier for people living with cognitive delays and their caregivers. But more importantly, she hopes her idea can help people like her late grandmother live happier, healthier lives.

“Raising awareness and addressing the needs of people with impairments will allow them to maintain their dignity, retain as much independence as possible and reduce the burden on their caretakers,” Yao told the design website Fast Company. “That’s what made designing the Eatwell tableware set so rewarding.”

Learn more about Yao’s story and Eatwell in the company’s fundraising video below.


Eatwell tableware is now available for preorder, and the first dining sets are expected to arrive in September 2015. To learn more, visit the company’s website.

Photos courtesy of Eatwell Tableware. Feature image via YouTube screen capture.

How Opening Up Over a Cup of Coffee Set Me On the Path to Mental Health Recovery

I met Jim a little over 10 years ago as I sat in a small Methodist church in rural Illinois. I was attending college in that town at the time, and I had recently been diagnosed with a mental illness. I was 22 years old. During the end of a methodist service, the pastor asked the congregation to “lift up” prayer requests out loud. I had a prayer. I mumbled, “God help me not to kill myself today. Amen.” 

A week later, Jim showed up at my parents’ house and asked me if I wanted to go out for coffee. I agreed. I disclosed to Jim that day about my recent diagnosis of a life-long chronic mental illness, my recent hospitalizations for suicide attempts and the loss of a significant romantic relationship. He listened, I shared and we drank coffee and suffered together. Jim encouraged me to hope that it wasn’t too late — that there was still time to be surprised by life and joy. I didn’t know it then, but Jim was a licensed clinical psychologist. He was also a professor at the college I had been attending. Jim had been moved years earlier by friendships of those in his personal life who experienced mental illness and wanted to use the Christian faith and its traditions of hospitality to reach out to strangers and those with mental illness. He wanted to reach out to me, and I happily accepted. Our friendship began, and has now lasted for more than 10 years.

Throughout the years, our journey has been filled with coffee shops, Mexican food and sharing life together. We meet regularly. Sometimes those meetings are joyous, sometimes serious, but always in truth and love. Jim visited me in the hospital and sat with my family in emergency rooms over the years after suicide attempts. He laughed with me and hurt and empathized with me. He encouraged me to keep fighting for my life and to share my story, so others would be inspired to right for their own. 

Early in our friendship, I saw Jim more as a mentor than a friend, but that has changed. He considers me an equal even though my education credentials don’t match his own. We journey through the life of mental health and faith recovery together. A quote in Craig Rennebohm’s book, “Souls In The Hands Of a Tender God,” that resonates with me is, “The soul thrives not in isolation, but in community.” I believe we are souls, and Jim has seen my soul. Before he had seen very much of it, he thought my soul was worth investing his time, energy and his soul in.

Now, I am 33 years old, living in St. Louis, Missouri, living with bipolar disorder type 1. I am engaged to be married, expecting a child, volunteering with mental health organizations, writing and living in recovery. What does recovery mean to me? Recovery is simply walking the journey of health — mental, spiritual or physical — with others. I believe people were created to need other people, and I’m doing my best to manage self-care, set boundaries and ask for help when I need it. Recovery is a process, not a place you arrive. Jim is still very much part of my recovery journey. Now, he works as independent mental health consultant, psychologist and volunteer Executive Director of Pathways to Promise, an organization that puts faith in mental health recovery.

I want to share the story of my friendship with Jim in hopes it would inspire others to bravely share their stories and struggles with their communities, friends, family and even strangers. You never know when your story can transform lives — yours and others. In doing so, I believe the power of stigma around mental illness is weakened, and maybe even destroyed. Your story is unique, but you are not alone. There are many people in the world out there like Jim who are good, gracious, compassionate and who will be there for you even in your darkest moments. 

I am Dave Wise. I live with a mental illness. That does not define me, but allows me the opportunity to share life with others through story, community and beauty. 

I’m an Adult on the Spectrum, so Please Stop Treating Me Like a Child

So many times I have been treated differently because people have heard the word autism associated with me. Sometimes people even treat me like they would a child — speaking in a soft, slow voice, or poking me over and over again or behaving in some other sort of way they never would with any other adult. Or they seem baffled by the fact that I don’t act like their child. The reason is because, as with most people, I am different than I was as a child and different from a child in general. I am a 27-year-old adult who tries to act like one.

I can understand why people associate children with autism. Most organizations, information, infographics and so many other things associated with autism are geared toward parents of children with autism. This makes it seem like they’re the dominant group or how it must be for everyone on the spectrum. But we are hearing only one part of the story.

Now there are groups that deal with adults, but they can be less prominently known. As of this writing, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network has about 18,000 likes on its Facebook page, while the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism has about 151,000 likes on Facebook. These numbers are dwarfed by autism parents’ networks like the largest autism organization, Autism Speaks, which reaches 1.5 million people on Facebook, or another parent-based site, Autism Awareness, which reaches 2.1 million people.

When I checked the Autism Awareness Facebook page, it showed a video of a raccoon lying on a dog, a story of a mom who was heartbroken because no one showed up to her son’s birthday party, an article about a sensory-sensitive theater, selling of jewelry and other items with autism themes, a story about a child prodigy who is proud to be on the spectrum and a group of young men with Asperger’s running around in superhero outfits doing comedy. If this were a person’s only interaction with people with autism, I can see how they get the autistic-person-as-child worldview. But that’s because they’re only seeing part of the picture.

I personally, and a lot of people I know, are high-functioning and live rather normal lives. A lot of people will not disclose being on the spectrum because they don’t want to be associated with some of the things from the paragraph above, along with the rest of the negative stigma about autism. I myself still experience moments when people treat me like a child, talk to me like a child and are surprised by the way I act. I will admit I wasn’t always the way I am. Some of these people have known me for some time or have seen me mature, but their view of me has not. I am very different as I am now, an adult, than I was as a child, a teen or a younger adult. I will be different when I am a middle-aged adult and a senior citizen. This is true for everyone — on the spectrum or not.

I’ll be honest — I grew up delayed. I didn’t walk, talk, read, ride a bike, drive or do most things in life at the same time many of my peers did. But just because I was delayed, it didn’t mean I couldn’t learn or catch up. For example, when I learned to walk, I started to run right away. When I talked, I talked in full sentences from the start. This is true for everyone — just because we can’t do something at first or are bad at it, doesn’t mean we can’t get better.

I did have more trouble dealing with sensory overload and anxiety, but I learned to deal with them the best I could. When you’re a child, you’re learning so many different things and maturing so quickly, it’s sometimes overwhelming to learn about some other things, too, but as you grow, you start to learn how to work with what you have.

Some of what people might have thought was my autism back then was simply me being a child. Children can be a bit self-centered or have trouble with impulse control. This can be harder to manage when you have less control of the world around you, but again, you grow and mature and you learn strategies. When you are a younger person with autism, you might have communication challenges — either with actually saying the words or finding the right words to say. But this can be true for any child. Who hasn’t watched “Kids Say the Darndest Things?” That is basically the whole premise of the show. But as you grow older, you can learn how to express what you mean in more efficient and effective ways.

Jason Harris the mighty.2-003

Finally, I think there is also a misguided assumption that kids with autism and even adults with autism are OK with not having friends or only want friends who are on the spectrum. Sometimes it’s hard to make friends as a child on the spectrum and as an adult. Some of this is because those of us on the spectrum are trying to learn how to read other people, which can be difficult, but can also get easier. Some of it can be because you don’t have the confidence yet.

It’s an understandable thing for people who just want friends on the spectrum. They tell me it is safer; they can feel more comfortable around them and don’t have to explain why they do certain things. I can completely understand this, as I have a bit of a hard time making friends due to a fear that I stink at social skills or that people will make fun of me for some weird things I might do. I have to gain the confidence that I can relate.

You might ask, “Why not just hang out with people other than people on the spectrum?” And the answer is, I do, if they’re someone I can talk to or relate to, but that isn’t always the case. I want to be friends with people who like big ideas but can also talk about anything. This is what I want from any person — on the spectrum, neurotypical or whatever else in between.

We should all have the friends we want, not just the friends people think we deserve or believe are the only people who will be friends with us. We deserve to be treated as we are — adults who just happen to be on the spectrum.

A version of this post originally appeared on Jason’s Connection.

12 Weird Ways My Life Changed Because of My Chronic Illnesses

I believe chronic illnesses can change your life in some weird ways, but sometimes they are the best ways ever. For instance, I wouldn’t have met some of the amazing people I’ve become such close friends with. My illnesses also make ER trips and words like “eosinophilic” just a part of my life, along with “seizures,” “comas” and “spoonies.” My life has changed in some of the weirdest ways, but it’s a good thing. Here’s a list of some of the weird ways my life changed because of my chronic illnesses…

1. I almost always have selfies from a hospital or ER on my phone at any given moment.

My favorite selfies are when I’m drugged from the medicine I take for my chronic illnesses. Someone should learn to take my phone away, but I think it makes for a good text to my best friend the next day.

2. I’ve lost people close to me.

My experience is that when you become ill, people stay for a little while, but when you can’t hang out and you’re too weak to text them back, they might slowly fade away. That even includes family and close friends. And that’s when…

3. I found the world of spoonies.

“Spoonies” are people who are chronically ill and people who deal with being ill. When you find this world online, it can be like magic. You find people like you, people who enjoy the weird things you do. They take photos of their feeding tubes and their ports like it’s nothing, and for a moment when you have to deal with this world, you could feel slightly normal.

4. I set goals for showering, taking meds, eating and anything else.

My goals might be small to some people, but when you have a chronic illness and take a shower, it can be a big freakin’ deal. It’s hard to shower for me; it’s hard to move, let alone do things that are physically hard.

5. Watching Netflix/Hulu/cable has become a sport.

I can tell you all the good shows out, and I can totally win any trivia game on TV shows and movies. I’m really good at Netflixing. It’s a passion at 2 a.m.

6. I’ve learned people don’t always care when you don’t get better fast.

For some reason, some people don’t understand the chronic part of chronic illnesses. They forget that chronic illnesses don’t get better in three months and with rest, and they forget me. But slowly I’ve found the people who stay and stick with me, and those people are my heroes.

7. The guilt of having a chronic/rare/incurable disease is sometimes worse than the pain from the disease.

I have a few moments when I felt horrid because of the guilt. For example, I couldn’t wash dishes and I felt guilty because of it. I want to be there for my family and friends, and I don’t want to make people do things for me. All the money they spend, all the sleepless nights — I notice them and am really thankful for them.

8. People stare at you for weird reasons all the time.

People with chronic illnesses often get stares, whether it’s because you’re in a wheelchair or using a walker, or you have a port connected to a backpack or a feeding tube sticking out of your stomach at the beach or swimming pool… Or for no reason at all. We learn to deal with the stares and we have to learn to laugh about them. But please don’t stare.

9. I’ve learned to enjoy little moments.

I love being able to wash dishes or go to Target on good days, and I love Facetime-ing with my friends who also have chronic illnesses. You might learn to appreciate the little things, too, like the t-shirts your sister got you and the spoon necklace. The smoothie my sister brought me to bed this morning meant more to me than words can say. It’s all the little things.

10. Doctors might call you more than most friends.

I got a call from my allergist the other day, and even this morning they called me. The nurse totally knew who I was. And this happens a lot.

11. I sleep more hours than I’m awake some weeks and vice versa.

A while back, I slept for a bunch of days in a row. Or wait… I was in a coma (coma joke). But sometimes I can’t sleep. Like this week, my body doesn’t want to sleep unless it’s 2 in the afternoon. But last week I was nonstop sleeping.

12. I accepted that my life from this point on is a chronically amazing one.

I might be chronically ill, but I’m also chronically amazing. I will be sick; it’s just a matter of how sick I will be. But I can find the happiness in each day. I will be OK because I will fight until the day my body has no fight left in it. And even then, I’ll fight like hell. And I know I have some amazingly fantastically people who will fight for me and with me and alongside me.

I’m accepting that I’m sick, I’m ill… That changes me — but in the best way possible. It has showed me so much I never knew. It has shown me how to breathe deeply and enjoy the air. It’s been so amazingly wonderful, and my life is good. I like my life. I like the world I have.

I wouldn’t change my spoonie world for a lot. I was born and my journey is unfolding exactly as it should be. I am strong enough to live in my body.

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The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

When My Son’s Doctor Said a Sentence I Didn’t Know I Needed to Hear

Last week I sat in the waiting room of the hospital with two antsy children, trying to keep one from dashing into the elevator and the other from twirling into nearby people. Our son sees a specialist whose office is in the local hospital. It’s not my favorite place, but he’s one of the best doctors in the area.

I’m beginning to feel the sweat beads on my face when the nurse finally calls our name… several times. I’m trying to gather our things and the children and finally cry out, “We’re coming as fast as we can!”

We make our way down the hall to the room where they take vitals. I kneel on the floor to help my son with his shoes and then help him step on the scale. “Hands down, buddy!” “Both feet on the bottom.” “Don’t touch the wall!” “Nope – both feet on the scale, buddy!” “Like this! Do what Mommy does!” Until we finally get a fairly accurate weight.

Over to the wall we go where I drop to my knees to put his feet against it. “No squatting.” “Honey look at me – look straight at my face.” “No jumping please!” “Just freeze – just like that!” And we finally get his height. Temperature is next and it takes a few tries – then pulse and blood pressure. “It’s just a hug for your arm!” 

We move down a few doors to wait for the doctor. I’m damp with sweat now and feeling frazzled. I spend the next few minutes keeping little hands out of the trash, pulling him out from under the cabinet, placing tools out of reach, and finally quiet him in the chair with my phone. There’s the light tap at the door. This doctor understands and never makes us wait long. Twenty minutes later we’re gathering our things to leave and the doctor stops to shake my hand on the way out of the exam room. Distracted I thank him for his time and care for my son. Then he stops mid-stride and turns to me.

“Thank you for what you’re doing.” 

He looks right at me as he says it. “You’re doing a great job with your children.”

I sputter out a thank you as he turns and disappears down the hall.

The doctors we see know how much I love my children. They see it when my eyes fill with tears as I ask for answers and help and describe the struggles they face. They hear it when my voice chokes and I share my fears, concerns and hopes. But he’s the first one to stop and thank me and tell me I’m doing it right.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I used to bristle at that phrase and think to myself, “I don’t want anyone raising our children but me and my husband. We didn’t bring them home so someone else could raise them!” But I didn’t understand what the phrase meant. I can get so consumed in our daily lives and in the many needs and trials and triumphs we experience that I get tunnel vision. I keep my nose to the ground and focus on our family. But when I take the time to raise my head and look around I see that we have a small village helping us raise our children.

I see the grandparents who take our children for a weekend so my husband and I can have some respite.

I see the friend who comes to babysit on occasion so we can go to an event or have a date night.

I see the teachers who text us in the morning to let us know our son isn’t crying anymore and include pictures of him playing.

I see the friend who comes to our house to cut our son’s hair just so he’ll be comfortable with the experience.

I see the therapists who work with my son weekly, partnering with me to help him grow.

I see the friends who listen and cry and pray with me.

I see the family members who call to check in and celebrate milestones with us.

I see the doctors who answer our questions, try new approaches, take my evening phone calls and take the time to get to know our family well.

I see the loved ones who leave us a meal, send a gift card to the coffee shop or mail an encouraging note.

I see the Sunday school teachers who adapt their normal routine to include our son.

I see the strangers who have stopped in the store to pat me on the shoulder mid-meltdown, offer a smile or simply tell me, “It’s OK.

When I stop to look around and see the village, I’m overcome with gratitude. The village feeds us – our souls and our stomachs. The village teaches us and guides us at times. The village encourages us to keep moving forward one day, one step at a time. It takes a village to raise a child – a beautiful village of people to love our family along the way – a community of people reaching out to offer support, encouragement and wisdom. And I love our little village.


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