What You May Miss When You Dismiss Someone as a Drunk


When I was in my mid-to-late teens, I had a problem with drugs and alcohol. For the best part of four years, I continually got high and drank myself into oblivion. Most people who saw me during that time could’ve dismissed me as just another addict or drunk. And I guess that’s what I was. That’s how I looked, right? But to really know what was going on, you’d have to look deeper. Sadly, very few people ever do.

I have mental illnesses. Bipolar I disorder, borderline personality disorder and anxiety disorder. I didn’t receive this diagnosis until about two years ago. Prior to that, I lived misdiagnosed. My first diagnosis came after I tried to kill myself when I was 15. First it was psychotic depression, then schizoaffective disorder and then major depressive disorder. I had a constantly changing diagnosis and received little actual help. Nobody knew what to do with me. I was suicidal, psychotic and reckless.

Because I wasn’t receiving the help I needed, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I didn’t consciously decided to be an addict or a drunk, but my emotional pain was tearing me apart; I just needed it to stop. The only method I could think of was drugs. I needed to not exist for a while. Drugs took away my cares. They took away everything. I didn’t get addicted to the drugs, I got addicted to the feeling they gave me.

There were drugs I took to calm me down, some I took to keep my weight down and others that completely took me away and obliterated everything. And of course there was the alcohol. I was drinking nearly every single night and binge drinking two or three nights a week.

I was a mess, I won’t deny that. But it was how I coped. It was the only thing I could find to make me feel better. I was 16 years old with a care team that wasn’t equipped to deal with serious mental illness. There was no psychiatrist in my town, my therapist was useless and my doctor didn’t know anything about mental illness because it wasn’t his specialty — he was just a general doctor. What do you even do with that? So I helped myself instead.

So before you judge someone for having a problem with drugs or alcohol, take a minute to look beyond what you see. You don’t know why or how they ended up in the situation they’re in, nor are they a bad person for it.

I’ve been clean of drugs and alcohol for more than five years now. I’ve finally found a brilliant care team that took the time to correctly diagnose me and get me the medication and help I so desperately needed. I’m fairly stable. I’m a work in progress. We all are.

That is just my story, and a small part of it at that. Everyone has a story and it’s never as simple as you might think. Don’t be so quick to judge others before you know the reasons behind what they do. I turned to drugs out of desperation and pain. I’m not a bad person for that. I was in a bad place mentally, and I just needed help.

Follow this journey on Always Unstable

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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10 Things I Wish My Loved Ones Knew About Living With Bipolar Disorder


To my loved ones who don’t understand my bipolar disorder,

It’s been a year since I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The past year, through my hard times, my recovery and my new found strength, some people have struggled to understand me and what I’m going through. This is me trying. This is me telling you what I wish you understood about my mental illness.

1. Bipolar disorder is not something I’ve made up.

I didn’t not make up bipolar disorder to excuse my bad decisions. Bipolar disorder has a medical definition, and it’s very real.

2. It’s not fun when I’m manic.

I’m a young adult who takes pride in being able to get good grades, run a business and pay my bills. There’s nothing more frustrating than coming out of a manic episode to find my credit card has several hundred charges to it, or that I missed some major deadlines for school.

3. I’m not giving up. 

I want you to know no matter how far I fall, I’ll always climb back up. I’m determined to live a successful life. I won’t give up, so please, don’t give up on me.

4. When I forget things I’m not just being neglectful.

When I say I can’t remember something, it’s not me being neglectful or choosing not to remember. Sometimes things are harder to remember. I don’t know why, but believe me, it’s not by choice.

5. When I cry, I’m not looking for attention. 

I’m not even looking for sympathy. I cry because I’m tired of fighting with myself. I cry to release the stress, anger and frustration I carry within. I cry because I know when I’m done, I’ll get back up and keep pushing through.

6. I’m sincerely sorry when I snap at you. 

It’s not on purpose and it isn’t a choice. I wish I could control my outbursts, but when I’m in a bad place I lose control of those things. Know I will come back to you to apologize every single time.

7. There are days when the stress of life is just too much. 

This doesn’t make me weak. Please understand my disorder makes dealing with stress much more difficult. I might need help with things you feel are simple.

8. I’m trying. 

You might not see it on the days it’s 4 in the afternoon and I’m still in my pajamas, but if I’m out of bed and being semi-productive, I’ve won a huge inward battle.

9. I still look for your approval.

Despite my disorder, I’m constantly trying to be the girl you once knew.

10. I will always love you. 

Even if you don’t understand my disorder, what I’m going through or why I am the way I am, I will always love you. You have been there for me since the day I was born, and I cannot imagine how my life would be without you.

 A version of this post originally appeared on Defying Shadows

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability and/or disease. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. 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.

The Secret I've Been Keeping as a Special Needs Mom


The stigma of mental illness runs deep. While in recent years society has become more engaged in conversation about mental illness, the stigma remains — stigma I have lived with and hidden from for years. 

With the premature birth of my daughter in 2012, I learned quickly how to be what others needed and expected, hiding deep within myself. With the addition of a not quite yet adopted son with extensive medical needs this past fall, I perfected my craft of illusion. 

I am the perfect mother — a gift to two medically fragile children. At least that’s what doctors, nurses and family friends told me. But they don’t know the truth. For years, I ignored the mania, depression and post-traumatic stress, hiding it from those around me. For the past six months, I’ve ignored the importance of accepting and sharing who I am and what I need. I was, and still am, terrified of the stigma that comes with mental Illness. This is me finding acceptance and the strength to be more than what others need. This is my coming out, my destruction of the stigma surrounding mental illness. In December of 2014, I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder.

I’m what some would consider a two-sided coin. When one side is up the other is inevitably down, except on those rare occasions where the coin lands perfectly on its edge, leaving both sides exposed for the world to see. One side is manic; the other side, depressed. One cannot exist without the other, but rarely do the two sides of the coin meet. Except, of course, for today. Today, the day that I share with the world I am bipolar. 

In the medical world I am bipolar. In my world I am simply me. In the medical world I need treatment for my dual states. In my world both sides of the coin are necessary for survival, for truth, for clarity.

For those who can’t imagine what mental illness looks like, or who can’t see anything more than a stereotypical stark raving lunatic, hell bent on self-destruction, this is for you.

I am mental illness. Mental illness looks like me. The educated, intelligent, medical mommy whose days are marked with appointments and therapies. Bipolar I holds a master’s degree, has published a book, blogs and articles, all while living in the rush of mania. Bipolar I is overly empathetic, impulsive yet deliberate. She is covered in scars and tattoos, with a slowly healing heart the size of the universe. Bipolar I is a mother, a wife, a friend, a sister and a daughter. She has never been hospitalized but has been, and is, treated with mood-stabilizing antipsychotics like quetiapine, lurasidone and ertraline. She is a mess of beautiful chaos wrapped tightly beneath the paper-thin emotions she wears on her skin. Bipolar I is me, and I’m proud as hell of who I am, mental illness and all.

I am the face of mental illness, the living coin. I am not the stigma of my illness. I’m the writer trying to meld the two sides of the coin into one glorious person she can show the world, finally not caring who sees her.

When a Doctor Told Me I Was 'Too Difficult' to Treat


Many years ago I moved to a new state. Again, I was in an area where I didn’t know any doctors or anything about the mental health system. This meant I bounced from psychiatrist to psychiatrist, and psychologist to psychologist, until I found one of each that worked well with me.

I had been referred to a “great” psychiatrist by my primary care doctor and was quite optimistic about finding someone who could figure out medication for me. I sat down in this man’s office and told him my background, to which he said, “You’re too difficult for me to treat. I don’t deal with people who have such severe bipolar disorder.”

Well, that was disappointing.

I have what is called rapid cycling bipolar II. Yes, there are quite a few variations of bipolar disorder, and one of the reasons I went undiagnosed for so long is because my type is not the typical (if there is a typical bipolar) DSM-IV definition of bipolar I which, simplified, is fluctuating manic and depressed states, each of which lasting for at least seven days. Then there’s bipolar II, which also has episodes of fluctuating mood, but the up moods don’t reach full mania. In both of these forms, you could be in a depressed or manic state for months at a time.

Rapid cycling means you go from mania to depression at least four times a year, but it can be as frequent as a few times a week, or even a few times a day. I cycle at least a few times a day on average. Apparently this type of bipolar is more severe (I think all forms of bipolar are severe though), which is why the new doctor would not treat me. He did send me to a bipolar specialist, who was a good psychiatrist and made the additional diagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, which explained a lot.

But I get a bit tired of not being a “normal” case of anything. For instance, I’m also extremely sensitive to medication so even a small dosage will give me an extreme result.

And I’m eternally frustrated. I’m frustrated that there’s little information for atypical cases of mental illness, yet among all the people I have met with mental illness, many of us don’t perfectly fit the definitions found in the DSM-IV manual.

What’s sad is that our doctors are also in a bind. Even if they know of alternative treatments for atypical cases, sometimes they don’t suggest them. Because states are lacking mental health funding, often atypical treatment — meaning anything from medicines intended for a different illness, to food allergies, exercise and diet changes — has not been throughly scientifically tested.

Because of this, we have to be our own advocates.

My advice for people who have “atypical” cases of any mental illness is to never give up and keep looking for more information. Keep detailed records of your moods each day, or each hour if need be. Document exercise, sleep, diet, vitamins. Document how your body and mind feel and don’t believe it when a doctor tells you, “That would never happen.” Even if it seems like your illness is too severe or too complicated, keep looking for a doctor who will treat like the individual you are. Have faith that you know yourself, and find a doctor who has faith in you as well.

This post originally appeared on Rev. Katie Norris’ website.

illustration of a person eating breakfast and holding a pill bottle

I Take 'Crazy Pills' and I Am Not Ashamed


I remember the first “crazy pill” I ever took. I was on vacation in Tennessee, sitting on the edge of one of those generic motel beds with a hideous blanket covered with — what was it? Seashells?

Pill bottle in hand, my mother looked at me with apprehension and said what many folks would say to me for years to come:

“Are you sure about this?”

I nodded, looked her in the eye and without hesitation, and said, “Absolutely.”

In the years I’ve been taking psychotropic medications, never for a moment have I regretted my decision. Have I been afraid of what happens in the long term? Sure. Have I contemplated the impact of “big pharma” and my piece in that frightening puzzle? Definitely.

But for me, trying to survive each day trapped within agonizing depression was not an option. Attempting to end my life again was not an option. Continuing down the path that I was on? Not an option.

When I looked back at my life, I realized I had spent more time struggling than I had spent truly living. And I knew that if something didn’t change, bipolar disorder was going to kill me.

Everyone and their brother has an opinion on my decision to take medication for bipolar and anxiety. But have you tried meditation? What about acupuncture? Have you changed your diet? What about fish oil?

Initially, I entertained them. I explained that I had tried everything that I could, and that medications had been my last resort.

But, I realized I was under no obligation to justify my decision, especially to those who did not understand my struggle.

People who did not know what dissociation was, or what it feels like to be in the midst of a paranoid delusion; people who had never felt anxiety that stripped them of their ability to function in our society; people who had never felt emotional pain that seemed to throb from inside the marrow of their bones.

Complete strangers would badger me, presuming to know what was best for me without actually knowing the relentless, devastating pain mental illness had put me through. Strangers who thought they knew better than me, the person who had lived through this for years, what my body needed to heal.

Sometimes, it was well-intentioned. But most of the time, it was coming from a judgmental place.

They may as well have been saying, “I know nothing about mental illness, but I’m going to tell you about this random treatment I read about on the Internet because clearly you don’t know what you’re doing.”

And it made me so, so angry.

No, medications are not a “cop out.” They aren’t the “easy way out.” They aren’t a “quick fix” that magically make me happy and high and light. They aren’t easy. They aren’t quick and they definitely aren’t fun.

Taking medication for my illnesses was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made, and it took incredible courage to make that choice. It was a process that took years — years of side effects, years of false hope, years of judgment, years of doubt — to finally get it right.

But eventually, with the right doctor and with a lot of patience, we did get it right. After four years of being the equivalent of a human guinea pig, my body responded at last and I could begin to do the important work of healing. Combined with therapy and self-care, I was able to begin again — this time, completely present and alive, no longer struggling just to keep my head above water.

And you know what? I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry for exercising my bodily autonomy. I’m not sorry for making the choice to take care of myself. I’m not sorry for taking control of my life.

Most of all, I’m not sorry for having the strength to choose life over death. Each day I swallow these pills, I’m reminded of the tenacity it took to keep myself alive, in spite of every fiery and relentless urge to end it all. I did what I needed to do to keep myself alive, and I’ll never apologize for the fact that I’m still here.

To be clear: Medicine isn’t right for everyone and it isn’t accessible for everyone, either. We need to do better not just for folks who take meds, but for those who do not or cannot. We need to protect a person’s right to dictate and choose what’s best for their body and advocate to make those resources available to them — no matter what they end up deciding.

Ultimately, this is not about medicating every single person with a mental illness. It’s about giving us the power to decide how to heal, be it with medication or otherwise, and defending our right to make that choice without pressure, without shame and without obstacles that prevent us from exercising those choices.

I am not ashamed of these pills. I am only ashamed to be part of a society that still believes it can dictate what’s right for my body and for my community.

illustration of a person eating breakfast and holding a pill bottle
Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik

Follow this journey on Let’s Queer Things Up.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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