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Finding My Purpose in the New Year in the Face of Bipolar Disorder

All over the internet are advice articles on how to start your new year, how to lose weight, how to find your soulmate. I have chosen not to read most of these. Not because I already know how to do these things or because I’m already married. I have made the decision to sit down and truly think about my life. I often, well always, think I lack a purpose. I used to have faith in a higher power when I first got sober. I held onto it for quite a while. But, slowly lost it and haven’t really tried to grasp onto it again. It does cross my mind from time to time. It’s not that I don’t believe, I just haven’t reached up to pull it into my life. Is “pull” the wrong word? It doesn’t feel right. Maybe more like accept it into my life. Ah, acceptance. Such a challenge to me. Why do I fight it?

I feel like I’m in desperate need of guidance. I have lost my way, lost touch with myself, lost the meaning of life. I’m reading books, trolling the internet, asking others. Looking outside myself. Surely there is an instruction manual. There is something eating away at me. I don’t know what it is. It’s causing great discomfort in mind, body and soul. I wonder if it’s my fault. I wonder if I’m not trying hard enough. I wonder if it’s designed to question my place on this earth.

I’ve said before I want to live, not merely exist. Always in survival mode with bipolar disorder. Always waiting for the demons to return. Sleeping so I don’t cry. Hiding out at the park to isolate. Shutting down. It’s not all the time but a majority of the time. Enough to really bring into question: what am I doing here? What is my purpose? Do I deserve a seat at the table? Do I bring anything to this world?

I tried this exercise. Took a blank page and wrote at the top in big bold letters: My True Purpose. I was supposed to write as many things that came to mind. Big, small, silly, serious. Anything. Could take two minutes, could take an hour. Here is what I came up with:

My purpose: to believe in myself and my worth, give myself to others while allowing peace and abundance to enter my life. To give up looking for answers and just be.

I don’t know if this takes big shoes or little shoes to adopt. But it felt right. And yes, part of it made me cry. I do think it may take the presence of a higher power to guide me. The letting go of needing answers will be a challenge for me. It’s ironic since I never seem to find those burning answers.

I am at a place where I really need to find peace. I lay down and surrender. I feel like I’m dying. I’m tired. Continuously grappling with symptoms and feeling the ground move beneath my feet. I simply crave stability.

I’ve never been very good at asking for help.

But here I am. I’m willing to do the work. Look inward. Please help me.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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Thinkstock photo by Anastasia_Aleksieieva

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Why I Say I ‘Suffer’ From Bipolar Disorder

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Apparently, you’re not supposed to say someone “suffers” from bipolar disorder. Now, I’ve heard you have to say someone “lives” with bipolar disorder. That’s the new, politically correct rule. Oh yes, because heaven forbid we admit we’re suffering from a disabling illness.

I’ve written about political correct nonsense before — like how we’re not supposed to use the word “crazy.” We’re not supposed to say “we’re bipolar,” we must say “we have bipolar disorder.” There are other word choices I find ridiculous, arbitrary and even stigmatizing; “living with bipolar disorder” is simply the latest one in this raft of silliness.

Because bipolar disorder is a serious illness that harms.

If I’ve said anything at all in the over a thousand articles I’ve written on bipolar disorder, I’ve said this: bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that harms those who have it. If it didn’t cause harm we wouldn’t call it an illness. If it didn’t cause harm we wouldn’t treat it. It’s that simple.

So when you talk about suffering — I absolutely do it every day. Literally, every day, I suffer with the effects of bipolar disorder. If I’m not resting because I’m exhausted, I’m crying because of depression. If I’m not taking medication because of anxiety, I’m using coping tools because my brain is telling me to overreact. If it’s not headaches from the medication, it’s body aches from the disease. Seriously. Seriously. Seriously. I suffer — badly — every, single day.

And for someone to tell me I’m not allowed to even say that? Well, that’s beyond ridiculous. I’ve said before and I will say again — I’m a writer. I choose the words — not you. I choose the words, not the politically correct police. I choose the words that best fit what I’m trying to say. If you’re offended, so be it. That’s what the comments are for.

Moreover, while I’m a writer and I eschew censorship for me, I also decry it for you as well. You should have the right to express how you feel about this illness any way you choose without people jumping down your throat to tell you that their therapist taught them a new, feel-good phrase. I don’t care about your verbiage. I really don’t. I don’t need wordplay to feel better about myself. I just don’t. And, honestly, I’m sorry if you do. You are worth considerably more than that.

Now, in all fairness to the political correct nonsense, I do bow to this pressure while in politically-charged arenas, as a general rule. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s OK and that doesn’t mean I think it’s fair or right. People with bipolar have the right to determine how they experience this illness. Because, really, if you’ve ever been a girl desperate enough to try to end her life, you really would know what “suffering” with bipolar is truly like and you wouldn’t dare take away someone’s right to express it that way.

And excuse me, but when was the last time you heard someone insist that someone “lives with” cancer? People “suffer from” cancer. No doubt about it. And to place bipolar in a different category? Well, that helps absolutely no one.

“But I live with bipolar!”

Look, if you insist on saying you live with bipolar and don’t want to say you suffer from bipolar, then that’s your right. I promise I will allow you to express yourself the way you choose, but you need to afford me the same right.

To those of you who feel the need to correct me, try, for a change, not policing my words and instead understanding the message. Because if you did, you would know I’m not trying to put down people with bipolar, add to the stigma around bipolar disorder or in any way harm how others view bipolar — in fact, it’s the very opposite.

And if I have to pick between watered-down political correctness and an amazing message? I will pick the latter any day.

Follow this journey on Bipolar Burble.

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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What Hurting My Ankle Made Me Realize About Having an Invisible Illness

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Several weeks ago, I fractured my ankle. It has a cast on it and I have to use crutches. As one who has an invisible disability of bipolar disorder, postpartum onset, I’ve discovered several differences between having a visible challenge and an invisible challenge. In particular, I’ve noticed the following four things:

1. People showed more compassion for my visible challenge.

I noticed the compassion and empathy I’ve received during this visible challenge far outweighs what I’ve ever received as a result of my invisible challenge. Even when the invisible challenge is known to others, the compassion received is minimal unless the other person has direct experience with an invisible challenge.

2. It’s easier to share experiences when you have a visible challenge.

It’s amazing how easily people share they were on crutches or had broken a bone. This seems to be the complete opposite when you have an invisible challenge. With an invisible challenge, many don’t feel comfortable sharing their experience with others. In fact, I found that others won’t even tell me they’re also facing an invisible challenge unless I share first.

3. People are more willing to help and assist you when you have a visible challenge.

The offers I’ve received to help me during this visible challenge have been plentiful.  Whether offering transportation or help with practical support, I’ve been amazed by how many people have reached out to assist me. In contrast, the offers I’ve received to help me with my invisible challenge are minimal, and usually only come from individuals who also live with an invisible challenge.

4. I experienced better medical care and treatment for my visible challenge.

Now this one doesn’t surprise me —  I’ve been getting excellent care for my ankle, from orthopedic care to home health care since I cannot drive. On the contrary, I’m often viewed through my diagnosis of bipolar disorder when seeking other medical treatment — even if it’s for an adverse reaction to a medication. Why? Invisible challenges should receive the same medical care and treatment as visible challenges. This observation, in particular, helps me stay motivated to continue my advocacy efforts. No one should receive sub-standard care just because they’re facing an invisible challenge.

So as an advocate for mental health, I now have a perspective I didn’t have before. I’m thankful I’m able to see what it’s like to have a visible disability as well. It’s important to recognize the need for assistance and support regardless of the type of challenge one is experiencing.

Follow this journey by visiting Jennifer’s site.

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To the Parents of a Child Who Has Bipolar Disorder

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Dear Mom and Dad,

Your child has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I understand your concern. But as a person living with the illness, the clearest and best advice I can give you is to recognize. This word comes with three definitions. Each one, in my experience, will help tremendously.

First, you must recognize this illness is real. This is not something your child has made up. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance friends, family and society will downplay this fact. You might hear your child is just being a typical kid. Or that she’s “just being difficult.” Or he simply “lacks motivation” But listen to me — they’re doing those things for a reason. If it doesn’t seem normal, listen to your gut. Investigate. Care enough to find out what’s wrong. Accept your child with bipolar.

Next, recognize the symptoms and behavior are not your child’s fault. They cannot help what’s happening to them. This isn’t a personality flaw. I know it will be difficult as parents to manage and comprehend your child’s behavior. Now that I’m older, and have had bipolar for 20 years, I can recognize (there’s that word again) my behaviors, so I feel your frustration. If your son or daughter could will it away or make it disappear, most likely they would. Mental illness is very confusing, especially to those who do not have it. It’s impossible to know what it’s like.

As a child, I clearly remember experiencing my mom’s turbulent, fluctuating behavior and trying to make sense of it. She also had bipolar disorder. My sisters and I would wonder how she seemed OK one moment and out of control the next. Now, fast-forward many years and I can tell you why — it’s the unfortunate nature of the illness. You may be discouraged and saddened every time these behaviors occur in your child. How could they not be in control? Trust me, during these moments, they’re not in the driver’s seat.

Your child did not choose bipolar; bipolar chose your child.

And, most importantly, even though this may not make sense, recognize they might say they’re OK even when they’re not. This happens sometimes when we don’t want to worry you. Dig deeper if you have a feeling something’s wrong. Then, react. Be proactive. My father did everything for me, but even then something was missing. It was action. Sometimes, I just needed someone to put in a car and take me to the doctor. I needed him by my side. It may seem silly to continually ask the same question, “Are you OK?” but nothing matters more than the health of your child. You can change it up by asking in a different way, like, “I know it must be tough going through this, but know you can tell me anything. I will help you.”

You can also enlist the help of someone with lived experience (like myself). We’re out there, and we’d love to help. We’ve been in those shoes. A person with bipolar who has rode the wave can show your child they can survive and thrive despite their diagnosis.

So, dear Mom and Dad, I ask you to stick close, hold their hand and love your child harder than you have ever loved. The outcome is well worth the effort.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] 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.

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Why I’ve Decided to Come Out of the ‘Bipolar Closet’

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You didn’t know I was bipolar, did you? Secret’s out. I’m out of the bipolar closet.

There’s a reason you didn’t know. There’s a reason most of the people in my life didn’t know, so don’t take it personally. I chose to keep it to myself from pretty much everybody. You see, everyone who suffers from a mental illness knows there is a huge stigma surrounding it. The lack of love and support typically extended to a bipolar person can be crushing. I have experienced it on many occasions from friends and close family members to acquaintances and I dare say people I don’t know, who I’ve met in the grocery store.

To some extent I used to think you can’t blame them because they don’t know about mental illness, but with the number of people suffering in the country — and in the world today — now I think you can blame them, but we have to take a step to educate. Time is up on ignorance. The time has come to make a change!

Several of my hurtful stigma-related issues in recent years are when people tell me some form of their opinion of bipolar disorder, not knowing of my bipolarity. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who think bipolar women shouldn’t be allowed to have children. In the past I’ve never called them out or said anything and maybe it’s insecurity, but maybe it’s really smart to protect myself? I’m not sure, and it’s a pretty fine line between the two. I hate how the stigma always leaves feeling I have something to prove. As if I have to prove I am normal. What is normal anyways?

Statistically one in four adults experience some form of mental illness in a given year. This basically suggest there’s someone (at least one) affected by it in every family. Either they don’t know it, don’t admit it or won’t admit it out of fear — all largely due to stigma. Stigma is preventing people who desperately need help from seeking the help they need to function and lead a healthy and stable life.

My passionate hope is to share my story and the things I wish someone had told me from the day I was diagnosed. My hope is to help others diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Although I know we sometimes have to learn life’s lessons the hard way, it’s also nice to get practical advice, even though it may not immediately be used or particularly asked for, yet.

Those of us with bipolar disorder are all looking for support and to know someone has walked a path before us. We all want to know we are understood, and not alone in this crazy messed-up disorder.

In telling my story, my deepest desire is not only to help others but to fight the biggest fight of my life — to fight the terrible stigma attached to mental illness. Maybe, just maybe, I can show what it’s really like to live with bipolar disorder and how misunderstood it is.

I hope I don’t lose friends over this, y’all. People will always say, “If you lose friends over this, they aren’t your ‘real friends,'” and as true as that is, it would still hurt. Either way, I’m opening myself up. Take me for who I am. I’m still the girl you’ve known all along, only now, I’m actively and openly fighting for a cause I’m incredibly passionate about.

Happy and stable,

Mrs Bipolarity

A version of this originally appeared on Mrs. Bipolarity.

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My New Year’s Offering to Anyone With a Mental Illness

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Christmas is a beautiful time of year. For many it brings joy. For others it can be difficult. But nothing in life is flawless. Even grievances add to the pristine and raw splendor that Christmas brings.

For many of us, it’s a celebration of religion or collaboration with family and friends. While these are all the most important aspects of the holiday, one of my favorite parts is the giving of gifts. Now, before you stop reading because I sound materialistic, I want you to consider this: when you’re given a gift, you’re expected to accept it. Maybe it’s a silly white elephant gift. Maybe it’s homemade and packed deeply with nostalgia. Whether we cherish it or re-gift it, we have a chance to say thank you to someone for showing physically that they care.

Thanksgiving gives us a chance to say we’re grateful. Christmas gives us to chance to show we’re thankful. New Year’s Day can be equally beautiful because it brings hope. On Thanksgiving we muster up something that keeps life worth living. On Christmas we might not be able to give or receive a gift. But the New Year helps us remember to say maybe this new year will be better.

For the New Year, we don’t give gifts. But this coming year I would like you to consider taking an offer.

An offering doesn’t have to be accepted as a gift does. It gives you the chance to say no. Why? Because gifts are meant for your enjoyment. Offers, on the other hand, are given with a sense of duty.

For this new year, I want to make an offer of acceptance. Not to just accept the offer, but accept the offer of acceptance. I told you that holidays are beautiful because they aren’t flawless. People are the same way. As a sister to three siblings with disabilities, as an aunt to two nephews with autism and as a woman that struggles daily with bipolar disorder, I’m an advocate that “imperfection” is beautiful. More times than not, it’s easier to admit that with humility than with pride.

For some our differences are inevitable. For others they are controversial. But without enduring hardships, without conflict, we cannot find resolution.

For this New Year, my wish is that you will accept the offer to accept others. My resolution is to enable you to find freedom in this acceptance. This offer may not be easy to endure, but the hope that will be gained is the gift of a lifetime.

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