What They Don’t Teach You About Bipolar Disorder In Psychology Class

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Bipolar disorder is a serious disease.

It’s not fun. It’s not trendy.

Bipolar (for me at least) means consistent medication, dose changes and getting adequate sleep to stay well. Bipolar means periods of extremes. Mania and depression, then mania again. A cycle through the seasons.

Mania is a state of the brain. It seems rather misunderstood as a whole. It’s important to know that being in mania doesn’t make someone a maniac. I took the liberty of looking up “mania” on an online dictionary. Here’s the super informative definition:

(1) excessive
excitement or enthusiasm; craze: ex:
The country has a mania for soccer.

OK…so in second place:

(2) Psychiatry. manic
disorder

Mania. I had no idea what it was until I experienced it firsthand.

In my psych class at Clemson University, I remember we breezed right through it. Which is fine, lots of material to cover, right? I scribed in my notes something like:

mania — affective disorder characterized by euphoric mood, excessive activity and impaired judgment. 

While this is true, I had no grasp on what this would entail in real-life application. It was simply a multiple choice answer on a test.

It wasn’t until my nonchalantly jotted bullet point became my reality that I understood.

My bipolar disorder freaking sucks. It’s not something I can ignore and say, “Just..stay there, I’ll deal with you later.” It’s really hard. But I’ve learned a few thing, things you can’t teach you in psych class.

Bipolar means living with haunting and embarrassing things I did or said in the past.

…but it doesn’t mean I have to dwell on them day in and day out. And I don’t (anymore).

It means I have a serious condition that needs to be addressed and managed.

…but It doesn’t mean I think of myself as some sub-human specimen who can’t do what everyone else can.

It has made me manic, but not a lunatic.

It has made me depressed, but not completely hopeless for eternity.

It means I have a disorder that I might not disclose to someone I just met, but this doesn’t mean I’m not doing everything I can to fight the horrible stigma.

It means I didn’t expect to be a part of a group that’s often categorized with a host of cruel jokes.

I’ve carried shame in my past, but I’m not currently in hiding over who I am. In fact, who I am is far more than my diagnosis of bipolar. I’ve been hospitalized, but I’m not a tragedy. You may have learned my disorder in a “cool psych class,” but that doesn’t mean you know who I am.

This is why people with bipolar disorder need to tell their story. We are still human and want to be heard.

You are not solely the definition in a psych textbook!

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Follow this journey on The Secret Disease.

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Dear Future Boyfriend, From a Girl With Bipolar Disorder

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Dear future boyfriend,

There’s only so many times I can sneakily take pills in front of you without you noticing. At brunch when our friends are taking selfies, or at dinner when you’ve gotten up to go to the bathroom.

Or what about when someone asks me to take a shot of vodka with them? I don’t want to say, “No, because my antidepressants mixed with booze will make me black out.”

Or when you spend the night with me for the first time, and I desperately try to hide all of my medications under my bed in hopes you don’t see them.

I don’t know how to tell you that I was diagnosed with bipolar II, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder at 23. I was away at school, and never felt more alone than I did in that moment sitting in my car out side of the psychiatrist office, looking down at a looming list of prescriptions with funny names, to treat an illness I had only ever heard bad things about.

A million questions — like, when do you tell a significant other about it? Do my friends find me exhausting? Are my parents embarrassed? Are people afraid of me? Will anyone ever accept me for what I am? — have paraded endlessly through my mind since. All I’ve craved is acceptance. But how could I ask for acceptance when I’m so afraid to admit I have mental illness? So I’ve lied to my bosses about doctor appointments, lied to my friends when I lose weight, faked illnesses like the flu when I’m actually so depressed I can’t even get out of bed.

By nature I’m energetic and outgoing, but I can rarely keep this facade going for longer than a week before I get pulled down by my illness. Sometimes I just want to be alone, and other times I need so much encouragement and reassurance from my friends as I fall apart. In the same week, I can love my life with my whole heart, and then wish it was over.

Let’s pretend you meet me in a local restaurant, and you ask me out. What am I supposed to do? Say, “Just so you know, I have bipolar type II — can you pass the butter?” as we sit down for our first date? Is there really ever an ideal way to drop news like that? My illness does not define who I am, but it does matter to some people.

But this is me, take it or leave it. If you do decide to continue this relationship with me, I have a couple requests:

1. If I’m having a really rough week at work, know what brightens my mood. Buy my sunflowers and take me for a hike. Since I can’t really go out and drink the working gal blues away, I need you to be my drink.

2. If I’m having trouble getting out of bed, understand this is my depression. Don’t let me isolate — make me breakfast and eat it in bed with me.

3. If I wake you up in the middle of the night from tossing and turning and crying out because of nightmares, don’t tell me to wake up and stop. Just hold me a little bit tighter.

4. If I’m grumpy or saying hurtful things to you for no apparent reason, tell me I’m being hurtful and let me apologize.

5. If I’m losing too much weight, tell me I look beautiful no matter what size I am.

6. When I question my existence in this life, show me how life would be if I wasn’t here. Tell me I should stay.

7. Cheer for the little victories. Make a big deal out of them.

8. Never give up on me.

If you don’t understand mental illness, just know it’s not our fault. I’ve tirelessly fought through my recovery, and I’ve done it alone because even though it’s so hard, I know I’m worth it. Being rejected because of a chemical imbalance is quite possibly the most humiliating experience. Dealing with nightmares, night sweats, reactions to medication, numerous doctors, therapists, while maintaining a full-time job, is actually pretty damn hard, and we are doing the best we can.

Just know that rooting for me, supporting me when I’m broken and loving me when I’m unlovable is the best gift I could ever receive.

Sincerely,

Shelby

P.S. To the people with mental illness: You are not alone. I know how scary it is to sit in the psychiatric unit alone, wondering what someone you knew would think if they saw you there. But you don’t have to go through this journey alone. We are stronger together.

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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Manic Doesn’t Always Mean Happy

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It feels like all my senses are lit on fire. I feel deeply. Sights are brighter and sounds are louder. Everything seems colorful.

But then it quickly gets tainted with an inky blackness and several shades of blue.

It feels like hope withering from my hands; it’s watching any drop of motivation left disappear.

Then, the creative sparks set off in my brain and the psychomotor agitation starts
up. I feel jittery and I can’t sit.

I want to paint and create and write my thoughts down. My ideas of grandeur. Yet, I know there’s no point. Because the sadness hits me as fast as an anvil dropped from thousands of feet above me.

The pain in my stomach is raw and my appetite disappears. I’m torn between wanting to lie in my bed and never come up and running ten miles to burn off my energy.


It feels like having a tangled mess of thoughts in my head, racing so fast, faster than I
ever believed possible.

This is what it’s like for me when I’ve experienced a primarily manic mixed episode. It’s a part of bipolar disorder where, along with feeling predominantly manic or depressed, the opposite mood seeps in. Aside from my regular depressed and hypomanic moods, I get mixed episodes that are primarily manic, but they’re the farthest thing from fun.

When I have this kind of episode, I feel sadness, euphoria, anxiety, creativity, boundless
energy and hopelessness. I’m full of racing thoughts and a constant restlessness all at the same time. I feel like a genius but I also feel self-loathing. I feel happy, sad and like the world is ending somehow all in the same moments.

Mania doesn’t just mean I’m running around and having a good time, although sometimes it can be enjoyable — especially when I feel creative and limitless, my words pouring out of my mouth with rapid speed. But in other instances it feels like anxiety and sensory overload with thoughts that are too fast to grab a hold of.

Mania comes in many forms. Not everyone experiencing it is engaging in risky sexual behaviors and spending sprees. Sometimes this mood state means abnormally happy and elated, while other times it means extremely anxious, irritable and fearful.

Just something to keep in mind, whether you’re just curious, you love someone with bipolar or you have the diagnosis yourself, manic means a lot of things, and it doesn’t always mean happy.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To Demi Lovato, From a Mother of a Girl With Bipolar Disorder

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Dear Demi,

I just wanted to say thank you on behalf of my 11-year-old daughter who has bipolar disorder. You see, because you are so willing to talk openly about having bipolar disorder, you have helped reduce the stigma surrounding this mental illness. I’m sure you are aware of how people feel when the hear the word “bipolar.” They worry if you’re a safe person to talk to. They worry if they can be friends with you. The list goes on.

Because you’re such a public figure and an inspiration for tweeners like my daughter, your voice carries a lot of weight. You may not want to be a role model, but you are. You can either use your status to spread acceptance or hide in shame. I, for one, am grateful that you chose to take the high road.

I’m teaching my daughter to advocate for herself. My hope is that one day she will use her voice to let others know she wants to be loved and accepted for who she is, not who the media tells others she is.

Demi, I want to encourage you to continue using your platform to show children like my daughter they’re not alone. It won’t be easy. Some days you may feel like giving up. Please don’t! Keep moving forward. Kids like my daughter are counting on you. I’m counting on you.

Fondly,

The Mother of an Adoring Fan

Cate's daughter is shown posing similarly to Demi Lovato.

Follow this journey on Raising a Drama Queen.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a powerful moment you or a loved one had with a public figure. Or, write a letter to a public figure you feel has helped your or your loved one through his or her work. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When Having Bipolar Disorder Is Like a Juggling Act

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I have bipolar disorder. Please notice, I do not say “I am bipolar.” Because the sum of what and who I am is so much more than a simple chemical imbalance. What does it mean to have bipolar disorder? For me, it means I share the inside of my head with many different aspects of myself. There is Depression. There is Mania. There is Anxiety. And there is Stable. These are my ever present companions. I perform miraculous juggling acts in order to keep them all in check. Strangely enough, each one has her own talents and special needs.

Depression writes in terse, sparse sentences. Salubrious, grey imagery of rainy days and dark skies. You want to be careful when you read depression. She can suck you in at a moment’s notice, even when you think you’re doing well.

Now Mania, she writes in long, flowing, beautiful streams of consciousness. Rainbows and waterfalls and pink unicorns. She inspires super human feats of strength. She can go for days without food or sleep. Mania does my best creative work. But beware the crash, because Mania can only last for so long, and when she goes back into hiding, Depression is more than happy to stick her head out and send in her ugly step-sister Anxiety.

Anxiety writes in short, nervous bursts. Worry, dread, shortness of breath, tightness of chest. The world speeding by too fast to even think about catching up. Anxiety keeps you awake nights writing poetry about useless worry and feelings of hopelessness.

And Stable…Stable doesn’t write much at all. Stable is the goal of all the medications I take.  She is…well, she’s even tempered, patient, beige. She’s not as creative, but she takes direction very well. She’s organized and well-dressed. She keeps things running smoothly.  But strangely enough, she’s also lonely. Lonely for intimacy, for laughter and craziness. For affection and art. For the little things in life that make it not only bearable, but enjoyable. Stable cruises through life with few noteworthy events, but she’s not lying awake nights writing hopeless poetry. She’s not performing feats of super human strength. Stable gets lots of sleep and plenty to eat.

The truth is, Stable pretty much runs my life. She keeps me doing all the important things that need to get done and she directs my daily actions. I guess in the long run, Stable is in charge of the whole crew. She’s the juggler who keeps all the balls in the air. She keeps the others in check. She makes sure my head doesn’t get smashed in the door. She keeps me from trying to run a marathon or play touch football. She helps me sleep at night when Anxiety would keep me awake. Stable loves me. All of me. And all of my different aspects.

And on good days, she melds them all seamlessly together to create a smart, sexy, confident woman who can handle whatever life throws at her.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. 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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12 Myths People With Bipolar Disorder Want to See Busted

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If you’ve ever heard someone say, “The weather is so bipolar!” you know there’s a lot of misconception about what bipolar is, what it isn’t and what it’s like for the 3 percent of American adults who live with it each year. To clear some things up, The Mighty teamed up with the International Bipolar Foundation and asked people with bipolar disorder what myths they’d like to see busted.

Here’s what they had to say: 

Myth #1: Mania is the “good part” of bipolar disorder. 

“There’s a myth that mania just feels all happy. Actually, it’s frantic and nerve-wracking. It can cause intense anger and anxiety. It can feel like I want to jump out of my own skin. Both sides of the coin can be hell.” — Pressley Kieran Fields

Quote by Pressley Kieran Fields that says [Both sides of the coin can be hell.]

Myth #2: People with bipolar disorder are just “moody.”

“Just because you had a bad day or had a high-energy day doesn’t mean you’re bipolar.” —  Dana C Hutchins

Quote by Dana C Hutchins that says [Just because you had a bad day or had a high-energy day doesn't mean you're bipolar.]

Myth #3: Everyone with bipolar is violent.

“The only time you hear about bipolar disorder in the media is when someone committed a crime. Not when a person is dealing with their bipolar successfully and being productive in society. We need to all come forward.” — Heidi Long

Quote by Heidi Long that says [The only time you hear about bipolar disorder in the media is when someone committed a crime...We need to all come forward."

Myth #4: If you have bipolar, you’re “crazy.”

“It’s not a synonym for ‘crazy.’ Nor is it a word to be thrown around about things that change constantly (i.e. ‘The weather is like, bipolar or something.’).” — Lacey H-l K

Quote by Lacey H-l K that says [It's not a synonym for 'crazy.'.]

Myth #5: People with bipolar disorder cannot maintain healthy relationships. 

“My best friend is bipolar. With patience and understanding, it’s possible. You have to be willing to learn and ask questions as I did. When we first met I asked, ‘What can I do to better understand you? Tell me what I can do to support you.’” — Belinda Heflin

Quote by Belinda Heflin that says [My best friend is bipolar. With patience and understanding, it's possible. ]

Myth #6: You can’t be a good spouse or parent with bipolar disorder.

“My husband had bipolar disorder. He was brilliant and the kindest, most unselfish man I have ever known. I was married to him for 49 happy, happy years. Sure, there were bad times because he had bipolar. But because I understood he had no choice in it, we were able to have a wonderful marriage.” — Glenda Austin Thompson

Quote by Glenda Austin Thompson that says [My husband had bipolar disorder. He was brilliant and the kindest, most unselfish man I have ever known.]

Myth #7: Every bad day is an episode.

“Having bipolar disorder doesn’t mean you can’t experience regular emotions — negative and positive; any emotional response to something isn’t always linked to your mental illness.” — Nikki Fox

Quote by Nikki Fox that says [Having bipolar disorder doesn't mean you can't experience regular emotions]

Myth #8: People with bipolar disorder are weak because they can’t “control their emotions.”

“Even people who are inherently strong can have bipolar disorder. Every day can be a challenge. We can look outwardly normal, while going through immense internal struggles.” — Shilpa Ugrankar Caldeira

Quote by Shilpa Ugrankar Caldeira that says [Even people who are inherently strong can have bipolar disorder.]

Myth #9: People with bipolar disorder are just being dramatic.

“‘You are overreacting. Just stop being that way.’ Um, no. We try our best to control our emotions. We cant help the way we feel sometimes. We just want support and to not be judged.” — Lauren Eubanks

Quote by Lauren Eubanks that says [You are overreacting. Just stop being that way.' Um, no.]

 

Myth #10: Having bipolar disorder means you have a “split personality.” 

I beg to differ. I feel more like two extremes of the same person.” — Jamilla Casteel

quote by Jamilla Castell that says [I beg to differ. I feel more like two extremes of the same person.]

Myth #11: When you start taking medication for bipolar disorder, you’re “cured.” 

“It’s never going away. It’s the medication that makes us feel better. It helps me to live. To work. To lead an almost ‘normal’ life. And I would not have it any other way. Medication is not bad. It’s my lifeline.” — Suzie Lang

Quote by Suzie Lang that says [It's never going away. But the medication does make me feel better. It helps me live.]

Myth #12: People with bipolar disorder can’t be successful. 

“Heck, I have bipolar 2 and I graduated as valedictorian of my high school and I graduated summa cum laude from a private university. It does not mean I haven’t been successful in life.” — Jenna Renee Gillit

Quote by Jenna Renee Gillit that says [It does not mean I haven't been successful in life.]

Editor’s note: This story is based on individuals’ experiences and shouldn’t be taken as professional advice. To learn more bipolar disorder, visit the International Bipolar Foundation’s site.  

*Some answers have been edited and shortened. 

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