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 mentalhealth@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.

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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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To the Little Girl Who Just Got Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder

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I know these times might be a bit confusing, and maybe even a little painful, but I want to give you some advice that has helped me through the years.

1. It’s OK to feel your emotions. It’s OK to be happy, sad or mad. Bipolar disorder makes your emotions very strong at times, so remember: Emotions are good; letting them control you is not. When you’re angry, don’t act in anger. When you’re sad, don’t base your plans on those emotions.

2. Crying is not something to be ashamed of. You should never have to feel like you need to hide your emotions. Bipolar can oftentimes make that impossible, so remember that crying can be therapeutic. Embrace it, but do not stay there. Have a good cry, then watch a funny movie or take a hot bath. Do something for you to help you feel better.

3. It’s important to remember that the bad days won’t last forever. I know that sounds cliché and it probably doesn’t feel that way during the hard days of your bipolar, but I really do think it’s true. Try to find at least one thing each day that you’re thankful for. It can help brighten your perspective.

4. Don’t ever stop dreaming! Mania should not force you to fear dreaming too big. Your dreams will guide you through life, giving you your passions, guiding your decisions and leading you to find the joy in every day. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming; just be aware of your emotional state and when in doubt, write it down and come back to it when you’re feeling more stable.

5. There is no shame in asking for help, no matter what bipolar state you are in. Admitting that you can’t do it all on your own is healthy. It’s something you should learn to do sooner rather than later. Your mental and physical health will thank you.

6. Know that there are people around you who love you, care for you and will be there for you in your hardest of times. The depression might lie to you and try to convince you that you’re on your own, but you cannot believe this. You will know who these people are because they will support you through the good and bad and will have your back no matter what.

7. Your failures don’t define you. We do not learn without failure. Being manic can sometimes cause more failures than we would like, but you have to accept the failure, learn from it, pick yourself up and continue on. No matter what happens or what people say, you are not a failure. Everyone makes mistakes, even the most successful people.

8. Boundaries are healthy. They might be hard to create, but you will grow to appreciate them in both your manic and depressive states and especially once you’re older. You will find that boundaries will make your life easier, healthier and more fruitful.

9. And lastly, never be ashamed of who you are. You are amazing; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Don’t hide your “weirdness;” it’s unique. Don’t hide your quirks; it is part of what makes you you. Do not be ashamed of your bipolar disorder — it does not define you. You are special. Don’t deprive the world from how incredible you are!

Hold these truths close to your heart, live life to the fullest and love lots.

Love,

Someone who has been there

The Mighty is asking the following: Give advice to someone who has just been diagnosed with your mental illness. What do you wish someone had told you? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to mentalhealth@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.

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

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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

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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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