When I Look For a Hero, This Is Where I Look Now

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I’ve been working through some body image issues and looking for a positive body role model. I’ve been looking for someone to inspire me to become something better.

But then I realized: I’m my own hero.

Every time I look into the mirror means I’ve made it through the fist-clenching struggles of another day. I haven’t given in to the harrowing little voices whispering in my ear to end it all. I haven’t surrendered to the false sweetness of eternal surrender.

I know when I see myself, I’m working my butt off to become a better person, to overcome my seemingly endless inner demons. Spending hours going therapies, counseling and psychiatrist appointments. Going through the never ending nightmare of finding the right combination of drugs to live a somewhat normal life. Enduring the side effects. Dealing with the emotional turmoil of delving deep into the dark places where the demons came from, and bringing what has been stuffed away into the sickening bright light.

Even looking in the mirror is a triumph — not being terrified to see my own reflection for once. Overcoming all of the messages the world says about my body — that I’m disgusting, should not be seen or even think about loving myself.

It’s hard to even associate the word hero with myself. I feel that label is only for soldiers and people who run into burning building. But I know I’m working my butt off, and it’s hard. Not giving in to the thoughts in my head every day is a battle in itself.

However, thinking about all of this is making me feel selfish. But if I don’t take care of myself, I won’t survive. I do it for the people who love me — my husband, my future children. Trying to stay alive isn’t selfish, is it? Trying to live a somewhat normal life can’t be selfish.

I hate thinking about anyone else going through this pain. I like to think I could inspire them. I’m not at the finish line yet, but I’m running as fast as I can, getting up time and time again after I fall. I guess that’s the definition of hero. Someone who displays courage. Courage is defined asthe quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.” Even though I struggle with associating the word “hero” with myself, I know that I’m a courageous human being. And that’s enough.

Follow this journey Seeking the Feather Strings.

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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When I Realized My Untreated Mental Illness Was Affecting My Children

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As a mother, I don’t play when it comes to protecting my children. It’s a talent, I guess. But one thing some mothers have that can utterly destroy their family is pride. Especially when that mother needs to get help for her illness. I know that too well. I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, but refused to get help for 11 years. Unfortunately, in those 11 years, I was raising two young sons.

You see, my refusal to get help never crossed my mind when my youngest got suspended or my oldest became introverted. Because I didn’t smoke or drink, I thought I was the best mother in the world. I was home when they got home. I went to college and earned my degrees. I had a business. To the outside world, I was an outstanding mother, but my reality came crashing down on me when my oldest son moved out of my house and to another state.

After a couple of days, I attempted to call to check on him. But no answer. A week went by and I was getting pushed to voicemail. When I finally spoke with him, he no longer called me “mama.” He called me his “parental unit.” I was floored; I thought I had given him the world. I had him at 16 and every accomplishment after that was to show him that we were not statistics. So it hurt my heart that he no longer wanted to call me mom.

When I asked him why, he told me I was hard to live with during his childhood and that I caused him great stress. It was then that I realized that my refusal to get help for my bipolar disorder affected my children. I refused to get help for something that was treatable because I wanted my boys to see me as strong and a fighter. Instead, they saw stubbornness, judgement and a person who would fight with them over the simplest things.

When my son returned to my home almost a year later, I saw a difference in him. He was more intolerant of who he thought I still was. Almost rebellious. But I didn’t respond like I thought I would. Instead, I used the time he didn’t speak to me as a learning curve to give my youngest son more attention and to be careful with my words. I made a video and posted it on my YouTube page with both of my sons on how their lives were impacted by having a parent who refused to use medication for their mental illness. Their answers were shocking, but another lesson on my journey to emotional wellness.

I want parents who live with mental illness to get the help they need. To include their family in their treatment plan and to forgive themselves (I’m still trying) for anything they did while unmedicated. I want you to be honest with yourself and with your kids about mental illness. I need you to prepare them for all that it entails. To tell them about the stigmas that are placed on people with mental illness. They need you, so you need to get help.

I can’t get back the years I selfishly stole from my sons, but I can help you.

Follow this journey on Young, Black and Bipolar.

The Mighty is asking the following: If you’re a parent with a mental illness, tell us about a time you tried (either successfully or unsuccessfully) to explain to your children about your mental illness/mental health issues. How did they react? 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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We Need to Support Mental Illness, Even When It's Not Cute

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I am the parent of a child with a severe mental illness, although it’s taken me several months to say that confidently and without my voice wavering.

How did we end up with a diagnosis of a severe mental illness in such a young child? With increasingly difficult and extreme behavior at home, a psychiatric inpatient hospitalization was our only option for getting help for her. We needed to get some answers. It’s incredibly frustrating trying to help a child when you don’t know what’s wrong, especially when things are getting worse. The apex of her illness presented a few months ago when I found her in the backyard trying to take her own life. I can’t put into words how it feels to watch your 6-year-old trying to kill herself. It’s not something any parent is supposed to ever see. We needed help. After a very long hospitalization, we were finally discharged with a name for the illness she has been struggling with — my daughter has pediatric bipolar disorder.

After her discharge we planned a slow transition back into school. Monday morning started with her kicking me trying to get my attention as I brought into the building. I bent over to talk to her like the doctors taught me. First, validate her feelings: “I can see you’re feeling frustrated and trying to get my attention.” Next, try to instruct her on a more appropriate manner of getting my attention: “Do you think you could’ve said nicely, ‘Excuse me?’”

Her response? “Get the f*ck out of my face!

Then she took off.

Oh yeah, F-bombing on the first day of second grade. That’s how we roll. And parents who had previously promised their undying devotion to supporting mental health awareness are suddenly silent, quickly ear-muffing their kids. The ones who don’t know she lives with a mental illness are looking at me (and her) like, “What did your kid just say?”

I completely get it. It’s easy to say you accept mental health issues until you actually see it. Sometimes, it’s messy. Sometimes, it involves F-bombs. It’s easy to look at her and just think she’s “one of those bad kids.”

But she only swears when she’s really feeling bad and is starting to lose control. I wanted to walk over to those parents and explain: “She has bipolar disorder. She gets to a point where she’s no longer in control of her words or her body. She was overstimulated and overwhelmed and feeling horrible inside. She’s not stable yet. It will get better soon. She’s not really like that, she’s lovely!” But would that make a difference?

It’s easy to share memes on Facebook say you support mental illnesses, but until you’re there, in the thick of it, you can’t understand what it’s like. Would you accept it if a mental illness incident happened in front of you? Would you feel compassionate, or would you judge? Does my daughter need to have a giant sticker on her forehead saying “Mental illness on board, please be kind”? Why can’t people just be kind anyways?

In all fairness, she also gets lots of hugs and lots of “you can do this!” when we’re out and about. She’s the poster child for mental illness. So cute, little, photogenic and usually smiling.

But it’s easy to be supportive of her mental illness when she’s smiling up at you. She looks the part of a functional 7-year-old, even when inside her head she’s struggling to keep it together. When that F-bomb deal-breaker echoed through the hall, if disapproval had a sound, that would have been it. But what if I told you she cried for hours earlier this week when she realized she would never be cured of bipolar disorder? About how she cried when a girl she knew who broke her leg got her cast off, because that wasn’t going to happen to her brain. About how after school on Monday she obsessively paced her room, muttering about how everyone was looking at her and everyone thought she was weird and “crazy.” Would that make you rethink the way you reacted to her mental illness-related outburst?

She’s not giving me a hard time, she’s having a hard time. And despite how fervently I want to scream out the realities of mental illness to create awareness and understanding, I feel like this type of illness will never truly be accepted until we start talking about what it really looks like. Despite how cute she is, she isn’t fully accepted for her mental illness, even now. And once the cuteness and littleness wears off, my daughter will just be another person with a sick brain who’s poorly understood and feeling alone. We need to start showing her now it’s OK to be who she is, F-bombs and all.

Jade's daughter is smiling and holding a sign that says, "I have bipolar disorder!" She has blonde hair, and is wearing a black shirt that says "World Mental Health Day" in green.
Jade’s daughter.
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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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