'Functional' Is a 24/7 Job When You Live With Bipolar Disorder

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In the dark of morning, I struggle the most. Every day, I wake up and try to convince my rapid cycling bipolar brain to function. There is a debate. Every day. I stand at my bed and argue silently as to whether or not I should crawl back into it. It is in this moment I struggle with being functional the most. This exact moment.

Realistically, I don’t actually get to claim the title “functional” until I am up for about two hours. Technically, I claim it as soon as I hit the shower.

For a moment, let’s back track to the night before. At 10 p.m., which should be my bedtime, my brain suddenly decides that it’s time to take over the world. Fractions of ideas, half concocted story lines, bits and pieces of thoughts and images project into my consciousness. They’re just semi-completed annoyances trying to self-actualize into my brain without actually being a whole self. Nothing is accomplished, as I allow them to stream through without attaching any value statements to them.

But they certainly keep the lights on while they party, while I lie in my bed, awake.

As anyone who takes psych meds may know, well, sometimes they can destroy us with side effects. It’s like stopping that party by literally burning the house down, party-goers inside. (On a side note, one med is trying to ruin my cholesterol, but that’s a different story.) In this instance, another med makes me drink ridiculous amounts of fluids to combat the vicious, unending thirst that accompanies the ridiculous and incessant urination. I wake up every two hours to take care of business. I am in the process of getting blood analyzed and all that jazz to determine if this is, indeed, the problem.

So, I go to bed every night with the synapse remix blasting in my head, preventing me from going to sleep, and the brutal side effects of the sacred medication cause me to continually wake up. Often less than five hours total, no more than two hours at a time. 

Yes, I am tired. In the dark of morning, I struggle to reason that going to work is the most logical conclusion at that particular point in time and space. But I am here to rise, period. Sucking it up one day at a time just seems like the right thing to do. It’s a fight, right? We don’t get paid, and we can’t win, if we just sit in the corner.

In the dark of morning, with little to no faculties available, I can’t give in. I just can’t. So I don’t.

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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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6 Tips for When Your Mental Health Is Going Downhill

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Living with bipolar disorder isn’t easy. Recently, I had an epic relapse, a rather serious near miss with a suicide attempt and scared the numerous people who care about me. I realized what I normally do to take care of myself is great, but things are different when I find myself in a crisis situation. So, I’ve discovered I have a totally different set of rules for crisis management, and I think they can also be a great tool for preventing crises as well.

1. Don’t change your treatment without consulting your doctor.  

Honestly, this could probably be the only rule and the end of this article. If I hadn’t quit my meds, the rest of these rules probably wouldn’t be necessary. Sometimes when you’re experiencing side effects or feel “better,” you think you don’t need to take your medication anymore. I stopped taking my best line of defense because I was feeling insecure about my weight, even though I was doing phenomenally mood-wise. I know not to quit my meds usually, but I was just so tired of feeling hopeless about my size. If you’re unhappy with your medication, talk to your doctor. That way if you do decide to go off medication, you can have a game plan in place if you become unstable.

2. Utilize your support system!

I did not utilize my support system at all during the last six weeks leading up to my attempt. I talked to my therapist about quitting my meds, so she knew, but my husband didn’t know I’d quit them until the week I started to really go downhill. I think if he’d known earlier, he could have pointed out the warning signs of my instability to me sooner. My husband is the one who encouraged me to go back on them ASAP, thankfully, but by then it was just too late for much to be done. I didn’t call my doctor when I started spiraling downhill to see what he could suggest as emergency options. I didn’t reach out to my friends for support. I just isolated myself more and more and got worse and worse.

3. Don’t shut your therapist out. 

I shut down and stopped working with my therapist for a couple weeks before my attempt. I knew something was getting to me, and I was feeling more and more down, but I couldn’t express what it was exactly. Instead of telling her that, I just put on a show and pretended everything was fine. I did try reaching out a couple of times in the days leading up to my attempt, but I denied feeling suicidal right up until I sent her my final text saying goodbye. Not such a smart idea.

4. Accept you might have to go to the hospital, and embrace it for what it is — an opportunity to get help. 

There’s no shame in getting treatment. Repeat that mantra over and over to yourself, especially if you’re having a hard time coming to terms with possibly being “labeled.” Labels aren’t always a bad thing. I’m lots of labels. Mom, Wife. Teacher. Advocate. Writer. Storyteller. Bipolar. When I first got admitted, I was angry at the world. It took a lot of patience from the nurses’ and therapists’  for me to come out of that bitter shell and start working on feeling better.

5. Recognize that treatment doesn’t end after the crisis has passed and you’re relatively stable again. 

You’re going to need aftercare. A good doctor and a therapist is going to be crucial to keeping you stable. You might even need more than just a good therapist and doctor (preferably a psychiatrist if you’ve got a serious mental illness, in my humble opinion). Using me as an example, this has been my fourth hospital stay in the last two years. I’ve made lots of progress, but I’ve finally realized that I’m not progressing enough with what I’m doing when I get out of the hospital. Now, I’ve decided to do intensive outpatient treatment, meaning I’ll be doing group therapy as well as a education group three times a week for three hours a day for six weeks, in addition to meeting with my individual counselor once a week.

6. Practice self-compassion, yet again. 

This is so important. I made a lot of mistakes. I burned some bridges with this last crisis. Thankfully those bridges were built with something stronger than wood, and I was able to extinguish the fires rather quickly, but I hate letting people down. That all being said, I’m still trying really hard to tell myself I’m good enough. Eleanor Roosevelt once said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” and that includes yourself. I’m not giving myself permission to beat myself up.

I wish I had a silver bullet for dealing with bipolar disorder. I wish I could say that doing all of this is cake, and “since I can do it, you can too!” But even if one of these rules I have for myself can help one person, then I’ll have not suffered all this for naught. I’ll consider my time spent learning these rules the hard way time well spent.

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.

Follow this journey on Ramblings of a Bipolar Mess

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To the Well-Meaning Friend Who Said I 'Didn't Really Need' All My Medications

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Dear Friend,

I know we’ve known each other for many years. During those years we have laughed and cried together and grew up and got married and had kids. During the early
years of my marriage you and I lost touch and a lot changed for me. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Through many trials and errors and many trips to the doctor and a suicide attempt, I have gotten on the road to recovery. I have worked years on getting the right medicines and behaviors down so I stay in recovery.

During a recent episode in my life you came to me to give me support, and it meant so much to me to have you by my side. You were such a good friend to me most of my life, and I was so glad you were there for me. However, during a conversation one day you said something that hurt my feelings, and I have never said anything to you about it, but now I feel it important that I do say something so you don’t make the mistake with another friend.

You said to me that I “didn’t really need all the medications” I was on. Your
intentions were good, but what you don’t know is the struggle I went through during the years we weren’t close. You don’t know how bad my depression got, or how severe my manic episodes were. There were days I would do nothing but scream and throw plates against the wall. I broke doors off hinges, and I wouldn’t have been able to stay married without getting those angry moments under control.

Each one of my medications takes care of a symptom you may have never seen. My medications took years of trial and error, and when the right combination was found it was like the world was lifted off my shoulders.

My medications saved my marriage and let me be a mother, but most of all they
saved my life. I know since you don’t have mental illness this may be strange to you, but please understand I have to do what is best for me and my family, and know that saying I “don’t really need all my medications” is actually hurtful to hear.

I know we are good friends and that we always will be. Please just love me for who I am, mental illness and all.

The Mighty is asking the following: What do you want your past, current or future partner to know about being with someone with your 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When the Nearest Psychiatric Hospital Has No Beds for 8-Year-Olds

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My daughter’s been blessed with pretty good physical health. She’s rarely sick and hasn’t had to miss much school due to illnesses.

Her mental health has been almost the opposite.

Even though she’s been stable over two years now, she’s missed a lot of school due to behavioral health challenges. She was diagnosed in August of 2011 with bipolar disorder, but it wasn’t until over a year later that she had her first hospitalization.

In October of 2012, my husband and I were attempting to get our daughter ready for school. She was having a hard time transitioning back to a school routine after summer, and it was difficult getting her ready for school every day. We saw a lot of aggression and self-injurious behaviors during this time. Finally, one morning, I made the dreaded phone call to our local police to ask for assistance. I truly was hoping we could eventually make it to school that day. The officers who came out didn’t really know how to help us, but they were able to diffuse the situation. My child calmed down enough so we were able to transport her in our vehicle to an emergency room in a neighboring city.

As is typical of any visit to the ER, my daughter was seen by the triage department before being taken back to the ER’s psych ward. It was a scary place for sure. At the time we had insurance through my work that was pretty amazing. We only needed the doctor on call to approve hospitalization for my girl. For all of her future hospitalizations, she was on government insurance. We had to jump through many hoops to get approval on each of those occasions.

The problem we had this time was not with getting someone to agree that my daughter needed hospitalization — it was finding a bed. The hospital we went to didn’t have a place for an 8-year-old with mental health issues. We had arrived at the ER around 10 a.m. that morning. By 6 o’clock that evening the nurses still hadn’t found a bed close by. I finally spoke up and asked what the hold up was. It was then that I discovered they had only been looking in the county we live in. I implored them to look into other counties.

Finally at 9 p.m., a bed was found in different county over 100 miles away. I didn’t care, I was elated one had been found. My husband and I called our therapist who then called the facility to make sure it was a quality hospital. Once the decision was made, we signed tons of paperwork to pre-admit her. I think it was almost midnight before we were told the ambulance that would be transporting our daughter had arrived. At this point my child was calm and almost angelic. The ambulance workers buckled her onto the gurney just to make sure. This was a new and terrifying experience for all of us, so I rode in the back while my husband followed behind in his car. I recall it was about 4 a.m. when we arrived at our destination. It was eerily quiet and dark in the hospital corridors. When we reached the youth unit, we signed more paperwork while the nursing staff took our daughter’s vitals.

Sometimes, when a child is admitted to a hospital, the parents are allowed to see where their child will be staying and in most cases, will be offered a bed to sleep on. In behavioral health hospitals, this is not the case. We were ushered out while our precious baby was whisked off behind a set of locked double doors.

As we stumbled out into the pitch black darkness of the early morning hours, numb and in shock, I looked down at my watch. It was 5 a.m. I still hadn’t slept a wink and was suddenly overcome with exhaustion. My husband and I had no clue where the nearest hotel was. We both looked up at the same time and noticed one right across the street from the hospital. It was a godsend, an expensive godsend, but a godsend nonetheless.

I don’t know why I thought it would be easy to see my daughter that first morning. It was one of the roughest days I had ever experienced up until that point. As the double doors closed at the end of our visit and we left, our beloved child cried gut-wrenching sobs. I knew she was where she needed to be. I knew she was safe. Still, it was hard. The hospital staff encouraged us not to visit every day so we went back home. Over the course of the next 10 days we saw our daughter as often as we could. I talked with her social worker every day.

When she was discharged, we couldn’t find an outpatient program close to our home, so my daughter and I stayed at a nearby motel at the facility she had been inpatient in. As it turned out, my girl was still unstable and required more hospitalization. She was accepted back at this wonderful hospital since she was in their outpatient program. She stayed for another 10 days inpatient before resuming their day treatment program.

While at this facility, the social worker acted as a liaison between myself and the school, and myself and the doctor. I later learned this is the exception, not the norm at most behavioral health hospitals. In fact we never experienced this level of care and concern again. The entire nursing staff worked with our family and our child in a loving, but firm manner. It was rough leaving my pride and joy in the hands of strangers, but at the end of my girl’s stay there, they were almost family. For that I am truly grateful.

As I reflect back on this first hospital stay, I learned a few things about myself and our mental health system.

I learned I’m stronger than I think I am. It was incredibly difficult to leave my child crying behind the double doors with strangers I had just met in a strange city.

I learned about the shortage of beds in our psychiatric hospitals. It’s unfortunate there aren’t enough beds for children my daughter’s age in all of our county.

I also learned how important it was to ask for help. Unlike most families in our situation, we had some incredibly supportive friends. Members of our church family gathered donations that significantly helped us. These funds provided us with gas money for traveling to and from the hospital and money for eating out. These same friends also helped provide us dinners when our daughter returned home again. Many parents are ashamed to admit their child needs this kind of hospitalization, so they stay quiet. We spoke up and stated what we needed.

Should you ever find yourself in a similar situation where your child needs to go to a behavioral health hospital, I encourage you to reach out to friends and family. They may not be able to visit your child, but they can offer practical things like gas cards, gift cards to your favorite fast food restaurants or even taking your other children for play dates. Together we can end the stigma surrounding mental health by speaking up and supporting each other.

Follow this journey on Raising a Drama Queen.

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What It’s Really Like to Experience Psychosis

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It started off as fun. Everything was easy, everything was magical and everything was glorious. It was this magnificent euphoria that clouded my decent into a furious psychosis. I found myself in a psychiatric hospital, where I remained for two months.

That was my first psychotic manic episode.

I have bipolar affective disorder, a psychiatric condition characterized by uncontrollable and extreme mood swings. Typically sufferers swing from mania to depression and some, like me, can become psychotic when experiencing these extreme moods. Psychosis causes people to lose touch with reality, resulting in confused thinking, delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting things that aren’t really there). Three in 100 people will experience psychosis at some point in their lives. Psychosis doesn’t discriminate.

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I have been psychotic three times: twice when manic and once when depressed. Although each time was extremely different from one another, they were all frightening.

The psychosis crept up on me during each manic episode. Both times, everything was exhilarating and fast-paced — I felt like I was on top of the world, and I believed it, too. My euphoria was uncontainable and most of the time it felt like my chest would explode to sweep everyone up in my unbridled elation. I was unstoppable and no one could tell me otherwise. I thought I was incredibly intelligent, funny, creative and brilliant. I started to believe I was a creative genius. I spent all night filling book after book with poems, lyrics and drawings and spent all day writing music. I was obsessed with the mysteries of the universe and was convinced I could solve them all. The beauty and wonder of the night sky would make my mind boggle unbearably.  

However, these delusions of grandiosity soon turned menacing and deadly. During my first manic episode, I thought nothing was real and that everything was a dream. I started to hallucinate and could see each individual atom. I could also see a middle-aged man dressed in a tattered suit that no one else could. He looked like he had come right out of the 1920’s and I thought he was my ghost of a guardian angel. 

At the time I didn’t know they were hallucinations. I felt so confused, isolated, misunderstood and out of control I became suicidal. It wasn’t long before I was hospitalized. Very soon after being admitted and treated the psychosis thankfully cleared up.

Recently, I had a second manic episode that also included psychosis. This time I thought I could see people’s auras and that I could heal people if their auras seemed “sick.” A voice told me wonderful things, one of them was that I could fly and to do this I had to jump from a great height. I believed this. Needless to say I was hospitalized for five weeks.

I wish I could say I have only experienced hallucinations twice, but I haven’t. During one particularly severe episode of depression I had visual hallucinations and though they were awful and revolved around death, I knew they were hallucinations. The hallucinations also came on suddenly. However, I was delusional and paranoid. I thought people could hear my thoughts. Again, I was admitted into hospital and again, the psychosis quickly cleared.

Psychosis is poorly understood by the general public and this leads sufferers to experience stigma and discrimination. Adding to the stigma, films and TV shows often misrepresent what psychosis is really like, making it something to be feared. I was guilty of not having an accurate understanding of psychosis. However, that quickly changed after my first psychotic episode. Although for a small portion of that time I may have been feared, I can guarantee I was the one who was terrified. Terrified of the unpredictable turmoil in my head, I would have harmed myself well before harming others. 

Unfortunately the stigma attached to psychosis can prevent people seeking help because they are too embarrassed or ashamed. Untreated psychosis can cause further psychological decline, and in some cases, people may become depressed and suicidal, like I did. The longer psychosis continues, the harder it becomes to treat. However that’s not say it can’t be, and with proper help most cases can be effectively treated.

It was awful to experience psychosis and I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. However, because I was treated quickly and effectively, the psychosis was fleeting and hasn’t troubled me since. There are many who have had similar experiences and you probably wouldn’t know it. So next time you see someone who might be experiencing psychotic symptoms, put yourself in their shoes. They’re probably scared and confused and in need of care, not judgement.

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.

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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The Secret Truths of a Bipolar Girl

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You have a secret. A secret you’ve been keeping for years, if not forever, from your family, your friends, your boss and maybe even yourself. A secret so secret if people knew, it might change your relationships. They might judge you. They might hate you. They might even fear you. You’re different. You’re weird. You’re sick. You’ve tried to change it, but it’s just who you are and you can’t keep it inside any more.

You have bipolar disorder

Bipolar. Bi-polar. Manic Depressive. It doesn’t get easier the more you say it. You try to use “mood disorder” or “depressed” instead because you think it will have less stigma, but you know the truth. At the moment of diagnosis, you went from being that person — the eccentric-but-sometimes-sad creative — to that person: the “crazy” one. You’re unpredictable. You’re freakish. You’re scary. 

Pretty little cocktails of yellow, pink and blue pills abound. One to bring you up, one to take you down, one to keep you in the middle. One to wake you and one to put you to sleep, because you sure as hell can’t sleep right. Sometimes you stay up all night shopping online, taking photos or writing for hours on end, creative energy and ideas pulsing through your revved body and mind, and it feels great. Until it doesn’t.

Enter the inevitable crash. You’re suddenly knocked over by a massive wave of sadness, isolation, self-loathing and hopelessness. You’re left on the floor of the shower trying to breathe through your tears. Sweating, trembling, heart palpitating.

You stop answering your phone, and eventually it stops ringing. Your friends are no longer your friends, except for those select few who won’t let you push them away no matter how hard you try. Your family is tired of dealing with it all, and you can’t blame them. 

You stop going out. You stop taking care of yourself. Can you even remember when you last showered?

Soon you’re stuck in your room. Your computer and your TV are your only true friends, an ever-present distraction from reality. You Facebook. You tweet. You blog. Pretending all the while that you’re doing great. You smile for pictures, if you can remember how to smile. Or you use old pictures from times when you were thinner and happier, at least in appearance. If your Facebook world doesn’t know, perhaps it isn’t real. That’s the biggest closet of all these days. Perhaps you are still the smiling go-getter everyone else sees and thinks you are. Perhaps this bipolar thing is temporary or a joke. But you’re not laughing. 

Things deteriorate. Not leaving the house turns into “a thing.” Anxiety, panic attacks, the whole deal. You stop working. You start making bad decisions and staying up through the night again. You’re erratic. Impulsive. Possibly even hallucinating or delusional. Are you really being followed?

You stop driving. You stop taking the train. 

You stop caring about anything and everything.

You start to think everyone would be better off without you. You feel broken and unfixable, so why go through it all? Why? Things are hopeless. You begin to feel numb or dead inside, so you drink or take drugs, or hurt yourself just to feel something. You think you deserve to be scarred or bruised on the outside to match your damaged insides. You contemplate the ways in which you might find release from the torment of this life. 

Then you see your perfect little daughter, your partner, your mother or your friend, and you remember you are not alone. You think of how much your actions affect others. You start to feel guilty for even having the thoughts, which only makes you feel worse. 

Frustration. Anger. Guilt. Shame. Sadness. Repeat…

Frustration. Anger. Guilt. Shame. Sadness. Repeat…

Then comes the psychoanalysis and everything else they throw at you — dietary changes, magnetic and shock therapy, hospitalizations, more meds… You see modest if any results. You’re ready to throw in the towel, until one day something happens — you’re listening to Pandora while feeding your kid or walking the dog, when Sam Cooke comes on and sings to you… “It’s been too hard living but I’m afraid to die, ’cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky. It’s been a long, a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.” 

You feel a shift, and realize you can choose to live. Or at least try. It’s not easy. You’ve been flooded by emotional ups and downs, crying and then laughing maniacally, throwing things, feeling totally out of control. But in this moment, you finally realize that a change might possibly come. Not today, but some day. You were not given a death sentence. You can find a way to own your recovery, stop ignoring advice and stop hiding in that damn closet — take your meds, see your doctors and be more self-aware — you can actually take some control, and start moving in a positive direction. One baby step at a time. 

You look around you at the shambles that your life has become, and you see that there are still a few people in your life that find you worth fighting for, and that perhaps you should fight through this for them, and maybe one day you will even do it for yourself. You are strong. You are capable. You are talented. You are worthy of a life worth living. A change will come. 

So you get your butt out of bed and make a sandwich. It’s a start. 

– – –

Please note: This account of bipolar disorder does not represent everyone’s experience with bipolar. Every experience of mental illness is different, and in many cases more than one illness can coexist. This piece, while primarily about bipolar disorder, also contains elements of borderline personality disorder, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

To join Danielle in the fight to raise mental illness awareness and eradicate stigma, visit Broken Light CollectiveTogether, we will make the change come!

A version of this piece originally appeared on Huffington Post

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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