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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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.


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.


There were moments of mountaintop euphoria. Then, days of unrelenting pain. Times when I felt I was unstoppable and godlike, in control of everything and everyone. And times when it all fell apart around my ears and I was left a dried up husk, failing to understand what had happened to my perfect life. There were stints in the mental hospital. Periods when my husband and I failed to connect, and I feared he would leave me for my erratic behavior and even more erratic affection.

The diagnosis of bipolar 1 came at the age of 43, after many tests and examinations, and the first thing I felt was relief. Immense relief. For years I had suspected such, and now here was the validation. I wasn’t alone. Maybe there was help.

Following relief, and right at its heels, however, was guilt. Immense guilt. I was a f*ck-up. An unbelievable “nutjob.” This was all in my head, quite literally, and I surely had the ability to talk myself out of it. Many people agreed with that destructive inner voice; a diagnosis of mental illness was simply a reason to study more scripture, pray more fervently and try harder to fight the darkness that consumed.

I listened to those other voices, and for far too long. I fought, and fought harder. Had my brain possessed fingernails, they would have bled at the clawing I did upon the door of sanity. It didn’t matter. Something more was needed.

When I tried to take my own life, the stakes rose even higher. I wept to my husband I don’t want to die; I only want the pain to stop. And though he did not know the pain I was experiencing, he agreed: something more was needed. Something more than the medication that was not working, something more than the Jesus of platitudes and therapy that went nowhere.

If I could go back and speak to that previous self, if I could be the paramedic or the policeman, I would have said, Don’t give up. It takes time. So much more time than you might imagine. Hang in there.

I would have explained that everyone’s brain is different, that what works for one person will not necessarily work for the next, that one person’s homeopathic cure is another person’s useless bit of information. I would have said that there are countless drugs out there and more being developed every day that could help me. That sometimes it’s a combination of these drugs, and that such combinations are almost without end. That there truly are psychiatrists who care and will take time with me to develop a plan of attack that will leave this enemy broken and bleeding, and you feeling better than I ever imagined. I would say that to quit life is not an option.

And then, I would hold myself for a really long time, and let me cry.

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.


While a bipolar disorder diagnosis can feel like a heavy weight to bear, there’s a difference between a label and a definition. While a label is a guide for treatment options and understanding, it cannot limit or change the person you are.

For World Bipolar Day, the International Bipolar Foundation is asking its community to look beyond their labels with this year’s theme “More Than A Diagnosis.” Their asking people with bipolar disorder to submit photos or videos with a message about what defines them outside of having bipolar disorder. People who do not have bipolar disorder can submit a supportive message.

In honor of this year’s theme, we asked people in the International Bipolar Foundation’s community to tell us one message they would send someone who feels restricted by bipolar disorder.

Here’s what they want those people to know:

1. “Don’t put pressure on yourself to be anything for anyone else. Just be true to yourself. Accept your limitations, and only push them for you.” — Karen Smith

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2. “You are not defined by a diagnosis. You have an illness, you are not that illness. There’s so much more to you!” — Kristen Jordan Zeiler

3. “Believe all you see and half of what you hear. Life can be good and should be lived.” — Margaret Moore

4. “It does change your life, but it gives you a more compassionate understanding of suffering, it builds resilience, and the depth of empathy you feel can be used in a truly special way with those you choose to share it with.” — Lucy Edwards

5. “It changes you, for sure. It seems restricting at first. But, with time, you learn new ways around those restrictions. You learn how to be successful in different ways and through different paths. It changes your life, but it doesn’t stop it unless you let it. It changes how you see the world, and only you can decide if that is for better or worse. Love yourself for all that you are and through all you endure.” — Elissa Farmer

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6. “Be gentle on yourself, but don’t let your illness hinder you from setting your sights high. It will be difficult to get there, but you have it in you to realize your dreams! Having a mental illness teaches you to fight, and through it you become stronger. You got this!” — Katie Andrews Potter

7. “Be yourself! And work with your diagnosis. It doesn’t define you as a person. You may have had the condition longer than you knew, except now you can understand it and your actions. — Kaye Marshall

8. “Try your best to realize you are not your illness or your symptoms. Be OK with having bad days, and celebrate the good ones. Ask yourself what you would love to do if you didn’t have bipolar, then take tiny steps toward doing it anyway. I never thought I’d be able to continue my education, but here I am, two and a half months shy of a MFA in writing. Get out there when you can, and be gentle with yourself when you can’t.” — Trenda Marie Berryhill

9. “You are still the same you inside. A mental health diagnosis just helps your doctors to more easily create a path back to a healthier, more balanced you. Do whatever you have to do to get back to the real you. She’s still in there. She’s worth it. You are not your diagnoses or your traumas. You are so much more.” — Danielle Hark

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10. “For me, my diagnosis meant I wasn’t alone in the world anymore, that there were other people like me! It means I have the opportunity to get treatment and support for who and what I am. I am not afraid of labels; it is others who are afraid of labels. I am proud of who I am, my diagnosis means I have something to overcome, something to fight, and I do fight it, I live with it, and if others are afraid of it, that’s their baggage, not mine.” — Vicki Hope

11. “I would say take some time to grow. Learn every detail about your condition. Keep a journal. Bug your medication manager if your meds aren’t working. Look into your negative self-talk, and replace it with positive affirmations. Powerful.” — Susan Reed

12. “You might have to adjust your lifestyle so you can manage the bipolar disorder, but you are not alone. Find that inner strength to fight the illness positively. Pace yourself, and live at your pace.” — Hina Singh

13. “You will never know your limits until you try. You might even end up surprising yourself. If you make an attempt and it doesn’t work out, it’s OK. At most, you tried. It’s better than not doing anything and living with what-ifs. Each attempt is part of your journey, and the journey is always more important than the destination. Surround yourself with people who believe in you.” — G Mae Aquino

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14. “I was diagnosed with bipolar diagnosed as a teenager, and now I’ve been through two years of college and three years of university and I’m almost a qualified mental health nurse. So it will be difficult at times, but it does not restrict you from being what you want to be.” — Laura Louise Artell

15. “My mom told me from the day I was diagnosed ‘it’s a disease not an excuse.’  That I can do anything anyone else can do, I just have to work a little harder, which makes the end result that much better.” — Kimberly Dawn

16. “The disease is just as multifaceted as any individual is, so don’t feel boxed in by the labels and traits associated with the diagnoses. You’re more than the sum of your parts.” — Kelly Hainz

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17. “Your opinion is the most important opinion. If you believe in yourself and love yourself (when you’re ready to), that’s what’s counts. Never compromise your sense of self and don’t compare yourself to others. It’s not worth it! This is your journey.” — Melanie Luxenberg

18. “I find that first off, you have to accept yourself, love yourself, forgive yourself and seek assistance from your doctors and therapists. Take control of your own life and don’t be bitter to have this horrible disorder. Find your triggers and get rid of them if you can.” — Karlee Chavez

19. “It’s OK you feel this way. When you learn more about bipolar disorder and more about yourself, you will learn to feel less restricted. It will be OK, it will be difficult, it will be wonderful all at the same time. One day, slowly but surely, we will have the courage to move past everything that holds us back.” — Harleen Singh

20. “You may have ‘xyz’ but that does not mean that you are ‘xyz.’ Who you are is different altogether.” — Manda Raics

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*Some responses have been edited and shortened for brevity.

What defines you? Submit your photo or video by clicking here. The deadline is March 15.


Dear husband who supports me,

I know I’m difficult, and I know sometimes life itself becomes difficult. But I also know I am trying to get better. I’m so sorry I still fall apart when I’m really trying to succeed. As we continue to grow together as husband and wife, and you and I both come to terms with what it means for me to have a mental illness, there are a few things I want to make sure you know so you never forget we are in this fight together.

1. No matter how bad it gets, I will never stop fighting.

I know times get hard, but I’m always trying to grow. I will never stop fighting to be well. Through my ups and downs and all my mistakes, I will continue to try to be the best me I can be, and that means I will continue to fight to live with this illness.

2. No matter what happens, I am with you till the end.

Through the years you have shown me you love me unconditionally. I don’t know what I did to deserve the love of a man so devoted to me, but I feel blessed to have found you. I will never stop loving you, and I’m thankful for all you do for me. You have found it in your heart to forgive all my foolishness time after time, and you are a true hero in my eyes. Thank you for standing by me as we approach this next phase in life. I know I can never be the “perfect” wife, but I also know I am with you till the end. Nothing will take me away from you. I will not let this illness ruin my love for you. With you, by my side, I know I will have the best days of my life.

3. I am doing my best.

I know it doesn’t always seem like I’m trying hard, but please know I’m doing my best. Each day I fight a battle that goes unseen by many eyes. It’s a battle only others who fight it can understand. I know you say you will never understand it, but know how grateful I am that you make an effort to console me as I fight it each and every day. I have a hard time somedays just getting out of bed, but when you call me, or text me that you love me, it gives me a reason to make sure I continue to be the best I can be. I may never have a spotless home, and I may never have a “real” job again, but knowing you are coming home to me gives me a little hope that fills my heart. It helps me feel positive about my life. Mental illness won’t win because we are fighting it head on together. I promise to continue to do my best at fighting.

Most people look at us from the outside and see a “normal” family. We try hard to keep that up. You and I both know that the unfortunate thing about mental illness is that in actuality, we are a normal family. Most people will, at some point in their life, either themselves experience a mental illness, or know a loved one who will experience it. As awful as it is, I know I’m lucky to have you standing beside me as I fight to have the best life we can for us and our boys. I know with you by my side, I will never be alone. This journey is far from over; in fact, it’s just beginning. Thank you for being by my side and loving me, mental illness and all.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Write a thank you letter to someone you realize you don’t thank enough. 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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