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.

I’m thoroughly convinced there should be a handbook. No one prepared me for this. A month after her 10th birthday, my daughter was admitted to the psychiatric hospital. 

My Bipolar Princess, as she calls herself, is my third child. When I had my first daughter, I read every pregnancy and parenting book I could get my hands on. Twelve years later, pregnant with my son, I once again raided the store shelves for reading material. Three years later, pregnant with Princess, I knew what to expect. I simply perused the books, but no longer relied on them.

I lived and breathed by the words of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and “What to Expect the First Year,” but by the time I got around to “What to Expect the Second Year,” I didn’t have time to read anymore, every minute consumed by a busy toddler.

There is no “What to Expect When Your Kid Goes to the Psych Unit,” and that’s the book I needed for kid number three.

Pregnancy and early childhood books offer tons of suggestions, such as how to pack the hospital bag, what to keep in a diaper bag. But no book told me I should have had a bag ready to go, with clothes (nothing with strings), shoes (with no laces) and slippers (patients leave their shoes at the door). 

These same books tell me when I should go to the hospital: as soon as your water breaks, or when the contractions are so-many minutes apart. But I had to simply guess when the time was right to take my daughter for an emergency psychiatric admission. Did an hour-long meltdown meet the requirements? Or would she have to break one of my bones first? There were no guidelines.

Baby books suggest always having a “lovey” on hand, an extra packed in the diaper bag. But she was not allowed a lovey in the psych unit. My daughter, who has comfort items, was not allowed to bring any of them with her. How could I have prepared her for that when I didn’t even know? 

I was well prepared for how long my newborn and I would be in the hospital. There was no such estimated time-frame in the psychiatric unit. My child was admitted for as long as it would take to stabilize her. It would’ve been helpful to know we would spend eight hours in the emergency department at the hospital before we were transferred to the psych unit. It would be a full 12 hours before I arrived home again. It would be more than 24 hours before I had time, energy or desire to consume anything more than crappy hospital coffee, with nasty, powdered creamer.

No matter what the books say, every new mother finds it difficult to follow the advice to sleep when the baby sleeps, to accept offers of help and to forget about the housework. But no one warned me that the time she spent inpatient would be just as exhausting as when she was home. 

When the new baby arrives, friends and family come to visit, and they bring food or offers to help. This time, no dinners were sent to the house. One friend promised, but never followed through. For days we lived on chicken nuggets, SpaghettiOs and PB&Js.

Everyone calls to ask how the new baby is doing. Only one or two called to ask how my daughter – or I – was doing. The public oohs and aahs over a new baby. But when I mention to the Walmart clerk I’m purchasing things for my daughter in the psych unit, it gets oddly quiet around me. 

Every new parent spends hours dreaming up possible names. My time is spent penning her name onto all of her belongings so everything would come home again upon discharge. Kind of like going to the worst camp ever.

A new baby attracts visitors and presents. No one visits my daughter, except my fiancé and me. There were no cards or balloons, no bows or pretty presents. I brought the game of UNO and whatever snacks she could eat during visiting hour. At least that meant no thank you notes to write. 

The only thing I received was a nasty phone call from her school bus driver berating me for not calling her directly to let her know not to stop for my daughter. Silly me for thinking that between two superintendents, the special education coordinator and the bus company, someone would have alerted the driver and alleviated me of one tiny responsibility.

Now that we’ve survived, I could write that missing book, complete with gut-wrenching details. The reality is, I don’t believe that even a 2,000 page trilogy could prepare me.  At least I now know a little better; I will work on storing meals in my freezer and I will pack a hospital bag. And I’ll have to ask for help, not expect it.

My 18-year-old son, Cody, has bipolar disorder. For the past two years, he’s been living in a residential treatment center. As a result of intensive inpatient treatment, Cody is thriving now, but as he’s regaining his health and nearing his high school graduation, we’re dealing with some hard truths and some tough conversations.

The other night in a phone conversation, Cody adamantly stated, “No one will ever want to hire me, Mom. Who will want to hire a person who has been in residential treatment? No one will want me. I have ADHD and bipolar disorder!”


Deep breath in. Deep breath out.

For years, Cody had no insight into his illness. Anosognosia is a significant component in severe mental illness. The person doesn’t know they are sick. They are too sick to know they are sick. They often refuse treatment. Our laws work against them. Thankfully, we are on the other side now. Cody has insight. We have something to work with. The truth.

But with that truth comes some hard realizations. Cody knows he has an illness. Cody is recognizing his challenges.

My heart broke as I listened to my son lament his situation and cry out to me in fear.
My son sees himself as “less than.” He sees himself as broken. He sees himself as un-hirable. He sees himself as unworthy. This illness is so destructive. And the world is a harsh and cruel place. My sadness quickly turned to anger

I wasn’t angry with Cody, I was angry at the lies and deceptions that were filling my son’s mind.

Through tears, I boldly proclaimed, “Those are lies, Cody. Those are lies.”

And then I spoke Truth over my son.

“You are more than a conqueror!” I said. I told Cody that for years the illness tried to destroy him…it tried to destroy our family. But today, with proper treatment, Cody is conquering the illness. He is definitely more than a conqueror!

I also told Cody that being in treatment and fighting such an illness is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. Cody has worked incredibly hard to get to this place. That takes guts! Cody has fought for his life. Future employers will recognize that. And if they don’t, then he doesn’t want to work for them anyway! I told him his illness gives him strength.

And finally, I told him that in the two amazing programs he has participated in, he has been blessed with actual work experience to put on a resume. He has found skills and abilities that we never knew he had! His programs have equipped him. Employers will look favorably on his work experience. He is already one step ahead!

By the time we hung up, Cody felt better. And so did I.

We have entered into new territory. Facing the truth about an illness is hard stuff. But with faith, with honesty and with love, this is a hurdle we can handle. I am thrilled to be able to have these conversations with my son. Two years ago this never would have been possible. He is definitely healing.

I will continue to speak Truth over Cody. He is more than a conqueror. He has a hope and a future. He is strong and courageous. Cody is more than his illness.

So are you.

“Your illness is not your identity. Your chemistry is not your character.” – Pastor Rick Warren

“We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” – Romans 8:37

“‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and
not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.'” – Jeremiah 29:11

“Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged for the Lord Your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

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