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Why Making Lists Helps My Depression

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In 2011, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. That means when I’m depressed, I’m in a deep, dark hole with no foot holes to climb up and no rope to pull me out. When a depressive episode hits me like a UPS truck, I go through the motions of just trying to scrape my way through the day. If I get out of bed at all, I force myself to shower, coax myself to eat and push myself out the door. During my depressive bouts, I try to use the coping skills I’ve developed through therapy and learned during my inpatient stay in a mental health ward. One of my favorites, and the one I think works the best is making lists.

I arm myself with lists to battle depression. There are no cons to keeping lists, only pros. The lists I keep when I’m depressed give my seemingly messy life a little bit of order. Every thought, every task is neatly written in columns of a neatly lined page. When I’d rather sit in darkness and do nothing, lists help me prioritize. They’re handwritten letters of encouragement, and each word is a cheerleader on paper. Crossing off individual tasks, big or small, brings me a great sense of accomplishment that immediately boosts my mood. Depending on the list I make, doing so gives me something to look forward to. Whether it’s a list of goals or dreams or plans for tomorrow, there is always something to look forward to.

I have several lists I keep to get me through my depressive episodes. I like them all, and love how they make me feel. The first list I fill out is my Gratitude List. As I number the page, I recall everything in my life I am thankful for, and my spirits are lifted. The second list is a basic To-Do list. This list is full of daily tasks I would normally find daunting during a depressive episode. They may be big, they may be small, but they are all equal on my yellow-lined paper, and I feel equally satisfied when I cross them off. Another list I keep is an I Want to Remember list. This list helps me take a break from my negative thoughts to recount memories and write down which ones I wish to remember always. An obvious list to keep while depressed is a Joy list. I list everything that makes me happy, even little things like warm rain, a child’s smile or the softness of my kitty’s fur. Finally, I keep a list of my Accomplishments. As I write and then reread this list, my confidence goes up and my negativity goes away.

Keeping lists is my favorite way to cope. I feel order in my life, success when I cross off a task and have hope for the future. I read and reread these lists as many times as I need to until I feel better, and then I throw them away so I can’t cheat the next time. I list my way through depression not only because I actually enjoy it, but because I need to do it. When I’m down, I lose and forget the other coping skills I’ve learned throughout my battle with bipolar disorder. I arm myself with lists because they’re easy; just grab a notebook and a pen and get started. I’ve thought of adding some humor to my lists because laughing is a great medicine for depression. The list of lists I could make is limitless, but it always keeps my mind focused elsewhere instead of on my despair. And that’s the goal of list-making. To move your mind in the direction of a comforting fortress that will protect you from the dangers of depression and help you fight.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. 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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A Letter to My Husband, From a Woman With Bipolar Disorder

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To my selfless, patient, empathetic soul mate,

I have so much I want to say to you, and then I have nothing at all to say to you. What I mean is, I want tell you every single thought that processes through my mind, but sometimes I can’t put them into words you’ll understand.

But you try. Don’t you ever for one second think I don’t know you try, because I do. I see it, I hear and I feel it. Every single time you pick me back up when I’m shattered into pieces on the floor. Every single time you bring me back down when I’m fighting through a trembling and breathless panic attack that makes absolutely no sense to you. Every single time you embrace my stable days when I’m the peachiest version of me you ever get to experience. And especially, every single time you pick up my slack with house work and parenting when I haven’t the energy to pull myself out of bed, much less to function as a “normal” wife and mother should.

I honestly don’t know how you do it. Let me be clear… as horrific as this stigmatized and exhausting disorder is to have, being the one who loves someone with that disorder is hard, too. I realize, even though I don’t tell you, you go through so much with my illness. You can’t vent to me most days because I start to hate myself for not being better for you. You can’t vent to other people because they will probably say things like “she’s crazy” or “she’s a bitch” just because this whole illness is stigmatized to no end.

I know I treat you unfairly sometimes. Usually it’s because I need an outlet to be my real self. Hardly anyone knows the real me. And only you know the realist version of me there is. It’s exhausting to wake up every day and pretend to be just like everyone else. To walk around with this huge secret on my shoulders I want to scream from a roof top.

I know there are times my diagnosis creeps its way into our conversations, and I’m sorry for that. I know you don’t want to always talk about it like it controls my life. But here’s the thing — it does. And when I talk about it more than usual it’s because I need to talk about it and can’t with anyone else. In fact, anytime I have to tell someone else, it feels like I’m coming out of the closet. How will they react? Will they be scared of me? Will they treat me differently? All of these, and more, are thoughts that race through my mind while I hesitate, sweating and trembling, to spew this news to someone new. Sounds dramatic, right? That’s because it is.

I often wish you could experience my moods swings just once so you can truly get it. But then I realize I wouldn’t wish this disorder on my worst enemy, much less my spouse. There are times I can’t tell the difference between normal moods swings and bipolar mood swings. Is how I’m feeling about blah blah blah a true and justifiable feeling, or is this the unreal reaction to an unreal situation? Is how I perceived or am perceiving this scenario real, or is my brain trying to tell me it is? There’s a blurred fine line, and it’s difficult to distinguish between false perception and reality. That’s where you come in like a knight in shining armor to tell me that nothing is different and to let it pass.

Also, there are times when I’m being so paranoid I think every exchanged whisper within ear shot of me must be pertaining to me. I overanalyze every look or reaction from people around me. I worry and stress about every thing I say, wondering if I gave anything away of my illness. I walk on eggshells all day long, every single day, and it’s exhausting.

But with each time you rescue me, I worry you’ll wake up one day and think “I can’t live this way anymore” and you’ll pack your bags and go. Then like always, you remind me you’re my rock and stability. You’re with me “in sickness and in health,” no matter how many times I alternate between the two.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for everything little and massive thing you do for me, and us as a family. Thank you for being the strongest link.

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]emighty.com. 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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5 Reasons Why I'm 21 and Abstaining From Alcohol

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Being a somewhat newly minted (as of September) 21-year-old and a college student and as someone who attends parties… things get tricky when you make the choice (yes, technically it’s a choice) to abstain from drinking alcohol.

I’m trying this no drinking thing. How long will it last? I don’t know. How long should it last? I don’t know. Why am I doing it? That much I do know. Also, has it been easy for me so far? No. But I’ll tell you why it’s so important right now as someone living with mental illnesses:

1. I’ve never had a good history with alcohol. Ever. From my first sips at 15 while living in Europe to a negative experience in high school to drinking to numb before medication and then drinking post-medication… yikes. It’s been bumpy.

2. Nine times out of 10, the fun doesn’t last for me. Usually I drink and my mood goes up and I catch an intense high, higher than most (and people tend to think I am drunker than I actually am because of this). Then, after having what feels like an insane amount of fun, I crash harder than most. I cry or feel worthless and empty. I question things. The pain is loud.

3. Bipolar disorder does not always go well with alcoholHence why reason #2 happens for me more than most people. Every single time I drink.

4. On that note, my psychiatric medication, particularly mood stabilizers/antipsychotics, do not go well with alcohol either. The alcohol reduces the effect of my medication quite a lot. I learned last semester, after going a few weeks where I would drink every weekend, that one drink (with or without medication) would set my mood off for the entire week – depression, hypomania or mixed, as well as rapid cycling. It was rough, and I finally realized that maybe it isn’t worth it for me.

5. Addictive and obsessive personality. That’s me. Between having an addictive personality (hence eating disorder history) and having obsessive compulsive disorder, I know drinking is a very, very fine line for me. I always want more and never feel satisfied. I feel like I need to achieve a certain feeling or high, and I have enough self-awareness to realize that for me this could go too far very easily, as it did with food and exercise in the past.

So now that you know why, I’ll tell you how I got there: negative experiences adding up, strong encouragement from a therapist and friends, medical encouragement from a psychiatrist etc. I don’t want to be an addict. And I’m not saying everyone with bipolar or everyone in college or everyone who drinks is going to become an addict. I just know myself, having gone through this mental health journey in the past year. I don’t want to take that risk. I’m going to struggle during certain moments at parties when the temptation is high, but I’m going to do my best to fight it. I figure telling people I am sober is the best way to start – accountability is super important with things like this (my prior experience having been with my eating disorder).

On the positive — I have awesome, supportive friends and family, as well as my mental health team. I just have to tell people so I can hold myself accountable.

Follow this journey on Obsessions, Words and Everything in Between.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. 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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How Mental Illness Changed My Definition of Independence

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It took me a long time to get to the place where I felt strong and independent. Once I felt like I had finally found my independence and I had matured, I learned what other people say, think or feel about me didn’t matter. I felt strong and successful.

I accomplished so much during those times. Epic (and I mean epic) book drives, volunteering, public speaking… the list went on. I took my next leap of independence and then suddenly, everything came crashing down.

When my bipolar disorder (undiagnosed at the time) got out of hand and my life came crashing down around me, so did my independence. Suddenly I was back at home living with my parents, sleeping in my childhood bedroom. It took months before I could do anything on my own. My mom described it as having an adult toddler in her home.

I couldn’t put my socks on by myself because I couldn’t decide which foot went first. I needed to be told exactly what to do or I would lay there and do nothing. For the first few weeks I even needed my mom to sit on the bed beside me so I could fall asleep. It was an all-time low for me.

Once I started getting better, I began struggling with my lack of independence. I was ashamed of what had happened to me. I was ashamed of how sick I had become and how much help I needed to recover. Even more so, all my successful moments in my life that helped define who I was were clouded with the concept I was simply having a manic episode.

I felt like a failure.

There’s a country song I hear on the radio all the time. The one line says, “Feelin’ pretty good and that’s the truth, It’s neither drink nor drug induced.” Of course I understand what the songwriter meant by this, but every time I hear it my heart sinks. It would just be so great if I could feel great without having to take medication every day. But I can’t. That’s my life.

The past few years I have struggled to figure out where my independence is with my bipolar disorder. But I’ve learned something pretty amazing during this journey.

Independence doesn’t mean doing it on your own. It means knowing when to ask for help. 

Independence doesn’t mean not caring what people are saying about you. It’s calling them to the mat and telling them to stop.

Independence doesn’t mean taking on tons of work. It means learning to say no.

Independence doesn’t mean having lots of friends. It means figuring out what type of people you should be surrounded by and then doing just that.

Independence doesn’t mean not being on medication. It means understanding the importance behind them and taking them responsibly.

Independence doesn’t mean doing whatever you want. It means prioritizing and making important decisions that will affect the rest of your life.

And lastly, independence means being proud of yourself and what you’ve been through, instead of being ashamed of your past mistakes and the struggles of life.

What does independence mean to you? Tell us in the comments below.

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When It's Hard to Be in the Moment With a Bipolar Brain

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It is truly a rare moment I am present. My bipolar brain likes to race around its internal universe. Sometimes at mock speed or sometimes at an agonizingly slow obsessive pace. Lost in past memories, jumping ahead to future events on the calendar, doubting decisions, unable to process and follow directives at work, agitation so fierce I want to rip my own skin off. I’ve taken to listening to music in headphones at work to drown out the internal and external noises. It works for the most part. But nothing’s perfect, right?

My husband and I share a love of baseball and music. On weekends this is our escape. We are often found at the baseball park or a concert venue. As it goes with a mood disorder, I’ve had to miss some events due to anxiety, sensory overload or depression. It’s a hard thing to admit, to have to utter the words I can’t handle the things I enjoy right now. Even harder to accept and not get swept away in anger at bipolar disorder for taking these things away from me. Just like for all of us, some days are easier than others.

However, last night under the glistening stars celebrating our wedding anniversary, my husband and I were cuddled up listening to one of my favorite artists. We had a wonderful dinner. We got aisle seats (simple pleasures). The band was on fire. The lyrics reached into me just like they do through headphones. The emphatic and sometimes empathetic vocals brought tears to my eyes. The crowd sang along. I sang along. As I looked up to the open sky, I felt so grateful to be present in that moment. To allow the power of music to take me away. Take the chaos, the voices, the constant inner dialogue and usher it out of my mind. Sitting next to my loving husband and really being with him meant the world to me.

I don’t take these rare occurrences lightly. If it was the musical angels from above looking down on me I want to say thank you. If it was the fact I’ve been practicing breathing, slowing down, becoming more intentional I also give thanks. It was a magical night and I am so grateful I didn’t miss it.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a travel moment related to disability and/or disease that made you laugh, cry, roll your eyes or was otherwise unforgettable? 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 Dysphoric Mania Tears Apart the Fabric of My Mind

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I am bipolar, and my condition is the one where I have short and sharp cycles. In the clinical terminology it is called “dysphoric mania.”

Recently I took back a leather jacket to Nordstrom because a tear developed by the pocket. In this case the problem was fixed, and I got a new jacket.

So what happens when the fabric I call my mind starts to tear? What happens when I am in the shackles of hypomania and my mind is in chaos? In this state I detest fast music and bright lights. My mind can process everything at breakneck speeds yet focus on nothing. My psychiatrist asked me, when I am in the realm of hypomania, do I get dark thoughts — aka, do I have suicidal thoughts. I responded that if I do, they are quickly replaced with another thought.

For people who can never understand this torment, I ask if they’ve ever had a coffee high that makes them jittery. I tell them to multiply that by 100 and add chaos in their thoughts. One of my symptoms is that I want to isolate and be away from people. Their every word or movement is like an attack on my mind.

When the hypomania subsides, I crash into depression, and my life goes from high speed to that of walking through sand. There is no happiness, and dark thoughts of suicide enter my thinking.

Life becomes sheer hell when depression weaves itself into the chaos. I feel like the fabric of my whole being is being torn apart. Thoughts of suicide occupy my mind, and if I am lucky I will send out a text to a close knit group of friends. This is my cry for help. The last episode resulted in my going to the hospital.

My cycles last no more than 24 hours, and then life returns to kind of normal. The result of this is I feel exhausted, as if I had the most rigorous workout. My life is like the ripples on the water after a stone is thrown into it. There are fleeting moments of happiness; however, depression is the main feeling. Over time the depression fades like the ripples, and I wonder when the next cycle will descend on me.

I know I can’t take back this brain and get a new one like I did with my leather coat. So how do I piece the ripped up fabric of myself back together? Will the torn fabric be noticeable, and will it make me less of a person?

Friends tell me I am a very tough chick because I have survived lots of shit and show a confident woman. What I don’t show is the damaged fabric of me. I am so used to putting on the look good presentation, and I know if I show the real me, the walls of stigma will be everywhere. Society doesn’t like to see a woman who is being torn apart within. The choice to show or not show the turmoil can almost be as bad as having the turmoil. You want to reach out for help, yet to do so will alienate people.

But I have to believe that if today I survive the roller coaster ride, I may enjoy tomorrow.

Follow this journey on Kristimac2015’s blog.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: What’s one secret about you or your loved one’s disability and/or disease that no one talks about? 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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