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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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.

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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.


As I sat in the waiting room of my doctor’s office tonight, the first hand of the clock indicating the commencement of my third hour spent waiting my turn on the sofa, the door to the back swung open, and I overheard, without much effort really, an anxiety-ridden mother speak intensely about her teenage son who has bipolar disorder (who only moments earlier had dashed for the exit the first chance handed to him).

And I realized something: I was one of the lucky ones. I forget, from time to time, the illness that creeps in the back of my mind, awaiting any chance to break free and wreak havoc across my life. It listens to no one. Respects nothing, not even itself. And when it wants to trespass, it will. When it wants to cut the line, it will. It has no intent, no conscience, no means and really nothing to hold it back – that is, except for me. But I haven’t been all there. In the past, that is.

It’s extremely hard to fight something you didn’t realize existed in you. To not have a diagnosis. To not realize you needed a diagnosis because you don’t even see there’s something ailing you. God, life was pretty tortuous back then. I can’t even put it into words… really. I mean, I could try, but what word in the human language ever truly encompassed an emotion, a feeling?

If you could imagine… waking up in the morning, truly disgusted with who you are, demoting yourself to a “what you are,” then stepping outside, only to be greeted by people who are seemingly just as disgusted by you, repulsed even. And they look at you. They stare and they whisper. They laugh and they deride you. They tear your soul apart with their jagged, piercing eyes.

Hallucinations. A symptom of manic depression not all sufferers of the illness experience. Unfortunately, I have. Hallucinations don’t always come in the form of a ghostly figure standing in your doorway. They can come in taunts, in ceaseless whispers, in loud chatter rupturing the night. They will call you names, dig down deep into the greatest fears of your mind, and bring them out for all to see. Or at least, your mind has made you believe they’re there for all to see.

Bipolar disorder can destroy its host. It feasts off their fears, their doubts… turning a simple apprehension into full-fledged paranoia. It can eradicate any amount of sensibility or reasoning in a person’s mind. It clouds over every sense, every thought; every mode of perception is suddenly dominated by an alien force. It can turn your most favorite thing in the world sour, and will encase you in an ever-enclosing box, overrun by muddy water and vicious figments of your imagination. For me, bipolar disorder is intrusive, destructive and oh so capable of controlling every inch of you.

You may not want to give in to delusions. But you will. You may not want to fall into a dark, bottomless pit with the entire world crashing down upon you, but you will do that, too. Bipolar disorder will not ask you if it can stay. It will kick down the front door of your mind and stay there until some Godsend man or woman finds a cure. You must be careful. Even if you think you’re doing fine. Even if you believe with every inch of your soul you are finally free of this awful disease, one must be careful. And one must not test it or entice it to come out. But rather, treat it with care, and hope for the best.

I believe about 5.6 million adult Americans suffer from bipolar disorder, and 14.8 million adult Americans will suffer from depression. People can spend their lives never reaching the point of stability I have come to reach today. I can honestly say I’m happy and I’m healthy. But for so many others, they are years, (for some a lifetime), away from recovering from the crippling disease. It consumes lives. It rips families and friendships apart. Relationships are mangled by this illness.

I, myself, have severed many relationships because of my inability to believe I can redeem those two years of reckless, bizarre behavior that taint my past. It is a shame I carry with me until this day, even though I know it’s not my fault. My senior year of high school was lived by a brazen girl who was not me at all.

To get people to understand about this disease is hard. And the Hollywood version of any type of mental illness really aids none. I understand how difficult it may be for some to comprehend a group of people that are mostly labeled as “crazy,” but really, we are just a group of people, genuinely misunderstood, who at times have little hope for ourselves, little confidence in everything that we do. And for those of us, like me, who have “healed,” we live with the fear (that at times is more predominant than others) that it will come back.

It meaning the thing that destroyed our lives, sent us catapulting in a whirlwind of desperation to feel sane, anxiety, paranoia, emotions of grandeur that left us laughing one moment, then wanting to end our lives the next, delusional stupor and a constant, constant need to be anywhere but inside our heads.

When you have a mental illness, it can be as debilitating as any other type of illness out there. It consumes you completely. It takes over your body, your mind, your soul. It affects your moods, your emotions, your mentality. And when something has such omnipotent control over you, nothing is safe. Nothing is sacred. You may not be paralyzed from head to toe, but with an illness like manic depression hauling the reins on your mind, you might as well be.

I sometimes forget that my full recovery from my bipolar disorder episodes is something I should value. So many other people have a long ways to go. And I wish I could just give them hope, you know? And tell them, it’s all OK! Things will get better. They can get better. I promise! Your life might be pit of misery right now, but it can change. Please. Just know that. You know? I wish I could help…

***

Four years after I had written this piece, I had another relapse in 2012 — another mental break with reality. The delusions and hallucinations returned. You would think after having two previous breakdowns (one of which landed you in a psychiatric hospital) and knowing what I knew about bipolar disorder, I could spot another relapse coming a mile away. I’m saddened to say I couldn’t, and ’til this day I still marvel at my inability to see what was transpiring before me. I should have known, I always think to myself. How could I not have known? How could I let it happen again?  I thought I was so strong, but the disease broke me down again.

Some days (even now) it’s hard not to feel like you’re walking on eggshells.

But please know, after every relapse, is a chance to rebuild. A chance to stand up once more and fight back. We cannot let mental illness win. Life is too short and too precious. The road to recovery isn’t easy. I thought I was pretty much immune to breaking down again. I was wrong. But I am still alive and kicking. I have reached happiness once more. It can be a long, rough journey ahead of you, but the road to recovery is one worth taking. It won’t happen overnight, but it isn’t hopeless.  Surround yourself with people who care. Take your medication (if you choose to take medication). Go to therapy.  But most importantly, don’t give up. Don’t give up. You owe that much to yourself. You are stronger than you think. Do not let your mind make you think otherwise.

The Mighty is asking the following: Give advice to someone who has just been diagnosed with your mental illness. What do you wish someone had told you? 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 was diagnosed late in life — just three years ago, at age 44 — with bipolar disorder. I had suspected for most of my adulthood that something was greatly amiss in my mind, and bipolar often seemed to fit, but I was under the mistaken impression I could overcome the wiring in my brain by sheer tenacity. After a major manic episode followed by a spectacular spiral that ended with a suicide attempt, I began to seek much-needed treatment.

What follows is a list of things that may or may not be revelations to those who do not suffer from mental illness. It is my fond hope that it may help those who want to understand better the inner machinations of the bipolar brain.

1. I won’t always know what I need.

Do I need to be left alone? Or do I need company? More talking? Less talking? A therapy session? Medication adjustment? Time? Chocolate? Although most people might know exactly what they need and when, it is not the case for me. Often it’s trial and error to find out what will work during a particular depressive or manic episode. Patience is key.

2. I am a really, really good actor.

So good, in fact, I fool myself sometimes into thinking I’m not as sick as I am. My suicide attempt was an almost out-of-body experience. The days leading up to it I was faking happiness and well-being, so well I even fooled myself into denying I needed help. The whole time I was carrying out my plan, it was as though I was standing aside and watching from a distance. Encourage frequent and deep self-examination and regular psychiatric visits.

3. It’s a whole different world inside my brain from what I let on.

Sometimes the struggle to maintain a semblance of normalcy requires every bit of energy I have. I don’t always have much left over for cooking and cleaning. Your patience and help is, as ever, appreciated more than you know.

4. I worry constantly that I passed my “sick” genetics onto my beloved children.

My eye is always on the lookout for symptoms in my own children that signal any dangerous mental aberrations. I grieve deeply that they are at an increased risk for inheriting bipolar disorder and depression because of me.

5. I worry I may neglect my own loved ones by my need to check out occasionally, and that they will wind up resenting me.

6. I worry that people will think I’m a fake.

Do I really have bipolar disorder, or is it just an excuse for acting crazy and getting away with it? Can I really not control some of my actions when I have a manic or depressive episode? Surely this is all just a ruse. These thoughts cause heaping loads of self-inflicted guilt, which nobody needs or wants. Reassurance is extremely important, and regular visits with a psychiatrist will help reinforce the truth that this is a disease that warrants careful management.

7. My heart is not bipolar, only my brain.

If you stick with me, I will love you passionately and eternally. My appreciation for you will increase exponentially when you bear with me during the difficult moments as I wrestle mightily with my disease, I am capable of deep and abiding affection. When I tell you I love you, don’t question my motives or sincerity, and I long to be accepted and loved in return, flaws and all.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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.


Hey, Kiana, it’s me! Well, actually it’s you. It’s the older and slightly wiser you, four years into the future. I’m writing this to hopefully shed some light on how you’re feeling at this moment, and hopefully to help you in your future.

It’s 2013. You’re 19 years old. You’re attending Pierce College for lack of anything better to do. You’re not quite sure if you want to graduate, but you sure don’t want to sit around the house all day. You’re trying to juggle two jobs: one at Victoria’s Secret as a sales specialist, and the other at the school working as the lab technician. You love both jobs, which is great! You are still single, and you have your eye on this particular boy. Let me tell you now, don’t fall for it. That boy is nothing but trouble, trust me. 

I want to talk to you about these next few years. Right now, you’re in this weird place with your emotions and how you experience your everyday life. You’re struggling pretty badly right now, and it hurts to tell you it won’t start getting better anytime soon. I will tell you this, though: even if you don’t think so, there are so many people who love and care about you. Your best friend, your favorite professor, your family and some of your acquaintances care about you. They don’t like to see you hurting, even if they don’t necessarily say it. So, if not for you, be strong for them.

You’ve been taking different medicines left and right. You’ve mostly been taking anti-depressants which, if you haven’t already figured out, don’t really help you. You’ve had countless therapists and doctors tell you contradicting things about what they think is wrong with you. I know you want to know why you are the way you are, and why you feel the way you do, and no one is telling you anything different. Oh, you’re just really depressed, they say, we just have to keep raising the dosage of your medicine. Before you know it, you’re putting tons of pills in your body and making yourself think they are helping because you’re so desperate to feel better.

Let me save you the trouble, and another year of misdiagnoses. Are you ready?

You have bipolar disorder. Shocked? I know you are. You go back and forth with the mania and depressive stages of the disorder. Sometimes you switch from mania to depression and back to mania, all in the same day. Sometimes you experience depression for an extended period of time, almost lasting two months. One thing is for sure: you love the mania. You may not have known why you feel so creative, so energetic and invincible all the time. You never sleep, and you always want to write and listen to music and do anything that keeps you occupied. The only issue with the mania, as you have already come to find out, is the stupid (yes, stupid) decisions you can make while in it. You spend money carelessly (usually resulting in buyer’s remorse when you come down from cloud nine), your sex drive is at an all time high (I’m proud of you for controlling that, by the way). I could go on about a few different scenarios, but at this point I know everything is resonating with you.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the definition of bipolar disorder is: a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in moods, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. You experience the manic (high energy, no sleep, irritable) state and you also experience the depressive (low energy, loss of motivation, sad) state. Specifically for your case though, because everyone’s bipolar is different since it’s a spectrum, you experience a mixed state as well. The mixed state is just what it sounds like, a combination of the two, can be extremely dangerous. That’s usually the state that things like suicide and self-harm come in to play. You don’t want to start down that road, so get help if you’re feeling that way, OK?

Earlier I mentioned something about the medications you’ve been taking. Along with everyone else with bipolar, traditionally SSRI antidepressants can trigger manic episodes. You’re probably thinking, “Why the hell didn’t anyone tell me that?” Well, since diagnosing bipolar is so difficult, usually doctors will just try anti-depressants to see if anything changes. For you, though, it only made it worse. I know you like the mania, but you can’t live in that state forever. I’m sorry it’s taken so long for someone to tell you this. Better to hear it from yourself, right?

The experience you’ve had with bipolar is strictly from the media. For example, remember that one LifeTime movie you watched about that girl who supposedly had bipolar disorder? Guess what? That’s not bipolar. People with bipolar disorder don’t wake up one day, suddenly flip and decide to kill their husband because he didn’t do the dishes. Bipolar, along with any mental illness, is stigmatized and wrongly portrayed in the media. It causes those who have the illnesses to hide away, and feel ashamed of themselves because if they dare to say anything about it, the judgements flood in. You are so much more than your diagnosis, and once you realize that, you will become stronger and you will accept yourself.

I can’t wait for that day. Prepare yourself for these next few years, because you will need all the self-support you can muster. Your family and friends are by your side through it all. Stay strong, babe. You can do this.

With all the self-love,

Kiana

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