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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Remembering Those Who Are Not in Mental Illness Recovery

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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.

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