sketch of woman inside a mind

In the Mind of a Person With Rapid-Cycling Type I Bipolar Disorder

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I’ve always been emotionally explosive. I’m like a raw nerve. I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder (Type I, severe, rapid cycling) until I was 32 years old, but when I finally got the diagnosis, hoo boy did my life-long wild and erratic behavior suddenly begin to make a lot more sense to me.

It was an enormous relief — to have some sort of explanation for the rampant mood swings, the overwhelming irritability, the rages, the meltdowns, the all-or-nothing approach to absolutely every aspect of my life.

Finally, I felt less alien, less alone. There were others out there just like me, bouncing off the walls, invincible, out of their head with grandiose plans to achieve this, that and the other… and then, the next week, having to cancel everything because life was over and there was nothing left in the world. Therefore, I could not leave my bed, much less my house. And this isn’t hyperbolic. To be frank, this is putting it rather mildly.

I live, primarily, inside of my head, the roar and silence of my mind consuming nearly all my mental and emotional energy. I find it difficult to emerge very often. Although depression and mania are expressed in opposing timbers, they are equally demanding and clamorous in my mind. Because they insist on my undivided attention, the world surrounding me is dimmed. The voices, feelings and needs of my family, friends, anyone, everyone, are drowned out. To hear, engage, converse, react appropriately (in the societal sense) I must concentrate hard and, even then, I fear I’m not getting it right.

My mental illness makes me feel selfish. Immature. Self-possessed. Self-obsessed. Needy and greedy as a child — a wretched woman-child. A blight, a leech, a mistake.

A dominant portion of my genetic make up is the predisposition for anxiety, engendering considerable fear, self-doubt and rumination. It presents itself most potently during mood fluctuation — usually at the height of a mixed episode when agitation becomes extreme. Then the anxiety itself promotes a depressive swing, underscores it. The hopeless, frantic rumination presses in. I’m afraid to be alone but desperately averse to the company of others.

This is social anxiety magnified. Overtaking me. Engulfing me. Controlling me. There is the tiny cross-section of time: intermittent bouts of hypomania, in which I am hyper-verbal, creative, expressive, gregarious, enthusiastic, euphoric. They are fantastic. And fleeting.

At various points of occurrence, the illness presents a false demeanor. I am caught up in the play acting, the pretending. I am fun, spontaneous, likable.  It is a farce, though, this pleasant and engaging personality, this false congeniality.

The more I learn about bipolar disorder, the more unbelievable it is that it took well into my 30s to be properly diagnosed. Furthermore, I think my mood swings might be slightly more complex than I originally thought. My depressive and manic periods can last three to six months, switching back and forth, tag-teaming me mercilessly. Compounding that, I’ve already been told I am rapid-cycling, which means that within a depressive or manic period, I have shorter, more subtle mood shifts throughout the day.

Read: My mind is set to spin cycle, and neither delicate nor permanent press settings are options.

I think the patterns in mood-switching are becoming more predictable, but I’m still taken by surprise when I suddenly find myself mired in depression or consumed by mania. I suppose when one is “crazy” and going “crazier,” they are probably too damn “crazy” to realize it.

The mornings are always the worst. Regardless of whether I am in a manic or depressive period, each morning weighs me down. My eyes open with reluctance as the anxiety kicks up into full-force. My armpits already slick with anxiety sweat, my breath is shallow. My heart speeds up. The dread is overwhelming. The dread, the anxiety, the feelings of worthlessness are almost too much to bear. I take my medication, the pills which are supposed to make me not so unhinged.

But I am. Still. So. Unhinged… unhinged enough to know the suicidal ideation isn’t that far behind me. In fact, I can see it rearing its ugly head again.

 My last trick of the night, folks. After waking, I lay back down. I pull the blanket around me, over my head to block out the light from the cheerfully obnoxious sun. What a bastard.

The sunshine remains unceasingly cruel, mocking me, almost taking pleasure in my suffering. I keep the blanket tucked around my head, even though it is getting hot and uncomfortable. It’s hard to breathe in there. I don’t like that. Sometimes, I think I want to die, but I’m afraid of the suffering. I forget that I will most definitely do not want to die later in the day, post-mood shift. The afternoons are better, and the evenings are excellent.

Every morning I forget that, since I am taking the pills, I am feeling better. For part of the day. At least the whole day isn’t just one long, drawn-out morning.

It takes an hour or more for me to coax myself into an upright position, to put my feet on the ground. To slowly stand. To look in the mirror and quickly look away, hating what I see.

I don’t start feeling better until about halfway through my workout when the endorphins kick in. And then the creativity returns, the ideas come, the planning, the small glimmers of hope. These feelings are not steady throughout, but they make enough of a dent in my misery to propel me through the rest of my workout.

Post workout, I am feeling pretty, even for a while, just so long as I do not linger in front of the mirror. Mirror, Mirror, on the wall. Mirrors seem to have magical properties — they are able to transform my mood almost instantaneously. If I can remember to keep away from mirrors and other triggers, to take my medicine on time and to employ healthy coping strategies, I can get through the day, relatively unscathed.

If I can do that, then I can actually take advantage of the fact that I’m bipolar, because, even though each day’s most basic demands leave me completely exhausted, my bipolar brain is the very reason I’m able to write the way that I can. If I wasn’t unhinged, I’d not likely have a comparable grasp of the English language, of syntax. Words are a powerful display of feelings, and sometimes people, even the ones we love, don’t understand or have access to suppressed feelings locked away for one reason or the other.

And I’d chose this any day.

Follow this journey on Salt and Pepper the Earth.

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.

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To My Best Friend With Bipolar Disorder

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best friends To my best friend and soul sister,

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2011, I didn’t know how to tell you. I was scared to tell you, actually. I was afraid you would listen to the stigma and be unable to accept me because of it. But, being my best friend, of course accepted me, diagnosis and all. You accepted me when other people close to me could not. Thank you for your true and honest acceptance during a time when I expected none.

When you were diagnosed, I was heartbroken. I would never wish this illness on anyone, especially my other half. But at the same time, I was relieved. Finally, there would be someone close to me who understands what I’m going through. You understand what the symptoms are like — the mood swings, the fluctuating emotions and the pain. You understand why all of my relationships have ended because I wasn’t managing my illness properly, and you learned from that. Thank you for accepting your diagnosis and being there to understand what I’m going through.

Even before you were diagnosed, you always offered me support. After we were both diagnosed, that support grew stronger on both ends. You support me through my depressive episodes by just being with me, eating junk and watching Disney movies. You support me when I’m manic, talking me down and convincing me not to do anything foolish. You support me through the fights I cause with my family during a manic episode, and though you don’t take sides, you empathize with me and also tell me where I went wrong. Thank you for your unwavering support no matter how I’m feeling.

Our diagnosis is a good thing for us to have in common. It allows us to offer each other acceptance, understanding and support. I am grateful we can be that for each other. I am grateful for your insights and opinions about our illness. I am happy you’re my person, my safe place to talk. I am thankful it’s you who also has bipolar disorder. I’m thankful it’s you I am fighting this battle with. Thank you for being my battle buddy. Thank you for being my best friend. And thank you for being bipolar.

Love,
Your best friend and soul sister

The Mighty is for the following: Write a thank you note to someone who helped you through your mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the New Mom With Bipolar Disorder

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I’m not going to sit here and tell you things are going to be easy, but I’m also not going to sit here and tell you they are going to be impossible. 

The difference between a “normal” mom and a bipolar mom can be huge. 

It starts with pregnancy. You have to decide what meds to stay on and then the worry for nine months if you’re doing the right thing. I stayed on low doses of mine with my second, third and fourth child. I took no medication with my first, and it was a disaster. 

Then your precious one is born. Medication management at this time is crucial because now you have to face bipolar along with hormones and postpartum. 

The sleepless nights can take the life out of a “normal” person, but being on meds, especially ones that make you sedated at night, can make you feel like you can’t do this.

But you can.

I did, four times. With the help of my husband and my family.

You may start to feel guilty.

“I’m not good enough for my baby.”

When you’re depressed you feel guilty for crying all the time. You feel guilty about the lack of energy and sometimes the lack of desire.

You can do it.

It’s not easy, but it’s also not the hardest part.

I believe the hardest part is when they become a little older. They see you taking your “vitamins,” they notice you disappear to the hospital at times. If you have a curious child like my first, it’s even harder. He demands answers — technical ones.

“Why do you have to take all those pills?”

I used to tell him Mommy’s brain is sick, but he’s old enough now that he unfortunately knows bipolar in its full form. 

Bipolar may have to stay with us the our whole life, but I don’t think it has to take the lead. I let it be a tag along. It’s easier then denial or hiding it from your children. Bipolar hurts as a mom because you’re always left feeling like you’re not good enough, that they might be better off with someone else. If you could just disappear…

Don’t. Embrace your children. Hug them, play with them, laugh with them, cry with them.

You’re worth it. It’s all worth it. Every single second. 

The Mighty is asking the following: Are you a mother with a disability, disease or mental illness? What would you tell a new mother in your position? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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3 Ways I'm Getting My Life Back After My Stay in a Psychiatric Hospital

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I’m a single mom of three young sons, one of whom is on the autism spectrum and one of whom has anxiety. I have bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and agoraphobia, among other mental disorders. I work, take care of my boys and take care of myself. Juggling all of those while dealing with mental health issues can be exhausting.  I have been hospitalized more times than I can count, in four different facilities. I was just in the hospital for a week last month, and when I was discharged I was determined things would be different. I decided to take some conscious steps to turn my life around and start creating the life I want to live:

1. Asking for, and accepting help.

In the past I was so cautious of asking for help with my kids and myself I would put myself in situations that seemed insurmountable. I would feel helpless and hopeless, and my depression would spiral even further out of control until I had no choice but to admit myself to the hospital. Now I ask for help when I feel myself starting to slide. When my kids get sick and I need to make it to a doctor’s appointment, I get a sitter or ask a family member to step in. I also have an au pair coming to stay with me for a year starting next month, so there will always be an extra set of hands to help out. Asking people to help so I can take care of myself has been one of the most important things I have done.

2. Pacing myself.

Historically, when I’ve had the energy to get things done, I pushed and pushed until I burned myself out. After years of this, I figured it was not the way to go. I left the hospital feeling good, and I had a number of items on my to-do list. Instead of trying to do it all at once, I spread them out over the course of a few weeks. I got my graduate school applications done, found my au pair and finished a few work projects, but I did all of this on a reasonable time scale and set decent expectations. In this way I managed to finish everything on my list without destabilizing myself in the process. And here I must revisit the importance of asking for help. My mother came over to watch the kids so that I could work, and she did some laundry while she was over. This was all extremely helpful and not something I would have allowed her to do in the past.

3. Setting aside time for self-care.

The life I want to live has dance and yoga in it. It also has time for socializing as well as work and responsibilities. I made a point of setting aside time for myself to do the things that make me happy and accumulate positive emotions. Those good feelings can carry over throughout the week and help me through the tougher times with the kids or feelings of boredom. In the future, I am planning more social outings as well as going out to get my nails done. When my au pair arrives, I will have even more time for myself. Taking care of myself means I stay happy, and when I’m happy I have even more energy and motivation to attack the things on my to-do list.

I don’t have my ideal life just yet, but I am getting closer every day and every step I take means I am further away from the hopelessness and helplessness that characterized my worst days. I am closer and closer to finally having the life I want to live.

The Mighty is asking the following: Are you a mother with a disability, disease or mental illness? What would you tell a new mother in your position? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Dear Future Husband, From Your Lover With a Mental Illness

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Dear Future Husband,

I will put this as bluntly as possible: as much as you love me, as blissful as you imagine our fast-approaching future together, nothing in the world, no pre-matrimonial preparation we endeavor together, will equip you with all the necessary tools to handle me. I’m not talking about my shampoos and conditioners and sprays and gels taking up more than their fair share of space on the bathroom counter, or the burnt popcorn that will inevitably be a part of our date nights in; you will learn things in this letter that will either turn you off for good, or make me want to kiss you for your optimistic yet utterly realistic attitude, your acceptance of everything that may go wrong and how firmly you hold the belief that love means forever, in sickness and in health, until one or both of us shall meet our end.

Love, I have bipolar disorder. And you may not know what that means now, but you will soon understand. You will find that the charming, bubbly disposition I get when I’m getting a touch less sleep than necessary can turn into a candy-colored, all-too-sunny nightmare if we let it get out of hand. You will see me sometimes in so much pain it hurts to breathe, and even if I lash out on you, I want you to know it is never your fault. You will learn when to hold me and when to let go and that you can’t always fix me up. Please save yourself some heartache and don’t try.

When I ask you to check the closet for ghosts like the child I no longer have a right to be, humor me. Tell me this isn’t real, that the voices in my head can’t leave the confines of my skull. Say whatever it takes to convince me the dark is nothing more than the absence of light, that it is not a breeding ground for monsters and ghouls. When we turn in for the night the following evening, remind me I survived last night.

Be prepared to rat me out to my doctor. I’ve never had a problem with honesty, but as we age, things change. I give you permission now to say if I’m not taking my meds or if I’m not coming clean about my psychoses and my moods. Even if it pains you to do it, my health comes before my feelings. So go ahead, tell him I’m lying, because I know, in my sane state now, it’s for my own good.

Like any soon-to-be-married man, you might want children. And I don’t know what to tell you about that. Bipolar disorder is genetic, and I would not wish this upon anyone if I could help it. But we will weigh out pros and cons together. By the time we have to cross this bridge, I might be fine. This can be manageable. And one day it may very well be so manageable, and I’ll be able to have as many kids as we can fit into our beat up minivan. I warn you, I may be a moodier pregnant chick than others — I may be so annoying you will want to move back in with your mother until the nine months are up. But such is a worthy price to pay for that family you may have been dreaming of since we got serious about this whole marriage thing. And if having a house full of tykes isn’t you’re thing, that’s OK, too. At the moment, I’d prefer a pack of furbabies to call our own.

When you see all of these things, don’t think me mad. Think of me as human, broken, but not without good days and a heart of gold. Before we merge into one unit, I will do my best to prepare myself for the day when we are permanently together, to make it so you don’t have to worry whether you will come home to me preparing to take my own life. I don’t know if that will ever be a possibility, but I promise you, I will try. If I slip up, it’s OK to get angry and frustrated. But please know it’s not my fault. I will do my part to keep myself as healthy as I can, but these things happen, and you must know that is my truth.

I don’t want you to be my caretaker and don’t expect you to be. The only thing I really want from you is love and devotion and the compassion to not treat me like a little kid or the picture of madness. Treat me like your wife, nothing less. And if you can’t stay, I understand. But I hope you’ll at least give it a shot.

After reading this, if you still love me, go ahead, spouse me — put a ring on it! I can’t promise you more good times than bad, but I can promise you a spouse who loves you more than you’ll ever know.

Love,

Your Future Wife

Follow this journey on The Deep End Diaries.

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.

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How Being in Foster Care Affected My Mental Health

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The first time I remember meeting my parents was in a McDonald’s when I was 6 years old.

I’m sure for most of you some red flags go up when you hear that. But for me, my family and to anyone who has been adopted, that’s our normal.

I consider myself lucky; I was only in foster care for about a year and a half. I stayed in two foster homes, which both treated me well. I’m pretty sure I didn’t realize how different my situation was at the time. I knew I was different than most kids; I just didn’t comprehend how unusual my story, even at a young age, was.

In April of 2000, I left my foster home to live with my future adoptive family. I had an advantage because my future Aunt Donna had adopted a sibling group of four children prior to my parent’s decision to adopt (which also inspired my parents eventual adopting little old me). Becoming part of the Coleman family was an easy enough transition. I honestly didn’t realize I was different until second grade. The Colemans and I lived in a farm town where my graduating class of 60 was considered large. Don’t get me wrong; I loved growing up in a small town. Still, everybody knew everybody, and being the new adopted kid wasn’t as easy as I think I was expecting. I was a rarity, which wasn’t always a good thing. Kids can be cruel. A lot of comments were probably meant to be harmless, but damn, did they hurt. One question was asked more than others though. “Didn’t your real mom love you?” I remember I had one bully who would love to talk about my biological family, telling me she understood why my biological mother would give me away. Mind you, that’s not the truth. DCF (the Department of Children and Families) intervened, I wasn’t given away.

I didn’t have a negative experience while in foster care. Still, until the age of 7 I experienced a lot of pain, loss and change. I never really thought about the psychological effects, but of course what child does. I developed post-traumatic stress disorder; I would have panic
attacks sometimes in school, in some cases I’d even hide under my desk. This happened a lot when fliers were passed out in school monthly about becoming a foster family. I usually destroyed them and didn’t bring them home.

I think when a child is in foster care one of two things happen; you either stay recluse, and don’t trust anyone, or you attach way too quickly and cling on for dear life. I was the latter. This developed into an attachment disorder. For the majority of my life I would meet
people, and cling on. This frightened most people — because most people don’t go from meeting to being best friends. I would call too much, and I looked like a stalker; of course now I’m humiliated by my actions. But then, I needed that verification that people weren’t going to leave. I was so afraid of my life changing, and being alone.

I related to adults more than I did my peers, and I befriended my teachers. I think it’s because adults could comprehend my story, and talk to me about it. A lot of my peers dismissed my story as fiction. Who could blame them though? My normal was intense; adopted twice, death riddled throughout my story’s chapters, abuse and neglect were mixed into my early years, and then, suddenly, I found a little bit of  happiness. It was a lot to take in. And it didn’t really help I was a little over the top. At the time, teachers dismissed it as ADHD. I was a disruption. I would get up in the middle of class to sharpen my pencil, but would stop at everyone’s desk to ask if they needed their pencils sharpened, too. I thought I was being considerate; my red faced teachers would disagree. But it was more than ADHD; if anything ADHD was a precursor to my future diagnosis. I would rapid cycle. One moment I would be extremely happy; like over the top, just got asked to prom kind of happy. And all it would take is one person saying one thing in the hallway (it didn’t even have to be me) and it would affect me through all of class. I was the girl who cried every single day in school; and that’s not an exaggeration. I would literally cry once a day. And not just a tear; it was a full blown breakdown. But by the next class, I was OK.

People would say I was dramatic, and I hated it; I was in drama, but I wasn’t dramatic. I had a lot on my plate, and how could any child, or teenager know how to handle that.

At 17, after my first recognized suicide attempt, I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Everything made more sense with this diagnosis.

But it wasn’t until I embraced my shadow, I was finally able to move forward; out of mania, away from depression, and into stability. I moved away from toxic people; literally, by
moving out of state. Slowly, things started to click for me. I finally realized my mental illness isn’t a handicap. And I finally realized my hyperactivity, and my ability to speak, wasn’t a curse; it was a blessing.

I finally have accepted my diagnosis. I know where I am. And believe me, it wasn’t easy. Managing and recognizing a mental illness is the hardest thing I’ve had to do; and I was in labor for two days. I’m not perfect at it. But I try to practice self-soothing techniques, I go to therapy, and I take my meds now. And I try to talk to people about what it’s like to live with a mental illness; because it’s crippling sometimes. I try to give a voice to those who can’t speak out, and I’m trying to break the stigma that comes with mental illness. I am letting people know we are fighting the same war; and although we lose battles, we will win the war. I am a wife, a mom and a friend. I am a daughter. I am a survivor. I live with bipolar. I spend my days raising my son, and making a change in the mental health world.

And that is my normal now.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this. We have no say in the cards we are dealt as children. And yes, it’s awful, and none of us deserved the broken childhood we may have had. But it is up to us to take care of ourselves now, and to change the outcome for the future. Being a foster kid may define us, but it doesn’t mean it’s a bad definition. We are adolescent survivors. We have been through hell, and back (some of us not even realizing how bad it was). And we are still here. We can work on ourselves, and fix ourselves. We have learned to be self-sufficient. But we need to help the kids who are without a family now. We need to educate people, and provide these kids with love and support. We will all heal; it just takes support from the rest of our handpicked tribe.

Watch Taylor tell her story at an event for Foster Care Awareness Month below:

Follow this journey on Taylor’s site.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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