Why I'm Being Honest About My Toughest Year With Bipolar II Disorder

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molly shalz If I tell them, they’ll think less of me. Even I have a hard time believing it happened. But it’s the truth. It’s my truth. And after holding it in for nearly a year I’m ready to tell it. My story is worthy of being told.

I got sick last year. Not the kind of sick you’re thinking about. Not a fever or a stomach virus. No, not that kind. And not the kind of sick that is widely accepted in our society.

I’ve made no secret that I am diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. My life has been a constant struggle of trying to stay well and, let’s be honest, a functional member of society.

But here is what has unfolded in the last three years…

When I learned I was pregnant with Sawyer in June 2013, I immediately went off all of my medicines that helped control my illness. I stayed off of them for the duration of my pregnancy. And then when she was born I continued unmedicated for another entire year while I breastfed her.

So, doing the math, I was unmedicated for almost two years. A bipolar person with no meds and hormone fluctuations all over the place. This does not make for a well-adjusted, functional person.

By May of last year, I was an emotional disaster. I couldn’t concentrate or focus on anything. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was in a full-on manic episode, which actually began right after I stopped breastfeeding Sawyer in January. It was bad. Really bad. I didn’t know which way was up or down. But oh, that roller coaster was fun at the time. My thoughts were all over the place. It was like the tilt-a-whirl in my brain.

Think of a movie on fast forward mode. That was my life. My mind racing at all times. I couldn’t shut it off. It was so loud in my head. I was tired, but I couldn’t sleep. I would stay up way too late writing, many times I was drinking at night. A glass of wine (or two or three) was the only thing that slowed my brain down long enough for me to breathe and sleep.

I was seeing a new therapist and had gone to my psychiatrist begging for medicine because I knew something was wrong.

I started running every other day even though I hate running. I lost weight due to my exercise routine and not eating as much. I didn’t need food. I was surviving on how thrilling life was. I’m not sure how much weight I lost, but I remember being really excited when the scale read a number I had last seen when I was in college.

At times I felt invincible, on top of the world. Other times I dropped to my knees, utterly exhausted by my own energy.

I spent a lot of money I shouldn’t have spent. I made bad decisions, but believe me when I tell you, they felt so right at the time. It doesn’t excuse my behavior. But it does explain it. Read up on bipolar manic episodes. A lot of people think they would be fun. But the aftermath tells a different story. It was a textbook manic episode. I had every symptom. Weight loss, not sleeping, racing thoughts, overspending, obsessing over a certain task (running, in my case), abusing a substance and some other ones I won’t even discuss because . . . ugh. I just won’t.

In early June I was hospitalized for the first time. After coming down off my manic episode with severe depression I was hospitalized a second time in early September. And while everyone else was partying it up for New Year’s Eve, I was once again in the hospital. It was the worst depressive episode I’ve ever had. Going from a manic episode directly into a depressive episode. Oh God. I’m not sure how I’m still here.

I’m finally writing this, at the urging of my husband and my best friend, because they know what I’ve known for awhile. I haven’t been able to write on my blog because not writing about this was like having a huge pink elephant in the sidebar. I have always been honest on my blog. I’ve always shared what’s going on in my life. But this time, I was deeply ashamed and stayed quiet to please everyone. It is now clear that hiding this has been to my detriment as I have lost something I dearly love… writing. Since I was 16 it has been a sort of therapy for me. Writing and sharing my struggle and all the while still being hopeful. It helps me.

But this… I wasn’t sure about telling the world about this. I am scared – no – terrified, to put this out there. What will people think of me? Will they think less of me? Will they betray me after learning the truth of what has happened over the last year. Will they stop talking to me or wanting to be my friend?

I know I have nothing to be ashamed of. This illness is not something I chose. This illness is not who I am as a person.

The reason I have chosen to be open about this is because I want others who are going through this to know that they are not alone. You are not alone. And if we hide it, try to sweep it under the rug, well that serves no one.

I thought about my kids. I thought about if they, God forbid, have an illness such as mine, would I want them to feel ashamed? Would I want them to stay quiet and go through their struggle alone? The answer is no. I wouldn’t want that for them. I would want them to feel safe telling me anything. Life is hard enough. I would want them to be open with me and feel free to live their life out loud. Because that is the definition of bravery and hope. Standing up and saying, hey, I’m hurting but I’m not giving in.

This illness haunts me like a ghost. It follows me wherever I go. But I fight it. I fight hard. I turn around and punch depression in the face on a daily basis. I tell it where it can go.

And that’s what I’ve been doing the past year. I’ve been fighting. I’ve been in so much pain and confusion I can’t even explain it. Just know that it is an absolute miracle I am sitting here today, writing this for you to read.

At times, death was a very real possibility. I didn’t know if I would make it to my 37th birthday. (I did so it’s OK!)

I’m not really even sure how to end this blog post. I didn’t know how to start it either. I mean, what do you say anyway . . . “Hi! Oh, you know, I’ve been good. I went to a psychiatric hospital three times! The food was bad. So what’s going on with you?”

Awkward.

I will hopefully be able to share more details as time passes. But it was eating me up inside not to share this part of me.

There’s nothing wrong with me. I didn’t fail. I’m not “less than” someone else because of this. But I still have to tell myself that every single day to believe it. Some nights the shame is too much to bear.

But somehow, I still find hope.

Follow this journey on A Day in Mollywood.

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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When People Ask How I Stay Optimistic in the Face of Mental Illness

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Many people have told me they admire my penchant for positivity, that they wish they could have my sunny-side-up approach to life. They say if they’d gone through the hell I’ve been sludging through for the past few years, they probably would have succumbed to it, and they certainly wouldn’t be cracking jokes and wearing a bright, genuine smile.

Strangers would never guess I have touched madness. The cashier I’m chatting up at the grocery store wouldn’t peg me as the type who almost ended it while I heard the voices of demons and fought to convince myself God doesn’t want me to die at my own hand.

The librarian wouldn’t believe me if I told him I’d spent the last night warding off panic attacks for four straight hours because I didn’t know if I’d be able to turn my books in on time or not.

Even most of my friends couldn’t guess the spirited glow in my eyes has burnished to a quenched black hole thanks to none other than depression on many occasions. They find it hard to picture these things because I laugh exponentially more often than I cry. I never fail to see the bright side in my situation and am quick to point out the bright side in the circumstances of everyone I know.

So what is my secret? Simple: I fire back optimism at every curveball life hurls my way. I choose optimism always and everywhere. Choosing optimism is not the same as choosing happiness. It is acknowledging that I’m not going to have good
days every day, and it’s OK to feel sad, but I need to latch onto the hope that tomorrow might be better, and if not the next day, then maybe the one after that.

Don’t be mistaken — it isn’t plugging my ears and trilling “lalala the
house is burning down but lalala nothing’s going wrong.” It is seeing all aspects of an event — good and bad — and accepting I cannot change them and might as well go the high road. Even when things seem bleak, I decide not to despair, and sift out the positive sediments. Even if they’re just minuscule flecks of fool’s gold at the bottom of the pan, they still glitter and add beauty to my life.

When I roll out of bed later than I mean to and feel anxiety build in my chest, I choose optimism and feel thankful for being more wide awake. When I realize the remission spell I was so certain to have reached was just hypomania, I choose optimism and remind myself it could have been worse. When everything is crumbling to the ground, I choose optimism and cling to the belief that this falling apart is just a way to make room for reconstruction and improvement. Every second of every day I hold fast to optimism because the only other choice is giving up. I am determined that if I’m going to survive, I will thrive while I’m at it. And the only way I can do that is to simply pick optimism to be my team captain and refuse to let any other viewpoint claim me. There is no other option for me, and I firmly believe my ride-or-die commitment to seeing the grass is just as green on this side as it is over the hill is the main thing that has kept me alive through the past nine months of chronic mental illness. It keeps my life vibrant even on the darkest hours, and most of all, it keeps me going day in, day out, no matter what.

It’s my secret weapon. But I’m glad to share it with you, too. Look at the bright side, and if you can’t see it right away, dig a tunnel to it with your own bare hands if you have to. It’s there. I promise. It always is.

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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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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