Mother helping son with homework

To My Little Cousin Who Was Just Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder

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Dear little cousin,

When your mother told me you had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I cried.

I wept because I did not want anyone else in the family to walk the road I am on with my own bipolar disorder diagnosis. I wept because bipolar disorder can be more difficult to manage the younger you are when you are diagnosed. I was 23 when my symptoms surfaced. You are 14. You are too young to deal with emotional and mental concerns.

Yet, visiting you in the hospital was bittersweet. It dredged up memories of my own hospitalizations, all four of them. I was glad you were receiving treatment and on the road to recovery and wellness. Attending your eighth grade graduation, my heart swelled with pride, love and hope. I felt all of this because the last few months were not easy for you. You had more than your fair share of challenges to overcome. Thankfully, you did not have to do any of it alone.

The relationship you have developed with your therapist warms my heart. She has impacted you to your core, So much so you, too, now want to be a therapist, which would be the ultimate way of paying it forward, of passing on what was instilled into you.

I know you are only 14, but if this career goal sticks, I know you will make an excellent therapist. You have first-hand knowledge of what it means to live in mood instability and stability. You know the impact of a caring adult and professional. From what you told me about how you relate to your peers, listening and giving advice, you are already honing important skills.

Listening to you talk about your newfound career interests made me beam with pride. I, too, want to become a therapist because of my own experiences with my diagnosis. I, too, have been blessed with great, caring mental health providers and I want to pay it forward.

I hope I can also be a role model for you in how to live in recovery and instability. I’ve had nearly 10 years to learn about my bipolar disorder. I’ve learned to be reflective and proactive. If you ever need help navigating your moods, self-care or high school next year, I’m here.

The Mighty is asking the following: Were you diagnosed with your disease, disability and/or mental illness as an adult? Tell us about the moment you finally got your diagnosis. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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If I Could Take Away My Bipolar Disorder, Would I?

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I have come across variations of this question a lot, the basis of which is that if I could rid my past, present and future of my bipolar disorder, would I do it?

I always thought that my answer would be an immediate yes. If I could get rid of this lifelong illness and take away the crushing depressions and destructive manias, of course I would. If I could get back the things my illness has taken away from me, if my illness wasn’t there to make my life so hard, why wouldn’t I want that? Why would I want to hang on to the battle with medications and treatment, their debilitating side effects, the risk of me hurting myself during bad periods, the wanting to not be alive, the past suicide attempts and the memories of things I have done when I wasn’t myself and the illness took over — why on earth would I not want to be rid of those things? I always thought I would say, “Of course I would take all of those things away!”

But then I sat down and actually thought fully about the question and imagined what my life would be without my bipolar disorder. Yes, I would have been spared a lot of struggles and hard times, but there are also a lot of things I would not have gained. Without my mental illness, would I have become the strong, determined warrior I am today? Would I have learned to be nonjudgmental and developed my strong burning desire to help others as much as I can? Would my family and I have learned to communicate the way we do, which my illness has forced us to do? Would I have met my husband and soulmate, who is the single most joyful and important thing in my life, without the journey I took with my illness making me the person I was when I met him, and without the series of events (related to my illness at that time) leading me to find him? Would I be so grateful and appreciative for every single good thing I have in my life?

Would I feel so deeply? Would I make the most of every happy moment and squeeze as much into them as possible, the way I do now? Would I have built my little business, making jewelry with positive messages to help others with struggles, which means the world to me, without the experiences I have had to inspire it? Would I have developed the confidence in myself I have now, that helps me deal with anything and know it’s OK to be proud of exactly who I am?

Would I have learned who my true friends and family are, those who have stood by me no matter what and who make my life so blessed and fulfilled? Would I be the person I am today, who I am so proud to be, without all of those experiences and without my bipolar disorder? I don’t believe any of those things would have happened without my illness. I don’t believe that I would be the person I am today, without what I have been through.

So when I really think about it — and perhaps somewhat controversially — and definitely shockingly to myself at least, my answer would be no.

No, I would not take my bipolar disorder away if I could.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment someone changed the way you think about disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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7 Do's and Don'ts for When I Tell You I Have Bipolar Disorder

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If I divulge the illness I battle with every day to you, please realize this: I either feel it is very necessary, or I trust you. That’s all, folks.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Telling someone of my illness is like taking a chance on possibly changing an aspect of my life with one little confession. For instance, if you’re a friend I confide in, there’s a chance you won’t be accepting and might distance yourself, therefore resulting in a loss of friendship I cherished enough to tell of my deepest secret. Another example would be telling a manager at work, with the possibility of losing my job. Even though I am protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are always loopholes, and I realize this as I tell of my struggle to be the best possible version of myself to achieve my goals at work.

If I am brave enough to open up and tell you this information and brave enough to confide in you about this internal struggle that I keep to myself in order to avoid judgement and backlash, here are a few things I’d like you to do.

1. Please don’t make a shocked expression.

2. Don’t say things like “Really? I never would have guessed!” because even if you don’t mean to, you’re basically saying I don’t come off as the “crazy kind of bipolar” that you have always been told to believe.

3. Do look up my diagnosis. If you are not aware of the definition, symptoms, behaviors, etc. of my illness, do us both a favor and do some research.

4. Do give me the impression that you’re accepting without exactly saying “I accept you.”

5. Do tell me you’ll be here if I need you and also ask of ways you could help should I need it.

6. It’s OK to ask me questions — hell, all I ever want to do is talk about my self-destructive disorder because I usually can’t.

7. Lastly, and most importantly, do not, I repeat, do not treat me any differently than you normally would! There is nothing more discouraging and mentally destructive than to think a person you’ve confided in thinks of you in a different way. At that point, I’ll worry myself sick that you don’t like me. I’ll tell myself that your whispers are about me and how “crazy” I am. These things will spark a spiral of symptoms, sending me deep into the abyss of a relapse that will take so much time and effort to pull myself back from.

At the end of the day, I am still the same person I was before I told you. I’m not magically someone different just by two little words… bipolar and disorder.

Support me, try to understand me, and love me no less than you did the two seconds before I told you who the real me is.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Dear New York State Board of Regents, 'Bipolar' Is Not an Adjective for Your Exam

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Dear New York State Board of Regents,

Today I took the United States History exam. I was prepared for it and ready to succeed. I practiced each part of the exam including multiple choice, thematic essay, documents and document-based questions (DBQ).

I got to the multiple choice section, knowing most of the answers, and feeling confident and happy with how the test was made. The thematic essay was fair, too.

Then got to the documents section, specifically doc number five. It was about the Korean War and compared the two sides as a “bipolar struggle,” even giving the definition of “bipolar.” 

But “bipolar” isn’t a adjective.

It’s a mental illness that affects 2.5 percent of teens at one point in their lifetime. It’s a disorder that cripples my life daily and creates feelings I can’t explain. It’s not how you describe a struggle between two sides in a war.

Once I read the word, I froze — angered , offended and sickened. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I drew a circle around it and wrote, “bipolar is not a adjective.” I know an outside source produces the documents, but you decide the documents that go into the exam. You easily could have picked another document without that word.

My disorder is not an adjective, and I hope you learn that too. I am ashamed of you for not only myself but the whole mental health community. I hope you realize your actions have hurt me and will refrain from using mental illness as slang on future exams. 

Thank you,

An angered high schooler

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I'm Coming Out of the Dark About My Child's Mental Illness

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I have debated long and hard about sharing this, but in the end my passion for increasing awareness on behalf of my children won out.

I have a child with serious mental illness.

He sees a psychiatrist, takes psych meds and we have discussed inpatient treatment. I believe it’s just a matter of time before that happens.

He is also a leukemia survivor and has other complex medical needs. His mental health concerns are nearly as challenging as his physical health problems.

Yes, for us, his mental health needs are nearly as challenging as cancer. Let that sink in.

We are not alone. Other families face serious mental health issues in their children. We’re a quiet bunch because there is still so much stigma attached to mental illness and medicating kids. Many people believe it’s just a discipline or behavior problem which should be solved with whatever happens to be their favorite method of punishment.

I often write about my sons’ Down syndrome, or their medical needs, but today I am stepping out to say that my son lives with severe bipolar disorder. I say it so others know they aren’t alone. I say it because I cannot abide the stigma any longer.

Parents of children with special mental health needs, you are not alone. Today I am coming out of the dark to shed light on this, for my child and for yours.

A close of holding hands

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us about the first time you reached out to someone about your mental illness. Whether it was a friend or a professional, we want to hear about why you opened up, how it went, and why you’re glad (or maybe not glad) you did it. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Why I Revisit a List I Wrote While I Was Manic

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“We’ll all float on OK.” — “Float On” by Modest Mouse

One memorable night of my first admission in a psychiatric ward, I sat up with another patient, Joey* and gave him my CD to listen to. Joey had come back to the ward from day release, drunk and in a dark place, refusing to go to his room, ranting about ending his own life. The night nurses told me not to bother, but I sat with him in the corridor for a while. Joey had been living in the ward for three months. Homeless, he didn’t have anywhere else to go. It was his last night there before he was being driven to a half-way house. Earlier in the day, I’d helped him pack and discovered his “The Cure” t-shirt and pulled it on over my black hoodie. He’d reminisced to me about his life on the street and with prostitution. A couple of days earlier, he’d come back from the supermarket with a box of black hair dye, and I’d helped cut and dye his hair. Suddenly, I’d had other patients lining up for a hair wash at my makeshift salon.

The other patients are what I remember most about my admissions. Their stories, their colorful personalities, their kindness and warmth. I can’t remember all their names or faces, but we were comrades in the hospital, keeping each other company in the early hours of the morning when the mania does not allow you to sleep, or during the boredom of long afternoons after visiting hours were over. We’ve spent Christmas together, and I’ve shared with them some of my deepest fears.

Eight years have passed since that night in the ward with Joey. I still pray for him sometimes, and hope he found his way out of that dark place. In those early days of my first admission, we were asked in a group counseling session to write down the positives in our experience of being diagnosed with a mental health condition. There were groans at such a trite, patronizing exercise, but in my manic state I blitzed it and came up with a full list. After some revision, I use that list to this day. I continue to remind myself that in a funny way, having bipolar disorder has been one of the best experiences of my life.

Yeah, there are shit days. It’s hard. I’ve had times where I haven’t wanted to be alive, a lot of days it’s hard to convince myself to do anything worthwhile, I’ve suffered post-traumatic stress from the screwed up delusions my chemically imbalanced brain keeps spewing out. I feel resentment at the seemingly endless pile of medication I have to keep track of. I feel I have burdened my family with my illness, and I am racked with guilt.

In spite of this, or perhaps because of it all, my experiences and the sheer challenge of a journey through my own head, has enriched my life. As well as the people I have been fortunate enough to get to know on the wards, I have been forced to get to know myself. It has brought me closer to my family, forcing me to open up about my drug use early on. It’s pulled me and my husband closer as we cling together through the terror of it all. It forced me seek proper medical attention, and now I have a good medical team of mental health professionals who I trust have my back. It has taught me about health, relationships, myself, people, life.

It has given me resilience.

So, to anyone who has been slapped in the face with a diagnosis, do not suffer from your mental health condition. Allow it to empower you, let it enrich your life. And on those bad days, get out your happy song and trust that we will all float on anyway.

*Name has been changed.

The Mighty is asking the following: What was one moment you received help in an unexpected or unorthodox way related to disability, disease or mental illness? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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