When My 4-Year-Old Started Imitating My Manic Episodes

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A few weeks ago our 4-year-old daughter was walking around itching the side of her head. My first thought was lice! But shortly after, she walked past with her hands in fists, her head resting on them.

It clicked — she was mimicking my actions from a manic episode I had a couple days earlier. I realized I was having manic episodes at some point every day, all with her watching and listening from the other room. 

Every day as my episodes keep getting worse, it was likely she was going to have to spend some time away from me. So, I decided to tell her this:

“Mommy’s brain is sick, and it is not as happy and beautiful as yours. Mommy might need to stay at the hospital, so if I’m not here after school please don’t be afraid, I will be back.”

I proceeded to tell her I would talk to Daddy, and see if she could stay at Grandma and Grandpa’s while I was away, as that is her “happy place.” We started joking around and tickling each other, both laughing.

Suddenly she stopped, looked right into my eyes, her eyes filled with sadness, and gave me a hug topped with a kiss on my forehead.

She had given me her blessing and showed me she understood. 

The Mighty is asking the following: If you’re a parent with a mental illness, tell us about a time you tried (either successfully or unsuccessfully) to explain to your children about your mental illness/mental health issues. How did they react? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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7 Ways to Help a Loved One Cope With a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

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When you’re sick with the flu, it’s nice to have your partner, roommate or family member there to help you. Whether they make you soup, do the dishes or watch movies with you, you feel comforted and not so alone. They help you cope by being there and helping you through your sickness, and the same thing goes for a bipolar diagnosis.

A bipolar diagnosis can be scary at first and continuously hard to cope with. Someone suffering from bipolar disorder needs a strong support system and help coping with the affects of their illness. There are seven ways you can help someone cope with their bipolar diagnosis and ultimately be there for them through their illness.

1. Educate yourself.

Reading up on the symptoms, triggers and effects bipolar disorder can have on a loved one is a great way to help them because you will gain an understanding of the illness. In times of doubt, your friend or loved one with bipolar disorder can look to you for understanding and answers and truly know they won’t receive any judgement or stigma from you.

2. Encourage.

Words of encouragement are welcomed, especially when someone with bipolar disorder is experiencing a depressive episode. Encourage them to take care of themselves, attend their doctors appointments and encourage them to smile and laugh.

3. Be present.

Feeling alone is common for someone who suffers from bipolar disorder. Being physically and emotionally there for someone who struggles will help them cope with their unpleasant thoughts and feelings and help them to not feel alone in their fight against bipolar disorder.

4. Listen.

It’s difficult to listen to someone when all you want to do is give advice and encouragement. However, listening to someone who is struggling is important because it gives them an outlet to share their thoughts and feelings, good or bad.

5. Be patient.

Helping someone cope with bipolar disorder doesn’t happen overnight. It is an ongoing process of encouragement, talking and generally being there. Be patient when your loved one doesn’t feel like talking, and be patient when their moods change.

6. Make a plan.

Keeping a safety plan is important to do when helping someone cope with a bipolar diagnosis. List their warning signs and triggers. Then, list what to do during manic and depressive episodes. Make this plan and assure your loved one you will stick to your part.

7. Forgive.

Bipolar disorder can turn a person into someone completely different. Your usually kind and compassionate friend may be snide or mean when they’re depressed and brutally honest when they’re manic. Forgive these slights, and remember your friend suffering from bipolar disorder has little control over their emotions and actions during an episode.

Bipolar disorder is something nobody should have to live with alone. Just being there for someone who is struggling will mean so much, along with these seven ways to help them cope. Offer support, be kind and assure them you are in their corner no matter what. It’s nice for someone to know when they are struggling, they are not alone, and they have someone there to make the blow from bipolar disorder a little less hard.

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To the Doctor I Hated for Diagnosing Me With Bipolar Disorder

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When you walked into my room in the mental health unit of the hospital, I was afraid of you. I was afraid you would see me as this “crazy” young girl who tried to kill herself, not as the hurt and desperate young woman I was. I was afraid of what you would say because I knew it would determine if I stayed in the hospital or went home with my mom. I was terrified of what your diagnosis would be; you would be the one to tell me what was wrong with me and how I could be fixed.

I hated you for diagnosing me bipolar. I was in completely denial, I was angry and I felt like you were personally responsible for ruining my life. I swore you were wrong and that you didn’t take the appropriate time to talk to me to be able to diagnose. I made up excuses why I couldn’t be bipolar and why you didn’t know what you were talking about. I rolled my eyes at you whenever we met, I shut you out and I didn’t listen to your words that could have helped me cope.

When I finally began to accept my diagnosis and go through treatment for it, I slowly began to forgive you. I realized my diagnosis didn’t just magically appear out of nowhere, and it was something I had been dealing with for a long time. You were just the first to give what I was dealing with a name. Bipolar. When you diagnosed me, you explained my illness, its symptoms and how I could be treated, but I didn’t listen. I wish I would have, and maybe I would have come to accept this new diagnosis sooner. Accepting I am bipolar brought me peace and made me a fighter.

You were my coach. You conditioned me on how to battle my diagnosis so it wouldn’t control me. You gave me medication, listened when I talked about my symptoms and taught me a variety of coping skills. Thank you for enduring my abuse before I understood, and thank you for staying positive and realistic even when I wasn’t. You are the one who led me into battle when I was ready and trained me to fight the enemy. Thank you for equipping me with the skills I needed to live with bipolar disorder and not become bipolar disorder.

Thank you for reminding me I am not my illness. Thank you for showing me the statistics of how many people in the world have bipolar disorder, so I didn’t feel so alone. Thank you for meeting with me whenever I thought my medication was causing problems, and thank you for quickly fixing them. Thank you for allowing me to admit myself to the hospital for a second time and supporting me through my stay. Thank you for telling me this step back does not mean a full regression and for reminding me everyone needs a little extra help to get back on track.

Thank you for letting me hate you. I needed somewhere to place the blame when you first diagnosed me. You knew you needed to be that person because if it hadn’t of been you, it would have been my parents, and you knew I would need them. Thank you for reassuring my parents I would be OK and that you would be there to answer any questions they had. It meant a lot to me that you included them in my treatment — because they also hated you at first. Keeping them close and informed helped them understand what was happening.

I appreciate you and everything you’ve done for me since I was diagnosed. You’ve managed my medication, tracked my moods and given me counsel when I’ve needed it. Thank you for diagnosing me and waiting patiently for me to accept that diagnosis so we could both fight it together. Thank you for giving me the resources and the courage to fight. I promise I will continue to do so. And I will not let you down.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a thank-you letter to someone you never expected you’d thank. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When You Don't Know Who You'll Be When You Wake Up in the Morning

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NOTE: I am diagnosed with the following: bipolar (manic depression), PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and RAD (reactive attachment disorder). I have been told I might have OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), but haven’t been officially diagnosed, as of my last psychiatric evaluation.

I wake up not knowing who I’ll be that day, even when medicated, even in treatment. Which sucks, because I’m 22, and a mom, and a wife. You may know a lot about mental illness. You may know the scientific terms, or why someone has a mental health issue or a chemical imbalance. You may know the treatment plans and the medications. You may know of programs in your area to help others, you may know the name of support groups.

But unless you have a diagnosis, unless you are affected? You don’t know what it’s like to live daily with a mental illness. So let me do the honors, and introduce you in a day in the life, or specifically, a day in my life.

There are several states I can wake up being, or cycle into throughout the day. I’ll start by describing my low state: depression. I think depression is a term more commonly heard. I fall into depression when I sleep too much, but sometimes I’m triggered into after a fight, or a bad day, or hearing news I don’t like (I’ve been told I shouldn’t use the word trigger too often, because it sounds intense, but that’s all I can think of). My husband is more concerned for my depressed days; I’m not. I wake up miserable. It’s like being held closely by darkness. It’s suffocating. Some days I want to cry, others I don’t want to move. People identify it is laziness; I identify it as losing the will to live. Depression is like drowning. It’s almost calming, in a f*cked up way. It’s a dark comfort. It’s like a friend that’s a bad influence; you know better, but you can’t get away from it. It’s a little easy to pretend you’re not depressed. You can try and shake it off as nothing. But it creeps and clings to you, until one day, it engulfs you. Depression is a trap. A terrible, comforting trap.

Mania is my favorite drug; and yes, I know better, but I’m hooked. I know how terrifying mania is, but I love it. I’ve been “sober” from manic states for a while, but it’s tempting to relapse sometimes. Mania is an adrenaline rush. It is like going on a roller coaster, a destructive roller coaster, and feeling that rush. It feeds itself. Mania can be a bitch; it disguise itself as extreme happiness. If I get too manic, I think I’m cured. I think I’m invincible. That’s when things get dangerous. I am unstoppable. I keep diving into terrible decisions, head on, without hearing anyone else’s concern. I drink more, I’m more likely to do things I would normally not do. I used to be more flirty in manic states, prior to my marriage, and although now it’s humiliating, I didn’t care. My (former) favorite part of mania was getting into a fight. I would black out. That would normally be at the peak of my manic state. I am hurtful and mean. I can get violent. It is such a release of anger, and adrenaline; and sadly, it’s sometimes what it takes for me to get out of a manic state. I abruptly stop, and see the damage I’ve caused. And I’m miserable. I’m distraught. I’m damaged.

I also get into paranoid states, where I’m afraid to even leave a room in my house. I feel like someone is watching, I feel like I’m being stalked. I’m afraid, paralyzed. Of course there’s anxiety too, and I can’t breathe when I’m having anxiety attack. I get into obsessive states, where I cling on to someone or something for dear life.

The most lethal state for me is mixed state, however. This is a dark area, where I’m more likely to slip into depression.

And every day, I wake up, unaware of what state I’ll be in. Treatment of course is helpful; but those states still exist. I think people assume when you’re getting help everything goes away; but it’s not like that for me. It’s mellowed out for sure, but it’s not cured. And like I’ve stated before, there isn’t a cure-all medication for mental illness. A lot of meds are trial and error, a lot of therapists aren’t the right fit. It’s not as easy as finding a dentist. It takes years to figure out the treatment plan, and if it doesn’t, you won the mental health lottery.

My states suck because they don’t allow me to be a 22-year-old. I can’t schedule ahead, and I’ve become an expert at blowing off people. I don’t mean to. I really don’t, but it’s inevitable when you don’t know who you’ll be that day. You can’t plan a good day when you don’t know if you’re going to be Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. And for a lot of people, although you are trying to protect them, you are marked and labeled as a bad friend.

There is hope for me; I find hope in balance. It’s hard, and it’s something I have to focus on nonstop. But I do find comfort in the concept. And I hope one day to find that peace. Until then I will be taking pit stops into different states; with the hope of not staying too long, or falling too deep into a disaster area.

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.

Follow this journey on Taylor’s site.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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My Personal Prescription for Bipolar Agitation

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When the agitation gets this high I seek destruction. I drive faster, I eat more, I kick things, I yell, scream, storm out. Ultimately I think I want to die. Crawling in my skin, crawling out of my skin. Sharp tongue. Raised voice. Constantly rubbing and pulling at the back of my neck where the tension lies.

Tears roll and I scorn them. How could I be so weak and pathetic? What is this even about? Pacing around the house like a caged animal. The answer has to be somewhere. Although I’m not really looking, I just can’t sit still. I can’t find my breath. I don’t even want to breathe. Ultimately I think I want to die.

Pouring the medication into my hand last night I wanted to add more. If three is supposed to be the magic number, maybe six is even better. Perhaps it’s nine. Electric currents of impulsivity fueling my decision making. Each buzz hits my hand and jostles the bottle, one more pill fell into my hand. One more than is prescribed. And again. As I cup them in my hand I wonder if I find the right combo, maybe this time I won’t wake up. I won’t have to fight this intense agitation. Feel like some out of control monster that has to hide away from work, from society. The noise is too loud. The light is too bright. I am too raw to be in the world today. Yet I feel too broken to be alone.

I turn to social media for help, reassurance, something to tell me I’m OK. I’ve pushed friends away long ago. Some just not capable of understanding and some just lost patience as rapid cycling bipolar throws me up then throws me down. I am guilty of not picking up that phone. On days like today I am convinced no one would want to be around me. Hell, I don’t want to be around me.

My house is small. An echo chamber. Just like my mind. If I yell and scream into this space it just comes back at me. I feel trapped. Alone. My neck hurts, my head hurts, my heart hurts. I wouldn’t wish these feelings onto my worst enemy. How ironic because in reality I am my own worst enemy. The skill of self-compassion is missing from my tool box. Truth is I kicked that box out of sight. So here I am. In pain. Raw.

Constantly fighting myself, my symptoms I forget I have tools. Calming techniques for agitation, or at the very least dispelling the negative energy. I think I am beyond sitting quietly for art. I need to blast some music and get this knotted up body moving. Quickly I make my way to the treadmill. Luckily the prescription for exercise is unlimited.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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 It's Time to Start Over Again, Again

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Everyone gets in a slump from time to time. When a slump is coupled with a breakup and mental illness, a little slump can turn a lonely home into an abandoned property with overgrown bushes and boarded-up windows. I think I’ve plastered, without much knowledge, some type of “no trespassing” sign over my skin these past few months, not wanting anyone to see the state I’ve let my body and my mind fall into. It’s a bit of a mess, a few months short of disaster, and I think it might be time for a controlled burn.

By this I mean I haven’t done a good job taking care of myself, mentally or physically. If my body were a building, you’d see I’ve let things rot — losing pride in the property that is my flesh. I’ve stopped exercising in favor of sleeping 13 or 14 hours a day and found comfort in tortilla chips, gelato and wine. I haven’t written a page despite deadlines for school, and turned to Netflix reruns instead of books to fill the hours when my mind won’t allow enough blank space for sleep.

It can be embarrassing to realize you’ve “let yourself go” again, especially when you’ve been to rock bottom once before, and it can seem like a lost cause to haul yourself from the bottom of some well of despair back onto dry land, knowing you — despite your best efforts — may end up at the bottom of that well at any point in the future. This, unfortunately, has been my reality in living with bipolar disorder.

But spring is coming, with its reminder of my hospitalization. With the sunlight and the budding plants comes the uncomfortable tingling reminder life is stirring around me, and that it’s time to wake up. It’s the fresh air coaxing me out of the cave of bleak hibernation, summoning me to rise from the ashes all over again — even if this is part of what can seem like a devastating, endless cycle.

It’s a time to think back to the good times — running half-marathons, cooking new foods, hiking new mountains, stringing together essays — and persuading myself to embrace everything these cycles of good times, no matter how long they stick around, can offer. I may always sleep with one eye open, and walk turning my head back every few minutes, nervous the will to survive will collapse in on me at any instant. I’ve come to find this primal desire will never be a given, and this has been the most devastating realization in the five years since I’ve grappled with a chronic diagnosis. There will always be times when returning from a slump will seem not worth the effort, or nearly impossible.

But what would be the point of any of my days if I didn’t muster all my energy to savor the good ones? And so, taking the saplings of the good times that seem to be on the cusp of growing strong, I need to be a phoenix. There is no other option.

It’s time to start over again, again. This is how it’s been since I was young, and maybe this is how it will always be. It is the toughest pill I’ve yet to swallow. But it’s time to put down the bottle, to put down the spoon, to peel off the comforter.

I want to return to what I once was, once more. When I was 16 and not ashamed of raw emotion, I wrote how it felt like I was walking a tightrope, a thin line of sanity, “one slip and I am devoured, gone.” I wrote, “expect nothing in this life, except sorrows and joys.”

In the days, weeks and months to come, I want to cook meals for myself. I want to get outside and run. I want to nourish myself when I need to be nourished, and abstain when I need to abstain. Of course I will falter and of course I will fail, but the difference is that I will, once again, be trying. I want to return to the world again, to be a sister and a daughter and a friend, not just a phantom pulled here and there by obligation and clocks.

When I was 18 — five years ago today — this is what I would have wanted for myself as I threw my hospital bracelet into the trash, with my family in tow there to support me. I was so determined to leave that darkness of the hallway behind me.

I wrote this at 16, too, and I still think these dramatic things are true, because they were real then, and they are still real now.

“We must endure these phases of barren trees and ashy personality. We must wait in mournful numbers until the waves’ salty water washes over us, covers us in lost emotions of the past — that hope and strength to live and breathe again.”

Follow this journey on Laura Dennison‘s site.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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