madelyn as a child with her father

Dear Dad,

Mental illness is hard to bear when you’re alone, but fortunately that’s something I’ve never had to experience because you’ve been there with me through it all. I’ve always been grateful madelyn as a child with her father

for your efforts to understand my bipolar disorder, but I’ve never verbalized it, and for that I am sorry. I’m choosing this Father’s Day to thank you for all the ways you’ve ever been there for me, and I want to start by thanking you for being there since the beginning.

I was challenging as a teenager. I broke all of your rules, disobeyed all of your requests and got myself into a lot of trouble. Even though you had to discipline me seemingly all the time, you tried to understand the feelings behind my poor behavior. You always knew there was something more going on, and you’d ask me how and what I was feeling. I got annoyed by all of your questions, but I see now you were simply trying to figure out what was wrong because you knew my behavior was more than just teenage rebellion. When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a young adult, after an entire adolescence of issues, all your questions were answered.

madelyn as a child with her father You were there with me when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, sitting beside me as the doctor explained my new diagnosis. When you took me home, you began doing your own research into bipolar disorder so you could gain a better understanding of the illness and learn how to help me through it. I will always be thankful to you for trying to understand, even if it did take a few years for you to understand completely. What matters is you tried, and you tried hard until you knew what to do to help me cope. I know I got impatient with you as you learned about my illness, and I’m sorry. My diagnosis was hard on you too, and it took just as long for you to wrap your head around as it did for me.

madelyn as a teenager with her father You supported my decision to move away from home to get better, even though you didn’t like it. You blamed yourself for my desire to leave, but I promise it wasn’t your fault. You took care of me after I was diagnosed and after my first hospitalization, when my new medication gave me tremors I couldn’t control. I couldn’t feed myself or brush my own teeth, and you helped me with both of those things — among others.When my medication was finally figured out, I wanted to regain my independence, and that is why I left. Even though I left, you didn’t let the distance separate us. You remained there for me via phone calls and Skype the entire time I was away, and welcomed me back with open arms when I returned.

For each of my three hospitalizations, you were there at visiting hours. You sat with me and talked with me and listened to me tell you why I believed I was in the hospital. You tried to understand, didn’t ask too many questions, and just sat there to comfort me and make me feel like I was not alone. Your presence made me feel more normal, or as normal as I could feel as I sat in the mental health unit. Your being there with me, smiling and holding my hand, brought me a wonderful feeling of comfort I will always be grateful for.

You’ve been there for me during my entire journey with bipolar disorder, and I am so thankful for that, madelyn as a teenager riding a snowmobile with her father and thankful for you. I am thankful for your desire to educate yourself on my illness, and for your willingness to understand what I go through. I am thankful you put up with my mood swings and don’t hold them against me. I am thankful you are my dad, and I am thankful you are the one in my corner. Thank you for always being there for me, and for being the best dad you can be to your daughter with bipolar disorder.

Happy Father’s Day.

madelyn as a child with her father

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It was one of those nights when I was horribly depressed.

My partner had come from work and drove through horrible Manila traffic to see me and make sure that I was OK. While we were having the brownie a la mode I wanted, I felt a sudden gush of guilt.

I became horribly aware of his efforts to be with me, to make sure I was OK, and to ensure that I feel loved. That he made sure he was always within an arm’s reach. That he tried his hardest to comfort me when I was crying. That he made sure I was never really alone. That he drove for at least an hour to get to me, and that he needed to drive me for at least another hour to where I needed to be (home with my mom), before driving back home for another hour.

I was looking at him there, thinking Do I really deserve this? I started thinking that, maybe, I’m not worth the effort. I’m volatile, unstable and not very special. Maybe I was more of a burden than anything. I had this thinking that, for me to be loved, I had to conform to a standard. I had to be able to give something in return.

I feel that whatever I have to give would never be enough. I feel very afraid of the kind of life he will lead with me: the possibility of children also having bipolar and/or ADHD, the constant emotional rides, the insecurity. Other people might see me as “high functioning,” but I feel that he will be the one to see me in my ugliest, most vulnerable state. I’m afraid that he will come to regret his decision to stay with me later on.

What shattered me was what he told me when I said I wasn’t worth loving. He said, “That’s not for you to decide.”

It was true. Sometimes, we get absorbed with the idea that we have to be lovable that we no longer allow ourselves to be loved. With this, we undermine the other’s capability to love by setting limits on what they can and cannot love. That they cannot possibly love us because we are not good enough to love.

But shouldn’t love be without conditions and prerequisites? Isn’t the nature of love this unquestioning affection that says “I love you just because.” No questions. You are loved, not because you earned it, and not because you will return it. You are loved in a way that transcends bounds and without seeking for any reason.

When we were young, we were taught that for us to be loved, we have to be good enough, pretty enough, smart enough. We were told that we had to work hard for that love. In turn this makes us feel that we are not deserving, so when we are faced with an unquestioning love, we feel that we have to refuse.

The challenge then, is how to accept love when we feel that we least deserve it. To look at ourselves beyond our disorder and see that we are truly worth it, even if we think we are not. Most importantly, to see ourselves in the eyes of others who love us, and not only through our own hateful eyes.

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I have bipolar disorder.

I am bipolar.

Same difference? Some will say yes, many will say no. There are a lot of positive messages out there about the fact that we are not our illnesses.

I have multiple sclerosis (MS), but MS doesn’t have me.

I have Asperger’s syndrome, but I’m not Asperger’s syndrome.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not criticizing those messages. Indeed, they are positive, optimistic and even empowering. They remind us to consider ourselves as more than just our illnesses. But, I do have some reservations, too. Or rather, a different angle.

For example, I have bipolar disorder. Bipolar doesn’t have me, I have it. It doesn’t define who I am — I am still myself. But, does it? The difference is subtle. Who would I be, without my bipolar disorder? Would I be the same person? Would I have the same quirks, habits, preferences and dislikes? How much of my bipolar disorder makes me… me?

You see, I believe that without it, I simply would not be me — at least not in the way that I am right now. Some of these traits are bothersome: They impose limitations on me (I’ll get into more details on that in a sec), and sometimes, they take over with a force stronger than a tsunami. But some other traits are just the opposite: They are positive. They make me compassionate, sensitive, empathic. They make me strong.

Yep, I just said they make me strong. Because they do! Battling with your mind day in and day out is difficult. Even with medication that keeps me for the most part stable, I have bad days. There are days I’m more sensitive, days when I don’t quite function, or even days when I function too much. I can be super depressed for a day (or three), or hypomanic for a day (or three). These are tiny episodes, not long enough to be medically declared as such, but just enough to mess with my day (or week). And when I don’t have “baby episodes,” as we could call them, I still struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. Going through all these ups and downs and managing them while trying to maintaining a semblance of a normal life takes strength. Lots of strength.

My struggles makes me strong.

Would I be as strong if I had never had to navigate all these unstable moods? I’m not so sure. Maybe. But probably not. I could do without all the yo-yo-ing, definitely. But I’m glad to have that inner strength and resilience.

But what about those limits I mentioned earlier? All those positive messages we see everywhere on social media try to steer us away from viewing ourselves as having limits, right? They have us believing that we can reach for the stars, and that anything is possible if we put our minds to it. And isn’t that a good message?

Well, yes.

But also no. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely good to have this mindset of not giving up or of not withholding from trying something just because we are scared of failure. And we should never accept limits imposed on us by others. If we have a dream, we should definitely look at how we can achieve it, and go for it.

But, I believe it’s also important to understand our personal limits. They will be different for everyone, and might stem from personality, preferences or circumstances. I do have limitations, and I’ve learned to recognize them. My concentration is not as good as it used to be, I have anxiety and I do have unpredictable moods despite taking medication. Said medication also has undesirable side effects; for example, I am very fatigued in the mornings until about 10 a.m., and although I do function enough to get my daughters to school, I wouldn’t make any huge morning commitments, and I often do need to go back to bed after school drop off (I am blessed with a great neighbor who will sometimes bring them for me if I judge that I shouldn’t be driving — a good support system is key to living with any chronic illness, but that’s a topic for another blog post!) That being said, the stability the medication brings me far outweighs the side effects, so I take them diligently.

Briefly said, there are situations that are simply not a good fit for me, and fostering the ability to recognize them before throwing myself into them is a good life skill that actually helps me stabilize my moods. Otherwise, I’m exposing myself to constantly be swimming counter-current, fighting my core self — and that’s a fight no one can ever win.

I have bipolar disorder.

I am bipolar.

They are both intricately part of me.

I am myself.

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My most recent therapy session left me feeling discriminated against, unfairly judged and extremely offended. My new therapist, who I had only seen a few times at this point, was the root and cause of these unsavory feelings. As soon as I walked through her door and sat on her uncomfortable red couch, she had decided on my mood. She had determined I was hypomanic, before even asking me how I was feeling, and made that determination based on my appearance.

That particular day, I had carefully chosen to wear a skirt and a blouse. I decided to do my hair and my makeup as if I were going somewhere special. I chose to do these things because I had the time. I am a single mother of a very energetic and demanding 13-month-old girl who doesn’t allow me much time in the bathroom most days to clean myself up. But on the day of this therapy session, she took a long nap, and I had time to put myself together before therapy. I was feeling good, feeling confident — and that’s not to say I don’t feel that way on a regular day. But my therapist wasn’t interested in the reason why I looked so nice, she was only interested in labeling me.

She said that in previous sessions, I must have been experiencing depression because my hair was up, my face was untouched and my clothing was plain. She was judging me when she should have been asking me what was going on, or how I was feeling. If she would have asked those things, she would have known that I had more time that morning to get ready. She would have known I had just started a new medication, and that one of the side affects was increased energy. She would have known earlier that morning, I had received a call from a perspective employer who was considering me for a job, and that I was hopeful and excited. But she didn’t ask, she just assumed. And the only reason she assumed was because I have a mental illness.

If I weren’t affected by a mental illness, she may have told me I looked nice that day. If I didn’t have a mental illness, she would have assumed during the other sessions, I was tired because I’d been up since 6 a.m. with the baby. But because mental illness is part of my life, she discriminated against me and sorely misread my hope, extra time and excitement as hypomania. I wanted to ask her, “What does it mean when my mom doesn’t do her makeup on the weekends, but does during the work week? Does that make her either depressed or hypomanic?” The answer is no, because my mom doesn’t suffer from a mental illness. She would be described as relaxed or ready for work, whereas I am described as up or down.

During that session, it was made clear to me my therapist sees my illness as black and white. She sees me as a walking, talking illness, not as a person who is afflicted by bipolar disorder. We had only seen each other a few times, and not nearly enough for her to know my hypomanic tendencies. I know it is her job to track my moods and be aware of the triggers and warning signs, but it is not her job to judge me because of how I look.

I wanted to tell her to be careful with her comments. I wanted to tell her she was doing more harm than good. But I was too upset, too offended to say anything. I felt like I couldn’t defend myself because if I did, I would be deemed argumentative, which just happens to be a text book symptom of hypomania. And that seemed to be all she was interested in knowing; the text book definition of hypomania, and not how hypomania presents itself in a case by case basis. I left the session feeling more insecure than I had felt in a long time, and feeling like I didn’t want to go back because of how I would be perceived.

If I do go back, what do I wear? Should I leave my hair up, or wear it down? Do I dare to put makeup on? These are not questions I should have to ask myself. I should feel safe with my therapist, not judged. Instead of solving problems, a new one was created. And now I feel like I’m on my own to solve this new problem of being insecure. I won’t go back, and I am terrified to try again. I’m so discouraged, so disappointed, and I don’t know how that can be repaired.

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Bipolar mania can start off fun. Life takes on a heightened excitement, ideas flow, passions burn and the world ignites in a huge array of colors. It’s all great, until it is too much. The colors become too bright, the ideas are too many, the thoughts won’t slow down and my world explodes. Having the tools to assess and help your mental state, especially when in mania, is a crucial thing. These are five things I have found helpful in my own manic struggles.

1. Accept Reality

Mania is most dangerous when I don’t realize I am in it. It’s equally bad when I deny it. The first key to controlling a manic episode is to acknowledge it is happening. This is much easier said than done — who wants to talk themselves out of all their good euphoric ideas? Who wants to stop the energy, zest or bubbly feelings? I usually don’t, until it’s too late – until I have lost control and I’m flipping and falling inside my mind. It takes courage to accept reality, and to be humble enough to admit to yourself you are struggling. But, it is the first step into both stopping and recovering from a manic episode.

2. Talk

It may seem embarrassing, talking about the validity of your thoughts and actions while you’re struggling with mania. It may even be uncomfortable for you to look at yourself like you’ve fallen prey again. It can be disappointing when you’re not in control of yourself. But, I have found sitting down and discussing how I feel when I am manic with my parents, my husband and even my therapist, helps me see myself more clearly. I can then separate myself from the illness, and recognize my actions aren’t necessarily my own – my brain is simply acting up again. This is another way to get a grip on what is going on and start moving forward.

3. Sit Still

When mania makes my world catch on fire, I want to do everything all at once. My brain is firing at a million synapses a minute, and I want to keep the energy going. It is so tempting to fuel the fire by submitting to all of the impulses and racing thoughts. Don’t — it will burn you in the end. My psychiatrist always tells me stopping the mania is like putting out a wildfire. Mania is never controlled, as much as we would like to think it is when we are enjoying the high. I’ve learned one of the best things to do to calm the impulses is making myself sit still. I will sit down outside in a comfy chair by the window, sip on some decaf tea and practice staying calm. It definitely takes some control and self-discipline, because who wants to tell their euphoric mind it needs to tone it down? But it helps calm the episode for me, and that’s more important.

4. Deep Breathing

This one goes hand in hand with sitting still. When my thoughts are starting to race, I make myself sit down and breathe. Five to ten seconds on the intake, slowly, and five to ten seconds exhaling, slowly. I close my eyes, imagine calm places and practice breathing. I will do this a few times throughout the day, especially when the mania rears up particularly hard. It helps with the sense of urgency I get in manic times and tones down the impulsiveness.

5. Routine

The last thing, which is probably the most helpful for me, is staying in my routine. I go to bed, wake up, go to work, eat and workout all at the same times every day in moderation. I try hard not to overdo anything or take on more than I know I can handle. This can be tricky, especially when you think you can handle everything while you’re manic. Pace yourself. Routine is key to resetting your internal clock, which is what gets frenzied while in mania. Sleeping, especially, is a necessary way to reset this clock and help pull you from the mania.

Mania is never easy to recover from. The earlier you can catch it, the less destruction it can cause. I have found these steps lessen mania’s impact on me and help my ability to cope with it. Like the depressive side of bipolar, mania is not within your control. You can’t pick and choose when it hits, how hard or for how long. But, you can use steps to get through it, and pick yourself up when it’s done. It isn’t easy, but I promise it’s worth it.

**Editor’s note: This piece is based on an individual’s experience, and shouldn’t be taken as medical advice

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Editor’s note: The following is based on an individual’s experience and shouldn’t be taken as medical advice.

Mania is the “up” part of bipolar disorder. When I’m experiencing a manic episode, my self-esteem is higher, my plans are more grandiose and my actions are impulsive. For a long time, I let my mania control me and got into a lot of trouble. I would be promiscuous, spend frivolously and try to accomplish tasks that were completely unrealistic. Since then, I’ve learned how to keep myself out of trouble when I’m manic by doing seven things that keep me safe.

1. Take my medication.

Often times, when I’m manic, I feel really good. And this distorted view of reality leads me to believe I don’t need my medication. So, I skip a few days, or stop taking it completely, and then suffer the consequences. Now, I take my medication because I know without it, I would be unstable and unpredictable.

2. Don’t miss or cancel psychiatric appointments.

Like my medication, when I’m experiencing a manic episode I wrongly believe I don’t need the help of my psychiatrist or counselor. I forget that without their help, I would be worse off and experience mania in a more intense and destructive way.

3. Abstain from sex.

Mania turns me into a young woman I don’t like very much. She dresses and speaks provocatively, doesn’t respect her body and doesn’t respect others. I choose not to engage in sexual activities when I’m manic for the sake of my body, mind and heart. I’ve learned to protect those assets because if I don’t, I’ll regret it when the episode ends.

4. Don’t drink alcohol.

Alcohol clouds your mind and impairs my judgment. So does mania. Combining the two would not only be foolish, but it could be dangerous. I’ve taken my past experiences with alcohol and mania and decided the temporary high I feel isn’t worth the possible trouble or dangerous situations I could get myself into.

5. Pass off my credit cards.

One of the symptoms of mania I have the most problem with is acting impulsively. Normally, this is seen in my spending. I spend money I don’t have on items I don’t need. When mania strikes, I give my credit cards and extra cash to a trusted friend or family member and ask them to monitor my spending so I don’t overspend and end up broke when the mania leaves me.

6. Get plenty of sleep.

Mania feels like a high I don’t want to come down from. I don’t want to sleep, and don’t feel like I need sleep when I’m manic. This can turn into sleep deprivation, which can cause me to make bad or foolish decisions. When I’m manic, I set alarms for specific sleep and wake up times and ask a friend to encourage me to follow them.

7. Talk through it.

I am not a good listener when I’m in a manic episode. I don’t listen to the pleas of my friends and family when they ask me to slow down. I ignore their requests to think things through. Instead, I’ve asked my friends and family not to do the talking, but to let me talk through my manic thoughts and feelings. That way, if my plans are unrealistic or I’m thinking impulsively, they know first hand and then can encourage me to slow down.

Untreated mania that is not acknowledged can be dangerous and lead to serious trouble. Had I not begun following these seven rules for staying safe, I’m not sure I wouldn’t be in jail or worse. I am not myself when I am manic, and if I don’t keep my body and my mind safe during an episode, I always regret it. My health comes first, especially when I’m manic. I protect myself when I’m manic so the me who isn’t manic doesn’t live in pain or regret when the mania is over. I owe it to myself to stay safe, and I owe it to those who care about me.

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