woman sitting on bed with head between her knees, overwhelmed by racing thoughts

A Letter to Myself When I'm Manic

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Okay, it’s happening again: the “high” of your bipolar disorder. Don’t worry, you’ve trained yourself for this. You know the early warning signs, and, well, here they are again. You’re becoming irritable and impatient. You’re feeling a little too good, and have too much energy. The to-do list you’re making is little too unrealistic. But don’t freak out, you’ve been through this before. Remember the last manic episode? When it was over, you promised yourself you would catch the next one early and not let it disrupt your life. I’m just going to remind you of what that promise was, so you can get into gear and manage your mania this time.

Your mania is still mild right now, which means you caught it in time. Awesome, good job! The first thing that always gets you is being too quick about things. Slow down. You’re starting to talk too fast and interrupt others. You don’t want to be rude, or displease your friends. So slow it down, think before you speak and you’ll get ahead of this thing.

Quit arguing now. You’re picking fights because you’re manic, not because someone actually hurt your feelings or disagreed with you that strongly. Don’t argue with people, because you won’t win, and you’ll just hurt their feelings with your mean words and jerk attitude. Trust me, the aftermath of a manic fight with you is not pleasant, and you really hate hurting people’s feelings.

You haven’t been irresponsible yet, but you know the urge is coming. Be responsible with your money. You know it’s probably time to give your mom your credit cards and extra cash. Be responsible with your time. I know you want to spend the day shopping online, but without any credit cards to use, why waste your time? Don’t obsess over online shopping. Instead, spend your time cleaning out your closet. Be responsible with your body. Don’t forget how you feel the day after a manic induced one night stand. Be respectful of your hard earned money, your precious time and your private body.

Take some time to yourself until this episode is over. I know you’ll get the urge to go out and have drinks with friends, but don’t forget the impact that alcohol has on you when you’re manic. With your quick speech and lack of mental filter right now, it’s best just to stay in and have some “me” time. You’ll avoid embarrassing and potentially offensive situations, and keep yourself from making any questionable decisions about who to hang out with while you’re out and about.

You’ve totally got this. With this letter as a reminder, and your previously-set safety plan, you’ve got this. Just remember that if stuff gets too weird, or your racing thoughts start to scare you, call your doctor right away. I know mania is scary sometimes, but you can chase the mania monsters under your bed by taking your medication as prescribed, and following your safety plan. You can definitely get to the mania before it gets to you this time; your previous manic episodes have been great practice. Now put that practice into place, and take control.

You are not your mania. On a regular day, you are cheerful, talkative and fun; mania simply amplifies each of those, but as you know, it’s usually not for the better. Take control of who you are, and send those mania monsters back to the closet where they came from. Shut the door, and walk away with an even mood, able to manage your mania.

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When Bipolar Disorder Means Waking Up as Tigger or Eeyore

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I often wonder how long my moods will last. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I will deal with any changes and always have a heightened awareness of my current mood. As you can imagine, this is draining. I never know who I’m waking up to, which is frustrating at best.

I would give almost anything to be “normal.” I do have extended periods where I am stable, but most of the time I swing between symptoms, something hard for both myself and those around me. In fact, I often have more than one symptom at a time. I can most frequently be found between hypomanic (which, for me, exhibits itself as general happiness combined with agitation and irritation, along with desires to start unrealistic projects) and depression (which shows as a desire to do less than nothing and crawl back into bed). But how long does each mood last? It really does just depend on the day.

I read somewhere when you have bipolar you never know if you’re waking up as Tigger or Eeyore. This is certainly true for me. I can go to bed bouncy and happy, full of ideas on how to make the world a better place and plans for everything I’m going to do the next day. Then, I still wake up feeling like the world around me is gray and sad, internalizing that feeling and holding it far too close for comfort. I can then swing into happiness and productivity, while at the same time feeling overwhelmed and doubting my abilities to keep details straight. Fortunately, even in the midst of all of that I manage well, as it’s something I’ve gotten used to over time.

There are also times too though, where I am in the same general mood for days on end and am able to deal with the much smaller waves of mood changes. But they are just that, waves. Some days they come crashing down around me, while others I can sail atop them. It just depends on how capable I am of using my skills. When I’m depressed, they often aren’t available to me. So I tend to isolate to keep others from having to deal with me during those times (not unlike people with regular depression I suppose).

My bipolar disorder seems to have worsened as the years have passed though. I am increasingly aware of how little time there can be between my moods. It can be hard to navigate the waters. Even with therapy, medication and my care circle, sometimes there just isn’t enough support or sufficient skills to stay on top of it to see the waves coming. I’m caught off guard. Other times, which happens much more frequently as I gain new insights, I am able to catch my mood shift before it happens, prepare myself with behavioral changes and give those around me a heads up.

I try to improve my ability in this area every day. It’s an important one. Why? Because my family and I deserve to have more Tigger than Eeyore. This is why I work so hard to manage my bipolar disorder. I hope, as time goes on, I will learn to be more bouncy and happy than sad and withdrawn. I suppose it just comes down to how well I learn to sail on the sea of symptoms, yes?

I hope you have lots of happy Tigger energy in your day today.

This post originally appeared on This Bipolar Life.

Lead photo source: Tigger

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10 Parts of My Life With Bipolar Disorder You Can't See

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Many parts of my bipolar disorder are apparent to my friends and family because they show externally. My mood swings are obvious and my triggers are easy to spot, but there are heavier parts about living with bipolar disorder that are invisible, even to those closest to me.

1. I hate myself most of the time.

The woman I am when I’m stable is the woman I love the most. When I’m depressed or hypomanic (which is most of the time), I turn into someone I hate. This means I have little respect for myself, disregard my needs and have no self-compassion most of the time. No one sees this because I don’t talk about it and pretend to love myself, no matter how I really feel.

2. I don’t want to push anyone away.

Sometimes I’m mean or cold to those closest to me. I don’t intend to be this way, but it’s hard to control my negative emotions. I don’t want to push people away, but my actions do so anyway and this makes it hard to pull those people back.

3. At times, everything seems daunting.

During a depressive episode, I’m more than depressed. I’m anxious and easily overwhelmed by life and everyday tasks. Even little things like cleaning the litter box or getting dressed seem like too much, so I avoid them during a depressive episode.

4. It’s hard to love.

I feel a lot of emotions, sometimes all at once. Anger, bliss, disgust and happiness can all affect my mood at the same time, and that leaves little room to love. I’m so focused on the negatives of my life with bipolar disorder that it’s difficult to love others – and myself. It’s easier to let negativity consume me than to work on loving myself and others. Easier, but damaging.

5. The side effects of my medication really bother me.

If I want to try and maintain stability, I have to take my medication every day. But the side effects of tremors, excessive sweating and restless limbs are unbearable when I sleep. They are hard to deal with and still bother me immensely, even after having them for so long.

6. Needing help continuously hurts my pride.

Therapy, medication, mood tracking – it all helps me stay stable. But it also feels like each of those things strips me of my independence and my pride. I’d like to manage my bipolar disorder on my own, to prove my strength, but I can’t. I need help, and even though I know that’s OK, it still hurts my pride.

7. My mood swings are painful.

My mood swings are obvious because everything about me changes. Apart from my mood, my speech, appearance, appetite and priorities all change. What others can’t see is how much those changes hurt me. Both coming down from hypomania and falling into a depressed state feel like I’m plummeting down ten stories onto concrete. I can feel physically sore and sick during a mood swing, but letting on about it would worry those around me, so I keep the pain to myself.

8. Hypomania isn’t fun.

Some people close to me have noted that when I’m hypomanic, I’m more energetic, more motivated and more fun. All of that is true, but what they don’t know is when I experience hypomania, I feel completely powerless and out of control as to what I say and do. Sure, it’s nice to have more energy and be more fun, but hypomania is not fun because I don’t get to choose.

9. I worry about how I treat others.

My near-constant irritability makes me anxious about what I say and how I treat others. I don’t want to be irritable, but my bipolar disorder makes me that way. I don’t want to treat others poorly, but I feel like I can’t control my words or actions when bipolar disorder makes me irritable. I worry because I don’t ever want to hurt anyone, but I know that unintentionally, I will anyway.

10. I worry about how I treat myself.

During a depressive episode, I neglect myself and my basic needs. During a hypomanic episode, I become careless with my body and lose respect for myself. I worry about how I treat myself when I’m not stable. Most of the time I feel like I don’t care about myself, and that affects my level of self-care. I want to love myself and treat myself in the way I deserve, but most of the time I just don’t care.

Living with bipolar disorder isn’t easy. The symptoms, medication side effects and physical pain I feel all interrupt my daily routine and make my life generally unpleasant. Many aspects of my life with bipolar disorder are not only unpleasant, but invisible to those around me. Even though I’m in pain nearly all the time, my disorder is only partially visible and understood. I’m hoping that disclosing these ten things will make my life with bipolar disorder a little bit easier.

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When Your Sickness Isn't Taken Seriously

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I’m sick. I’m really sick. My sickness will always be here, and it’s not going away. I live in pain, but there’s really no way to manage it except for practice. My daily life is a struggle. People die from my illness. I’ve even almost died.

But my sickness isn’t taken seriously. 

Just get over it. I hear that a lot. I would love to be able to just get over my sickness. I would love to find the magic pill to make all of this go away. But unfortunately with my sickness that’s not an option for me. Instead of the magic pill it’s multiple pills. And it’s not like being prescribed the right concoction on your first try either, no, it’s trial and error. Things get worse before they get better with these pills. You sometimes become sicker before getting healthy, and even when the pills do work, you can sometimes feel sedated. You can’t feel things the way you normally would, or experience things you used to enjoy. People sometimes see all the pill boxes, and if they don’t think you’re a “pill head,” they think you’re not trying because you’re taking medications for what your sickness is.

It doesn’t stop at just finding the right medication, because obviously that would just be too easy. I have to see a specialist. Currently I’m seeing one twice a week, and another every few weeks. They each tell me the same thing, and they aren’t the first specialists I’ve received help from. All of this is pretty disruptive to my life, and makes it difficult to do simple things like work a minimum wage job. I don’t know how I’ll react to pills, and often times the reaction isn’t good. It’s difficult to explain in a job interview that several days a week you will be unavailable to see a doctor, because when you tell an employer (or anyone really) what your doctor is for, they think you’re a joke. Sure, you can lie and say it’s just a doctor’s appointment, no specialty, but how long can you do that before they think you’re a lazy worker who’s full of shit?

I could do both these things to manage my illness. I could spend hours online researching why I’m sick, or buy expensive books to understand it better. I could spend days in support groups with people who are infected with the same sickness, or something similar, and talk about the hold my sickness has on me. I could sit down with my family and friends and explain what’s happening to me. But it wouldn’t make it any different. I still wouldn’t be taken seriously. Because it is all in my head.

I live with a mental illness (more than one, actually, but the diagnosis isn’t the point). It’s no secret, I’ve always been very forward and public with this. I’ve explained my illness to multiple people; family members, friends, colleagues, even strangers. I’ve explained how it makes me feel. Somehow, my sickness isn’t valid.

According to webmd.com, these are my symptoms, for one of my illnesses;

“-Euphoria or irritability
-Increased energy and activity
-Excessive talk; racing thoughts
-Inflated self-esteem
-Unusual energy; less need for sleep
-Impulsiveness, a reckless pursuit of gratification (…)”

And with the same illness, I can also experience;

“-Depressed mood and low self-esteem
-Low energy levels and apathy
-Sadness, loneliness, helplessness, guilt
-Slow speech, fatigue, and poor coordination
Insomnia or oversleeping
-Suicidal thoughts and feelings
-Poor concentration
-Lack of interest or pleasure in usual activities (…)”

I feel like this, no matter what. It’s either one list or the other, some days better than others, but no matter what is happening I feel like this. Today (for example) I related to the second list more. And that doesn’t make me just gloomy and emotional. I woke up today with an overwhelming sense of wanting to harm myself. I woke up today, next to my husband and one month old son, and wanted nothing more than to die. I went to sleep happy. I had a good day yesterday. But today I wanted to end my life.

My illness makes me want to end my life, and my illness has claimed the lives of others. People kill themselves because of my sickness. Yes, people do not take mental illness seriously.

I am sick. I will always be sick, I will always have this. I will learn to live with it. But I will not live with the stigma that is carried with a mental illness. I will fight the stigma that because it’s mental, that it’s all in my head. I will educate the masses, I will make sure my children grow up in a world where mental health is a priority, not an excuse. I will do my part to save as many people struggling with mental health as possible, while battling my own illness.

If nothing else sticks with you today, remember this. Living with a mental illness is not a choice.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

Follow this journey on Taylor’s site.

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What It Means to Rebuild Your Life After a Psychotic Break

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I still remember driving to work for my first day at the first job after my psychotic break. I was so scared. The night before I had laid out all my clothes and taken my shower to be as ready as possible. I got up extra early to have time to “just be ready.” My mental illness caused the psychotic break two years earlier. Since then, I have been rebuilding myself, overcoming a gauntlet of “first” fears.

My psychologist explained to me that having a psychotic break is like having a psychological house with a cracked foundation. In addition, there’s a pit underneath your house. So, when the foundation breaks, your entire psychological house falls down into the pit and breaks into a thousand pieces.

Well, my house fell into that pit, and it fell far, shattering my whole world. As if you are experiencing a fit of vertigo, eyes dilated, attempting to pick up the pieces of this abstract puzzle. Among the pieces, you find a few which look ominously familiar: the corner pieces of your puzzle.

1. Grieving the loss of your own identity.

2. Acting as an experimental guinea pig for doctors, who seem to be playing Russian Roulette to find the right cocktail of medications for you.

3. Opinionated friends telling you, “Now that you are home, why don’t you clean out those closets you never had time for!”

4. Family unsure of how to act around you, not knowing how to best support you.

It’s my job to put myself back together again. After my break, working full-time again was my goal. I was so afraid my whole brain would turn to “French blue cheese” filled with striated blue mold, rendering it useless. I was afraid I had lost my intellect, my creativity, my ability to write and the power to communicate with others. But my puzzle is nowhere near being complete.

Part of putting myself back together again meant regaining confidence in myself to do the simplest things: overcoming that gauntlet of “first” fears.

My “first” psychologist visit

I remember my hands gripping the steering wheel tightly when I drove, alone, to my psychologist visit for the first time. I was scared to death, but I made it to my appointment. Over time it got easier, but it wasn’t just me who was affected. I remember the first time I drove my son to the YMCA for the two of us to swim. Having him in the car was terrifying — another life in my hands. While I was swimming laps I remember enviously thinking, “All my friends are working and I am here swimming…” Prior to my break, I had a Bachelor’s degree, and had worked in marketing for over 20 years. Now, seemingly unfit for employment, I continue swimming laps. Driven to get back to work, my caseworker and I developed a plan for me to go back to school and then look for a job. That’s right. Back to school…

My “first” day of school

When I went back to school, I was given additional time, and was able to take my tests in a different location from my classmates. Each time a new test was given, my brain would go on the fritz. I had to say to myself out loud, “OK, start with what you know.” Day by day, I was doing it, I was succeeding. By the last week of school, I had straight A’s and a job offer. There was no way to contain the excitement.

My “first” day at work

Driving to work that first time I was thinking, what am I going to say to these people? “Hi! I just had a psychotic break, what’s going on in your life?” But even as I became more comfortable, I still talked primarily about work. I had very little to say as people were chit-chatting around the water cooler. I am sure they thought I was a snob, not engaging in small talk. But nothing could have been farther from the truth. I was scared some strong wind of fate would decimate the fragile house of cards of normalcy I had built. Maintaining my established routine was critical for me. I wanted to share my life with my colleagues, but I feared their reaction. For most of the population, they would think of me as one of the inmates from “One Flew over the Cookoo’s Nest” or Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction.”

What I wish I could have said to them is this: “I have had a long and difficult journey, rebuilding myself so that I can work with you. Working with you has proven to me that my psychotic break took nothing from me. I still have my intellect, my creativity and my ability to write and collaborate with others. While a tiny portion may be, my entire brain is not crumbled blue cheese. If I take my medication, maintain my diet and exercise and my mental coping skills, I am essentially no different than a diabetic. A diabetic’s pancreas produces little or no insulin. Once they take their insulin, and maintain their diet and exercise they can live a relatively normal life. I am no different: except my medical condition is located in my brain.”

I wish I could have just hung around the “water cooler” gang, without having to say anything. But as my confidence grew, I knew I had to open up more. And I did, but still never became part of the gang. That is why I speak openly about my mental illness now. I am tired of not being myself around the people I work with. Silence does not aid understanding. That is why I have come “out of the closet” about my mental illness. That is why I am a presenter for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I am committed to ending the silence.

This piece originally appeared on Challenge the Storm.

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To My Best Friends Who Love Me, Bipolar Disorder and All

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Our friendship blossomed during chemistry class in high school. We sat in the back of the class talking about our teenage lives and paying no attention to the lesson. We had some pretty funny conversations back there, some funny enough that one of you kept a notebook full of what we had said. We were young. We were funny, and we built a bond that would withstand anything in that chemistry class.

High school was fun with you but was also a trying time for all of us. You both suffered from loss: a father, a grandparent. Even though I didn’t understand that loss at the time, I did understand you needed me to be there for you through it. All these years later, you’ve repaid me for being there for you during that difficult time by being there for me through my journey with mental illness.

I know you were shocked and a little scared when I was first hospitalized and then diagnosed, but you didn’t let it show. You made sure I was OK and told me you would be there and do anything I needed you to. When I started my medication and became stable again, we were able to hang out like we used to. What I loved about that was you didn’t act like anything had changed, and we went on with our friendship as usual.

Each time I was hospitalized, you were there for me. More importantly, you didn’t treat me differently when I was released. You didn’t baby me or walk on eggshells around me, but you did try to make me laugh more often. I’ll always appreciate that. We continued with our friendship as if I weren’t struggling, having movie marathons, eating crack pretzels and going star tipping. I’ll always love you for making me feel normal when it was difficult for me to feel that way.

I’ve had my ups and downs because of my bipolar disorder, but I’ve always found stability in my friendship with each of you, especially when my moods would fluctuate. You each have your ways of bringing me back to earth and reintroducing me to reality, and I’ll always be thankful for that. You’ve each done your part at pulling me out of depression and easing me out of mania, and the fact that you care enough to do that warms my heart to this day.

I may have my ups and downs, but as best friends, we have not. Even when I’m at my worst, you are patient, understanding and grant me grace when I may not deserve it. Often times, I’ve thought you’re both too kind and too good to be friends with me, a troubled young woman with bipolar disorder. Over the years, I have come to realize I am deserving of your love and friendship, and you are deserving of mine. We are lucky to have each, especially when one of us is struggling because the others of us are always there.

I don’t know anything about my future with bipolar disorder, but I do know this: No matter what happens or how I feel about myself, you will love me anyway, unconditionally. You will always be there for me. I want you to know that I’ll do the same in return, always, no matter what.

When other people in my life have left me because of my bipolar disorder, you have stood by me. I know you will continue to stand by me until we are old enough to be “The Golden Girls.” We will go through much more together: loss, heartbreak and separation, but our bond is strong enough to withstand all of that and more. What we have gone through thus far has made us and our friendship stronger. We can only get stronger still.

You two are my oldest and dearest friends, and are the best part of having bipolar disorder. Because I have this illness, I have your support, which I don’t know what I would do without.

Thank you for being my best friends. Thank you for your unconditional love. Thank you for your unending support. You and your friendship have gotten me through my darkest times. I know with you two, there is only light in my future with bipolar disorder.

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