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Explaining the Physical Scars of a Mixed Bipolar Episode

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If you could see me right now you might assume I got drunk and ended up in a fight. Or perhaps I am a victim of domestic violence. I suppose you might consider that I’m extremely clumsy. It might not occur to you I was lost in a mixed episode of bipolar disorder and that’s how I landed in the emergency room. I have a very purple and very puffy black eye and stitches to go with it. I think I look hideous. I’m full of shame. I am reminded of what “out of control” feels like each time I step in front of the mirror. 

It’s been going on for a week and gaining intensity as the days passed. The roller coaster is actually off its tracks. 

A disconnection from my body and mind was starting to take form and I didn’t quite know it. Only when my coworker looked me dead in the eye and asked if the fanatic could please come back did I start to see. But, it didn’t really stick. My thoughts were far too fast and frenzied for his statement to truly matter. I had things to accomplish. Work to be done. I then became the most driven worker my agency has seen in the span of two hours. I was solving problems in the hands of executives. Having arrived at 7:15, my boss sent me home at 5.  

What was unseen that day was my tremendous trips to the bathroom hiding a rush of tears, or on the verge of a panic attack. Have you ever tried to muffle yourself during a panic attack? It’s just as distressing as what’s actually happening. After my brief intermittent meltdown I would return to my office with a joke or thick sarcasm to prove I was OK. On my way home, I was determined my day was not done. I now had errands to run. 

I made it to the parking lot. Turned off the car. Gathered my purse. An implosion occurred. I burst into sobs best saved for the shower. All the days emotions hit me and I felt so out of control. If I let go of the steering wheel I might fly about the car. I managed to pick up my phone, which I never do. I was terrified. I called three people. Three! No one answered. I sank. I didn’t know what to do. My husband finally called and he talked me home. I made the decision I was nowhere fit for work the next day. I left a long rambling message for my boss. 

Next morning, I woke up at 3:30 a.m. I went to my fitness bootcamp at 5 a.m. I came home and tried to go back to sleep and rest. I was far too antsy. Far too uncomfortable. Far too manic. I decided to go trail running. I had a plan to slow myself down and not focus on beating my usual five mile loop time. It started out that way, but quickly got out of control. I have not told anyone this next part. As I was descending down a hill and gaining momentum, I started jumping off things. I ran up the side of the hill, off the trail, to jump across the trail. At some point I heard the sound played when Wonder Woman began to run or do something heroic. I came back to the trail and took off as fast as I could, making my stride as if I was flying. I could feel the wind on my face like I was a bullet train. I was quick, nimble, powerful. All in my mind. Meanwhile my body literally could not keep up. Down I went. Hard. Very hard. Hit my head. Turns out it was my eye lid. Blood was dripping as I lay across the trail. Confused. Not like dazed, but rather questioning how I could have been stopped.

I picked myself up. No concept of how hurt I might be. I had to walk back up the hill I just flew down. I pulled a lady aside and showed her my head. I asked her if I should go to the ER. She said, “Yes, definitely.” I walked another half mile to my car not entirely sure what happened. 

I was restless and pacing at the ER. Scared. Alone. Cried into my hands several times. Not because I was hurt physically. Just unsure how I can continue to live like this. Or if I even want to. They patched me up “good as new” and sent me home. Instead of going home, I went to coffee with my dear friend. I cried some more. I don’t remember much of our talk other than I let some things out. Kept some things in.

Tomorrow I go to work with a helluva shiner on my right eye. You see typically when I have bipolar symptoms I simply disappear for a few days. I return when I am ready. But the scars from those episodes are on the inside. This time, I am returning with scars on the outside. I am worried about gossip, rumors… whatever else spreads like wildfire at an office. Very few people know I’m bipolar. I almost feel like I am faced with being open or face ugliness of office culture. I’m ready for neither, but I also don’t know which is worse. 

I plan to wear a hat. I plan to keep my head down. I plan to keep to myself. As I write these words I am sad. Bipolar is a part of me like it or not. Just as I will always be a recovering alcoholic. Maybe it’s time to set myself free from my own self stigma. I am still the same hard worker whether I’m black, blue or bipolar. It may no longer be a heroic effort, but it’s always an honest one.

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When I Need You to Hear What I Cannot Say

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I could reach out.

But really, what would I say?

I’m sinking.

But you already know that as you see me knee deep in chaos.

I’m crashing.

But you already know that as you see my scars.

I’m hurting.

But you already know that as you see me wipe away the tears

I’m drowning.

But you already know that as you see I can’t breathe.

I’m ashamed.

But you already know this as I harbor secrets about myself.

I’m scared.

But you already know that as you hold my shaken body.

I’m beaten.

But you already know that as I’ve lost my voice

I’m lost.

But you already know that as you see me spin in circles.

I’m tired.

But you already know that as you see me lifeless on the couch.

I’m broken.

But you already know that as you see me struggle to stand.

I’m alone.

But you already know that as you see me withdraw into nothingness.

I’m hopeless.

You don’t know this as I can’t seem to fully let you in.

I’m trying.

Oh how I’m trying to lean on you in these moments.

I’m trying.

Oh how I’m trying to fight the demons of bipolar depression.

I’m trying.

Oh how I’m trying to say… please help me

Please tell me you can hear me.

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Bi-Squared: My Life as a Bisexual Bipolar Woman

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Woman. Daughter. Wife. Sister. Student. Worker. American. Blogger. Advocate. Pagan. Millennial.

Look at all those labels. And all for just one person. Each one a reminder of my place, of the fact that I belong in a category. Each one fitting me neatly, each one coming with a list of things that are expected of me. Some require more than others, some come with some extra baggage that doesn’t quite meet my personal hopes. (I’m looking at you, little “millennial” label!)

Bipolar. Bisexual.

Uh-oh. It’s like trying to put a star in the circle hole. It seems like it’s “OK” if you’re one or the other, but be a part of too many minorities and suddenly it can feel like everyone has an issue with your existence.

I’ve “been” bipolar for the better part of a decade. The same, I suppose, could be said for being bisexual. I like to think I’m more of a sapiosexual, someone attracted to intelligence, but I love anyone who loves me — irrespective of gender. I got married comparatively young (I was 21) and up popped the naysayers: “If you were really bisexual, you wouldn’t have married hetero. You’d have married a woman,” and “You probably just said you were bisexual for attention. You’re either straight or gay. No in-between.”

That’s pretty close to the same thing people said to me when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I got the usual “cry for attention” argument, the “making it up” comments and the “you need to just get over it” statements. It begins to feel pretty oppressive if you add both of those together, like no one wants to look at you like a complex person but a complex problem.

Looking back at my dating history, I realized a lot of the reasons I sabotaged my relationships had more to do with the way my disorder made me than who I was, or who I was with. I would start a relationship with someone in a manic state and the world would come crashing down as I slipped into depression. Each relationship came with the hope that whoever I was with — regardless of gender — would be able to help me when I couldn’t help myself. I married my husband because he was the one person who looked at me and saw more than a list of symptoms and problems. He saw me as a person worthy of love and respect. It didn’t matter what category I placed myself in (or how many), but that I chose to love him for him, and not for reasons my disorder placed at the top of the list.

No matter how I (or anyone, for that matter) live my life, I will always be met with criticisms. For me, choosing to go “off meds,” back to counseling, not have kids and more have all come with a slew of questions that came with good intentions, but were ultimately incredibly condescending and a little rude. As someone used to it by now, I just shrug it off with a respectful attempt to educate, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything heartfelt to say about it!

I watch the way the world seems to come at people who are different with fear and contempt. Being bipolar is hard for a plethora of reasons, but I’ve never felt scared of the way other people would view me. Being bisexual isn’t hard (unless you make it that way), but it’s definitely easy to feel judged or inferior with things like religious freedom laws and anti-LGBTQ protests. Being bi-squared (what I call myself for being both bi-polar and bi-sexual), puts me in an awkwardly precarious place because a lot of people just assume I’m “messed up in the head,” so my orientation is just the product of my brain being defective.

The thing is, I’m a human being — the same as you. And I wasn’t meant to fit neatly into a category, or even several of them. I’m pretty sure the only way to live life to the fullest is to just be myself — the messy, zany, passionate me that means I may fit into some categories neatly, some not so much and some not at all. When we learn to respect those categories, and even value someone for having the ability to embrace it, that’s what makes the metaphorical world go round.

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'I Feel So Bipolar Today' -- No, You Probably Don't

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“I feel so bipolar today.”

Many people believe someone with bipolar is just extra moody. Others believe their own normal ups and downs in life make them have a “bipolar day.” Unfortunately, my moods don’t always have to do with my situation. The low of bipolar can be a monster, and the mania can be destructive.

When I have bipolar depression I can’t move, I can’t shower, I can’t even open my eyes without crying. The darkness is so dark and lonely I feel like there is no way out. Death comes to mind… often. “If I wasn’t here my husband and kids would be so much happier.” The pain of hearing my husband say, “Leave Mommy alone; she’s sick” for the 20th time this year can be disheartening.

You know what else is disheartening? Having to call my children from a payphone to say goodnight from the psych ward.

In 2014 I was hospitalized eight times. The guilt I have felt through the years over my boys wondering if I’m going to be home when they get home from school, if I will be there to tuck them in at night — it breaks me down.

“Oh, I feel so bipolar.”

Oh, no. You don’t.

When I’m manic I go days with limited sleep and food, which makes my mental state even worse. It starts out nice — I feel like I have all the energy in the world, like I can accomplish anything, like I’m really happy. I go shopping, call friends, I become superwoman… for a short while. It’s all a big lie. I don’t realize the lie until it’s too late. When I start hearing or seeing things that aren’t there, I have to take a double look. I’m paranoid. Is that someone at my door? No, it’s just the shadow of the trees swaying back and fourth. Did I hear my son call my name? No, he’s at school.

I become a disorganized mess. I forget to shower, I forget important dates, I forget time. I lose track of everything. I lose track of myself. I become a philosopher, an artist, a poet, a writer, but really it’s all a mess and doesn’t make sense to anyone but me.

Sometimes when I am stable, I mourn for myself. I know a pity party never does anyone good, but sometimes I just want to be normal. I don’t want to have to take six different medications every day, I don’t want to live in constant limbo between manic and depressed and “normal.”

But I have learned something.

I can teach people. I am not quiet about my disease. I try to help others understand what bipolar really is and that it’s not just a few mood swings. People live with all kinds of horrible illnesses, and this is just the one I was given. So if we all talk about our disease, no matter what kind of disease it is, maybe we can change a life — make someone feel not so alone in their struggle. And maybe, just maybe, pull phrases like,”I feel so bipolar today” off the street.

Image via Thinkstock.

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

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The Myth of 'Losing Your Edge' to Medication

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So, you don’t want to get on medication.

Your disease is making you feel stuck, but still, you resist.

You’ve fought so hard for so long. You’re exhausted. Yet you dig in your heels.

Your days are a roller coaster of emotion or a veritable bottomless well of sorrow. You don’t know if you can make it one more day. Still, when someone you love brings up medication, you balk.

Why?

Because you’ve believed the falsehood propagated by society and more than a few artists.

The great Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke famously said, “Don’t take my devils away, because my angels may flee too.” This is a mentality our culture is thoroughly steeped in.

We think “crazy” is synonymous with “genius.” We think depression is equal to greatness. We think mania is the same as productivity. We think mood swings make us interesting.

We have bought the idea that medication will dull our sparkle, will erase our edge — that it will “flatten” us, level us out to the point of having no shine at all to our spirits, and we will live out our days in anonymity and uselessness. We think medication will cause our muses to flee.

This is a lie.

Before I found the right medication for my bipolar diagnosis, I was scattered. I had written half of a novel and a few poems but nothing more. I was busy just trying to survive. In the year after I got on the proper medication, I finished three novels and self-published three volumes of poetry.

Finding the right medication will not dull you. It may focus your energies, making you more productive than relentless mania and depression ever could. It may spur you on to greater heights of creativity and progress.

It may take time. It won’t be an easy process. But it’s worth it.

Your muse is just waiting for you to focus, to feel good enough to really concentrate. Give her the chance she — and you — deserve.

Editor’s note: Please see a medical professional before starting or stopping medication.

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

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6 Ways I Maintain Balance in My Life With Bipolar Disorder

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I have learned over the years how to deal with my bipolar disorder and how to keep myself as stable as I can.

1. I have a sleep routine to remain stable.

I aim to go to bed before midnight and to get up at 10 a.m. at the latest, in order to keep a routine and to get at least eight hours of sleep. If I don’t, then I know I am higher risk for an episode.

2. I make sure I take my medication daily.

I take it at the same time every day! This is vital for me to stay on track, and probably is the most important aspect of keeping myself stable.

3. I remain self-aware.

This means I monitor my moods and keep an eye out of for changes so I can get an early warning for signs of my mood slipping up or down. I am also aware of my triggers and what can possibly cause my mood to change. This helps me to try to stop an episode and to ask for help as early as possible to keep myself safe.

4. I make sure I keep busy during the day.

I set goals for myself. This gives me purpose and gives me a routine, as I don’t go out of the house to work.

5. I make sure I get out of the house regularly.

Whether this be with my husband, to walk the dog or to see friends. This prevents me from becoming isolated and helps to keep my mood steady.

6. I ensure I talk about any problems or worries I have.

I talk about them with a member of my support system: My husband, my parents or my friends. This stops things from escalating and makes it easier for me to regulate my emotions.

Of course, these things are not a guarantee I will remain stable and don’t prevent me from ever having a bad episode, but they do help me to remain as stable as I can. They help me to be prepared for the bad times when they do come.

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