Glasses on a wooden table

Some days, I wake up and can tell it’s going to be a bad day. Those are the mornings when I can feel it down deep in my bones that this day will not be good, unless I make it happen. Those are the days I know I have to mentally prepare myself to be happy. Doing so is difficult at times. I’d be lying if I dared to say all I have to do is decide, “Today will be a good day,” or “I choose to be happy.”

While I do believe positivity is crucial for having a happy life and being mentally stable, there’s far more to it for those of us with mental illness. It takes more for us to strive, rather than simply to decide it so.

The first crucial step is to figure out what tactics you have that make you feel better. For some, it’s sleeping. For others, it is shopping, and for others, it might be exercising. Personally for me, I have had 10 years to learn the triggers and methods of how to prevent them or nip them quick.

So here’s what I do to feel good on the bad days of my bipolar disorder:

1. I start my morning with exercise. This is very difficult and takes dedication to keep it up, but oh boy, does it work.

2. After my workout, I shower and actually fix my hair and makeup. It feels good to dress up sometimes.

3. I go to work telling myself, “Today can be a good day.”

4. I search for a positive quote that speaks to me. I write it down, with a goal in mind to reread it often.

5. I keep to myself. Believe it or not, I’ve learned I can be my own worst enemy. Keeping to myself helps me to monitor my interactions with others so I don’t annoy or piss someone off.

6. I read my favorite books during breaks or read funny memes. This gets my mind off things that might be bothering me.

7. Lastly, I step back and take a breather if I need to.

But guess what? On other days when I can sense it, I sleep in. I pull my hair back in a ponytail. I opt for zero ounces of makeup. I eat whatever the heck I want! It’s called balance. Anyone with this illness knows there has to be a lot of balance to remain stable and balanced ourselves.

I’ve learned a lot, but I’m also always learning new ways to turn a bad day around. I hope this will help someone else to feel motivated, even on those days when it feels like there is no reason at all to make it a good day.


I recently saw a quote on Facebook that said something like, “I had bipolar before it was cool.” That really made me think. Is it cool now to have bipolar disorder? Is it fashionable or glamorous in some way?

Recently, there appears to have been an increased awareness of bipolar disorder, at least as a diagnoses and as a mental health condition. An increase in the number of celebrities revealing their illness, along with the dramatization of bipolar disorder on television and the increased use (or misuse) of the word “bipolar,” has undoubtedly brought the illness into the public eye. I’m not necessarily suggesting this does or does not equal increased knowledge, understanding and support of bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions.  However, I do have some concerns.

1. When people make incorrect statements about bipolar disorder.

Statements such as “Oh, I’m so bipolar,” or “The weather is bipolar today.” I hear these things often and I hate it. Not only are statements like these inaccurate, they also have a way of devaluing or even dismissing what it is really like to have bipolar disorder.

2. When bipolar disorder becomes glamorized because of celebrities with the illness.

It’s great that celebrities like Britney Spears, Stephen Fry, Carrie Fisher, Lindsay Lohan, Demi Lovato and Catherine Zeta Jones have revealed their experiences with bipolar disorder. Hopefully, this helps to destigmatize the illness and raise awareness. My concern here is anything celebrities do or say is at risk of becoming glamorized and popular. Mental illness is not glamorous in any way and it’s not a good thing to have this in common with any celebrity.

Also, while this shows bipolar disorder can affect anyone, there is a danger in that everyone’s experiences are different. Being compared to famous people may not be helpful or realistic for most people. For example, ordinary people may not be able to afford treatment that stars have access to.

Also, while it may be becoming acceptable for an actor or singer to have bipolar, this does not necessarily mean that ordinary people and their illnesses are accepted. Many people feel the need to hide their bipolar disorder from family, friends, employers and the rest of society for fear of prejudice and discrimination (which is justified). Basically, what I’m saying is bipolar disorder affects different people in different ways. Don’t compare us all to celebrities we have nothing else in common with.

3. When television misrepresents bipolar disorder.

It’s a good thing that bipolar disorder is being addressed in soaps and other television series. Examples of bipolar characters include Carrie in “Homeland” and Stacey in “Eastenders.” When handled well, this can help raise awareness and get people talking about bipolar disorder. Again though, there is a risk of this glamorizing the illness and in some cases trivializing bipolar disorder and its impact. It could also go the other way, scaring both people who have bipolar and those who know someone with the illness. Most mentally ill people are no danger to others, though this may make for a more dramatic story line. Also, remember, not everyone with bipolar disorder is the young, attractive woman on television.

While it’s awesome that some people feel able to reveal their own struggles with bipolar disorder and other mental health issues, it’s also important to remember everyone with bipolar is completely different, even if some of the symptoms are the same. It’s also vital to look past what may appear to be glamorous, fun or misrepresentative to the reality of living with bipolar disorder or any other serious illness.

Bipolar disorder can ruin lives (or at least makes them more challenging). Everyone functions differently and the illness can impact people differently. One thing is for sure though: There is nothing cool about having bipolar disorder.

When getting to know someone, you ask a series of questions:

What do you do?

Where are you from?

What are your hobbies?

As a person with bipolar disorder, I get asked the same questions. But when someone gets to know me well enough, they ask me a different set of questions:


Why do you feel that way?

Why did you do that?

Why did you say that to me?

The answer is complicated, which is the reason that “Why?” is my least favorite question. It’s difficult to explain my bipolar disorder to someone who isn’t also diagnosed, but usually, I find a way. The part of my illness that is the most difficult to explain is how I have very little control of myself, my emotions and my actions during a bipolar episode.

People assume since I’m on medication, I must be able to fully control my bipolar disorder, but that’s not true. My medication helps me manage my illness, not control it — at least that’s how I feel. Despite regularly taking my medication, I feel out of control more often than not.

People, even those closest to me, can’t comprehend what it means to have no control over your life. They don’t know how it feels to be controlled by this alien that is bipolar disorder. They don’t understand when they ask me why, I can’t say anything but, “I don’t know.”

I really don’t know. I know my illness controls my thoughts, feelings and actions, but I don’t know why I can’t gain control. Maybe it has something to do with my strength. Maybe I’m not strong enough to take back control of my life. Again, I don’t know. All I know is most of the time, I feel completely powerless, like I have no choice about how I want to feel.

It’s hard to explain how out of control I feel. It seems like no matter how I try to word my explanation, nobody understands anyway. I feel like I don’t even understand it myself, like I’m the one who needs the explanation. If I don’t understand this part of my illness, how can anyone else understand? I realize I need to find the answer, consult my doctor or therapist and finally take back power over my life.

I have no explanation, but I have come to the realization is is possible to regain control over my bipolar disorder. I’ve realized I am the one who needs the explanation, and that’s why this is the part of my bipolar disorder that is the most difficult to explain.

I made a list similar to this one shortly after my first hospitalization in 1999. My family was anxious to help me along in my recovery, but they had no idea what would help and what would not. After several years of learning about my bipolar disorder and discovering what works and what doesn’t, I developed this list.

I hope this piece will encourage readers to open up to their loved ones about their illnesses. I hope this will encourage those with similar illnesses not to be afraid to admit that they have limitations and need help from time to time.

The last item on the list I stress above all others. I want my loved ones to know I am thankful for their love and support, and I am the same old me they know and love. Having bipolar disorder has not changed that.

1. Trying to “fix me” will not work. I have a team of care providers (psychiatrist, therapist, case worker) who will help me. I appreciate your concern and I am grateful to have people who care around me, but you aren’t my doctors or therapists.

2. I have good days and bad days, just like you. My good days can fall anywhere between “pretty good” and “joyous”; the bad days can range from sort of blah to crushingly depressing. This happens to everyone; however, the good days are too good and the bad days are too bad in my case. When I’m set in those extremes, it’s hard for me to function at all.

3. It is OK to call me out on my bad behavior. This illness often clouds my judgment when it comes to my behavior. There are times when I’m so irritable I want to bite the heads of everyone I encounter. There are also times when my mind is so unfocused, my daily responsibilities are neglected. It’s OK for you to point these things out to me. Don’t feel like you have to walk on eggshells.

4. My mood shifts have absolutely nothing to do with you. If suddenly I become sad, or angry, or confused, don’t take it personally, and please don’t try to cheer me up. You did nothing to cause it. It’s just my unbalanced brain’s skewed reaction to any stimulus.

5. Some days I may really need your help. As I stated previously, this illness clouds my judgment sometimes. Sometimes I will forget to take my medication. Sometimes I really have a hard time controlling my impulses.

6. Just because I take medication and go to therapy does not mean I will be “cured” someday. The best I can hope for is remission (which means mental and emotional stability) for a period of time. Most likely I will need treatment for my condition for the rest of my life.

7. This condition affects me in different ways. I am emotional unstable at times. The disease also clouds my thinking and inhibits my concentration to the point that tasks others might take for granted (reading a book, watching a movie, training for a new job, etc.) are next to impossible sometimes (see #2.). I try my best, but sometimes I fall short. That’s OK.

8. This condition makes life planning challenging for me, to say the least. During the bad times it’s all I can do to survive from one day to the next; I don’t know what will be going on with me a week from now, much less 10 years from now. Again, I just live day to day and do the best I can. I set goals for myself; sometimes I get there, sometimes I don’t. That’s OK.

9. I am a good, loving person. I am not violent. I don’t want to hurt anyone, physically or emotionally, and I do my best to avoid it. I am able to have healthy, loving relationships and enjoy life. I have a lot to contribute to the world.

10. (Most importantly) I love you. I am not making this list because I believe you to be ignorant or cold-hearted. I know you love me and care about me, but are at a loss sometimes when it comes to knowing how to deal with me. You are an important part of my life and my recovery. I am grateful for your support.

Image via Thinkstock Images

When I was diagnosed at 18, my bipolar disorder became the main attraction of my life. It became the funhouse at the carnival, with bright colors and loud music that is impossible to ignore. I am now 24, and am stuck inside the funhouse. The medication and therapy haven’t been enough to open the door and let me out. So I keep walking in circles inside the funhouse, going in and out of every room over and over.

And the first place I always end up is the hall of mirrors.

The funhouse mirrors are oddly shaped and show a distorted image of whatever is seen inside them. When I look into the mirrors, I don’t see what I thought I looked like. Depending on my mood, I see myself differently, and in an unrealistic way. When I’m depressed, the mirrors make me look fat, ugly and worthless. When I experience hypomania, the mirrors inflate my self-esteem and give me a fake sort of confidence that makes me change my appearance and my attitude. With my distorted self-image in tow, I move onto the next room and the next unpleasant part of my bipolar disorder.

The funhouse has a slide that is two stories tall, with twists and turns and a ball pit at the bottom. During a hypomanic episode, I’m at the top of the slide, excited and enthusiastic about the fun I’m about to have. It’s short lived, and sooner than I think, I am on the way down, plummeting into depression. I land in the ball pit, which is hard to wade through, like my emotions when I’m depressed. I trip and fall continuously, until I reach the edge of the pit, where I slowly pull myself out onto the cold floor, and start to feel normal again. From the slide, I move onto the slow spinning disk, where my moods and emotions turn around and around.

The spinning disk does its job, it spins me around in a continuous circle of emotion until I’m dizzy and fall down. While on the disk, I constantly lose my balance, and my bipolar disorder does the same. My moods are never even, and I am constantly either up or down, until I ultimately fall on my face. Balance is not something I know much about, I just know my bipolar disorder is dizzying, and the spinning makes me sick to my stomach.

My bipolar disorder is like a funhouse, and I’m stuck inside. I haven’t figured out a way to get out or a way to deal with being inside. I don’t want to, but I feel like I just need to accept where my bipolar disorder has me. I know there is a way out of this carnival attraction, but I am too tired to find it. So, I’ll stay in the funhouse, until the day I have enough energy to get out of the funhouse and go on with my life.

The world I live in is grey. It’s filled with grey buildings and streets. The water is grey, the clouds are too, and the people no longer wear the smiles that were there before. There is instead deep anguish, anxiety, depression, sleepless nights spent in a lackluster life. Or maybe that’s just what I see.

Sometimes I see the world in a golden haze. The laughter so heartfelt, I can practically see glitter falling from the moments. The memories fade like an old reel video: just the black and white of stark reality. Those moments are contagious, leading one to another until all of a sudden the movie stops, and I rewind it to have the same conversations, the same memories playing in my head for days at a time. I don’t sleep, and honestly I don’t miss it. I continue to watch, the video speeds up, my consciousness with it, rushing through my life through the rear-view mirror.

The thing is, I know I’m watching it but not living in it. I notice a scratch in the picture, like a reminder that I’m telling a lie. I make lists, plan to fix it. I go buy the supplies and realize I’ve bought only half my list and an entire collection of things I’ll never use. So I go back out, collecting more trinkets and a couple more items from my list until I’ve spent most of my hard earned money on useless objects. I begin to agonize over the money I lost. The stress and anxiety eat at me until I cannot watch the mended tape of my life. So I try to make a new video.

That one starts out promising, but it’s exactly like the first — a lie, and I watch my attempts. I can take a moment from the stress of living life and recall with perfect clarity times when my life was simple and made sense.

Until I can’t.

One day I wake up slowly, one night I can’t fall asleep. But not like before. This time I’m so tired I lie in bed for hours, praying for sleep. The sun comes up, but it’s accusing me of being in bed for days. I start to listen to the same sad songs about life being a lie, about the future that never comes. I’ve been making up the entire experience. There was never a film or a projector. I wasn’t living in the movies of my life, I was living in the recesses of my own mind, where there is no one but me, no matter how many people it seemed like there were.

So I tell someone.

They start out saying they will be there for me, and I’ve heard it before. But I hope the feeling in the pit of my stomach is wrong. I tell them I’m no longer sure where reality begins and my imagination ends. And for a while, they hold me protectively, as though I might shatter at the slightest change. I begin to feel at ease and I know the past is the past and I picked the wrong person to trust in last time. This time will be different.

Until it isn’t.

The person who said they’d always be there for me lied in the way that hurts me most. And that lie causes me to withdraw into my  mind again. I try to protect myself with walls I had torn down. Eventually the relationship withers and dies, and I blame myself. If only I didn’t need so much help. If only I weren’t so unlovable.

Then comes the darkness.

As I begin to accept I mean nothing, that my life is more trouble to live than others can accept, I do the one thing I can to protect what little self I have left: I run back into my mind, into the world I created. I feel at home in the bright blue skies, the crystal-like oceans and the deep green of the trees. The parts of my mind I had shunned come back out to greet me, as though they knew I wasn’t trying to hurt them, I was trying to live in the grey world. The more I talk to these parts, I realize the only person who could possibly love me is myself, these little parts of my mind that welcome me without judgment each time I return.

The world I live in is beautiful. It’s filled with beautiful scenes of color-filled things, and there are people there who love me. The sky is blue, the water is too and there are songs which fill my heart to the brim with life and love and awe. There is no hatred, only the slightest whisper of the pain I vaguely remember.

But I feel guilty.

After all, I did run out on them, push them away and hurt their feelings, my feelings. These little parts of me that have always been with me, whispering in my ear that I can succeed, that I can be loved. These parts that whispered louder than those who wanted to tear me down. But I give into the solemn blackness that calls to me ever so softly. I am worthless. I am nothing. I could never fit in, everyone will lie to me, hurt me. And it’s all my fault. I start to slip down the spiral, deeper than before, into the deepest parts of the blackness inside me. So dark, I think I might never find the light again. Nor would I deserve the chance to.

And then I find a single speck of glitter.

I vaguely remember the parties in the sun, the laughter and wonder. What if I have it wrong? What if I just didn’t know what I do now? I could take this little piece of glitter and make a better me, a new and improved me. And all I have to do is fight for it. So I claw my way back into the sun, awaiting my day of recognition. And there I sit, filming the next reel, watching my life pass me by.

The world I live in is grey, but the other one is brightly colored. In the first there are people I cannot trust, but will always try to. In the second, there are fragments of myself I want everyone else to see, keeping me company as I repair the damage from each and every grey heartbreak. They wrap me in a cocoon, internalizing the good and the bad. But I can never seem to find the line that separates them. I never know which one I live in or when I will go back to one or the other. What I do know is each time I enter the world of color, it’s a little harder to leave, to find the speck of glitter. And each time I leave the world of grey, I want to come back less and less.

For me, there is only the pain of grey and the hope of color.

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

Image via Thinkstock.

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