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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.

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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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5 Things I’ve Learned Since Becoming a Mother With a Mental Illness

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It is 5:30 in the morning, and after another sleepless night due to nightmares, I am sitting on the couch watching my girls sleep peacefully. This is when I most see the innocence in my little girls, and I can’t help but wonder how I’m affected them.

After all, when your mother has more than one mental illness, bipolar disorder being the main, you run a higher risk of having that disorder yourself. However, I am trying to turn a new leaf. In keeping with that spirit, I have compiled a list of five things I’ve learned since becoming a mother, battling mental illness. I have learned…

1. How to speak openly with my children about mental illness. 

I want my girls to grow up knowing as much as possible about all mental illnesses, with an emphasis on bipolar disorder as it can be genetic. But of course, we’re still learning about it. We need more resources and more studies done. How can we expect to get that from future generations if we don’t raise our children to grow up with compassion and empathy for those who battle mental illness?

2. How to speak openly with my children about my mental illness.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after first being treated for postpartum depression. For the first several years of my daughters’ lives, I was afraid to let them see any part of my illness. I wanted to protect them from it for as long as possible, but after hearing my own daughter make stigmatizing remarks, I knew I had to find a way to talk to them about my personal mental health, not just mental health in general.

3. It is OK to admit when I need help.

The Lord blessed me greatly with two little girls, who love to help Momma clean up around the house (as long as it isn’t their rooms.) I have no problem putting them to work. However, when it came to needing help with my illnesses I was too ashamed to ask. I have been learning that it’s OK to let my girls know I need a time out. If I am having a rough day with my illnesses, I am no longer ashamed to ask my girls for help, whether it be having them lie in bed with me for a while or telling them to watch television while I take a five minute time out in the bathroom. It is the easiest, yet hardest way, for me to teach them about compassion and empathy.

4. I am stronger than I think I am.

Every single day I wake up and get out of bed. Some days, it is all I am capable of, and again I’m learning that’s OK. However, I am also learning just getting out of bed isn’t always enough. For me, I know the medications I am on will only help so much, and the rest is up to me. Each day I push myself to do just one more thing, I thought I couldn’t do while depressed, I am proving to myself how strong I actually am. Considering I’ve spent most of my life focusing on my own weaknesses, it’s a pretty big accomplishment.

5. It is not my fault.

For years, I was riddled with guilt, thinking I had doomed my daughters’ to the same fate as me, thinking because of me they would develop some sort of mental illness. You know what? It isn’t my fault. I didn’t ask for mental illness. I didn’t do anything wrong by having children. Just because I have mental health problems doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to live a normal, happy life with a husband and children. If one or both of my girls end up with a mental illness, then I will teach them the things they have taught me, only with a clear conscious because it is not my fault.

There’s no doubt I’ve learned more than this in the last seven years, but these five things have helped me through tough times. What would you add to the list? How about instead of  only seeing our weaknesses we start seeing our strengths instead? How would that improve your mood today?

This post originally appeared on modernbipolarmomma.

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Finding Balance in Life With Bipolar Disorder

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Some days there is a knot in my head and I wonder where it comes from. I awake early with the pain of memories lingering in my mind. What do you do when a memory is stuck? It plays like a tape on repeat, reminding you again and again it is there. You were there.

As long as the memory repeats itself, it will always be in you. When it stops, becomes a fragmented memory, then transforms into a whisper and perhaps fades away, it will still be in you. It can never truly be freed. It will never go. I learned when the mind becomes stuck and repeats itself, it is often known as racing thoughts. This was one of the first warning signs to me that perhaps my mind was not well.

Whenever I think about my bipolar disorder diagnosis, my mind plays stories over and over to itself. There never seems to be a place where I can pinpoint any particular moment of pain or suffering. It is just like this memory that is stuck. The stories repeat themselves and become torrents, whirlwinds, spiraling uncontrollably around my mind. This continues to the point wherein the trauma of experience seems mundane. The agony of my mental prison seems simple and not noteworthy.

Then, my body shudders and aches with anxiety. Once again, I am reminded these memories and experiences mean something to me. They are noteworthy because they have replayed themselves to me countless times. I have awoken with a familiar anxiety on more days than I can count. They are all there, these experiences, buried somewhere within me from all the times I have pushed them down and said to myself, “Don’t listen. They are insignificant. They will go.” Time has taught me they are not insignificant and they will not go.

At age 11, I believed magic existed. I have grown, turned, twisted, warped, unraveled and returned since then. At age 23, in the throes of a psychotic episode, I still believed in magic. At age 10, I believed in God. At age 11, my mother had a nervous breakdown and was committed to a psychiatric hospital. I remember the smell walking down the corridor of the hospital to see her.

The corridor was long and the smell kept changing. First, it was a hospital smell of chemicals and medicine. Then, a musty smell, as if that particular part of the corridor wasn’t dusted very often or walked by too frequently. Then, the smell changed to the smell of fear. I cannot describe that smell in words.

I saw a woman standing with hair awry. She was talking. I could not really hear her words, but I did understand the crease and cry of a fearful, desperate voice. Her eyes were wide. She looked like my mother but she didn’t seem to be my mother at all. She wasn’t touching me, but I felt as if she was pulling me, grabbing me toward her. My heart was pounding. I could not look at her. I did not want to be there.

I don’t believe there are many 11 year olds in the world who understand what it means to have a mental breakdown. I most certainly was not one of the ones who did. At age 11, I believed in the devil. My mother had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. In my mom’s case, I could not really associate bipolar with a list of symptoms. To me, the diagnosis meant watching this person I knew and loved, most importantly who I knew to have a calm disposition, to be positive and always coyly smiling at her own little jokes, switch suddenly into a wrathful rage, eyes full of anger and hurt, a stormy, violent being. Her voice would change from a sweet ring, as if she was smiling inside as she spoke, into a screeching, angry, cry.

To anyone who has really looked at another person, and I mean really seen them, people carry emotions in their eyes. When a person smiles, it is really the eyes that wrinkle, glow and get wet with happiness or sadness. I believe children sense this better than anyone.

At the tender age of 11, when I believed the woman standing in front of me wasn’t my mother, it was because in her eyes she was not there. I have seen it many times through her many relapses. It was the first thing I was told when I was on the recovery end of one of my own manic episodes. When the psychosis had begun to subside, people would tell me they could see me again. I didn’t understand what they meant until I looked in the mirror. For months on end, my mind seemed to have retreated into itself and when I looked in the mirror, I could not recognize the person in front of me. It was like looking at a ghost. It was terrifying.

The first and most significant sign of recovery was to look in the mirror and see myself looking back at me. I would often tell my doctors I could not identify with the symptoms of bipolar disorder, (perhaps because a symptom of the disease itself can be a lack of insight) but also because I wasn’t doing a lot of the things typically associated with mania, such as going on extravagant spending sprees and behaving recklessly. While the depressive states were easy to identify, the mania would come on suddenly and throw me into a state of psychosis before myself or those around me could see anything wrong. In the morning I would be laughing joyously and within hours shouting at others in a state of paranoid confusion.

In the beginning this inability to recognize anything wrong in myself gave me a false sense of security. I wasn’t ill, I would tell myself. What I’ve learned about this illness is that it can be very subtle. I would often complain of physical symptoms associated with anxiety but it was very difficult for me to associate the physical and mental pain I was feeling to the term anxiety. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is while it is helpful to learn from others’ experiences of illness and recovery, one of the best ways to survive and defeat this demon is to learn who you are, to know yourself and to know your own mind.

I took in every opportunity for learning more about myself I could, including counseling, yoga, meditation and mindfulness. What I discovered is the line between wellness and illness can be incredibly fine. What seems like productive day-dreaming can quickly transform into racing thoughts, the hallmark of a manic mind.

Oftentimes, I have felt my experiences, even with the illness itself, are not important enough. In the throes of depression, it would take me months to admit to anyone I was suffering. I believe this may be why many people refuse help. I feared to admit I was suffering firstly because I feared being perceived as crazy or not right. Also, I felt like I was admitting defeat to myself.

We are often told we must be calm or we ought to be happy. In the long-run, however, my experience has been to deny myself the right to grieve over my own pain or to laugh at my own mirth has been more self-defeating. Initially, I thought I would find peace in the tenets of the things I was learning such as yoga, which teaches both mental and physical calm. However, what these tenets really did was to teach me how to tune into my own emotions, be they welcome or perhaps unwelcome. In time, by allowing myself to process both pain and happiness, I have found balance. I believe the best way to find balance is to allow oneself to feel both the joy and pain of life. I hope others find balance on their journeys as well.

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