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What Mornings Are Like With Bipolar Disorder

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There are days the alarm sounds and I rise. There are other days when my alarm sounds and my heart starts racing. And still there are other days when my alarm sounds and I cannot move. It’s not the weight of the blankets. It’s the weight of my existence. The buzzing continues and in my mind I beg it to stop. Rolling over hurts. On these days it could go a number of ways.

The delusion that my office couldn’t possibly go a day without me. The projects I’m working on that are going to fall apart. This somehow lifts me out of bed. I text my boss letting her know I’m late. Tears in the shower. Tears as I stare in the mirror blowing my hair dry. I can’t figure out what to make for breakfast or lunch, so just plan to go without. On the drive, I promise myself I’m going to keep it together. Fighting back more tears I will them not to fall. I walk into my office as if all is well and turn on my computer. The flood of emails brings on such overwhelm I find myself running to the restroom. Anxiety now fills my body.  I shouldn’t be here. There is no graceful exit at this point.

Another way is to notify my boss I will be out sick for the day and roll over one last time. Sleep well past noon, at least hope to. When I wake again I am full of guilt. I should be at work. I should be a functioning member of society. The tears fall staining my pajamas. Why can’t I keep it together?  I was OK yesterday. Just yesterday I completed reports, answered emails, went for a hike, made dinner. I can’t do this any more. Enter suicidal ideation. I think about all the medication bottles. I think about the bridge only 25 minutes away. The voices begin to shout… you don’t belong here. They are better off without you. There is no more sleeping. Escaping the chaos in my mind. 

When my feet hit the floor I feel weak, flush, scared, uncertain. I stumble around my house for a while not knowing what to do. Eventually I’m a crying mess somewhere on the floor.

The last option is to acknowledge it’s going to be a rough day. I can feel it in my bones once that alarm sounds. I make no rash decisions on whether to go into the office or not. I lay still a few minutes longer and breathe. I need coffee. I do not beat myself up for having bipolar disorder and the subsequent mood fluctuations. I sip my cup of coffee and consider how the day can play out.  I try to stay ahead of the emotional game. I take it one minute at a time.

That third plan is the ideal. It’s a work in progress, or rather what I’m striving for. Mostly it’s a mix of option one and two. I usually get myself to work and I usually have to go home early. I struggle with just allowing myself to be… good day or bad day. But, I’m working on it.

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. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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What You Should Know About Living With a Mental Illness That's Here to Stay

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It’s OK, I thought. I’ve been here before.

It was while recovering from my second major episode of psychosis with mania that I realized I would be managing this illness for the rest of my life. The feelings that had accompanied the episode had been familiar this time. Looking in the mirror and not recognizing myself, the bizarre thoughts coming fast and wild, the keyed up, unboundless energy, the fear of sleep.

I approached my recovery with confidence. It had been five years since my last episode and I knew what worked for me last time would work again. I refused to be beaten by this illness.

Accepting that my condition is lifelong is difficult at times. Sometimes, I think other people in my life forget it is something I am facing every day. Yes, I am doing well. I am coping, today.

Here are a five things I wish other people understood that come along with living with bipolar every day, for the rest of my life:

1. I am always thinking about my illness because I have to.

Staying well takes commitment. I have to look after my health daily to stay well, and staying well for me is vital. If I’m not well, then I’m unwell. I have to get a good sleep, eat well, exercise, get fresh air, spend time for relaxation, meditate, engage with others, attend medical appointments and take my medication. I am scared to let any of these pillars of health slip because for me the risk is too great.

2. Taking medication sucks.

Keeping track of doses, prescriptions, side effects, blood level checks and not forgetting to take it is more than inconvenient. It hurts to think I’m dependent on those pills. I wish I didn’t have to put drugs in my body, and I can’t help but resent that it’s something I’ll probably have to do the rest of my life. However, it’s necessary, and for me it works. So I try not to complain.

3. I worry about what people think.

I am lucky I am surrounded by amazing people who understand and support me including my family, friends and colleagues. However, I worry about whether or not to disclose my illness to people who don’t know, as I am never really sure if they will understand. I wish I could be more open with people in my life.

4. It can be tiring.

If I say I need a day off, then I really mean it. Some days I just need to check out and recharge. Please, don’t think I’m lazy or making excuses.

5. I will never “get better.”

I have accepted this is part of my life. I need you to as well. Please, don’t put pressure on me to “get better” or think because I am well today that my illness has gone away. It is always going to be there for me. It is manageable. I am OK with it, but this is something I live with. I need you to be OK with it too and not wish I was different.

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The First Time I Apologized to Myself for All of the Self-Hate

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One of the traps easiest to fall into is associating the number on the scale with my self-worth. It can lead to a lot of negative feelings toward myself and a lot of hurting. The simplest sentences are often the hardest ones to listen to.

I am more than numbers can describe.

The numbers on the scale only represent how much gravity affects the house, which homes my true self.

I am enough.

Every day, there is a barrage of information telling us how we must look and how we must behave to be deemed beautiful. For someone with a mental illness, those messages come with strong undertones of, “You are never going to be enough the way you are no matter how hard you try.” Each calorie consumed, each offhanded comment about feeling a “little crazy” or about “bipolar weather” just hammers home that message.

Around the time I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I had a lot of habits which tore at my self-worth. I quit eating because I would never be beautiful with curves. I self-harmed because I would never be accepted as someone who was “overly emotional.” I was never happy with who I was because who I was was never good enough.

I remember the moment the words “bipolar disorder” slipped out of my psychiatrist’s mouth. It felt like a death sentence. It would no longer ever be an option for me to be accepted or feel beautiful. I couldn’t live with that.

I looked myself in the mirror recently and almost couldn’t recognize myself. Who I was on the inside didn’t match the outside. I sat down and cried once more, the weight of imperfection forcing me to examine all of my insecurities. I did something I’ve never done before: I apologized to myself.

It wasn’t that my outsides didn’t match the inside. It was that I didn’t match society. I guess I never have but that doesn’t mean I’m not good enough. It means I’m different. Different has never been synonymous with inferior. However, somewhere along the line, I convinced myself there was a divide between what would give me happiness and who I was.

I am enough. You are enough. Even when we don’t believe it for ourselves, it’s true.

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 Moment I Opened Up to Someone About My Mom’s Bipolar Disorder for the First Time

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The first time I told someone my mom has bipolar disorder was my freshman year of college. I was sitting in a cafe on campus, bags under my eyes, hair in a disheveled bun, my clothes wrinkled and oversized from all the weight I had lost. From working part-time to going to school full-time to managing visits to inpatient care, the ER, courtrooms, police stations and therapists’ offices, I was more stressed than I had ever been in my 18 years of life.

I remember feeling tension in my chest to such an extent that even inhaling hurt. I never knew what anxiety felt like until my mom’s illness. For much of the first year of her diagnosis, my mom’s mental illness was our immediate family’s “not so little” secret. We began telling my mom’s sisters and best friend in increments. We knew we couldn’t hide it forever.

I had never told anyone about my mom on my own. My mom’s mental illness was something I carried on my shoulders. I was there to support my dad and to see my mom got the help she needed, but it was a quiet secret. It was like living a double-life, where I’d go to school and work as this seemingly happy girl and then go home to uncertainty and fear of what would happen next.

I remember the day I told the first friend of mine about my mom. I remember the words pouring out of my mouth like hot lava. I remember the fear of being judged or looked at differently. I remember the longing to not feel so alone in caring for a parent who was mentally ill. I remember the desire to be seen and known by a friend, to allow someone into the more secret corridors of my life, to not feel so alone.

The moment I opened up, I felt as if a balloon burst. All the pressure pent up in my chest immediately released. Luckily for me, the friend whom I first shared my “deep, dark secret” with met me with understanding, grace and a listening ear. I will never forget that moment or that friend.

It was because of her and her acceptance of not only my mom, but me, the daughter of someone with a mental illness, that I grew the strength and courage to be open about my mom’s story in college and long after. The more I shared my story and my mom’s story, the more I found people who either had a mental illness or knew someone with a mental illness. The more I shared, the less alone I felt.

My first college roommate shared with me about her stepbrother with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. One of my oldest childhood friends told me her aunt has bipolar disorder. I had known her since we were 13 and didn’t find this out for another seven years into our friendship. The president of my sorority shared her story of having a mom with bipolar disorder. The list goes on and on.

It’s funny. So often we are afraid to be honest, to be candid, to be real. We fear sharing our struggles and our hurts out of fear of being judged or treated differently. The more I share my story and my mom’s, the more I see her story, our story, isn’t so rare. The more I share, the stronger I am and the more I heal from my own hurt. It’s a powerful thing: honesty, vulnerability, transparency.

Once, I sat in a support group for children and family members of people with mental illnesses. I was the youngest person there. Everyone in the group was likely my parents’ age or older. They were surprised someone so young would be at a support group, but even more so, I think they were surprised I was sharing such a hard story so openly.

I have come to terms with the fact that I will never know the, “Why?”

Why my mom? Why my family? These are questions I used to ask. Instead, what I now choose to ask myself is: What will I do with this? What will I do with the hand that has been dealt with me? I’ve decided not to let it eat me alive. I’ve decided to share with other people as a means of learning from their experience and perhaps to help them by sharing mine.

It isn’t easy. I have learned just because a picture isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it doesn’t still have beauty in it. My family is different. My story is different. My mom has a mental illness. I don’t have all the answers, but I know I am stronger because of what I’ve been through. I am more brave having learned the power in sharing my story.

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Treating Bipolar Disorder Doesn’t Mean You Won’t Have Bad Days, and That's OK

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There are times when I truly feel OK. In fact, I feel pretty darn good (but not good enough to sprout wings and fly). I feel stable. I feel relatively in control. I feel like I have plenty to live for. I don’t feel like a big liar when I tell someone, “Yes, I am OK.”

Since the depressive days are so painful and the manic days are so confusing, I am thankful for the “OK” days. That “OKness” is not solely due to meds, therapy or any one factor. A combination of forces work together to keep my symptoms at bay. Medications that work certainly help. So does therapy, adequate sleep, a positive attitude and relatively low stress levels, among other things.

When I’m struggling with the bad days, I’ve been asked how I cannot be OK when I take all those meds and have therapy every so often. It happens. Treatment does a lot to keep me stable, but it doesn’t work 100 percent all the time.

Sometimes my meds have side effects that interfere with my equilibrium. On those days, I’ve learned to be extra gentle with myself and not take on too much. If necessary, I schedule an extra therapy session and/or call my doctor. In other words, I am taking responsibility for my own well-being and acknowledge my limits. That is very much OK.

Just because I am being treated for the bipolar symptoms doesn’t mean I am not entitled to my bad days or even kind of cruddy days. I have them just like everyone else. I don’t have to beat myself up because I can’t be OK every day for the rest of my life. Some days, I am definitely not OK, and that’s OK.

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What the Hypomanic Phase Feels Like for Me

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This is what it feels like for me to be hypomanic. I word it that way because it affects every one differently, but this is my interpretation in the best way I know how to describe it.

It feels like I am in fast forward.

I feel like I finally have energy again, but it’s too intense.

I’m whizzing around at the gym, at work, on the road, like I can’t get somewhere fast enough, and it makes me impatient.

I can’t sit still, and I have butterfingers, dropping and tossing stuff, slamming doors and cabinets without even trying.

I’m distracted, and my thoughts are sporadic. I think about one thing and before I even finish that thought I am on to another one because that previous thought made me think of something else and it just cycles round and round with all these different thoughts that are completely irrelevant and pointless. (Notice the run-on sentence there?) Sometimes I dwell on silly stuff.

But it feels good. Except for the paranoia that other people are talking about me behind my back, or me thinking others can tell I’m different. I have to tell myself to “act normal,” like I did something wrong or suspicious and I don’t want to get caught.

Sounds are louder, lights are brighter, I can feel energy all around me. I feel like I can do anything!  Like right now, I am so inspired and motivated that I feel like I could write a book, or write songs and send them to famous artists who will applaud my work. I know these things may never happen, but my brain is telling me they can and will. I have grandiose ideas about my abilities and creativity.

I’ll probably come home and be super mom/wife. I’ll cook and clean and put the little one to bed and feel accomplished. It’s a nice comeback from not having the energy to even sit in a chair.

But there’s always a downside. I don’t need as much sleep so it’s hard for me to fall asleep at night. More thoughts about things that aren’t real, more racing thoughts that bounce from positive to negative and everywhere in between. The energy is great for the time being, but eventually it will catch up to me and I’ll slip into a breakdown again.

I’d really like to stay up all night getting stuff done. Cleaning, organizing, art stuff. If I didn’t have anything to do the next day I would do that and just sleep it off the day after. But I have to be smart enough to know when I need to go to bed.

I want to plan a party or get together. I want to redo my mom cave. There’s so much I want to get done that I don’t have the energy for when I’m stable or depressed. I wish I could take advantage of the time I have, but I can’t.

So, I’ll just sit here, bouncing my knees and chewing on my lips trying so hard to sit still as to not appear too hyper. I’ll just sit here and wait it out, like I always do.

This too, shall pass.

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