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I Won't Let Bipolar Disorder Claim My Life

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I’ve tried to kill myself more times than I can count – more times than I care to remember. And with each attempt, a part of me did die.

In one instance, I almost did die. I was hooked to a heart monitor for ages, and through the drug-induced fog, I could see the fear in the doctor’s eyes as he drew arterial blood, his movements urgent, frustration creasing his brow, telling me my blood pH was dropping dangerously. I remember the nurse seemed disgusted with me. She treated me with shame. Until she realized no visitors were coming to see me. That no one was coming to collect me. Then she knew. That was a long time ago.

I still remember the bars on the small window in the psychiatric hospital I was relegated to. I remember the polished steel screwed to the wall of the bathroom. No glass. Glass breaks.

I’ve tried to kill myself more times than I can count – and in no way, shape or form, did I ever want to die. I’ve never wanted to die. I’ve only ever wanted to be cured. To be rid of this illness, this hijacking of my brain, this disease called bipolar disorder. Some days I just couldn’t take it anymore. It was like stepping into a fire, over and over and
over.

After the last hospitalization, I remember how destroyed I felt. How I felt like a part of me was stripped away. And I remember, through my tears, confessing to my husband that I was terrified I’d die long before him. That I’d leave him a widower for decades. I closed my eyes and saw him wandering through the hallways of our home, photographs of our wedding day long ago coated in dust. I saw him alone.

And the real fear set in, far more terrifying than that heart monitor, more terrifying than the doctor’s urgency. More terrifying than the bars on my window or the girl in the next room screaming in the middle of the night. More agonizing than the constant cycle of emotions. More painful than my own pain. Seeing him alone.

I saw him at my funeral. I saw how broken he’d be. How hard it would be for him to move on. How at night, alone in our bed, he’d cry for me, the wife he left behind in the graveyard.

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I still live with that fear. But it is that fear of seeing the smile gone from his face that keeps me fighting. Because I know he fights with me. All my loved ones fight with me because life without me would be too unbearable, too difficult, too lonely for them. I know what I mean to the people who love me.

So, whenever I feel like it’s all too much, it’s all too painful, when my energy is sapped from me, I tell them how I feel. I tell my husband I’m not doing well. I tell my best friend I need to reach out. And I let them love me. It doesn’t always make me happy again, but it brings me back from the brink.

I know I won’t back down. I know I won’t let this illness claim my life. I know I will keep fighting. And I know I have to keep fighting for them.

Because I’m a fighter.

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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To My Professors, From Your Student With Bipolar Disorder

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I’m a student. I have been for the better half of my life, and I love it. Well, I love most of it. Being a student allows me freedom to explore, to learn, to test my abilities and challenge the self-imposed limits of my life. It’s an incredible thing really.

I love attending your classes, leaning forward in my seat, pen in hand, soaking in the words that you, my professors, spill forth. All that learning, all that knowledge, I feel like a sponge. Yet, I grow afraid, timid and tentative. I walk on the edge between debilitating depression on my left and devastating mania on my right. In the middle is my passion, my love of learning and my longing to achieve something in my life of real substance. In the middle is the healthy part of myself.

You see, as much as I love learning, that love can be the exact same thing that will trigger either side of me, which I fight daily to keep at bay. I am a student. I am your student. And I have bipolar disorder.

My days as a student have a distinctive cycle. I have grown adept at recognizing the change of events, the slight shift in mood and the ever increasing speed of my thoughts. With school starting in just over a week, I am hesitant to dive in, which I know is what is required of me when I take your classes. You have an expectation of me, and you should have an expectation of me.

Please know if I dive too far, I will end up out in the ocean, drowning. Some days, I hope I can reach out to you to tell you I am dedicated, I am intelligent and I am a student you want to bet on. I will try my hardest in your class. I promise.

Yet, I may not always be in class. I may not always do well on my exams. I may not be the face you will recognize, but this doesn’t mean I am not a good student. It just means some days I simply can’t step foot out of my front door without crumpling with panic. Some days, I will have lost even the motivation to take another breath. On some exam days, I may be so riddled with self-doubt I can’t stop shaking, I will be sick to my stomach and the tears will be streaming down my face as my mind goes blank. I will want to run and give up on it all.

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Some other days, I will be going so fast, speaking to you so rapidly, filled with so much excitement and my words all in a jumble. You just might think I am the most hyper student you’ve ever met. I probably am, today. Tomorrow… I really don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

Please know I will be inconsistent. I can’t help it. My inconsistencies have no reflection on you as a lecturer, professor or mentor. It has nothing to do with the class, the schedule or the content. It has everything to do with fighting my own balancing act between dangerous depression and maniacal chaos.

What I want you to know most about me is I am not alone. I am one of thousands of students who attend your classes, year after year, who are too afraid, too ashamed, feel too guilty or too lost to approach you. I am one of the students whose seat you see vacant, perhaps for weeks. I am one of the students who is sitting at home, trying to keep her life together, while you are spilling forth the knowledge she is yearning to learn.

Please know I am still your student. But also know when you do see me in your class, leaning forward in my chair, pen in hand, that out of all the struggles in my life, all the hospitalizations, the medications and therapy sessions, I have chosen to spend my time with you.

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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To My Friends and Family Who See Me Sharing Articles About Mental Illness

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I began a new voyage in my journey with my mental illness when I first opened and read some of The Mighty articles. I took a giant leap in that voyage when I decided to submit an article of my own. It meant more than I imagined after seeing a submission of mine published, and to push it even further, when I told and heard from a few people who read my submission to The Mighty that they were inspired. That was all that I ever wanted to benefit out of sharing a little about this part of my life.

Now when I share another person’s article, I wish to carry that along. I wish to help people understand and at the very most be inspired. Here is a list of a few of the many benefits and reasons I share Mighty articles.

1. It might open your eyes to these invisible illnesses.

Over time I have seen that it is true that mental illness can be truly invisible. Even when it is not, so very many people will still not be able to understand. That won’t ever stop me from helping in the least ways possible.

2. It takes a weight off my back.

Believe it or not, my mental illness places a weight on my shoulders that is hard to take off sometimes. Sharing with anyone willing to read the articles prove that I am not alone in my struggles I have no choice to go through.

3. It’s a reminder that this disorder does not define me or the authors of these clearly insightful articles.

Whenever it feels like having bipolar disorder is the only thing that people will see or judge me upon, sharing the experience of others shows that this doesn’t define any of us. This doesn’t have to be exclusive. We can have support and share our unchosen setbacks.

4. This is a passionate part of people’s lives.

If it wasn’t important to someone, these articles wouldn’t exist. Putting energy into these articles is a unique and special way of healing. With my mental illness, including others is giving myself a support system. Support systems take a lot of courage to build.

5. In a lot of these articles I couldn’t have expressed the experiences and emotions any better.

I like to have an open ear and it surprises me what I learn when I do. I hope you can hear us out in the mental illness community of saying what oftentimes needs to be said — or even more compassionately, what needs to be heard.

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I Live With Different Versions of Myself Due to Bipolar Disorder

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I have three versions of myself.

Two of them follow me around, chained to my ankles. I drag one and then the other. I can’t release them.

One version is shadows, a billowy wisp. Desiccated skin and scraggly hair. She cries agonizing moans and constantly whispers torment in my ear. She is misery and likes to tell me how we’d be better off alone. Better off dead. But she is so weak that I’m sure one strong breeze will come along and blow her away. But she never really does go. She is resilient in her misery, that one. She is always there, chained to my ankle.

The other version of me is maddening chaos. She is vile and destructive and delights in tearing my life apart. She torments me with visions of the most brilliant parts of myself, all bathed in glory, and then entices me to say, “Yes, yes, yes,” until I can’t say yes any longer. She laughs and tells me I can do anything I want, then tries to chase me until I can’t run any more. She chases me until I stumble and fall.

I live with bipolar disorder and those are my two versions.

The third version — the one dragging the other two — is me. Step after step. Lift, drag, drop. Next.

But sometimes that motion becomes too exhausting, too cumbersome. I have to keep dragging them, these two other versions of me. I have no choice. I can’t release them, so I have to keep moving or one will take hold, and I will be the one dragged along. Lift, drag, drop.

I’ve learned to keep that rhythm in my life, to keep those two other versions of me behind me, while I do the dragging. I’ve learned how to try and rest while still moving, without letting them get ahead of me. I’ve learned routine. I’ve learned self-care. I’ve built my own army of tools, psychiatrists, doctors, psychotherapists. I’ve padded my support system with loved ones, family, friends, even strangers. I’ve added to my constant, ceaseless march with open dialogue, communication, acceptance. I have my own bunker for when the full blast detonates.

I’ve removed my own stigma. I refuse to feel shame. I refuse to feel guilt.

But simply because I refuse doesn’t mean it doesn’t sneak in — that shame or that guilt. And then one of those two versions of myself gets close enough and starts whispering in my ear, and I stumble. Just a little. And that one single stumble terrifies me.

I’ve been doing this for more years than I’ve been alive. And I’m tired.

But what if I don’t have to drag these weights behind me alone? What if I don’t have to constantly keep ahead of myself? What if I don’t have to constantly fight the two versions of myself that threaten to tear my life apart?

What if anyone fighting with bipolar disorder doesn’t have to fight alone? What if these some five hundred words I write help to break those chains — for me or for someone else?

The chains are the stigma. The burden is the silence. The struggle is unnecessary.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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When Your Family Has to Wonder 'What Will Daddy Be Like Today?'

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My wife and children live with my bipolar disorder. I live with the label, the condition and the stigma. Mostly, I live with my “selves.”

None of us has it easy. “I wonder what Daddy will be like today?” is a thought they all have, our 11-year-old boy, Rainer, his 9-year-old brother, Leo, their 8-year-old sister, Stevie, and especially the beautiful, compassionate Amanda, who has known me since college. There’s no way for me to know exactly, but it’s surely a recurring thought for them. Maybe even eight days a week.

I try to imagine all the ways it sucks for them. I’m clear on most of the ways it’s not a picnic for me, but every once in awhile even I get surprised. For example, the regret of it not being easier like it was yesterday is its own challenge. Let’s see, there are the mornings I am in the kitchen while we’re making school lunches. Yet, I am not present because I am so sad. I ask what I can do to help, knowing what would actually be helpful is if I could figure it out myself, hating that just asking took all I had.

There are the evenings when I am in the room reading to the kids before bed, but I am not all there because I have three trains of thought in my head. I imagine it to be Herculean that I keep one of them on the kids. I tell the kids I’m sorry when I can’t answer one of their questions. I was only shunting the words through my mind to my mouth. I know they must think I wish I were anywhere but with them. They are probably right. They can’t possibly know the reason I wish I were anywhere else is it kills me to let them down.

There are the times I visit my parents, and they have to guess which me has arrived on the doorstep. There’s silent and sullen Kevin, the chatty, optimistic and expansive one, or the robot trying to play a role which his programming says is expected of him. I imagine the first is frustrating. The second is scary, and the third is painful in its clear dishonesty and evasiveness.

There are the weekends, when life should be a celebration. Yet, it takes every ounce of my squeezed soul to get out of bed, and it shows. There are the weeknights, when it is well past my bedtime and I can’t put my book down, but I finally get in bed, toss and turn for a few hours and get back up at 4:00 a.m.

There is the media, which says you’re not quite doing it right if you’re not happy most of the time. Like I needed another layer of guilt. There are the (alleged) reflections of me in the television and movie characters, who are “bipolar.” I don’t feel like they represent my version of mental illness well, and they certainly don’t help diminish many myths. Why do they all have to be either wide-eyed prophets, geniuses, psychopaths or pessimists on the order of Marvin from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”?

Someday, maybe the message in the ether will ring more true for me and my young family. More like this: You are doing it well if you are honest and you continue to do your best to live with your angels and demons. You are doing it well if you always respect it is hard for you, yourself and your family and friends. too.

Someday, maybe the feeling around me when I announce I’m back in the hospital with a glitchy head will be more like #f*ckmentalillness! Here’s a wise-color bracelet with an empathetic slogan for your wrist. Here’s a cheering section. Here, look at the paper today: Washington (Ottawa, Canberra…) is all over it.

Or, and I really would settle for this, they could just stop saying, “Why don’t you try harder?” Nobody ever said that to me when I got cancer the second time. I want to hear we are doing enough if we turn up, day after day, and carry the burden of life on earth with dignity.

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

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The Late-Night Hours of Darkness With Bipolar Disorder

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The day is winding down. I’m thankful to have made it through my required work hours and successfully come through the dinner hour. But as the evening drags on, the bipolar disorder I live with starts to let a mountain of worries take hold in my mind.

One of the first things I stress about is finding the energy to continue building a relationship with my spouse. I do my best to have meaningful conversations with my husband at the end of the day, but often I’m so worn out that the words don’t come.  I want so badly to connect with him, to show interest in his day and to share with him the triumphs and struggles of my own. But many times I just sit in front of the television, unable to focus on his needs or let him into my world. I often wonder what he’s thinking and if he’s angry that my mind and body are absent from the life we are living in that moment. But so often the anxiety about tomorrow begins to creep in, and it starts to consume my every thought and ounce of energy. Over and over I ask myself how I’m going to get through the next day.

Am I prepared for work? Will my clients be kind and ready to work hard, or am I going to have to find the strength to handle that difficult woman yet again? Is my day going to be so busy that I’m going to be overwhelmed and feel out of control, or is it going to be so slow that I’m upsettingly bored? Are my body’s aches and pains going to allow me to teach all of the exercise classes I’ve committed to?

These are the questions that plague my mind. As the sun begins to set and the sky darkens, my anxiety shifts from the worries of what tomorrow might bring to a fear of what the night will hold. It is impossible for me to escape the memory of the evening I unknowingly triggered my first manic episode. I was having so much fun eating cookie dough and talking about boys that I never stopped to consider I was actually inviting the bipolar to make an ugly appearance. Sleep has proven to be absolutely crucial for the management of my illness, and every night I worry if I will be able to get off the wheel that goes around and around and allow my body to rest.  The anxieties that pile up over the evening hours strike me with fear and have made it so I cannot fall asleep without a sleep aid. I have tried so many different medications; it seems that each works for a while, but eventually the effects wear off. A recent medication brought nightmares filled with horror and I woke up in terror time and time again.

Many nights I lay in bed and my brain fills with thoughts I cannot escape. I lie awake for hours, knowing my worries of falling asleep are keeping me awake, but I’m powerless to stop them from invading. How do I end this never ending cycle?  I’ve come so far on this journey, and I’m grateful for the progress I have made. But I can’t seem to shake the anxiety of the night. This burden weighs heavy on my heart during the hours of darkness, and I wonder if the sense of foreboding will ever subside. Sometimes it seems that I’m so frozen with fear that I can’t find the energy to seek comfort in my husband and to ask the Lord for peace. I pray that someday soon I have the strength to stop giving anxiety such a foothold, and find the peace I so desperately need.

Image via Thinkstock.

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