sand dunes and tree

Imagine a desert. A hot, empty desert. A hot, empty desert full of sand and mirages. Nothing else.

And you’re there. Struggling to find the oasis. But there’s all these mirages throwing you for a loop.

What do you do?

Do you curl up and assume all is lost, or do you press on, trusting one of those mirages will end up being the water you so desperately need?

This is my life with bipolar disorder. And those mirages are the voices in my head telling me I have no one and I shouldn’t even try reaching out, because even if I did have someone, no one cares anyway.

When I’m feeling alone and like I need to reach out for help, suddenly I’m thrown into the desert. I can’t find an oasis because I’ve curled up and assumed all is lost.

Fortunately, I’m not really alone. And people do care. A search party has been enlisted to find me in that desert, and the oasis I need is super close by. Even if I’ve laid down belly up, the people around me haven’t.

Isolation in the real world, desert aside, often doesn’t look like it does in the movies. There’s no freedom there, no moving image of me high in the mountains, all alone, breathing in that crisp mountain air, being rejuvenated. In all actuality, I feel trapped. Trapped in my head, with the negative thought distortions there to make sure I stay put. And to stay trapped, my body cooperates with those evil thoughts telling me not to reach out. I become a recluse. I stay under the covers of my bed all day reading Orson Scott Card novels. I listen to Tori Amos. I don’t hold my morning socials at my house. I stop doing the chores that need to be done to keep my house clean. All minor things in and of themselves, but when combined, it’s a sure sign I’m isolating.

How can I stop this from spiraling from simple isolation to full blown depression?

1. For one, people notice when I start isolating. And they don’t let me mull with my thoughts very long. My support team, the one consisting of my family and close friends, force me to go out and do things, even when I’d rather do anything else in the world than be with company.

2. For another, I reach out in small ways. I don’t lie when people ask me how I’m doing. I let them know I’m struggling with the “voices” in my head.

3. My one random thing I do is when I start isolating and feeling like I don’t matter, I read this list of wonderful things about me that a friend and I compiled several months ago. It makes me smile every time I read it, and it reminds me I do have worth and don’t deserve to be alone.

4. And lastly, I accept people’s concern for me and recognize that even if I don’t want to do what everyone is inviting me to do, deep down I’ll feel better for having gone out and done it. So I force myself to do hard things.

Letting people close to you know that when you start isolating, it is a red flag for a greater downward spiral can help a lot. It’s what I’ve done, and now my husband is very vigilant in helping keep me afloat, even when I want to submerge below the cool waters. I know for a fact he’s helped keep a minor hiccup from turning into a major episode.

So when you find yourself in that desert, hold on fast to the knowledge that there is a search party that can be deployed. And you will be found.

Image via Thinkstock.

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When the seasons change, what do I do as a person with bipolar disorder?

Seasons changing can be a dangerous thing when you live with a mood disorder. When the weather gets colder and it starts getting darker earlier, there is a good chance your mood may shift as well.

I know this because I live it every year. I don’t struggle with fall, or spring — but I’ll be damned if I don’t get knocked down every summer and winter… especially winter.

For me, there’s just something magical about the dark nights, the bitter cold and the holidays arriving. Something magically dark and dangerous, much like the “Nothing” from “The NeverEnding Story.”

I do wonderfully up until Halloween, and then on November 1, it’s like a switch goes off in my brain that says, “Holy sh*t! You’re doing awesome! Let’s wreak some havoc!” And then I spiral downward in a rapid succession.

How can you prevent a tragic spiral during the winter months? I don’t have all the answers, but I have discovered some techniques that have really helped me during the last three years.

1. I discuss it beforehand with my therapist.

We know what to watch for with me months in advance. I don’t surprise her with my internal struggles once they’re at a crisis level.

2. I have a game plan my entire support team is aware of and on board with.

My therapist knows what my psych is thinking, and my husband knows what everyone is thinking. And vice versa. There can’t be deep, dark secrets when it comes to staying safe during a potential time of difficulty.

3. I make time to do things I value, and I decide (before the crisis hits) that I will do them no matter what obstacles I may throw up.

For example, it’s very important to me to take my kids to see the lights at Temple Square in Salt Lake City each year. It’s a tradition my kids and I both treasure. We make the journey no matter what. Since that is such an important tradition to me, I make the decision beforehand that no matter how I’m feeling, or how my husband is feeling, the kids and I will make it there.

4. I extend myself some leniency from the hustle and bustle that can happen during the winter months.

I know I’ll need to take it slower than others might, and I might have to risk offending someone by turning down an invitation. But that’s OK. It’s me practicing self-care.

5. I try to go with the flow.

I can’t control everything. And that’s OK. I want to control everything; that’s something I’m aware I struggle with, so I fight it. The kids don’t want to go caroling around the neighborhood? I’ll sit down with them and color some cute pages out of our coloring books instead. I can’t get my 4-year-old into her adorable new Christmas jumper? I’ll softly sigh “Let it go” to myself.

Although these might not work for everyone, following these suggestions kept me out of the hospital last year for the first time in three years. It was beautiful. I fully plan on doing this again this year. In fact, preparations for my sanity have been underway for the last month now.

Of course, if you find yourself in a crisis situation, seek medical care immediately. There are people who care and want to help. Seek them out.

I wish all who struggle with mood disorders the best of winter seasons. Let’s all make this year the best one yet!

Image via Thinkstock.

Follow this journey on Ramblings of a Bipolar Mess


Mania can be hard to understand. This poem aims to bring to life some of the images I associate with my own experiences of being manic, as well as my feelings towards being manic or hypomanic.

Bruise Days

Did you ever feel that murky film lift and
your chest swell with all the new colors —
rub your eyes to see the world in this new light —
a world like a carnival,
until you saw the clowns’ faces start to drip,
their smiles of hot wax melting fast onto the ground?

Any sensation is good news, at least at first.
It starts with a purple bruise —
those nerves, that extra feeling.
Tell me, honestly: Did you want to hold onto it?
That strange vortex in your chest, most definitely blue,
intangible and transient, but still…
I bet you tried (just like me)
to clamp your hands around an entity.

Does it become an engine in your insides?
Do you wait for it to pass as it grates you like Parmesan,
and tell yourself as you flake apart
that this is only what you asked for?
Sometimes I can be reassured:
Machines have parts that crack or rust and
pain is part of my machine.

Sometimes, there is no bruise.
Sometimes, this world is mine.

But please, tell me this:
Do you ever wait for the bruise days to come back?
Rolling up behind you, your legs seem ready to mount it.
You seem ready for the danger, your eyes too wide,
too blue and too soon to pop and splatter like jelly
out into public and on the sidewalks,
out to dirty your now starched-clean clothes.
Do you recall how you used to laugh as you went blind?
Or remember the green orb of joy you thought you were,
burning out through the sky on your way back down to Earth?

Because I do. It’s hard to say I blame you.
We like to watch things burn out fast; we call this tragic beauty.
We don’t remember what it’s like to turn back to gray,
to turn back to dust and ash.

When I went gray I would go under my flannel covers,
and when my eyelids went black, so did the bed
and the room, and then the sheets vacuum-sealed.
I’d squint to try and figure out if
things had really turned back to black and white,
or if certain objects still had hints of color.
And maybe you wondered, in a world no more than tinted —
You couldn’t remember: Had it been like this forever?

But it won’t be forever.
We will peel the film back again.
We will buzz from the inside, 24/7, be our own alarm clocks.
We will subsist off anything, even exhaust fumes.
We will swell as fast as we deflate,
become too tired to be anything permanent.

They teach us to fill up, to deflate, more gradually.
This is good practice.

But tell me, do you miss it?
Because I do.
There were nights when I held the world, new again, in my hands.
Nights the world erupted into view and I would sit there, stroke it,
tell it how soft it was, how crystal clear —
tell it how I would never lose focus.
Not this time.

We forget. Has it always been like this?
Is this the full spectrum? Is it sepia?
Are there dust speckles obscuring my vision and
am I seeing the world through a plastic, orange-bottled tint?

You are like me.
You know the world both with a plastic bag over your head
and in colors nobody else has seen.

So maybe we do forget.
But life is paradox.
We can remember how it could feel:
It felt like we owned more of the world
than the world ever owned of us.

Image via Thinkstock.


Only three years ago, I was hospitalized for being suicidal. For years before that, I had no idea what wellness was. All I knew was depression, hypomania, suicidality and psychosis.

Today, I know what wellness is and fight for it every day. Sometimes, I actually succeed.

When I try to explain what it’s like to be bipolar, I talk about trust, the one thing I think makes us different. It’s hard to trust a mind that has betrayed you. It’s hard to trust a body that feels broken. It’s hard to trust that people will understand. It’s hard to trust you’ll be well again. All this doubt, and no wonder the path through bipolar is filled with anxiety and uncertainty.

One thought that haunted me once I felt what “well” was: when will it return? I wouldn’t make grand plans to accomplish things because it was all just going to fall apart again. I gave up. I thought better not to try, but a life like this felt empty. It was hard to suppress the drive to create a better life. I had to trust I could accomplish something, despite the recurring mood fluctuations.

I’m a writer and an artist. I’ve always known this. When I say that, I mean more than a vocation or an interest. It is deeper than that. I have dozens of poems and drawings in me that have never been made because I can’t trust myself or what will happen with my disease. I can’t trust that what I have to say is worth it. I can’t trust that it makes sense. I can’t trust that anybody wants to hear it. I can’t trust it won’t land on the pile of undone works, derailed by another episode.

For people with bipolar disorder, those who are sometimes rejected and stigmatized, whose minds have fooled them more than once, whose lives are like a maze of detours, it’s tough to put yourself out there. Every day, I promise I will try. I will trust that I am a beautiful specimen of a being even if I am imperfect. I won’t let the dull routine of staying safe and quiet become the status quo. I will write that poem and draw that drawing to the best of my ability.

I have come a long way in my recovery, and I have a story to tell. Trust in your voice, and tell your story. The world needs to hear it.

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


I’m there right now, in mania. It isn’t so severe that I’m parachuting out of my office building or directing traffic stark naked, but it is there. I have the intense racing thoughts. I’m not sleeping, and I have great, I mean great, ideas.

Currently, I want to build a fenced-in cat house/cage outside my bedroom window. This way my cats can enjoy being outside without becoming prey to a larger animal. Is it a terrible idea? Not entirely. But, it isn’t the idea that is dangerous, in this moment. What is dangerous is the urgency and the fact that it isn’t the only idea I’ve had in the last hour.

I also want to go back to school and finish the degree I never could finish because of my bipolar disorder. I want to finish my memoir and even host another writing group. I want to start a zillion Pinterest craft projects. In fact, that’s where the idea came for the cat cage, from Pinterest (which I have been browsing relentlessly for the past two day and nights when I can’t sleep.) I have decided to eventually open a food truck or a hole in the wall restaurant to have a place to serve all of the delicious meals I’m about to start perfecting.

The funny thing is, I’m immobile currently. I just had knee surgery. It’s all I can do to get myself some toast or slice up an avocado and bring it back to the couch on crutches so I can continue to ice my knee down.

That is actually when the mania started, with the pain pills. Narcotics and mood stabilizer meds are never a good combination however necessary they may be. My psychiatrist and I debated the importance of even having the surgery for fear that the pain killers may push me into a manic state. My mind held off the mania for the first four weeks, as I tapered slowly off the heavy pain killers and onto a less potent one. Yet, my mind could only take so much. Now, I’m in mania, and it’s taking hold of me.

There is good news though! I caught it. This is the hardest part of mania, not realizing you are in it. If you don’t see it and you don’t address it, then how in the heck are you supposed to beat it?

This time, I caught it, and I caught it early. It started with the good ideas (and oh, how they seem so good!) The cat cage, especially! Looking at all my racing ideas now, I try not to get discouraged that I have so many ideas because they all seem so good. Yet, after having gone through many manic episodes, hitting bumps along the way and learning to cope, I have realized this one glorious thing: Just because the ideas are too many, too fast and too bright, doesn’t mean they will not be valid for another time.

Stop. Think about this. Many of your ideas may be good ideas at another time, a time when the world doesn’t hold so much urgency and mental demand, a time when your mind isn’t fast-tracking toward disaster and a time when the world has calmed once more. These ideas might be useful, helpful or even great once you’re out of mania.

What do I do to make sure I don’t lose them while I come down from my manic high? I write them down or sketch them out. I do not act on them. Now, I know this takes an incredible amount of self-control, self-control you don’t think you have while manic. It takes practice.

When your ideas start flowing, double check yourself and ask: “Am I manic?” If you think there might be even a 10 percent chance that the answer is yes, then stop. Write the ideas down, sketch them out, record them. Heck, you can plan them to the last detail on paper and even do a small craft project here or there. However, don’t act on your grand ideas until you are certain your mind has stabilized.

You’ll know when that is, as long as you’ve admitted to yourself you were manic in the first place. Believe me, I know this is half the battle. It is so discouraging to admit to yourself that you are struggling, especially when the mania feels so good. But remember, what goes up must come down. If you let yourself get too far into that manic high, then you will come crashing down in a flurry of depression and disaster.

Try to catch the mania early, as hard as it is. Get help, talk to your doctor, monitor your meds closely and do everything that helps to pull you from your manic state, even if it is just practicing sitting still and breathing.

I will admit that I’m manic now. My ideas flow now, my thoughts race and oh boy do I feel so good. Yet, as I sketch out the designs and I jot my plans down, I am also dialing my psychiatrist’s phone number right after I finish writing this article. Because my brilliant idea of building this glorious cat cage outside of my window must wait.

Image via Thinkstock.


Growing up, my mother was larger than life and seemed forever intent to make me suffer. Her words were harsh and unloving, her approval unattainable. I’ve spent much of my life struggling to come to terms with what I, as a child, must have done wrong to incur so much wrath.

What I didn’t know then was that my mother had bipolar disorder and struggled with abuse and trauma of her own. While that does not excuse her treatment of me, it shines a light on why it happened. Mental illness had such a stigma back then. At most, people would talk in the shadows about someone who was unbalanced or crazy. Families hid such problems and pretended the world was just as it should be. And things festered and grew.

I’ve begun looking at my past through different eyes, trying to take into account her disorder. Again, I am not looking to rationalize or excuse her actions. For too long, I’ve looked back at my past through the eyes of the young girl, battered and broken, who lived through it. In her eyes, everything was plain and simple, good and bad, black and white. There were no shades of gray and no compassion. Today, I aim to fairly take into account her mental illness and understand that, while she is responsible for her actions, her life was so tainted by her own mental illness and trauma that she was not fully herself.  Very few things in this world are plain and simple, good and bad, black and white. My relationship with my mother was painted in a multitude of grays.

—————

My mother was often unreasonably critical of my achievements. An A grade was acceptable; an A minus was not. Anything less than first place in any aspect of my life was tantamount to failure. If a test or paper came home with less than a 100, she would pour through it with me until I understood how glaringly wrong my mistakes were. I was once beaten because a semester grade dropped from a 94 to a 92.

As a child, I internalized her criticism. No matter how hard I strived, I always felt I would never measure up to her standards. Despite high grades and participation in sports and academic groups, I felt like a failure. Teachers and coaches showered me with praise, but it felt hollow and empty. I wanted more than anything to please her, to finally win her approval. I never did.

As an adult, I try to weigh her actions from differing viewpoints. She saw potential in me and never wanted me to settle for less than the best I could do. She had gotten married young and began having children early. She wanted me to build a better future for myself.  Perhaps, within a life she had little control over, I was one thing she could control, one person she could mold and sculpt to ascend higher than she had landed in life.

None of this erases the harshness of her criticism, nor does it ease the inadequacy I carry with me to this day. While her intentions may have been good, her approach made me feel like a failure. Each time I fell short of a goal, I would attack myself with worse criticism than she would dole out. Where her voice ended, my own began.

—————

My brother was four and a half years my senior. Often growing up, we were both held accountable for transgressions until the guilty party confessed. Many times, punishments were harsh and lasted whole days. More than once, I confessed to wrongdoings I had not done in hopes of ending the torture. On many of these occasions, she would refuse to accept my confessions, declaring she knew I hadn’t committed the offense and the punishment would not cease until the guilty party confessed.

As a child, I could not fathom how a parent could repeatedly punish a child for transgressions they knew their sibling had done. As an adult, I wonder if she had hoped to teach my brother empathy and compassion. Once again, it doesn’t excuse her actions, but it helps to see the situations in a different light.

—————

I was 7 the first time I remember my mother telling me she hated me and wished I was never born. Over the course of my childhood, she told me many times I had ruined her life, that I was inherently unlovable and that I should never let anyone in because, once they got to know me, they would leave. Words like these have haunted me since childhood. Each time I was rejected or abandoned, I took it as a prophecy fulfilled.

Considering those words now, I am faced with the ugly truth of mental illness. Mental illness can not only cause those suffering to internalize the actions of others, but it can also cause people to project their own illness onto those around them. I was, in many ways, an extension of her. If she saw herself as unlovable, it makes sense that she saw those who came from her as unlovable, as well.

—————

Perhaps the hardest for me to overcome were her responses to the two times I turned to her for support after being raped. The first time, I was 11 years old. The second time, I was 13 and one of my brother’s friends had not only taken advantage, but had gotten me pregnant. She had told me not to talk about it and made me feel like I was at fault both times. She had secretly arranged for an abortion and told me to never tell my father.

I’ve tried to rationalize her behavior over the years, taking into consideration that rape cases were treated differently back then. Often, the victim was put on trial in the court of public opinion. Her history, behavior and clothes were strewn about as possible causes for the rape.

I also know now that she suffered through sexual abuse and rape herself as a child and young adult. I know, as a victim myself, that the events play over and over in your head, a spinning wheel of torture, as you search for what you did wrong and what you should have done differently.

Of all I’ve endured from my mother, these two instances have been the hardest to understand and move past. As a mother myself, I cannot imagine being so callous. I can try to reason that it was a different time or that it was her mental illness oozing out, but I can find no words of solace to ease that pain. Some things, I just have to accept as a horrible piece of my past that there’s no justification for and do my best to move past them.

—————

My relationship with my mother has always been dysfunctional. When speaking of her, I often feel like that little girl again, walking that thin line between trying so desperately to please and being terrified of failure. I feel more vulnerable when discussing her than any other aspect of my life because that little girl inside me will never understand why she didn’t love me. Why she couldn’t love me.

So many choices in my life have been made for no other reason than I did not want to become her. Where she was critical and unyielding, I made every effort to be flexible and praise those around me; while she was closed-minded and bigoted, I prided myself in being unbiased and accepting. She had many health issues and was a hypochondriac; it takes severe pain or illness for me to see a doctor. There were no rational thoughts beyond my life choices. I simply was terrified of becoming her. I’ve slowly started to question the motives behind my various choices. In retrospect, I’ve made far too many poor choices in life based solely on that one irrational fear.

—————

My adult relationship with my mother had been sporadic and strained at best. When she was in my life, I always kept a watchful eye for bouts of anger or tears or other signs that her treatment was not working. I was afraid for her to be around my children. Many people scoffed at me for those fears because they could not understand. When I was around her, I was instantly that little girl again, backed into a corner as a windmill of blows hit me on all sides. I was that little girl who was told she was horrible and unloved so often she eventually believed it. I was that little girl who was made to feel like I deserved to be raped. This was also the woman that shot my father. I had many reasons to be scared.

Regardless of everything I had been through, I longed in so many ways to have family in my life. Over the years, I tried many times to repair fences and rebuild bridges. Every time, however, my fear ate at me. I would see her moods shift and panic that her medication was no longer working. Once fear set in, it wasn’t long until I’d run. We would go blocks of time with no contact, months, sometimes years. I had been estranged from her for over two years when I got the call she had died.

I’ve since talked to the people she had stayed with in her last year, months, days. They shared stories about how she had finally received the help she needed and was in a better place mentally and emotionally. I learned she had developed a fondness for Harry Potter, something my children and I all share. She had become, in many ways, quirky, silly and sweet; she was kind and generous almost to a fault, always reaching out trying to help others. As I heard one candid story after another, I realized  I never knew my mother, though I knew her mental illness well. It was a dark sludge that oozed over her, blotting out her true self behind a darkness and cruelty. The knowledge that she found herself at the very end is honestly bittersweet. I wish I could have met that woman. For years, I longed for a mother to be there, my mother to be there. Instead, I am left clinging to the memories of others and running from the monsters that oozed from her own mental illness into my depression.

This blog originally appeared on Unlovable.

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