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When a Therapist Saw Me as I Am

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I was recently hospitalized for suicidal ideation for the fourth time in two years. I was really struggling with myself, with my identity, my values and my beliefs. I didn’t like myself. I honestly thought the world would be better off without me, and especially that my family would be better off without me. I live with bipolar disorder type I, and I go through some extreme mood swings because of it. I had also made the poor decision to quit my medications because I was sick of the way I looked. I was doing phenomenally mood wise, but I hated the way I felt about myself physically.

I was rather bitter about this hospital stay because my individual counselor had sent the sheriffs out to find me. (I sent her a suicide note by text, and she responded appropriately — by doing a welfare check.) I didn’t want to be found though, I really wanted to be dead; at least I thought that was the case. So I spent my first couple days sulking about how miserably unfair my life was. The therapist in the hospital was amazingly kind those first few days. I thought he was great until we had a therapy session with my husband.

He told me in no uncertain terms I had a problem with always having to be right, that I was annoying and that he thought I’d be almost impossible to live with.

He also told me though, I had something innately likable about me, something that made all those other qualities seem to diminish, and that made me a wonderful person. He also said that even though I’m an incredibly difficult person, there was something charming about me, that radiated from me, even when I annoyed the hell out of people.

Of course, at first, all I heard was that I’m a terrible person who doesn’t deserve to have anything good happen to her — but eventually it dawned on me that he had basically seen my soul, laid it bare, put words to it and still found me a good person.

It changed my life.

Once I finished processing the hurtful things he said, I realized he had said some wonderful things about me as well. And that was incredibly freeing.

The shocking thing was that I believed him. I honestly believed what he told me, because he was one of the most genuine people I’d ever met. I knew he wouldn’t say something if he didn’t believe it to be true. Because of that, it sank in.

I changed because of that comment. I began to believe I have value, that I have worth and that I’m a good person. I know deep inside that although I can be an incredibly difficult person to handle at times, I’m still innately likable. And that’s enough for me. It doesn’t matter if everyone doesn’t like me, I still believe and hold on to the thought that I’m charming. Of all things, charming! I’m someone who deserves to be treated with respect, because I am worthy.

I don’t know if this therapist will ever know how much of a profound effect he had on me, and how much he’s changed my life, but I want to thank him. I want to thank him from the bottom of my heart for seeing me, the real me, the me hiding behind my layers of sarcasm and mean words. He had the audacity to tell me straight like it is, and I admire that kind of bravery. He has given me the backbone to be myself, in all things, at all times and in all places. I don’t have to people please anymore. I know that I’m enough, just as I am. And his words helped make that a reality for me. And I am so grateful. So grateful.

Thank you, dear therapist, for giving me the courage to be authentic myself.

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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4 Tactics for When My Bipolar Disorder Makes Me Isolate

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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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5 Tips for Coping With Changing Seasons When You Have Bipolar Disorder

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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.

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The Colors of a Manic Episode

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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.

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When Bipolar Disorder Makes It Difficult to Trust Your Own Mind

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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.

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When Mania Gives You Too Many Good Ideas

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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.

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