Bipolar disorder. When saying these two words, the first thoughts that come to mind are guilt, shame, loneliness and anger. Ever since I can remember I’ve been struggling with bipolar disorder, and those around me have been struggling, too. I say those around me because bipolar disorder is not just a one-way diagnosis. It affects everyone around you, especially your loved ones.

I have been searching for a word to describe what it feels like living with bipolar disorder and I came across altschmerz. It isn’t quite a real word, but someone named John Koenig made it up by altering a real German word, that real word being weltschmerz. It does not have a direct English equivalent. However, in German, welt means world, and schmerz means pain, so as a compound word, the combination, literally translated, means “world pain.

So, imagine carrying a world of pain every other week, because that is what living with bipolar disorder is like. One moment everything seems to be working out just fine, and the next you get knocked from your pedestal so hard you feel the earth shatter. It is searching for purpose, meaning and peace in everything (anything), yet somehow it keeps eluding you. You seek out things or opportunities that you think will make you happy, but the truth is, nothing seems to make you happy. And that is when the guilt manifests. You find all these new and exciting endeavors in order to fill this constant void you are carrying. You think, this is what I need, this is what I have been searching for, but then something happens. Either your plans fall through or it changes, or the satisfaction of things working out is short-lived and replaced by a new set of variables you didn’t plan for. Then you feel disappointed, anxious and guilty. Guilty for getting everyone on board and excited, getting them to believe in what you are trying to accomplish, because when you hit rock bottom, they don’t get it. How could they? How can someone be depressed and disappointed if they got exactly what they wanted?

This is the rollercoaster ride of having this disease and this is the dark truth, the dark place that my mind resides; it feels like nothing is going to make me happy or help me feel at peace. I feel this constant shame for not being able to shake this empty feeling despite being blessed with more than most. The shame and guilt of not being happy alone, not with people — not anywhere — that is the loneliest place to be. People get angry and frustrated with me and think I’m just trying to make up excuses (it’s not that hard, right?). They think I’m lazy, or procrastinating and that I’m not trying hard enough, but the truth is I feel stuck. When I find a potential means of spending my time in a positive and productive way, I either loose interest quickly or it somehow turns out that, yet again, this is not the token that is going to provide me with peace. The sad thing is (and this is when I get angry), it seems that nothing can bring me peace. All I want to do is sleep for that is the only time that I am not confined to these dark places.

I feel like I experience everything about life in full throttle. I sometimes feel like I am absorbing every inch of pain and disruption of this world and I can’t breathe. My heart and thoughts start racing and I feel like I literally cannot stand being alive. The darkness consumes me. I have taught myself to “think” my way out of this darkness, but it is short lived and soon the somber cloth is draped around me again. I find myself back at square one. These highs and lows are exhausting, not only to me but to those near and dear to me because every other week I am in a different state of mind.

Honestly, this is not a way to live. Believe me, I don’t want to either, but I just have no idea how to find peace inside this constant, ongoing war.

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.


Bad days are tough for just about everyone, but when you live with bipolar disorder, pushing through can feel impossible. Here are some songs I listen to when I’m having a rough day.

1. “Colours” by Grouplove
I choose this song because it talks about change and strength but also weakness.

2. “A Casualty” by The Kopecky Family Band
I choose this song because when I hear it, I hear the begging in his voice. I sometimes beg for someone to save me before I fold in on myself.

3. We’re in This Together” by Nine Inch Nails
I choose this song because it makes me think how my husband decided to marry me despite knowing I had bipolar disorder. Sometimes when things get really bad, I just think ”We decided to do this, we’re in this together.”

4. “Death With Dignity” by Sufjan Stevens
I picked this song because sometimes I feel so sad that I don’t even want to get better. So I think about dying, and how it wouldn’t be with dignity if I killed myself.

5. “Smile Like You Mean It” by The Killers
I choose this song because I smile a lot and don’t mean it. It reminds me not to be fake and let people know my true feelings even if it’s hard

6. “First Day of My Life” by Bright Eyes
I choose this song because sometimes I have to live each day as if it was the first instead of the last, especially when I come out of a deep depression.

7. “Jesus Christ” by Brand New
I choose this song because he talks about not being scared to die but scared about what happens after he does die. When you suffer with a mental illness such as bipolar, suicide kind of comes with the territory, so hearing someone else sing what I am feeling is a beautiful thing.

8. “We Don’t Know” by The Strumbellas
I choose this song because, once again, it’s an artist describing my feelings. It’s nice to put this one last because it shows you hope along with despair. I think it’s always important to have a little bit of hope at the end of your playlist!

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 would like to say so many things, but words fail. So today, I thought I would tell you what you mean to me. 

My bipolar disorder doesn’t let me be the person I’d like to be for you. Understanding my bipolar disorder can be hard. But you do. And I don’t know many people who have the kind of patience and understanding you have. 

Dear brother,

I still remember the first time I saw you, in your crib, so tiny. You were the most beautiful thing I have seen in my eight years of life. There was a time when, after our mother passed away, I was diagnosed with severe depression and PTSD. You were very young, and I was responsible for you.

You grew up to be more mature than any person I have met in my life. You have saved me countless times from hurting myself. You became my rock. When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, from that time to now, you have been my constant reality check — through the unnerving moments of mania, through the petrifying moments of depression, when things were so blurry that nothing seemed real anymore. 

You have been there through every frightful panic attack that left me gasping for more air, and I’ll never forget the moments you held my hand and let me know it’s OK.

I just wanted to let you know that you’re still the most beautiful thing I have in my life, and you’ll always be. 

Dear husband,

There was a time, before you came in my life, when I gave up. I quite literally gave up on the whole idea of life. I imagined a world without me would be a better place, for everyone. I hurt myself to get through the numbing pains of constant depression, the fear of unknown high. I lost family and friends, near and far. There was absolutely no reason for this life I had.

When you walked into my life, unknowingly, you came carrying life with you. You saved me. No matter how much I try, I will never be able to explain what it means to save a life. But you did it, and you are still doing it, every single day. 

I believed it would be difficult for anyone to understand my perilous highs and lows, and I would never have a “normal” life. But you changed all that, picked me up from my decline, you accepted me for who I am, and you helped me accept myself. You believe I am not my illness, an illness that’s stigmatized by our society.

To this day, you’re the constant reminder I must’ve done something beautiful to have fallen in love with you. You hold me together, I’ll never fall apart.

Dear best friend,

I haven’t been the greatest friend, I know that. I wasn’t there to celebrate the little and lots in your life. I have missed birthdays, your move to a new city, your promotion, your travel stories, and all the things that matter to you. All the while, I was immersed in my depression, or my menacing mania, or the severe panic attacks and anxiety.

You came in my life when I needed a friend who understands I cannot be “normal.” That I cannot engage in long talks every day, go out to party, be there every happy and sad moment of life, do all things fun. I got everything and more from you. The best thing was, I didn’t have to hide or pretend to be all those things for you to be my friend.

Through all the terrible arguments, fights and months of no conversation, we still end up where we started. To being the kind of friends who belong in stories. And we have a story together, and I’m glad.

You are one of the most phenomenal women I know, and I hope you know that. 

If you’re still reading this letter, thank you for your unbounded patience and love. And thank you for staying with me even when I pull away. I know how hard it must be to understand everything that’s happening to me, my bipolar disorder, paranoia, anxiety. But I see you trying, and that’s all I ever asked for.

Thank you.

All these years after my diagnosis of bipolar disorder in 2001, one word about my illness is still so hard for me to say: “psychotic.” But it’s getting easier. In manic and depressive episodes, I experience psychosis, and memories of things I’ve done and said haunt me when I am well. For a long time, I truly thought my psychotic symptoms were something I would have to hide from everyone in my life for the rest of my life.

Then, a few friends saw me through a psychotic episode. Psychosis and all, they met it with compassion and without judgment. One night, I sat on my couch with one of these friends and mentioned psychosis. To my surprise, it just slipped out. All the years of hiding came to my mind in that moment, as well as the realization that I didn’t need to be afraid of sharing the most “shameful” secret of my disorder anymore. I said to her, “I thought I would have to keep that a secret for the rest of my life.” She put her hand on my shoulder to say no, not anymore, and isn’t it wonderful?

Again and again, I’ve been able to say the word and be met with acceptance. Another friend said to me once, “You don’t need to be ashamed of anything, ever.” And I’m starting to believe her. My psychotic symptoms are the most confusing and frightening to me and my loved ones. They are also the most embarrassing once I am well enough to remember what I have done. Saying the word is one thing — I’ve gotten better at that. But not feeling the humiliation deep inside about the things I’ve done and said during a psychotic episode is another.

But again, I’m learning to let go of this shame as well. When people see you during a psychotic episode and show you they haven’t lost sight of who you are to them, you start to realize psychosis is a symptom, not an identity. It’s something you don’t have a lot of control over. Letting go of the shame gets easier — not that it goes away quickly or without effort. It takes time. But being told over and over that you are loved, that their love is not so easily lost — even because of something as overwhelming and powerful as psychosis — can begin to heal the pain of that silence.

You can say the word. You don’t need to be ashamed.

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I have Bipolar 1, the most severe form of bipolar. I was diagnosed almost 10 years ago. It took me about three years to get on the right meds. Throughout those three years, I cycled through episodes of mania and depression. It resulted in three hospitalizations. Once I was on the right medication cocktail, I stabilized. At least, I became as stable as anyone with a severe mental illness can be. Despite the five medications I take for my mood disorder and anxiety, I still deal with symptoms.

I am a high-functioning person living with mental illness, but this doesn’t mean I’m totally asymptomatic. One of the things I struggle most with is impulse control. I have horrible impulse control. When I want it, I want it now. I have such knee-jerk reactions, and I make decisions without thinking them through. I get so stuck on an idea that I just can’t put it to rest until I do something about it.

A lot of people I’ve talked to with bipolar seem to experience the same thing, even if they are on a good medication regimen. I stick to my routine. I take my meds every day. I get enough sleep. But still, my mood disorder is there, underneath the meds, the routine and the sleep.

It took me a long time to realize even though my bipolar is well managed, it still affects me. I seemed to think for a while I was doing so well that I was “cured.” I know there is no cure for bipolar. It is a lifelong disorder, with episodes coming over the years. I am extremely fortunate to be as stable as I’ve been for the last six years. Many people with bipolar don’t get that lucky.

Most people with mental illness struggle for years, trying to get the right diagnosis or trying to get access to appropriate mental health care. They try medication after medication, and it doesn’t work or the side effects are so bad we can’t tolerate the medication.

One of the biggest problems with people diagnosed with bipolar disorder is they fall into the same trap I did. When they get on the right medication, they feel cured. They think it’s over; everything is better so I can stop taking my medication. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

I applaud people who have learned to deal with mental illness in natural, holistic ways. However, for me, and most other people with severe mental illness, we need medication. We need to keep taking our medication. I have accepted I will be on medication for the rest of my life for my mood disorder. Do I like it? No. Yet, I don’t like my heart medication, and I still take that. There is such a stigma around taking medication for a mental illness.

Recently, Olympian gold medalist Simone Biles had her medical records hacked and it was shown she is taking ADHD medication. She has come out and been vocal about the issue, and she has brought attention to the fact there is no shame in taking medication for mental illness. It is the same as any other illness.

So why is it different when we need to take psychotropic medication? Why is that shameful? The short answer is: It’s not. It’s not shameful. It’s not for everyone, but for people who need medication for a mental illness and choose pharmaceuticals as a treatment option, there is no shame. The shame comes from the stigma. The shame comes from ignorance, from people who don’t understand.

I stand loud and proud that I take medication for my mood disorder, and I have never gone off it. It allowed me to complete a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Without it, I truly believe I would have died due to suicidal thoughts, which I was close to before getting on the right medication. Mental illness is more prevalent than you think, and someone you know most likely lives with a mental illness. If you have a friend who is struggling, then reach out to them. A simple text to let them know you are thinking of them can make the difference between a bad day and a good day.

Let’s take the stigma out of mental illness and medication. I’ve seen so many positive articles and people bringing awareness to mental health, to the point that it is even being addressed in the presidential election. Let’s continue the conversation around mental illness. Let’s get people the help they deserve. Whether it’s a veteran struggling with PTSD or an Olympian gold medalist with ADHD, we all deserve to live the best life possible, and sometimes that requires medication.

If it makes our quality of life better, then that should be the most important thing. If it means we can hold a job, have quality relationships and function in society, then that’s what it takes. There’s no shame in that. It’s not a crutch. It’s a disease. We are not less than you because we take medication.

Too many people are afraid to talk about their mental illness or medication because of the stigma around it and how people respond. I’ve experienced it. People treat you differently once they find out you are one of those “crazies.” Doctors judge you when they see it in your medical file.

We are people. We are humans. We happen to have a disease. That does not make us less. In fact, it makes us stronger. It means we are able to triumph over adversity. It means we are resilient. It means we haven’t given up. So don’t give up on us.

Author’s note: I wanted to acknowledge that bipolar II or any of the bipolar spectrum disorders can be just as destructive, debilitating and devastating as bipolar I. I was speaking more in a clinical sense, where on the spectrum of bipolar disorders in the DSM, bipolar 1 is at the top as the most severe on the spectrum, then bipolar 2, cyclothymic, NOS.

Follow this journey on Living Without Limits.

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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.

Sometimes it’s hard to explain just what having mental illness means.

Sometimes it’s hard to know just where the illness ends and the real person begins. I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. These terms do not define me, but they do help explain me.

I am not my illness, but I am responsible for keeping tabs on it, for self-monitoring and for being aware of its place in my life. I think of it as a dog. A feral, mastiff-type animal with a strong body and an even stronger will. If I don’t keep it in line each day, it can easily overpower me. I medicate it. And I learn how to dominate it, to keep it submissive.

But it doesn’t like it.

It longs to take advantage.

Sometimes I get weary of controlling it and it leaps at the opportunity to run rampant. I lose focus. I crave excitement. I act foolishly. The dog grabs me by the scruff of my neck and shakes me until my teeth rattle.

On some level, I enjoy it. I get a thrill from being between the monster’s jaws, not knowing where it will take me or where I will wind up.

All too soon, however, the highs end. Reality hits. And I’ve done it again. I’ve hurt those around me, those I care about, those I love dearly. They are dealing with the fallout, wondering if they can ever trust me again, wondering if I even care at all.

I do care.

I want to be trusted.

Medication will be adjusted, therapies tried. The dog will be fitted for a new collar, though it will whine and scratch and struggle to get loose.

I will never be free of the dog. It is a part of me, and I a part of it, just as my heart and lungs are a part of me. Hopefully, those who love me can see that and can extend grace for the times that are overwhelming. If not, perhaps they are not the people who need to be in my life at all.

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