Mental illness is not something most people would probably want, but if you already have one, it’s important to learn to embrace it. So we might as well explore the possibilities of mental illness teaching us something. As I learned from my mistakes, I also learned from my mental illnesses.

1. You’ll lose people along the way.

You’ll lose some people — friends, family and a lot of known faces — over the years. I have lost my school friends, relatives and people who called themselves friends, all of them through the decade of my journey with mental illness. Firstly, because I myself didn’t know I had bipolar disorder when I got depressed. Not everyone around you will understand your depression or your problems.

2. If someone doesn’t understand and wants to leave, then let them go.

This happened to to me with the person who was my best friend in school. Sometimes people won’t understand some of the things you have to do because of your illness. I’m not saying everything I did was 100 percent right, but many things I did because I had no other choice.

3. You will be able to read people better.

Although I think mental illness can be the worst thing that could happen to a person, it also opens up your brain to many possibilities. You learn to understand people better because you’ll see them exactly for who they are. Even though mental illness is invisible, it doesn’t hide itself. The more people you see leaving after learning facts about you, the more you’ll be able to snip them from your life.

4. You will learn who your true friends and family are.

After you have shred all the negativity around you, you will find some people who have stayed with you no matter how your mood swings from depression to mania. People who have accepted you for who you are, with your mental illness. These are the people who will be your friends, your support system. You will get a better perspective, and you will be able to choose your own family. After all, there are families we’re born into, but in the end, it’s the family we choose that sticks with us.

5. You’ll feel less guilty as you get to know yourself better.

As the days and years pass by, you’ll learn more about yourself. I didn’t know my illness  until it was too late. Yet, the feelings of guilt and regret are the same for all of us who have some kind of mental illness. As you know yourself better, you eventually start judging yourself a little less every day, and the feeling is freeing.

6. You will become your own person.

Through the years of crying, begging, expecting and answering to others, I finally understood myself. Instead of being taken for granted, I started appreciating myself. I started doing things for myself instead of expecting from others. People with some kind of mental illness are often perceptive of people because of the experiences we have had. I have personally become my own person by trusting myself and my abilities to survive. It took me a good 12 years to finally accept myself, to start a cause to eradicate stigma attached to mental illness and to finally get the help I needed throughout the years. Now, I have a partner, a brother, a friend and a family who recognize me for who I am. However, this only became possible when I fit in properly in my own skin, acknowledged my mental illness and wore it as a shield so nothing and no one could put me down.

“Never forget what you are, for the surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” – George R.R. Martin

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.


It all started to make sense as soon as the words escaped the lips of the new counselor I was seeing, but the diagnosis still kept spinning around in my head like water down a funnel. I felt like I was melting into the brown leather couch I had previously found comfortable and I was now becoming part of it. It was a mix of relief and fear I was feeling as the words stirred around. I saw my counselors lips moving, she was still trying to talk to me, but all I could hear was what she suspected I have been struggling with: Bipolar II.

For those who don’t know there are two types of bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed with bipolar II, which means I have more depressive periods (which I call my down time) with less frequent and less severe hypomanic episodes (which I call my up time). Now like I said before, once she said it it all seemed to make sense to me.

Thinking back, I’ve had these ups and downs since high school. No, not like your normal ups and downs like “everyone else has.” My ups and downs are drastic, they are quick to change, and they change with no trigger. I can think of many hypomanic times feeling like I could do anything, making plans for my future, feeling confident and sexy, spending money I shouldn’t have and moving a mile a minute. I was overly productive, often doing multiple things at once, and feeling even higher because I could do it all. I was unstoppable, a bad ass bitch, and super bubbly and friendly. I felt like my best self.

I could also think of all the lows. The times I would wake up and cry because my eyes opened and I was still alive when I didn’t want to be, and the times I would wait to cross the busy street to go into my apartment and think about throwing myself into the traffic. There would be days I wouldn’t even eat because the thought of food alone made me sick to my stomach, and I felt like a burden to everyone around me for feeling sad and hopeless when I had nothing to be sad and hopeless about.

I could also think of these days when they would be back to back, one day on top of the world and happy to be there, and the next day at the bottom of the ocean drowning in sadness.

The diagnosis made sense to me because my up times never seemed to last and as my new counselor said to me “what goes up, must come down” — and down I always came. Hard. Like I jumped out of plane with no parachute. And both of these ups and downs were so opposite I felt exhausted from the shifts I never knew were coming. I had previously been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, but even now I see how that was wrong, but also how I was easily misdiagnosed. My ups were few and far between and didn’t last very long, so by the time I had my weekly therapy session I could be low again, and forget I even felt so good.

It was all making sense to me when the words came out of her mouth. Bipolar II. But that didn’t mean the words sounded good.

There is a horrible stigma surrounding the word bipolar. People throw it around to describe someone who’s a little more moody than usual, or someone who they caught on a bad day. People also substitute the words “crazy” or “insane” when talking about bipolar disorder. Typically it is used negatively, as an insult and to imply that a person is inferior. So when the words came out of her mouth and everything started to make sense, part of me was thinking “thank goodness, this makes so much sense and I finally feel like I have an answer” and the other part of me thought, “how can I keep my head held high with this despite what people are going to say and think of me?” That is what I’m still trying to figure out, and it’s something I’m sure I am not alone in.

The few people I’ve actually told have all responded differently, some better than others. But what I have noticed is that everyone has told me: “You are still the same person I have always known and loved and this will not change that.” I am lucky people have responded positively, but I know it will not always be like that. When the day comes I feel like someone is stigmatizing me for it, I will have to keep my head held high and remind myself of what those who care about me most told me: “You are still the same person.”

Accepting my new diagnosis has been challenging, and overcoming my own stigma has been its own battle. I have to take medication again, which I am not thrilled about, but I have accepted there is nothing wrong with it. I am not damaged or broken or crazy, I am me, and I have Bipolar II. As much as the words taste like vinegar when they come out of my mouth, being diagnosed with Bipolar II was sort of a blessing because I am now on the road to getting the proper help I have always needed, and with that I will be a better version of myself.

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.

Image via Thinkstock.

Real People. Real Stories.

150 Million

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.