pink shoe walking on a balance beam

Before I tell you these things, I want you to know that at the end of the day I love you very dearly. You’ve contributed to much of my growth, and that is irreplaceable.

I want you to know some things about the mental illness I struggle with.

1. Bipolar depression is a little bit different than major depressive disorder. My depression is typically followed semi-closely after a hypomanic episode. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a trigger.

2. When I say I’m tired, I truly mean it. When the battlefront is your own mind, it is exhausting. I spend an inordinate amount of time shoving down the thoughts of hurting myself or the constant fear that I’m not good enough and that everyone would be better off without me. So when I say I’m tired, please meet me in the middle so we can accomplish what needs to be done.

3. Telling me to “just be happy” and “just get out of bed, you’ll feel better” is useless and invalidating. It hurts, honestly. When I hear those words, I hear a lack of support and a lack of encouragement. It’s similar to telling someone with the flu, “just get out of bed and get better! Your fever isn’t that big of a deal.”

4. My coping skills might not be like yours. I like small spaces. My closet. In between the wall and the bed. Curled up under every blanket in the house. Please don’t try to change my non-destructive coping skills. Some days they are all I have to hold onto.

5. You can’t fix me… because I’m not broken. I understand it must be confusing and painful to watch my highs and lows, but I promise you what means the most to me is when you’re still there when the clouds of depression dissipate.


It’s hard being well. It’s hard to continue to take the same medication, day in and day out. It’s hard to “keep your nose clean,” and stay out of trouble. It gets boring.

Living with bipolar disorder is much like walking a tight rope. Too much “fun” and I’m manic; too much “down in the doldrums,” and I’m in depression. God forbid I have an emotion that is human because it will be analyzed to pieces by myself, my husband and my doctor.

Staying out of trouble gets hard to do when you’re bipolar. Many people, myself included, get an adrenaline rush like no other from the heights of mania. Giving that up for stability sometimes looks like a poor choice. You can feel as if you’ve lost your creativity, your “spark,” your muchness, to quote the Mad Hatter.

So what’s a person to do when boredom strikes, and it starts looking like a good idea to “poke the bear,” as some would say? The biggest thing I do is talk to someone. That’s the number one most important thing you can do when you start thinking stirring up trouble would be a good idea. Talk to a trusted family member, your therapist, your psych or even a member of the clergy, if you’re so inclined.

Be sure to use your emergency contingency plan. I’ve had to make one every time I’ve been discharged from a psych ward, and they all look similar. It details what behaviors I exhibit when I’m starting to relapse, who to contact first and things I can do to prevent my state from deteriorating further.

The next thing you should do is actually use those coping skills that are talked about so frequently. For example, I color. I find something to clean. I pull out my Cricut and create something new. I write. I do something, anything, to keep my hands and mind busy.

I certainly don’t ruminate. Those voices in my head love trouble. They thrive on it. If I listen to them, then I’m headed for disaster. I suppose the most important thing of all that I do is not quit my medications. If you’re doing well, but you’re bored with being well, then quitting your meds is one of the worst things you can do for your continuing recovery.

Boredom is OK. In today’s world, we’re taught boredom is the worst possible punishment you can give a person, and we must be entertained at all times. However, this is not true. Sit with the boredom for a little while. This is super dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)-ish, but let the boredom flow through you like a wave. Acknowledge it is there, and then let it pass on by. Don’t hold on to it, but don’t push it away either. Soon the bored feeling will pass, and you’ll be eternally grateful you stayed true to the course of recovery.

If none of this works, then you may well be struggling and need a med adjustment or a new approach in therapy. However, you’ll be ahead of the curve by being able to recognize a trigger for you.

I’m not going to lie, allowing myself to be bored sucks. I hate it. I don’t like feeling like I need to stir up problems for entertainment. I know myself though, and knowing is half the battle, right? It’s hard to admit when you’re struggling. At least, it is for me. Don’t be like me, who has too much pride to ask for help sometimes. Be yourself, a person who has learned from my mistakes.

Image via Thinkstock.

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.

Real People. Real Stories.

150 Million

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.