pills on a persons palm

What happens when your medications actually start working? I have been asking myself this for some time now. Because my medications are working, and today I feel so good.

In the past few weeks, I have been sick of myself, hating myself, being in a constant low, and crying for no reason. All of this happened because my medication cocktail was wrong. It’s like October doesn’t exist for me now, because I don’t want to think about those days. Those days remind me of my past — a past where I was paralyzed with fear of my own brain.

My medications have recently been changed, and suddenly I feel good. But I ask myself, is this actually feeling good or just part of a manic phase? See, I have trouble trusting my brain, for legitimate reasons. Wouldn’t you, if you were a prisoner of your own mind? But still, I thought about writing this when I’m almost feeling good about myself, because this doesn’t happen often.

I feel relieved for the most part. I feel like I was trapped inside a box of emotions, suffocating, alone in the dark. That changed with my new medications. So I constantly like talking about it. I randomly tell my husband how I’m feeling better with the new medicine, how my life must have improved from the ill-fated October to now.

I don’t want to get over-confident though, because in the back of my head the voice tells me I don’t deserve happiness.

I feel afraid, terrified. Because the nagging voice in the back of my head perpetually keeps reminding me of the things that could happen if I crash again. Because my anxiety won’t let me go. “What if? What if? What if?” It just so happens that my relationship with anxiety is a very complicated one.

My depression and mania can be subdued by the medications, but I don’t think I can say the same for my anxiety. I’m tired of being anxious all the time, even now, when I should have a few peaceful moments of feeling good. What if it’s just another manic phase? What if my medications stop working one day? What if this is a start of a whole new kind of low? What if this is just the calm before the storm? What if?

From my bipolar disorder to my PTSD, it’s as though my brain has conjured up a cocktail of mental illnesses for every occasion. Like even now, when I should celebrate while I can, but I can’t. I feel like celebrations are not really for me. And when I get a chance to celebrate, I can’t take it in fear of jinxing it.

Today, I finally felt something new. What if I deserve a bit of happiness? What if this is not part of my mental illnesses at all? What if I’m feeling good for all the right reasons? What if this is what it feels like to be “normal”? After all, isn’t that what I want? To feel “normal”? What if, for once, I don’t let my anxiety win?

I want to conclude by saying that no, my feet are still rooted to the ground. But I realized I deserve a little bit of good in the middle of the storm that goes on in my mind. I might just take a little time out to enjoy this feeling a bit, even though it might just be a mirage created by my brain. I want to thank my psychiatrist mostly, because without these medications I’d still be rotting inside myself. And I don’t think they get thanked enough for the help they do.

Today was a good day. I hope tomorrow will be, too.

Image via Thinkstock.

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How do you love with someone with bipolar disorder?

It can be hard AF.

I struggle to love me, and I have bipolar disorder.

I’ve got friends who love me though. I asked them what makes me so appealing, and they had some surprising answers,

One of my friends told me she loves me because I’m funny, I’m creative, and I’m kind. She loves me because I genuinely want to do good in the world.

My other friend had similar answers: I’m funny, honest, and compassionate.

I was once told that even though I’m a difficult person, there’s still something innately likable about me, and well, my friends’ answers prove that’s true.

My daughter loves me because she relates to the mood swings and understands when I’m struggling.

My husband shows his love for me by being kind, compassionate, and understanding.

What does that compassion look like?

He knows I love Robert Downey, Jr, so when I’m in a funk, he’ll turn on movies with him in it. I just recently watched “Sherlock Holmes,” and snuggling my husband and enjoying the movie really helped me know I’m loved. He forces me to talk when I want nothing more than to clam up. He takes me out on dates when I want to curl up in bed and sulk. He surprises me with trips for just the two of us to help me get out of my head and to have something to look forward to.

Loving a person with bipolar disorder may not always be easy. We can be unpredictable. There’s a chance we might hurt you when we’re hurting too. I inadvertently hurt a good friend of mine with my last suicide attempt, and I see the consequences of that. But I’m still innately likable. I’m still a good person, even though I do have mood swings, even though I have rages, even though I cry and sulk.

I also delight in making people happy and serving others. And people see that about me.

I’m loved because I’m quirky.

To love a person with bipolar disorder, like anyone else, you have to be willing to be hurt, you have to take a chance, you have to be prepared to roll with the punches. But there are so many good sides to loving a person with it. We can be quite creative and can help you get your house beautified or with a DIY project you’re stuck on. We can chatter your ear off for hours, and yet we can also turn around and listen when you need someone to lean on too.

Loving someone with bipolar disorder can be scary, but the person behind the disorder is worth the effort. There are layers to a person, and peeling back the layers and starting to love someone with bipolar disorder is a beautiful thing.

Like people say, if it’s difficult, it’s usually worth it. And a friendship with someone with mental illness can be difficult, but is so worth it.

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

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Stock image by Handini_Atmodiwiryo

At present, the thing that makes me most uncomfortable is the way my body has changed due to my medications. I’m sure everyone with some kind of mental illness and going through therapy experiences changes in their bodies. I’m no different. I put on a lot of weight over the past year, and now, it makes me feel bad about myself.

How do you cope with something like that? Every time I visit my psychiatrist, I ask her to give me medications that won’t make me gain weight. Every time I’m on Google, I type “how to lose weight” or “why do bipolar disorder medications make you gain weight.” Every time I try to start an exercise routine or a diet, my mind won’t even let me get out of bed.

I know these thoughts are in my head, and they’re not healthy. It’s different for each individual. Today, I want to talk about the humiliation and loss of confidence I feel when I look at myself in the mirror. I see all the ways my body has changed in places, and I feel regret, like a sharp knife cutting through the chest into my heart. I flinch at the sight of me.

I know I have already done more harm than good to my body. I have scars to bring me back to reality every time I wander in the fantasy land where everything is “normal.” I have been told to treat my own body like a temple, but that was long gone when I first cut myself. I have taken medications that were not for me for far too long to do damage to my internal organs.

Now, when I think about the ways my mind has tortured my body, I feel ashamed. Knowing that all this time it was me who did the harm under the spell of my mental disease, I feel a pang of unimaginable guilt. It is true. I have been my brain’s most abused prisoner.

While we think others around us are most affected by our disease, we forget about ourselves. We feel guilty over everything, think about making it up to everyone, but we don’t think of ourselves. Everything that happens around us, the mistakes we make, the deplorable decisions we take, those are all as hosts to our mental illness. We pay the high price for it all, except we forget ourselves.

We don’t apologize to ourselves, our bodies. We apologize to anyone else we might have hurt or done wrong to, but we exclude our bodies.

Now that I stare at my image in the mirror, I just want to say I am sorry. I apologize for all the crap I put you through, all the unhealthy things I have taken in, all the times I hurt you, all the medications I still have to take to be normal and not hurt you.

But you know what I realized today while looking at myself? I have paid enough. I have sacrificed enough to be sad about how my body looks now. This is the price I pay to be ordinary. Because none of us are ordinary, really.

I think I said this before and I will stick to it: People with any kind of mental illness are far from ordinary. I have been struggling with the changes in my body, body shaming myself, all the while not realizing these are the medications that hold me together, hold my brain together, so that I can’t harm myself further.

If you are feeling the same thing I have been feeling for so long, then just stop. Stop and take a look at yourself again. You’re beautiful no matter how your body has changed. You’re held together tight with glue. There is no reason to hate your body. It has gone through enough. Don’t forget yourself. You’re your own little miracle no matter if your brain tells you otherwise. Don’t let your illness win this war.

If I can’t accept myself then how can I expect the society to accept me the way I am? My campaign Hope Is Good is more than a cause for me, it’s my entire life. I wish to help people, but I can’t do that if I can’t help myself. So, I have made a promise to myself: No more shame about my body. No more guilt. A promise to love myself.

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Image via Thinkstock.

For illustrator Harrison Wheeler, humor heals. Wheeler, a former vice principal turned artist and mental health advocate, creates mental-health inspired artwork based on his experience living with type 1 bipolar disorder and addiction.

Cartoon of two men. First man says "Bipolar? Really? You don't look crazy." Second man replies, "Maybe not, but you're looking pretty darn ignorant, pal."

“Drawing is my zen, it’s how I think, how I communicate,” Wheeler told The Mighty. “I’ve always been socially-minded with my art, be it comedy, writing or drawing.  [A]fter mounting my one-man show ‘Jesters Incognito,’ it dawned on me that my art could help a lot of people. Drawings are easy to share and say so much efficiently. There’s a lot of words on the internet, yet showing is so much more effective than telling.”

As a professional cartoonist, Wheeler creates a variety of images for campaigns as well as his mental health advocacy work. “I’ve drawn rather glib cartoons and more PSA comic strips on suicide – those were rough, to be honest – as well as inspirational designs,” he said.

Given his familiarity with corporate environments (many of his illustrations are dedicated to marketing and communications) Wheeler hopes his creations can help alleviated some of the workplace stigma around mental illnesses. In Canada, where Wheeler is from, an independent survey revealed 71 percent of Canadians living with a mental illness are concerned about workplace stigma.
Cartoon of two male characters in business attire. First man says "How can you possibly be so relax? This comic panel is falling apart." Second man replies, "Is it, Fred? Or is your anxiety warping your perception?"

“I approach recovery from mental health by speaking and leading workshops on how creativity helped me self-actualize, how in fact I believe mental health can be viewed as an asset for living our lives more creatively, and how communicating with compassion in the workplace is going to make for healthier, wealthier lives,” Wheeler said. “I try to approach the subject with comedy because there’s enough drama in the world.”

Illustration of people with the text "Hey. We all have mental health."

From his portfolio, Wheeler says his favorite cartoons include, “We All Have Mental Health” and “Compassion Problem.” “I dunno, I like them because they are at opposite ends of the spectrum of my style.”

Image of hearts with the text "Doctor, something's wrong. I started practicing compassion and now I've got all of these ... feeling! Can you help me?"

“It’s a strength,” Wheeler said, commenting on what it’s like to live with a mental illness. “It’s a beautiful accent to your character. Once we are able to accept it and learn to manage it, our conditions are no more limiting than an oddly shaped birthmark on our knee.”

Since I was very young, I’ve struggled with controlling my anger.

As a little girl, I’d succumb to temper tantrums often. Throughout adolescence, I’d quarrel with my parents, having meltdowns in rapid succession. When I was married, I’d fly off the handle at the smallest of infractions, becoming even more incensed when my former husband refused to engage in an argument. He’d always manage to remain reasonable and level-headed; to stay exasperatingly calm regardless of how irrational or emotional I became.

Instead of this calming me too, however, his detachment and formality only angered me further, making me feel trivialized, childish and impotent. I doubt his fighting back would have done us any favors, though. The problem, of course, wasn’t him. And it wasn’t my parents, my siblings, friends, or peers, either. It was (and is) me. Me and My Rage.

As a bipolar adult, I still struggle with rage issues. Often. Big-time. I’m impatient, impulsive and irritable. Plainly stated, I have a short fuse. Excess anxiety makes me hyper-vigilant – that is, I become startled easily. When that happens, it triggers instantaneous anger.

Of course, anger’s actually a secondary emotion to fear. I know this, as I sit here, rationally typing away. But in the moment, I don’t take a beat to carefully consider my reaction and arrive at a more appropriate, healthy response. In my estimation, there isn’t time to employ some anger management coping strategy such as counting to 10, deep breathing or using “I” statements before I totally lose it.

The medication I’m on does take a significant edge off my predominant negative emotion – anxiety – and in doing so it reduces overall incidences. Running also helps a lot because it’s so aggressive, so physical. But anxiety still happens and I struggle. The white hot anger takes control and before I realize what I’m doing or saying, I’ve lashed out, been disruptive or awful to somebody — and that’s never good.

One anxiety reduction method that’s been suggested to me time and time again is that I begin practicing yoga. Honestly, I really would like the physical and athletic benefits of a dedicated yoga practice. I know that yoga would help me with things like flexibility, core strength and correcting muscle imbalances — all of which contribute to what I’m ultimately seeking: injury prevention so I can keep running. Theoretically, it sounds great!

But as far as the spirituality part goes? The meditative piece? Bringing the hands to the heart’s center, and all that jazz? You can keep it. To me, that seems very annoying, very aggravating; all that slowing down, holding still, breathing deeply and keeping quiet. Even as I think about a hypothetical practice, I’m growing itchy and annoyed.

Yes, chaturanga dandasanas would do wonders for my delts, but how to proceed with making a yoga practice more appealing to a ferociously angry, rapid mood cycling person, such as myself? And would a traditional yoga practice even work towards eventually reducing my anxiety, that is, if I practiced regularly? Would it actually help even out my moods, grant me more patience, or make me less likely to go ballistic at the slightest affront?

Probably not, actually. Come to think of it, I know several yogis with a dedicated practice who are angry and impatient as all get out. But I’ve been hearing about all these alternative forms of yoga popping up and one particular mutation, er, interpretation caught my interest: “Rage Yoga, a brand-new, unconventional type of yoga practice developed by Lindsay Istace of Calgary, Canada who uses screaming, swearing and heavy metal music during workouts.”

You don’t say. Tell me more…

The official website defines Rage Yoga as “a practice involving stretching, positional exercises and bad humor, with the goal of attaining good health and to become zen as f*ck.” The classes are based on the Vinyasa flow, which I don’t really know much about other than it’s continual movement from one pose or “asana” to another, rather than holding the poses for a period of time. So it’s faster-paced and “fitness-y.” And there’s screaming. And swearing. And loud music. It’s, essentially, venting.

I like what I’m hearing so far.

Rage Yoga is the only yoga I could deal with at this point in my life. That said, “at this point in my life” is I’m a single gal with zero dependents. I have the theoretical luxury of visiting with my nieces and nephews, patting them on their cute behinds and then high-tailing it outta there as soon as pre-naptime fussiness begins, or worse, the full-blown meltdown.

But we’re all human, and as such we can relate to occasional feelings of edginess and hyper-vigilance, right? Ultimately, this type of yoga class sounds really cathartic and definitely worth trying. Since these classes are only offered in one Canadian city, those of us elsewhere will have to settle for the six-week online courses slated for this summer, but I’m sure copycats are close behind.

Better yet, you could start a Rage Yoga studio yourself! If you do, let me know. I’m game for some screaming, swearing downward dog.

Follow this journey on Salt and Pepper the Earth.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Lately I’ve been pondering what a beautiful thing it is to be a creative person. To think that I’ve created literally thousands of original works between my poetry, blogging, essaying, music reviewing and drawing, and not one of them is exactly like anything anyone else has ever created is intriguing, to say the least. And that’s not tooting my own horn or bragging about how amazing a creator I am — there are too many who are better at their craft than I am to even begin to count — but it is a neat thought to me, nonetheless.

Many prominent researchers have made the connection between mental illness — bipolar disorder, in particular — and the creative bug. I’m an artist and a writer, and have been both of those for most of my life. And if I’m being perfectly honest, much of my earliest “good” art (i.e. that which doesn’t make me cringe when I take a look at it) was a product of mania. I was unmedicated and the elevated mood took unbridled hold on me the summer before my sophomore year of high school, causing me to toil away on charcoal drawings into the wee hours of the morning every single day for weeks on end.

It seemed muses were inexhaustible and that ubiquitous “creative spark” was an undying blaze.

As a result of this, I believed I wasn’t a good artist well after the sickness faded; I was convinced I just got lucky with my bipolar high. But as time went on, I was adjusted to the right cocktail of meds and found the right therapist, and reached my version of normalcy. When I began getting back in touch with my artsy side, I realized I still have it in me, always have, even in my healthy periods. Mania might provide a surge of ideas and the laser focus and drive to make those ideas a tangible reality. It does not, however, provide innate talent or a deep-seated passion. I have been drawing ever since I could clutch a crayon in my little kid fist and scribble on a page. It’s just something that’s in my soul, and no amount of medication can change that.

While mania admittedly makes creating pretty things on a page more of a breeze than sanity does, my best written work found its genesis when I was at my healthiest, sanest state of being. When I’m biochemically high, there’s no way I can concentrate on a piece long enough to make it coherent and well-written. I flit from project to project and my mind is spinning too fast to make sure the storm I’m typing up is actually solid and making sense. This is not to say, however, that my mental abnormalities haven’t contributed to the “wordsmithing” side of my creativity. The majority of my writings are inspired by my struggles, and they wouldn’t be there if I didn’t have a life riddled with mental health issues.

There’s a chance I wouldn’t be the highly creative individual I am without the madness that takes up a decent chunk of my headspace. Beyond the mental aspect of creativity, my work is essentially an expression of my innermost self and a product of my experiences and point of view. If I didn’t go through what I’ve gone through and continue to experience what I experience on a day-to-day basis, I wouldn’t be myself. My art, in turn, wouldn’t be itself, either.

Ultimately, I believe that creativity is such an integral part of who I am that mental illness or not, I would always be this way. But maybe I wouldn’t have the same things that beg to be expressed, maybe I wouldn’t have the same intensity about my creative process. And because of that risk, I’ll keep the mental illness.

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