young girl portrait

Dear Me,

I know you’ve been through a lot in the short amount of time you’ve been on this earth. You’ve endured more than many adults experience in a lifetime. I know you’re keeping secrets, and I know you’re scared and confused. It’s OK for you to feel that way. It’s OK to have a bad day or many bad days; you’re allowed. Please know I am not trying to scare you when I say you’re going to have a lot of bad days.

Unfortunately, what they’ve just diagnosed you with isn’t going to go away, and it’s not just some phase you’re going through. You have an illness, kind of like the way diabetes is an illness. It’s just that yours is an illness of the mind and is often highly unpredictable. Now you know you have bipolar disorder. I guess that explains a lot.

You will be forced to deal with this for the rest of your life, and I need you to be prepared for that and try not to panic. It can be managed; you just have a lot of work to do. The first thing I’m going to tell you is to stop locking yourself in your room listening to the same painful songs over and over again. It’s not going to get you anywhere.

Don’t isolate yourself from the outside world so much that when you finally venture out, you’ll date any guy who looks at you twice. Try to stay away from dating until your illness is more under control. Remember that when a man does break your heart, it’s going to feel like your whole life has collapsed. We feel things deeper; it comes with the territory.

Sometimes all you can do is sleep, and sometimes you won’t sleep for days. Give yourself some time to adjust to your diagnosis. We all handle it differently. Don’t ever criticize yourself for taking care of the most important person here – you.

You may see doctor after doctor and try what will seem like 1,000 medications, but in between all of the bullshit, there will be good times. Your life is not over; it’s just beginning.

I just need you to be ready for what you’re about to do. You’re going to attempt to win the battle inside your brain every single day. Watch your step. There are pitfalls along the path for people like us. Just be honest with people. Tell them the truth from the start. That way you won’t have grown close to them if they exit stage left.

The worst part about being diagnosed with a mental illness is the ignorance you’ll face daily. There will be people who walk out of your life or treat you like trash because you have an illness — one you didn’t ask for or contract. It’s just how you’re wired. Some people may never understand or even believe no matter how hard you try to explain it to them

Don’t let their ignorance tear you down, and don’t let them get to you. You have enough work to do just fighting the negative voices in your head. You will struggle, there is no question about that. Sometimes it will feel like all you ever do is get hurt. That is when it is easiest to give up, but you can’t do that. Not now. Not ever.

Please, whatever you do, don’t try to hurt yourself in any way. You may feel alone at times, but you are never truly alone in this fight. If family members can’t help, try friends or anyone you trust. Purposely being alone just to sit there and cry about how lonely you are is counterproductive. When you feel up to it, make a list of things you enjoy doing so when you stumble into that abyss, you’ve left yourself a breadcrumb path to find your way back out.

Always remember you’re only having a bad day. You do not have a bad life. Despite your struggles, there will be moments where you shine! And you’ll learn to appreciate those moments even more because you have fought hard to get there.

You can do this. I’ve witnessed it first-hand. There will be times when you want to give up. Unfortunately, at times the pain will seem unbearable, and it will get to you no matter how strong you think you are. Always remember, there will be a light around the corner. You just have to follow the path to get to it.

I am so proud of you. You admitted you have an illness that many people are still embarrassed by. You are going to go on and do great things! You’re going to figure out a way to turn the tables on your disability and use it to help people. I know patience isn’t your strong suit, but it won’t be long. You’re so young, just be 19-year-old first. You’re going need a little time to figure yourself out.

You’ve got quite an uphill battle in front of you. You won’t have all the answers, but in time you will learn what works for you and what doesn’t. Don’t compare your illness to someone else. Your journey will be completely different. When you’re more self-aware, your bad days will only amplify the good. You can do this. It will be a struggle, but if you weren’t a fighter, you wouldn’t be here now. I’ll be here waiting. You’ve got this.



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Thinkstock photo by tormento79


There was a point at which, while I was battling depression resulting from my bipolar I disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I had not left my home in over a year. Not only that, but I had also not left a room inside my home the size of a small bathroom — other than to use the bathroom, or occasionally try to go to the kitchen to get food when I thought it would be safe for me to come out. I was constantly terrified, constantly afraid of everything. My life was a revolving door of fear and uncertainty.

I did not see a way out. Every day was the same. I stayed in that room, and the world went on outside without me. I watched it out my window with a certain amount of awe and envy, until I couldn’t bear the light anymore and I covered the window with a bathroom towel so the light would not shine in.

Eventually, the overhead lightbulb in the room burst, and then I only had a desk lamp and the dim light of my computer… except I had closed down social media and did not even have a Facebook. I had become terrified of reaching out at that point in my life. I had shut everyone out. What would they think of me? I had once been successful. I had once been a teacher. I had once been productive and active.

I wrote poems instead. I wrote them every day for over a year. Hundreds of poems that lead readers through the journey into and around my mental illness during those days.

Finally, as they say, the straw broke.

There was a day when everything came crashing down and my world shifted, and I reached a point where I could no longer stay “hidden” away.

My tiny room was no longer an option.

I’d been… found.

It’s hard to explain the impact of what it’s like when your world has shrunk to a 5×5 space and suddenly you are exposed to the world again. It’s overwhelming. It’s bright. It’s loud. It’s terrifying.

It’s full of possibility.

I remember at the time, when I had to leave “my room,” I thought those who made me leave my room were forcing a sort of death on me. My room was my safe haven after all. I didn’t yet understand that they were forcing me to live again.

Later, I wrote a poem — once I understood.

I’d like to share it with them. With you. And to remind myself and the part of me that still sometimes desperately longs for that room. Because yes, even now, sometimes I desperately wish for that safe haven away from the frightening triggers of the world around me. I want to tell myself all over again, “I am free.”

In Remembrance

There was a moment where she was exquisitely afraid.

She’d burned alone in her armor… nearly lost forever.

Her smoking, sputtering bones bellowing ashes —

devoured in the destructive cracks of controlled comfort.

Keep the chorused cold colors intact at all costs.

Chain the inner child and do the consolatory dance

because anything else would mean that she must be

thrown screaming into the moment —

and face the different dance of frightening recollection.

And she’s forgotten that she is both

Barefoot and Beautiful.

She weeps.

Morbid mourning upon the morning

of her profound death —

not yet realizing it is a rebirth —

and it is relentless in its terror

of unhesitating trembling solitude,

and somehow terrible

in the seeming veiled velvet vulgarity

of final possibility.

Leaving that room was not an ending; it was a beginning. It was a painful rebirth, and now I get to start my life over. Finally, there is possibility. It is terrifying sometimes. And sometimes I still mourn the loss of my room. But I will not look back.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Demi Lovato doesn’t shy away from the spotlight when it comes to mental illness. In an interview with People magazine, Lovato, who lives with bipolar disorder, spoke candidly about undergoing treatment for eating disorders, addiction and self-harm in 2011.

“Whenever I was in treatment and I had the urge to do something that was harmful to myself, whether it was self-harming or was just something that wasn’t good for me, my treatment team told me to distract myself,” the 24-year-old singer said.

Lovato, who will be five years sober in March 2017, said every day is a work in progress, crediting her family, friends and treatment team for helping her maintain her recovery. “They’re there for me at any moment of the day and will be there to support me throughout my recovery,” she told People. “That relationship is ongoing — it’s not something where you see a therapist once or you see your psychiatrist once, it’s something you maintain to make sure that you want to live with mental illness. You have to take care of yourself.”

Lovato is well known for her commitment to mental health issues, speaking up about her own experiences and the importance of addressing mental health stigma. In September, she became the co-owner of CAST Centers, the same mental health and wellness rehabilitation facility that treated her back in 2011.

“If you know someone or if you’re dealing with it yourself, just know that it is possible to live well,” Lovato said. “I’m living proof of that.”

I remember the first time I saw the look of terror in my husband’s eyes and I didn’t understand why. I was acting normally, wasn’t I? It was perfectly “normal” that I was upset over him eating all of the leftovers I wanted to eat for dinner, right? It’s OK that I sat at the kitchen counter waiting for him to get home so I could ask as soon as possible why he ate both of the burgers, even though I thought he knew one of them was for me — right? Didn’t he know all I could think about as I was driving home from a frustrating class was that burger? That I was literally obsessing over it? I was asking him this in a calm way, wasn’t I?

That was the first time my then-boyfriend, now husband, witnessed one of my hypomanic agitated outbursts. It is also the first one I can remember having in front of anyone. It was also not the last.

I wish I could say I’ve always been able to recognize the different symptoms of when I’m in a hypomanic or mixed bipolar cycle. I can always recognize the depressions. Those are easy. But the hypomanic or mixed symptoms, they are harder for me to personally recognize until after they happen.

For me, one of those symptoms is agitation. It tends to happen more when I’m in a mixed state and I’m moving from one cycle to the next (either from depression into hypomania or vice versa). I often don’t realize I’m agitated until after an outburst that’s similar to a child’s temper tantrum.

I remember one time a few years ago I woke up on the “wrong side of bed.” I was just in a frustrated, unhappy mood for no apparent reason, and everything was bothering me. I was home alone that day and was trying my hardest to concentrate on searching for a new job. Then a friend called. I answered the phone, because I thought it would be a five-minute conversation. But it turned into a 30-minute conversation about absolutely nothing. In my mind, it was pointless and a complete waste of my time.

When I got off the phone, I was extremely upset that I was interrupted. My whole body was tense and my legs were getting the weird restless feeling they get when I’m frustrated. I went to stand up, but the office chair I was sitting on wouldn’t budge on the carpet, which made me more agitated. Angrily, I pushed the chair back, stood up, and with superhuman strength, I threw the chair across the room. Not satisfied, I started throwing other things around the room until I eventually stopped when I saw the mess I created.

I was incredibly embarrassed and ashamed, not only of breaking one of the wheels on the chair, but also over having a huge tantrum over something that really wasn’t a big deal.

I feel I’m lucky my agitated outbursts don’t happen too often (maybe one or two times a year), but I don’t like that I have them and want them to stop completely. So lately I’ve been trying harder to recognize when they are happening in the hope I can be better at calming myself down.

In order for me to recognize the agitated symptom, I need to know what my triggers are. I have come to the realization that my agitation is triggered more when I’m interrupted while I’m focused on a task or doing something I’m enjoying, when things aren’t organized or clean and I’m obsessed over organizing or cleaning them, or when I’ve been obsessed over something and I don’t like the outcome.

A few months ago, I finally recognized the interruption trigger before it got too out of hand.

One Saturday morning, while I was in the middle of reading a great book, my husband interrupted me by repeating a story to me that he just heard on a podcast. Usually, we tell each other things we find interesting as soon as they happen, and it’s no big deal because we love learning what interests each other.

This time was different for me. Not only was I a little perturbed that I had to stop reading in order to listen to him, but I became full-on agitated when I felt like the story he was telling me dragged on (in reality, it probably lasted a minute). I unkindly interrupted him to ask him to stop telling the story or get to the point, and I became very grumpy and standoffish. I then tried to continue reading my book but couldn’t concentrate, which made me more frustrated and angry.

We had already planned to go for a walk that day, and my husband asked if I wanted to go right then, sensing I needed some sort of release. At first I said no, because I had too much to do around the house and going for a walk would take up too much of my time. Yet when I tried to start cleaning, it hit me. I wasn’t really angry with my husband; I was in an unnecessary agitated state and needed to calm myself down. Maybe we should go for that walk. So we did. And it helped me tremendously.

That day was a small milestone for me. I am proud of myself that I recognized the symptom of being agitated and figured out a solution to stop it before it became an emotional outburst.

All in all, I know I can’t stop triggers from happening. Life happens, and life isn’t perfect. But now that I’m learning to recognize when a trigger is happening and find reasonable solutions, I feel like I’m one step closer to getting off of my bipolar rollercoaster.

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Many people are aware of the mood swings that can be characteristic of bipolar disorder, but few may be aware of the many other symptoms that can come with it. With bipolar I disorder, there often come psychotic features: hallucinations, delusions, dissociation, etc. Here are seven features of bipolar disorder I deal with that you may not know about:

1. I never know what I can do in a day.

I have trouble making plans. Most days are fairly calm for me and I can act “normal,” but days that see a manic or depressive episode can be very unpredictable. Mania can cause me to be so excitable and euphoric that I become too busy to want to do anything truly productive. When I was still in school, these days would see homework go undone, chores remain incomplete; I was too active with other “more important” things, like rearranging the furniture or starting new sewing projects — which are yet to be finished. Days of depression held almost no activity other than a shower and periodic uses of the toilet. I wouldn’t even eat. All of these very spontaneous episodes, along with my symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain, ultimately ended my education altogether. Luckily, most of my days now are relatively normal, and I can make some short-term plans sometimes.

2. It can be difficult to find people who really care.

I don’t think people dismiss me simply because of an inherent callousness; it’s likely more of a misunderstanding, or complete lack of understanding. People often carelessly use the term “bipolar” in everyday language as a joke. A former boyfriend once asked right in front of me if I had been “bipolar” with him yet, as a gauge for the seriousness of our relationship. Little did he know, I was being truly bipolar with him in that very moment — I was amid a depression at that point, only made worse by that comment. Bipolar disorder doesn’t just come and go with one’s feelings and desires for the moment, or even the whole day. But misunderstanding the sometimes very severe disorder can lead people to dismiss it as nothing but the joke it is so commonly stated as. In my experience, only people who know someone with the disorder or who have it themselves actually understand how real it is when people say they struggle with it. Luckily, I am that person some people know with the disorder, and they are understanding enough to love me anyway.

3. Sometimes I hear things that are not real.

I frequently ask my husband if he hears “those whispers” or “that baby” crying in another room. He never does, of course. They do exist, though — if only to me. I once locked myself in the bathroom and called my husband to come home from work because I was certain people broke into our apartment and were rattling the bathroom door trying to get inside to get me. It may seem absurd to others who don’t experience anything like this, but to me, it is truly frightening. After the incident, I know the voices would not be able to hurt me in any way, but in the midst of it, I’m not so sure I believe it. Luckily, the hallucinations don’t always last very long, and I stay safe.

4. I can’t go out in public without my husband.

This doesn’t mean I just can’t go out alone. I have to be with my husband in particular. He’s the only one who knows how to deal with me when I dissociate and completely forget who I am. I don’t remember these periods, and I don’t even know I’ve had one until he asks me if I know my name yet and quizzes me on random facts: his name and who he is, my brother’s name, “Who is this a picture of?” etc. Luckily, he has figured out a way to handle me in those moments and loves me when I “come back.”

5. I feel like a “burden” to those around me.

As I mentioned, I can’t go anywhere without my husband nearby. If I want to go to the fabric store, he has to come with me, so I try not to take too long because I know he doesn’t like to be there. If I need new jeans — as I recently did after I had a baby — he has to take me to get them, and I get ill-fitting ones because I don’t want to take up too much of his time. Also, because of my illnesses, I can’t have a normal job, so I rely completely on my husband’s income for anything I need or want. Luckily, he’s a nice guy and will take care of me in any way I need.

medical ID bracelet

6. I have to wear a medical ID bracelet.

Like one with “diabetes” or “epilepsy” engraved on it, I wear a bracelet to let paramedics know of the disorders I have and a note to see my phone where more information can fit. The bracelet is jingly and ugly, but I can’t go anywhere without it. I can’t use a cute wallpaper of my baby because my lock screen consists of emergency information, like which medications I take. If I’m ever in an emergency situation, first responders will need to know which I take so they don’t give me something that could react badly with what is already in my system. I didn’t have it on the multiple occasions I actually did meet the paramedics. Luckily, I have one now and a phone with a screen big enough for all the information it needs to tell someone in an emergency.

7. I feel all alone.

I’ve heard many times that “you’re not alone,” because 5.7 million other people also have this mental illness, but the truth is I have met not a single one of them. I do have wonderful people in my life who love and support me, but they don’t truly know everything that I deal with. I feel I am alone. This post will hopefully help others get a small idea of what bipolar disorder is like, and maybe other people with the disorder will feel a little less alone.

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Yesterday, I woke up just like any other day. I made my coffee, took my medications and went on a walk with my dog. Nothing out of the ordinary.

I spent an hour outside drinking my coffee and smoking my cigarettes, because the night before I had gotten maybe two hours of sleep. My insomnia has been bad lately.

I wanted to put on a full face of makeup, but I ended up procrastinating and only putting on a minimal amount. I looked like I had done nothing. I didn’t even spend time picking out an outfit; I just grabbed something warm and black that would go well with my leather jacket.

I had an appointment with my psychiatrist at 10:20. I got there at 10 a.m. and sat in my car to finish my coffee and smoke one last cigarette. I was nervous. I was going to ask her for help getting my medical card. I knew this was going to be an important appointment. There was so much that needed fixing.

However, I didn’t know just how important and life-changing this appointment would be. I somehow got the courage to ask her, “Am I bipolar?” The answer was shocking.

“I’m giving you the diagnosis of bipolar II disorder.”

At first, I felt relief. My dad and my best friend had accused me of overthinking, creating something that was not there. I was happy to know this wasn’t all just made up fiction in my mind. But then, the fear set in. I’m bipolar.

Logically, I know nothing has changed. But at the same time, I feel as though my whole life has been turned upside-down. My psychiatrist knew for at least a month, and she didn’t tell me. She also didn’t give me much information other than it starts with depression and progresses. She raised the dosage of my new antipsychotic and sent me on my way.

I was in a fog leaving the appointment. I had to run errands, and even then I felt detached from the world. I felt as though I had just been diagnosed with a lifelong illness. Oh wait, I had been. When I got home, I began searching online for what this meant. Is this going to be like the movies? Am I going to get even more paranoid? What’s going to happen to me?

I didn’t have time to do too much reading as my friend had come over to hang out with me. He has the same issues as I do. He was actually able to help me realize that I do, in fact, have hypomanic episodes. He helped me realize this is something I’ve dealt with for a while.

Now, this morning, I sit here wondering. It’s heavy on my mind. I know I have an anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, ADD and PTSD. Now, I’m wondering if maybe I’d been misdiagnosed. What does all of this mean now that I’m bipolar?

I was beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, my depression and anxiety weren’t from a chemical imbalance. They were results of the trauma I had experienced. But now I no longer believe this is the case.

I feel lost; I don’t know where to begin. It all makes so much sense now, but at the same time, it’s all new. It’s scary and unfamiliar territory I’ve entered into. I feel alone. I feel like I now understand why I’ve been mistreated and misunderstood. It’s even given me an excuse to accept all the abuse I’ve been through.

While I learn how to accept this, I will also learn how to fight it. I want to have a job again. I want to be stable again. I’m determined to get back to that point. I hope there is still hope for me.

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