woman holding a bouquet of flowers in front of her face

Bipolar disorder?” I gasped, gazing at the paper my psychiatrist pushed toward me. “What do you mean?”

“That you might want to consider it.”

“I’m not bipolar!” I insisted. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“I’m only saying you might want to consider it, Shalimar, that’s all. I need to prescribe you a different medicine. The one you’re taking right now won’t work for you.”

“No! I don’t want to take another medicine. I want to stay on what I am on right now.”

She gave me an annoyed glance, and peered at her computer.


No matter how I looked at her, I could only see her grinning smugly at me, taunting me with that kind of diagnosis. I’m not…bipolar! I’m just, well, depressed. Just depressed, like I’ve been all these years. I can’t be bipolar. That’s…well, that’s crazy!

I’m not crazy…

Am I?

As soon as I left the office, I vowed not to return again to that woman, the woman who wrongly diagnosed me. And so, I went to my car, and sat down and cried because I was alone, bipolar and hopeless.

Yet despite my vow, I returned to my psychiatrist and took the medicine I had chosen for myself. However, as I returned to her, I came to resent her. She didn’t exactly have a bedside manner, speaking to me in a blunt and annoying matter of fact tone. She wasn’t the boss of me! I wasn’t going to do what a stranger prescribed me.

So I became non-compliant. That is, I skipped doses and eventually stopped taking the medicine.

It was through my choices that I came to experience the first mixed episode of my life. A mixed episode, a characteristic of Bipolar I, was a combination of depressed and manic moods. The time period this lasted — for about a good year–was one of the worst times in my life.

An episode of bipolar disorder is hard to describe. Heck, any kind of mental illness –bipolar or not, is difficult to describe.

My first discrete mixed episode occurred during the summer before my junior year of undergraduate school. Almost without warning, my moods began to shift, darting between hostile and depressed. I suffered from delusions, believing I was possessed by the devil. And still, on other days, I believed I was a holy savior sent to save all humanity. Still, I believed I was evil, and sought to purify myself through intense prayer and confession.

While these are the most prominent (and startling) examples of tricks my illness played on me, it was the little things, the difficulty leaving the dorm, the inability to concentrate and the feeling of isolation that really kept the illness going. It seemed like it would never run out of steam until one boring September day, when it abruptly ended.

After going through all this, I finally, finally began to think, “OK, maybe something is up.” The first thought, naturally, was my psychiatrist’s idea that I was bipolar. For a while, I began thinking of myself that way, really truly believing that I was bipolar. Yet my thoughts shifted from day to day. One day, I believed I was bipolar, the next I rejected the diagnosis. So I had kind of a flip-flop attitude.

So after not seeing my psychiatrist for several months, I came up with the idea to confront her and demand she tell me why she thought I was bipolar.

As I entered the office, I felt tense and nervous, tangling my hands together and sitting with crossed legs. Finally, my wait ended and I entered her office, taking a seat across from her.

“So….what makes you think I’m bipolar?”

Frustrated with my doubt of her diagnosis, she answered briskly.

“Because you are! You behave like it, think like it, act like it. You are bipolar.”

As she dug into a deeper explanation of why I was so obviously bipolar, I listened, and thought more.

Maybe…I was? It would make sense, given all the grief I’d just experienced.


So I got decided to accept my diagnosis and get better.

I agreed with my psychiatrist. I took my medication. I took care of myself.

But I was still sick. My brain gave me a constant reminder that something was fundamentally wrong with me. I was a flawed person, forever to sit in the shadow of my disorder. Still, I had better days and would doubt my own illness. Sometimes I imagined I was just the victim of a giant prank and that I would wake up one day to find out I was normal. So I spent hours on the computer, googling my symptoms, hoping to find this.

Yet I eventually concluded I was “abnormal.” I then agreed to read a therapy-based book my psychiatrist recommended. At first, I doubted the power of the lengthy 700 page book. But I pressed on, hanging onto a shred of hope that I recover from abnormality. And the therapy worked, much to my own surprise. I began to improve. The negative thoughts plagued my mind began to disappear.

It was then, only then, that I began to realize there might be more to me than my illness. Yet I still clung to this with a vice grip. However, one night, I had a realization; a realization that over-identifying with my mental illness might be unhealthy. Although good, the thought was like a punch to the stomach. Curled up in my bed sheets, I began to cry, not only because the identity pulled me back, but because I realized I could be more.

Immediately, I phoned my boyfriend, telling him about my fear that I couldn’t become something more. As we continued to discuss, he gently suggested I consider all the other identities I had besides being sick. We brainstormed and I came up with these: a woman, a Catholic, a lover, an artist, a friend, a flower. As I slowly thought of myself in those terms, I felt a light began to bloom inside me. I was suddenly larger, more than I had ever been. I wasn’t just larger, I realized, I was free.

To this day, I remind myself of my identities and how I am more than I think. I do things that make me happy: I take my meds, dress in nice clothes, take care of myself, spend time with my boyfriend and write, most importantly. The sum of these things put me on the path toward healing. Yet, I believe healing is a process, and not a goal. Although I struggle some days, I remind myself that I am still healing from my own thoughts and my own illness. Thus, I believe I am better than what I was, and I find this to be true. Always.

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When you hear the word bipolar or the phrase manic depression, are you like most people and automatically visualize two extremes? While this one of the characteristics, some people, like myself, struggle with an additional state, the dreaded mixed state. For me, this is the most difficult to deal with. I think it is also probably the most difficult for others to comprehend because everything about it is contradictory.

How is it to feel two completely opposite emotions/sensations at the same time? It often happens during times of major stress or, interestingly enough, during change of seasons. What makes it so frustrating is that it seems as though every fiber of my being is violently being pulled in opposite directions, and the rope I’m holding onto is quickly fraying and about to snap. Times like these, I so desperately wish one side would pull me over the edge because at least then the tug-of-war would be over.

Recently, I experienced this torture (yes, make no mistake, it is torture), in my mind and body. It is often misunderstood or overlooked. Yet, it needs to be taken seriously since it can often lead to destructive behaviors and, in my experience, is the worst part to deal with. My hope is for you to continue to understand what a person with this diagnosis goes through by describing my experiences. Hopefully, it will assure those who struggle that there truly is someone else who gets it.

Imagine: There is total chaos going on in my brain, and it is the only thing I can focus on. Inside, I feel desperate, but I’m numb. Fear is overwhelming, but part of me is content. I am fidgety, but my body is paralyzed. Agitation saturates every cell within me, but my outer shell is containing it.

I feel inspired by a note from a friend, but I’m convinced I’m useless. I am ready to explode, but it remains contained although bubbling just below the surface. I want to care about something, but everything pisses me off. I ask for help, but when I get it, I feel resentful. I feel stable, but I am choking.

I want more than anything to be dead, but I desperately want to live. I want to bury myself in my bed, but being still is bound to be maddening. I want to scream, but I can’t utter a sound. I want to go into a frenzy of cursing even though I know how completely inappropriate it is, but it’s on the tip of my tongue and shouting obscenities seems so necessary.

I feel something boiling up inside me as I sit on my porch swing, swaying back and forth trying to write. The pen moving across the paper is soothing so I keep going even though I don’t know what I’m saying. I look at the paper and want to tear it to shreds. I know if I was among people, I’d be rambling and my words would fly out of my mouth. Yet, thankfully I am surrounded by silence and say nothing. I sympathize with those who engage in self-harm and wonder if it would help.

The cycle is physical, emotional and psychological and everything clashes into deafening noise triggering the desire to get it out of my body. The intensity of the battle can become unbearable, and with it is the certainly that physical pain, however it is inflicted, will release some of the pressure that is built up inside like a volcano within my bloodstream poised to erupt. My entire body feels as if it’s being ripped to shreds despite all of my efforts to keep it intact.

All of these feelings fire rapidly becoming intertwined. Over the years, I’ve learned how to cope with this so I attempt to summon a strategy that will work. Running to release the tension would be wonderful, but the thought of moving makes me cringe. Praying is absolutely necessary, but quickly, the thought seems absurd. Listening to music would soothe me but that would require effort that I’m not willing to give. Going for a walk in the woods would relax my mind, but it reduces me to tears because I don’t want to put on my shoes.

I run through this list in my mind. It irritates me because I know any and all of those things will help, but I can’t convince myself to take the first step. For what seems like eternity, yet in reality only a blink of the eye, I close my eyes and hope to disappear. The desperation is threatening to take over, but as long as I keep swinging, I’m OK. Eventually, I realize I can’t sit there forever, and if I continue to give in, I will truly lose control. The only thing I am willing to try is a prayer since it will not require movement. All I can bring myself to say is, “God, make it go away.”

Eventually, I am forced to get up. Moving around seems to help. I wonder if God has stepped in. I know I have to force myself to use my coping mechanisms because I do not want disaster to come. I once again ask God to motivate me to keep moving. The battle in my mind and body continues, but it becomes more bearable and some of the negative emotions begin to fade.

Often this state disappears as quickly as it came. Other times it can linger for hours. When I am fortunate enough to fall asleep, the sensations are gone by the time I wake up. If I remember, I pray for just that, sleep.

The word I hate most during this time is “just,” even though I sincerely know others have the best intentions. Yet, this is why I’m writing this. I wish it was as easy as “just.” You know how to cope just do what you need to do. Just pray and God will help you. Just think positive and focus on all you have to be thankful for. Trust me, I just want to do anything other than what I am currently doing. Intellectually, I know what’s necessary, but there is a disconnect that I still struggle to explain, but it’s not for lack of trying.

So please understand, if you are someone who has ever felt this way, I get it! I hate it too. I know how scary it is. You are not alone. Ever. It will pass.

As friends, family, acquaintances, coworkers and fellow human beings, we need to understand people need help, empathy, patience and love no matter how difficult it may be. Our minds and bodies are amazingly complicated. There is so much we need to research and discover when it comes to mental health. Yet, as we learn, we need to create a safe environment where it’s OK to share our scary thoughts and experiences that often are inexplicable because only then will we open the door to understanding.

Be the person to facilitate change. Be the one who shows compassion and reaches out to those who struggle. Be assured when you do, you truly are making a difference!

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

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When I tell people I have bipolar disorder, some people say they “understand my experience.” This is fine if they have also been affected by mental illness. However, I can’t help but feel slightly skeptical when people tell me they understand when they haven’t been touched by mental illness. Unless you have been personally affected by it, you don’t know mental illness.

You don’t know mental illness.

You don’t know mental illness when I travel to all the pharmacies in my region so I don’t have to face the embarrassment of going to the same one every weekend because I have at least six prescriptions to fill. Despite these efforts, all the pharmacists still know my name, my meds and my doses. The same can be said for my local pathology clinic where all the nurses know my name, my meds and my blood tests because being on medication that can potentially be toxic requires frequent pathology.

You don’t know mental illness.

You don’t know mental illness when I get to the end of winter utterly relieved that I have gotten through my seasonal depression alive. You don’t know mental illness when that same relief is coupled with dismay and despair at having to increase my medications because I’m at risk of summer mania. Yet, these medications make me feel so lethargic, apathetic and flat, question what the point is because it feels similar to depression. I wonder which is worse because they sure as hell don’t feel good either way.

You don’t know mental illness.

You don’t know mental illness when I haven’t felt normally tired since I was 18, before things really went down hill. You don’t know mental illness when the thing I miss most is waking up refreshed because my medications make me feel groggy. You don’t know mental illness when the evening is the worst part of the day because the grogginess begins to lift, and I get a glimpse of what life is like without a foggy head. Yet, cruelly it’s also the same time of day when I have to take the medications that cause the foggy head.

You don’t know mental illness.

You don’t know mental illness when my friends suggest a holiday away, even a night away, and I have an internal battle between wanting to go and be a normal 26-year-old and feeling utterly terrified of going. I know that even a slight disruption to my sleep routine can make me manic. You don’t know mental illness when I hear of my friends’ big weekend, and I feel bitterly jealous. If I were to do the same, then I’d probably end up in the hospital manic.

You don’t know mental illness.

You don’t know mental illness when a friend or family member says, “You seem quite high lately,” when I think I have been going well. Those simple words makes my blood run cold and feel like a punch in the guts. Worse still is when strangers tell me to “smile” when I’m depressed, and I’m just congratulating myself for getting out of the house and keeping myself alive. You don’t know mental illness when I constantly feel like I am being examined as if I’m in a petri dish, and this makes me constantly assess my own actions and words until I feel like an alien in my own skin.

You don’t know mental illness.

You don’t know mental illness when the side effects of medications that impact other areas of my health have already begun. You don’t know mental illness when I work hard every day to stay physically fit, but I already have high cholesterol and an underactive thyroid. So at 26, I need to manage health conditions a 26-year-old shouldn’t have to manage, even though to the unknowing person I appear to be in pretty good shape.

You don’t know mental illness.

You don’t know mental illness when I still have recurring nightmares about the hallucinations I had when I was psychotically depressed more than two years ago. Some nights, I dread going to sleep. You don’t know mental illness when I sleep on my mother’s bedroom floor when I’m suicidal so I feel safe because I know I won’t hurt myself through the night.

You don’t know mental illness.

You don’t know mental illness when people lower their expectations of you purely for having a medical condition. You don’t know mental illness when it takes the things you love like travel, work, friends and partners. You don’t know mental illness when it takes away the one thing you felt sure about, the one thing you could rely on, the one thing you could trust, yourself.

You don’t know mental illness, and you’re lucky.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Being a parent and having a bipolar disorder diagnosis is hard. Before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, my world revolved around parenting. As a stay-at-home mom, that was my job. I would have to say I was a really good parent at that time. My son was my pride and joy. He always came first, and I enjoyed spending as much time with him as possible. But after some traumatic events in 2007, I was reduced to fighting an illness I didn’t know much about. The year and a half during which I was clueless about what was going on in my brain was the time I can say I wasn’t that great of a parent.

I remember a time back in 2007 when I was in a mixed state (although I didn’t know what it was at the time), and the nervous energy and depression were waging a war in my mind and body. I couldn’t stop those forces. It felt like I was a bomb about to go off, but I was hanging at that heightened millisecond right before an explosion and never exploding. I had my son with me, and I didn’t know what to do. I called his dad to come pick him up, because I knew he needed to be away from me. At that time, I felt it was crucial to do something to end that constant tension of the mixed state. I put my son in his room and put one of his favorite videos on. I went in the other room, locked the door, and proceeded to bash my head into a wall. That helped relieve some of the tension. As soon as his dad picked him up, I went to the hospital for what seemed like the 100th time to see if they could help me figure out what was wrong. Later on, case workers came by to visit to find out what happened. They told me I was a good mom to still think of my son despite what I was going through. I felt like a horrible mom, because I felt I couldn’t take care of him like a mom should.

Once I was finally diagnosed and on medication, I found it much easier to be a mom. I felt like I had a second chance, and the bond between my son and I grew into what it was before my illness kicked in. The year after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I graduated from college with my bachelor’s degree in education. Juggling parenting and work was difficult, but we somehow managed.

Things started to go south again in 2011, as the medication I was taking for my illness was beginning to destroy my body. I was starting to have horrible health issues: excessive weight gain, thyroid problems, constant colds and flus, easily broken bones. After trying many different medications that didn’t seem to work very well (either caused too much mania or too much depression), I turned to naturopathic medication.

Unfortunately, the naturopathic medication did not work for me. I relapsed, and it was awful. I spent about two months away from my son trying to recover from my relapse; I knew I couldn’t even take care of myself, so I certainly wouldn’t be able to take care of him. His dad was understanding and took care of him on the days that were normally mine. During those two months, I still visited him at his dad’s house and watched him play sports, but I knew I couldn’t take care of him like he deserved until I was stable. Once I was stable, I was able to take him home with me. That was one of the best days of my life.

Since 2012, I have had no issues with my disorder interfering with my ability to be a great parent. I believe the key to being a great parent is to make sure you’re healthy first. Make sure you take your medication regularly and as prescribed, get plenty of sleep, eat healthy and try to exercise. When you’re healthy, your relationships can be healthy. My son and I have a great relationship. We talk, listen, laugh, cry and spend so much time together. Making many memories together is one of the most important parts of parenting for me, because life can change so quickly.

As for the stigma around bipolar disorder and parenting, I feel it is unnecessary. Mothers and fathers diagnosed with bipolar disorder can still be great parents. What some people don’t understand is that bipolar disorder is a medical illness like any other, and it requires medication to treat the symptoms of the illness. If treated, we can be wonderful parents. I am living proof of that.

Editor’s note: Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

Image via Contributor.

A version of this post originally appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation.

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A lack of most expression.

Sadness is all that remains.

This attempts to keep me in chains.

I can’t easily get out of bed.

Racing thoughts run through my head.

I want negative thinking to leave for a while.

I have forgotten how to smile.

Everything is dull.

My mind and body pay the toll.


Extreme happiness and irritability arise.

I feel like every second is a prize.

I will not stop grinning.

Every second I am winning.

One thing goes wrong and my happiness is destroyed.

Anger is employed.

Everything seems great,

Yet still there remains a hint of hate.


This is how I act when I am fine.

Neither extreme has me aligned.

I process life with wise mind.

I am just me.

Bipolar symptoms do not control me.

Bipolar has no grip.

I still feel unsure of when my emotions will flip.

This is the nature of my bipolar brain.

I will not let this illness be my chain.

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When most students think of a “Dean of Students,” they typically focus solely on the “Dean” title: a person who is in a high administrative position, constantly in meetings and unapproachable. And if a student does meet with the Dean of Students, they feel as though they are being sent to the principal’s office, like they’ve done something wrong. It’s as if students forget their job is to focus on a campus’ students.

I have gotten to know our Dean of Students, Nicole*, quite well. Since it is a small school, that is not the only hat she wears. She’s a professor, program coordinator, advisor and my internship supervisor, among other positions she holds on campus. I know she is in a high administrative position and she frequently has meetings. I also know she’s not only highly approachable and available to students — but ready for this one?

She cares! 

I’ve experienced first-hand that Nicole is not like many I’ve interacted with, regardless of her job, when it comes to concerns regarding mental health and illnesses. A few weeks into the beginning of our semester, I became manic. At first, I liked it, as I always do. I was getting my work done quickly, everything was super clean and organized, I was extra hilarious, sarcastic and fun to hang out with, no filter in the classroom and I was always on the go.

Then it wasn’t going away: my body constantly moving, mind racing, talking fast and excessively, driving recklessly, jumping out of my skin, had thoughts to harm myself and I could barely eat or sleep, if at all. After much trial and error with medications to help, eventually we found a combination that worked and I came down from the mania. But then, all of a sudden, I crashed. I became gravely depressed and suicidal. After having therapy four out of the five days during one week, I made the decision to go inpatient to get stabilized.

Approximately 17 hours before I went for my evaluation, I met with Nicole as both my supervisor and advisor since it would affect my internship and academics. Though I wasn’t surprised, she was so kind and supportive and asked questions about inpatient. I was thankful for that conversation because most people don’t want to talk about it.

Despite the fact that she was surprised to learn it was going to be my seventh time inpatient since 2011, she still believed in me.

Throughout our conversation, she kept saying, “when you go for your PhD…” I said “Nicole you’re killing me with this doctorate thing! I don’t even have my masters!”

She looked me in the eyes and seriously said, “You’re very smart and have a lot of good insights. You know you have a lot of potential…you do know that, right?”  I answered back, “Sometimes.” Considering the circumstances, she replied, “Fair enough.”

I didn’t tell Nicole the full reason why I was going inpatient.

I didn’t tell her that if my psychologist didn’t call the second she did, I was planning on killing myself, and how the next morning in our session, she was nervous and scared because I was that hopeless.

I didn’t tell her that my counselor on campus did a risk assessment and almost didn’t let me leave her office.

I didn’t tell her that I wanted to kill myself, not because of depression, but because I was tired of fighting; my mind and body haven’t belonged to me since I was raped and it was time to end The 100 Year’s War.

I didn’t tell her I was thankful for our meeting and conversation that day because it went well and was something positive she would have to remember me by.

About two months have gone by since I was discharged.

I haven’t told her that our conversation could have been our last one. Now, I’m glad it wasn’t.

I haven’t told her that her willingness to listen, ask questions and converse with me was inspirational.

I haven’t told her that our meeting, approximately 17 hours before my evaluation, helped me to be even more determined to graduate in May, making that day less anxiety provoking, as that day marks the 10 year anniversary of my trauma — a day I never thought I’d make it to.

To Nicole, my campus’s Dean of Students, here is what I am telling you: Thank you for seeing me when I couldn’t and didn’t want to see myself. Thank you for breaking the barriers of stigma, and having an honest conversation instead of a judgmental one. Thank you for not feeling sorry for me and seeing my strength and resiliency. Thank you for giving me a reason to continue on and be able to envision a future…a future I now want.

Thank youthank you, thank you for giving me hope.

*Name has been changed.

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

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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