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What I Need When Bipolar Disorder Pushes Me Into Isolation

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The other night, I was talking with a friend about what we’re currently going through in life. We do this from time to time, and it’s always beneficial. This time, though, amidst our discussion, I brought up the fact that I was thinking about running away, from home, from people, from life. Now, thanks to a single person in my life, this is no longer my plan.

How did I get to that point, though? It was not a thought that came to me suddenly, but rather a thought that had been festering in my brain for a couple weeks. I was ready to act on it, too. Put some gas in the car, throw my duffel bag in the backseat, turn on a CD and take off. I wasn’t thinking about where I would go or even how I planned to live once my money ran out, but I was ready to go.

The thing about my bipolar disorder is this: When I hit a downswing, I withdraw from life. It’s what I’ve done in the past, and it’s still what I do to this day.

How does that help, though? You may ask. Well, it doesn’t. In fact, it’s probably the worst thing I could do for myself in a given situation, but I do it all the same.

You see, when I hit that depressive episode, my thoughts become negative, and it’s hard to ignore them. I tell myself that if my friends wanted to hang out with me, then they would ask. Why do I have to be the one who always asks? Does anyone even care?

This line of thinking leads down a dark path of isolation that I have walked down many, many times. A path that has led to multiple suicide attempts and the loss of friends, who simply moved on. Yet, I never do anything different.

Say what you will about my brain, but at least it’s consistent. When I start that downswing into a full on depressive episode, my rational mind seems to be shoved to the back of my brain and remains quiet.

Do I know that I’m isolating myself? Yes. Do I know that my friends care about me? Of course. I just don’t know how to convince myself that those answers are true.

So what can we do to help others who are in a similar fix? Talk with them. Reach out, and see what they’re doing that night or for lunch. People like me, who isolate themselves when we fall into these holes, need to hear that you care.

The answer seems so simple, but we tend to get lost in our own thoughts and minds. When my friend and I have a talk or I go to therapy, my thoughts of running away or hurting myself seem to evaporate. It’s as if the mere presence and support of a friend is enough to light up the whole darkness of my mind and send those deceitful thoughts back to the abyss, at least for a little while.

The point I’m trying to make is this: We have so much power in our hands that we don’t use. It’s time to start using our power to help others. Reach out to your friend having a tough week, and let them know you’re there and you care about them. A simple sentence can go a long way.

I’m a big fan of “The West Wing.” Here’s a parable from the show that has gone a long way in my life: “This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, “Hey you. Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

Then, a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole. Can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

Then, a friend walks by, “Hey, Joe. It’s me. Can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.’”

The holidays can be a tough time for you or your friends. All I ask is that you reach out to those of us who are struggling to remind us we are not alone. A little bit can go a long way. As always, remember that you are not alone. Reach out for help if you need 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 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

 Image via Thinkstock.

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To the Relative Who Said I Don't Love My Children Enough

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I was just a week out of the mental hospital for suicidal ideation when you said it.

“No mother who truly loves her children would ever think of killing herself.”

I’m sure you meant well. Maybe you were thinking you were the first one to ever voice such a thought, that perhaps such a radical idea might shake me out of my destructive pathways.

You were wrong.

Instead, your words destroyed my newly-burgeoning sense of well-being. My optimism, already fragile, quavered and began to crumble.

You see, I respect you. I love you. I have nothing but good will towards you. I only wish I could convey to you the depth of how wrong you are.

I love my children with all the power of my fractured heart. I would gladly throw myself in front of a bullet or fight a bear with my bare hands for any one of them. They usually keep my feet firmly grounded to the earth; they are my reason for being and my all in all.

But sometimes, you see, the thoughts in my head begin to spiral. They’d all be better off without you, they whisper. You are only screwing up their lives. Soon, they no longer whisper. They scream and shout, day and night. I begin to believe them. They’ll be stronger without you! They’ll move on and be happier!

The most recent time this began to happen, and when I began to contemplate the best way to make it happen, I recognized it as a very dangerous sign. I knew the voices were false; I just didn’t know how to make them stop. So I committed myself to the hospital in the hope I could be safe and feel better.

Fortunately, it worked. I do feel better. I was moving forward.

Until your comment.

It took a supreme amount of willpower to prevent myself from going to a very dark place after your words, but I managed to do it. For this, I thank a stellar support group and proper medication.

Mental illness is not a choice. No one makes the decision to have it, or any disease. I recognize that I have a mental illness, bipolar disorder. This can make me susceptible to drastic mood swings and irrational thinking.

Maybe you’re one of those who has the luxury of believing such a diagnosis is bunk, that psychology is a farcical science. If you are, then we haven’t much more to say to each other. For both of our sakes and the sakes of our precious families, let’s strive to understand one another instead. I only want to educate and inform.

I hope you can find it in your heart to listen.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

Follow this journey on Crazy. Real.

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To the 19-Year-Old Just Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder

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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.

Sincerely,

You

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

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by tormento79

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How I Survived Isolation Because of My Mental Illness

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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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In People Magazine Interview, Demi Lovato Shares What Got Her Through Treatment

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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.”

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Learning to Recognize the Triggers of My 'Bipolar Agitation'

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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.

Image via Thinkstock.

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