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Bipolar Disorder Recovery Should Not Be Confused With ‘Cured’

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My name is Don Lane. I am a filmmaker, a husband and a soon-to-be father. I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features, and I can say that I have recovered.

I did everything I could not to drift away helplessly into space. I asked my then girlfriend to chain me to the ground as I placed a couch on my chest. In my psychosis, the sun caused my skin to melt, and I could only communicate via cryptic words written on a notepad. Although this sounds like an excerpt from a science fiction novel, to me this was reality, and my mind was shutting down.

I remember glimpses of feet passing by as we walked toward the hospital on Oahu, Hawaii. After being admitted, I was given medication that helped correct my distorted reality, delusions and hallucinations.

Although I have experienced severe episodes multiple times in my life, I am currently stable and an active part of society. Recovery is not to be confused with the word “cured.” I will always have bipolar disorder; however, I am convinced I will always be able to overcome it.

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Reflections on Being Hospitalized After a Mental Health Crisis

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Well, I said that I would write an article on hospitalization, and this happens to be a perfect time to do so.

On Friday Oct. 7, 2016, I was admitted to the emergency room for a mental health crisis. I had been in the midst of a severe bipolar episode; the worst I’d had in about eight years. As I wrote this article, I was inside a facility, separated from technology, writing on old-school notebook paper.

This particular hospitalization was a voluntary one, although now I am on the protocol 72-hour hold. It is important to note that being in a hospital voluntarily is a very different experience than being admitted against your will. When I came in voluntarily, I wanted to get help. It made me more cooperative, and resulted in an experience that was extremely productive. Because of my time there, I left feeling ready to go back into the world.

Alternatively, there are situations of involuntary admission. In this situation, you have an entirely different reality. I had a much harder time reaching a better state when in a place that is intended for your benefit, but not on your terms. The two times I was involuntarily committed I was unprepared, and couldn’t speak with my my support system beforehand, aside from a single rushed text. This is just as hard on me as it is on them. The way I look at it is this: when you walk into the hospital, you’re either there because you want to get better, or you need a location with the ability and resources to keep you safe. However, in my experience, if you’re there involuntarily, the options become blurred and it becomes less about getting better and more about getting out.

I remember being so angry when I was sent to a facility that was miles away from home and my support group. I felt isolated and my friends struggled to visit because of the travel time and limited visiting hours. This was extremely disheartening for me, and hard on them as well. While my parents visited every day, watching the time tick by on the clock during those hours was heartbreaking. I understood the circumstances and worked through them, however, ensuring that policy provides funding and support for local facilities is important. Patients deserve to have a say in their facility, and this starts with ensuring these places have their best interests at heart.

There’s an old saying, “I am strong, but I am weary,” and when you’re hospitalized, those words ring true. After four months of extreme depression, pain and suicidal ideation, I can truly say I am weary. I have been fighting this battle for years, which has undoubtedly taken its toll. Despite this, I try to reframe this saying. My best friend and I tell each other, “I am the storm” from a poem: “Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You can’t withstand the storm.’ The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’”

I was released on Wednesday, Oct. 11. A sad reality, too, is that even though you feel like you’re fighting a huge and ponderous enemy, the world continues to move forward. There isn’t a whole lot of fanfare when you walk out of those doors, but you need to remember that you just won a battle. I still have a hard time dealing with some of those feelings, but I walked out the victor, and nothing can take that away from me.

Scientifically, we know that language is culturally, historically and even mentally important. Instead of focusing on the negativity my brain attempts to convince itself of, I try to change my mindset, repeating to myself, “I am the storm.” This simple change keeps me going, even when life throws me everything I can handle and more. Even when it seems like there is no hope our strength left, it keeps me going.

My point is that in my experience, hospitalization, even when involuntary, is not always a bad thing. I believe that if more people decided to take steps in the direction of active self-care, we all could lead lives with a little less misery. The world can hurt us, the world can beat us down, the world can even break us, but that doesn’t mean it would better without us. Goodness knows we could all use a life like that. If you need help, I encourage you to ask for it. If you are forced into a situation, try to make the best of it. Help is all around you, but can’t do any good when you keep your struggles to yourself. Too many people in this world skip the step of opening up about what they are having trouble with and feeling. In far too many cases, this leads to taking their life instead. Please remember that you are strong and even stronger to admit when you need help, try to allow loved ones into your life.

One last thing for you all, stay strong, stay with us and reach out when you need it. This doesn’t have to be a big step, a simple car ride to talk or a text to a friend saying, “I’m having a hard day, send a little extra love” goes a long way. Loved ones always care and professionals are only a phone call away. You are not alone, and I say this to each and every one of you regardless of where you’re at: “You are the storm.”

Written with the help and steadfast support of my best friend Savanna Inman.

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 Friends and Family Miss the Signs of Mental Illness

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Although I’ve experienced the symptoms of bipolar since preschool, it was only this year, at 18 years old, that I’ve began to apply clinical terminology to my experiences. I am forced to reconcile that negative and positive events in my life can be explained by words such as mania, paranoia, psychotic traits and bipolar itself.

Since I was young, all I knew was that I was an artist. I had periods of energy as early as preschool, which led me to draw picture after picture. Although my classmates teased that compared to the professionals I was pretty bad, my reputation as the girl who could draw was intact. I felt as if I was getting hugged by the world at such moments.

However, preschool and elementary school were also the times I began to feel unnecessarily suspicious of those same classmates and teachers who took notice of my work. I thought they were reading into my thoughts and could see the ugly truth of my brain simply through being in my presence. This was at just 5 years old.

First grade was when my first depressive episode took place. I found myself too exhausted and dull in the head to engage with my school work. Nothing was fun, and even drawing felt too difficult to be worth the time. I would beg my parents to not to take me to school. I saw no point when there was no joy. Joy only came in the form of sleeping, eating and watching television.

By middle school, my passion for visual arts had morphed into a love of the written word. There was no doubt my poems and stories were derived from my intense emotions and detailed inner world. I became a philosopher, spewing out wise words in rapid succession. I gave advice to those much older than me, about which I had no authority. I easily became overwhelmed by racing thoughts, causing me to cling on for dear life.

Middle school was also when I began to have auditory hallucinations. I heard music and crashes in my ears. I went around the house, asking my parents if they could hear anything, unable to reach the source. It happened mostly when I was alone, stressed or in a depressive episode.

It wasn’t until last year, my senior year of high school, that I began having experiences that would qualify as true mania. I had boundless energy to achieve fantastic grades and get in my college applications. Yet, my mind was in complete pandemonium. My brain felt like a spinning room, with objects flying everywhere. This led to panic attacks, in which I felt as if the world was swallowing me up. I was convinced I was dying. This episode was subsequently followed by a numbing depression, which required hospitalization.

Although my strength and humility returned, I found myself in the hospital again for slightly different reasons. I’d began making grand statements about traveling the world now that I am old enough. I sold a bunch of items on eBay to go toward a plane ticket without following through on shipping them. I was vacillating between euphoria, paranoia and extreme and anger.

Being looked at or spoken to the wrong way could set me off. I was also experiencing the textbook symptoms of pressured speech and spending money unnecessarily. I’d been self-harming due to intense restlessness and pacing around the house.

My body could not be still. One week, I took some of my old medication for fun. The next week, I took a bunch of over-the-counter meds. These were not suicide attempts, but experiments that could have very well cost me my life. My parents took me to the emergency room after that one.

I wish those in my life had the tools to pick up on my mood cycles earlier on. They did not want to believe I was living with a severe mental illness. I, myself, thought bipolar disorder only happened to other people. Never me.

My story, as of now, does have a happy ending. In the hospital, I was referred to an intensive outpatient program, which happens to be a good fit. I’m finding the combination of medications that work for me. I’ve even met others with similar struggles to mine. When the state of my brain is uncertain, catharsis pushes me onward. I’m still creating stories and poetry.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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My New Year's Resolutions as Someone With Bipolar Disorder

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It’s the end of the year, and what does that mean? It means it’s time to start thinking of New Year’s resolutions.

My resolutions tend to stay the same every year. None of that “I want to lose 30 pounds by bikini season” crap or “I’m going to run a full marathon by the end of winter” phooey. Good for everyone else who makes those promises to themselves, but it’s not my scene. Though, it could be because I don’t run unless a zombie is chasing me.

No, my resolutions are a little more serious and have far more lasting consequences if I don’t see them through. You see, I have bipolar disorder, and I have to think carefully on my resolutions each year.

Take my first resolution for example.

1. Stay medication compliant all the time.

This is way harder than you’d think. I’m on 10 different medications, two of them cause weight gain and with another I have to go in and get my blood checked frequently. I get so sick of taking five pills in the morning and five at night, plus 15 more over the course of the day.

When you have a hard time swallowing pills, 25 of them gets to be a bit much, and this is every day. I don’t get weekends off, holidays or sick days. Yet, I do it. I’ve had so many epic fails when I’ve decreased dosages without my doctor’s knowledge or just straight up quit meds without my provider’s blessing. I’ve learned the hard way, again, again and again, about messing with my meds without my doctor knowing about. So, medication compliance, that’s resolution number one.

2. Put myself first, always.

Many people think self-care is selfish, but it’s the most important thing you can do to help keep yourself stable. I have to take time every single day to make sure my needs are being met. I love to color, crochet or be able to take a long enough shower to have time to shave my legs. (With four kids, this is harder than you’d think.) Self-care also includes reaching out to friends or family if you need to talk.

There’s an age old analogy that I share, about airplanes. If the oxygen masks come down, then whose do you put on first? Yours or your child’s? You put on yours first of course! If you pass out, then you’re of no use whatsoever to that child. This is an excellent analogy to life. You can’t properly care for others if you don’t care for yourself first.

3. Be resolute in my decision to see my doctors and therapists regularly.

I hate seeing my doctor every month. He’s out-of-network, which makes it pricey to see him every month. We’ve tried pushing my visits out to every two months, and I decompensate every time. So, I go see him.

I also have to stay regular with my individual therapist because I start to go downhill when I begin skipping appointments with her too. Then, there’s marriage counseling. We see him pro re nata (PRN), but I have to be honest with my husband about how I’m doing. So if my individual counseling isn’t being effective on its own, then my husband and I can go in as a team to our counselor and get extra coping skills from him.

I have to say, keeping these resolutions is not as easy as you’d think. There are months that I don’t want to pick my meds up from the pharmacy because of how much they cost, which would put me out of compliance with them. Putting myself first isn’t always easy. I have a history of low self-esteem, and learning to care for me has been a challenge. Honestly, I get sick of all the doctor and therapy visits I have each month. I get tired of going in and seeing them so frequently. I feel like they’re probably sick of seeing me so much or something.

Yet, I keep those promises because I have to. My good health is one of the most precious things I have, and stability is worth the price of feeling like I inconvenience people. (I also recognize that this is probably a negative thought distortion, and I probably don’t really burden people.) So if you live with bipolar disorder and haven’t figured out what resolutions you want to make for 2017, maybe my list will be a springboard for you to jump off of and find some ideas that fit your situation too!

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To the Man Who Got Tacos With Me When I Was Feeling Low

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Dear Happy,

Last night, I was at a low. I’d had a pretty decent day, but towards the end I just couldn’t do anything anymore. I ended up laying on my sofa for two hours. Heating up and then eating a frozen pizza was a challenge in and of itself. I was getting miserable.

I felt the loneliness setting in, and it made me angry that I was alone. I live alone while struggling with finding the right medication for my bipolar ll disorder. For me, it’s the scariest time to be alone: when you can’t even trust yourself because you don’t know if it’s your thoughts or the medication.

However, you wanted me to be happy. And you saw I was struggling. I had told you all I wanted was some tacos, because they make me happy when I am sad. You offered to get some with me. You worked from 6 a.m. until somewhere around 6 p.m. Yet you still wanted to get tacos with me.

We sat there, and I laughed as you were amazed by the restaurant’s decorations. We listened in on a conversation behind you, about how random it was. Then, the conversation took a turn. And so did my night.

She started talking about how she attempted suicide at age 12. Then, she said it: “I have bipolar.” In my mind, I screamed.

Last night was supposed to take me out of my mind, get me thinking of anything — just anything other than my mental health issues. But it was there; it had followed me. Maybe it should have made me feel less alone in the struggle, but I just wanted out of that restaurant. I instantly lost my appetite and wanted to run away and hide. You kept me smiling.

You agreed to get coffee with me afterwards, something to cheer me up again. We sat and talked. Not once did either of us mention my depression or anxiety. Bipolar didn’t come up in conversation. I felt normal with you; I didn’t have issues. We laughed and we talked and we enjoyed each other’s company.

If it weren’t for you, I would have gone to bed at 5:30 p.m. I would have wanted to cry myself to sleep, but been unable to show emotion. I would have tossed and turned all night. I would have thought about self-harm, thought about how I would choose to leave this world should I ever hit that point.

Instead, I went to bed and cuddled up with your jacket I “borrowed” from you. I thought of you every time I opened my eyes. We texted for hours after our date. You let me know it’s possible you’ve caught feelings for me. I let you know that I had, too. I smiled. My heart beat. I was alive and feeling. I went to sleep for the first time in I don’t know how long with a genuine smile on my face. All because you made me a priority.

Thank you. Thank you for caring. Thank you for making me laugh. Thank you for saving me from the hell that is nothingness. While I know I’ve got more days like that ahead which I may have to face alone, I know I’ve got someone by my side through it all. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Love,

The Girl Still Wearing Your Jacket

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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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Remembering Who I Am Besides 'Bipolar'

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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.

“Fine.”

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.

Maybe.

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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