Live Video: Jennifer Marshall - Bipolar Disorder Advocate

Talking bipolar, storytelling and more with Jennifer Marshall of BipolarMomLife.com & This Is My Brave, Inc.

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Live Video: Suzy Favor-Hamilton - Bipolar Disorder

Suzy Favor Hamilton is a three-time Olympic athlete who lives with bipolar disorder, and is the author of “Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running From Madness.”

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A Letter to the Koala That Bit Me (RE: The Revelation I Had About My Bipolar Disorder)

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Dear Bill:

I don’t know if your name is really Bill. I’m trying to remember if your handler told me your name before she handed me the equivalent of a snarling cyclone of teeth with a hair trigger, but if she did, it escapes my memory. So let’s go with Bill. I’m not entirely sure the exact point of this letter, but I do know it’s not an indictment. I have forgiven you, Bill. I have forgiven you for biting me. On the ear.

I think it’s more than that, though. I think, by being honest, by publishing this trauma, by getting if off my shoulders and into the ether, I think I can forgive me, too. Because, let’s get real, Bill… the movie reel of my life contains some cringe-worthy moments, moments that bring me true regret and shame. But you know what? Maybe… maybe… I was just doing the best I could with the hand I was dealt. Maybe I don’t need to vilify myself anymore.   

I think I’m writing this, Bill, because I forgive myself for being bipolar.   

But let’s back up. It’s like I said, Bill. I have forgiven you, but that doesn’t absolve you of blame for the incident. I mean, didn’t do anything wrong. I was just trying to do my part for wilderness conservation, just trying to donate my $15 to get a picture with a cuddly little koala. And what happened? What happened, Bill? I got bitten. You bit me. On the ear.

So, I’m not trying to make you feel bad, but I do think it’s important that you understood what I was going through when you decided to mince the sensitive cartilage and flesh which is my earlobe like hamburger meat. You see, I was having a rough time of it, Bill, a really rough time. I totally could have used an adorable photo opportunity of a picture-perfect moment with a loving little living stuffed animal, an animal l had always dreamed of seeing. And instead? 

The ear, Bill. You bit me on the ear. 

I was half a world away from everything I knew to be true when my bipolar disorder made itself known. I wasn’t doing well in the Land Down Under with no recourse for mental health treatment. I was alone, Bill, and sick, and stuck there for a whole semester. I was having issues. 

As you might imagine, I didn’t know what was going on. I only knew I felt helpless, Bill, helpless and confused and so, so miserable. I don’t know if illnesses in the brain exist among marsupials, but if they do, you can surely empathize. And empathy was what I needed, Bill, someone to tell me I was not going crazy and it wouldn’t last forever and that everything would be OK. But instead?  I was viciously mauled, with nary a consideration for my deteriorating state of mind.

Let’s flesh this out a bit. (Get it, Bill?) Let’s flesh out what happened.

You smelled like Eucalyptus, first of all, and that endeared you to me. And then, Bill, after I had a accepted you from the random, clueless sheila working for the wildlife refuge, after she handed you to me, after you reached up your little face and snuffled my ear with your cold, wet nose… after all that, you opened your fangs and chomped down on my ear like a hungry, hungry hippo.

Your teeth weren’t sharp, Bill, not like I expected. They were flat, and strong, and they ground down on the tender meat of my earlobe with the pressure of a vice. I know you’re evolutionarily designed to eat leaves, so you’ve no need for sharp incisors; but the pressure was almost worse, as delicate tissue was crushed and blood flow immediately restricted to cells starving for oxygen. I’m not going to lie, Bill; it caused some damage. Sometimes, I relive the bite, waking from a sound sleep with a scream, clutching myself to reassure me I’m still intact. Clutching my ear.

But like I said, Bill, this letter isn’t an indictment, not of you, not of anyone. It’s not even an indictment of me, thought Lord knows, Bill, I have indicted myself for my own actions over and over again throughout the course of years of mania and depression. But I don’t think I’m to be blamed, Bill, any more than the lady with the conservation program who clearly had no knowledge about your capacity for carnage. Maybe I can finally be pardoned. Maybe my scar is a badge. My scar, Bill. On the ear.

What I mean, Bill, is that I figured something out in that moment. In the midst of chaos and pain and bewilderment, and the omnipresent misery that is undiagnosed and untreated bipolar disorder, I had a revelation, like a prophet of old. I do not deserve to be this unhappy. I do not deserve to be this scared. I should not be this hopeless. I deserve better.

They say times of intense stress lead you to learn who you really are. Do you know what I learned, Bill? I learned that I do have power, even in the midst of such a state of impotence. I have the ability to change my circumstances when I desire. I can will myself, not to a state where my dopamine and serotonin are at normal levels, but to a state where I recognize I need self-care. I can will myself to embrace that care, and to accept love from my support network. I can work, and try, and fight, and I can do it all even though my brain is fighting to do the opposite sometimes. Because I am not my bipolar disorder. 

So, like I said, Bill, I’m not here to beat a dead marsupial. I guess I want some absolution, for us both. Because, you see, Bill, I’m doing much better now. Don’t get me wrong… it was a long road. It took years of willpower, of appointments, of tears and frustration. I had a lot more to learn, beyond that flash of insight as your molars clamped onto my body and refused to release. But I did learn, and I’m starting to attribute the catalyst for that life change to my life-changing bear attack.  

I learned about mindfulness and trying to exist in the moment. I learned to ground myself. I learned to overcome the stigma of my diagnosis and the shame associated with medication; after all, I like to remind myself now, I am no different than someone with another illness. My medicine works in my brain, but it is no less life-saving. Now, I have a family who understands the psychological damage of a savage encounter with a wild animal, the consequences of barely having escaped with my life. Now, I’m at peace. 

And you, Bill, I want you to be at peace as well. I want you to manage your temper. I want you to sublimate your rage. Maybe some koala-based cognitive behavioral therapy would benefit you, too, Bill, because I honestly worry that some other hapless, mentally-plagued girl will show up at the refuge and be subject to similar, Eucalyptus-scented wounds. I think you can beat it, Bill. I do.

Truly, I want nothing but the best for you. Thanks for the great story, I suppose, and the constant visual reminder of a tragic period in my early 20s. I’ll never forget you.

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4 Presents My Bipolar Disorder Left Under My Christmas Tree

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As the holidays approach, I made a list of four presents my bipolar disorder left under the Christmas tree:

1. 
The ability to feel more and be more emotional

My bipolar disorder gave me the power to get to know my emotions better. It has allowed me to explore them. People’s emotions usually change in a matter of seconds or minutes. When you have bipolar disorder your emotions may stay for a while. I get to explore the many emotions and get to know them. When other people are feeling lonely this emotion sometimes goes away as soon as loved ones show you they are with you. But I get to know this emotion called lonely. I get to stay in its apartment in a building called depression. I get to talk and know him because it doesn’t matter how many people are around me, telling me and showing me they love me. I am still staying in lonely’s apartment. Even though this sounds like a bad thing it’s actually not for me. I get to know all emotions from head to toe. I have learned how to deal and handle them since I usually stay in their houses for a while. Having this gift makes me empathize more with people. Since I know all of these emotions so well, I help people and teach them easier ways to deal with them.

2. 
It has shown me that life is a roller coaster ride.

I usually describe bipolar disorder as a roller coaster. Sometimes you are at the peak of the roller coaster where energy overflows your body. But when you get to the peak you know it’s eventually time to come down. It goes way below ground level into a deep black hole where the cart usually stops working and you have to wait for it to begin working again. When it begins working it sometimes stops at a ground level where you are stable but you know the ride will start again. This roller coaster has shown me that life has its ups and downs. With bipolar disorder the definitions of “ups” and “downs” are altered. I have learned how to deal with the roller coaster in my life, which I usually call my “Bipolar Adventure,” because it really is an adventure where you ride your emotions and get to know your true self.

3. 
It has shown me the true meaning of being strong.

My bipolar disorder has made me go through hell. I like to relate the going through hell part with this quote:

“The Devil whispered in my ear,
You’re not strong enough to withstand the storm.
Today I whispered in the Devil’s ear  
‘I am the storm.’” 

I see the devil as my depression telling me I am not strong enough to overpower him. And by saying I am the storm, I’m saying I’m the one in control of my brain and he doesn’t have power over me anymore. This has shown me that the strongest people are not those who fight battles in front of us but the ones who fight battles we know nothing about. I fight bipolar disorder every single day, and it has made me the strongest person I know.

4. And last but not least: It has shown me I should love myself just the way I am.

Bipolar disorder showed me that I need to learn how to become besties with it because whether I like it or not, my illness will always be there. I learned to embrace it and in some ways love it. This is a lesson I will always value because it’s helped me learn how to love my flaws. They are part of who I am. I love myself, and I am proud of the person I’ve become thanks to my illness.

I am really grateful my bipolar disorder left these four presents under my Christmas tree. People with mental illnesses sometimes are so focused on the negative things they have gone through that they forget to look around and see all the life lessons and presents their illnesses may have given them. I encourage you to go check under your Christmas tree, too. I’m grateful my illness gave me these presents because they have made me the awesome human being I am today.

Happy Holidays!

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To My Relatives Asking Questions About My Bipolar Disorder This Holiday Season

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Since I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 with psychotic features, you have been asking me a bunch of questions. So, I would like to tell you five things about my condition during this holiday season:

1. I am not “crazy,” and I am not “just doing this” to get attention.

The auditory hallucinations I’m experiencing are because of my condition. I am not making all of this up. Please, stop calling me names and stop asking me if I am “losing it.” I am not.

2. My mood swings are not like your typical mood swings.

Please, stop comparing yourself to me. This is not because it’s “that-time-of-the-month.”

3. My episodes are not by choice.

I am dealing with manic depression. I am not just sad. I am not lazy. I am having trouble getting up in the morning.

4. I am not a killjoy.

I’m sorry if I can’t keep up with the holiday feeling. I’m sorry I barely get out of bed and talk to you. I wanted to, but my body won’t let me. I am too empty to function. I am sorry, too, if you are having troubles keeping up with my mood change. I am sorry if you are confused. I am, too.

5. I want your support and understanding.

I want your love, and I want your respect. I want you to be here for me while I am trying to recover. I want you to understand and accept my condition.

I love you, guys. I need your support and love more than ever. I cannot handle your frowns, frustrations and disappointments. Please, bear with me. Be with me. One more thing, please stop comparing your struggles with me, and please, stop calling me weak. I am trying to survive every day. I am fighting for my life every single day.

Happy holidays.

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