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What It's Like to Have the Other Type of Bipolar Disorder

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I have bipolar II disorder. This is my story.

First, some background. Bipolar disorder used to be called manic-depressive illness, and many people still know and refer to it that way. The term “bipolar” reflects the concept that there are two extremes to the continuum of mood disorders, and some people swing dramatically from one to the other. According to this definition, clinical depression by itself is “unipolar,” occupying only one end of the spectrum.

Depression is to sadness as a broken leg is to a splinter. Depression sucks the life from a person, mutes all emotions except misery, denies any possibility of joy or even contentment and makes life seem meaningless or impossible. This is hell.

Mania is to ordinary happiness as diving off a cliff is to diving off a diving board. Mania brings exhilaration, ambition, confidence, abandon and invincibility, with no brakes. It is hell on wheels.

Oscillating between the two extremes, that’s bipolar disorder, type 1. It is a serious illness. Left untreated, it can cause destruction of families, careers and more. It can lead to psychosis or suicide. The treatments for it are no picnic either. A severe case of bipolar disorder often requires hospitalization. If the symptoms can be controlled with medication, then the patients must have frequent blood tests to assure that the drug is present in the right quantity.

When I was (incorrectly) diagnosed with unipolar depression, I used to wish that I were bipolar, on the theory that at least then I could accomplish something. Boy, was I wrong about that. Plans made in mania never come to fruition. They are started, rethought, abandoned, exchanged for something grander and ultimately fizzle out when the mania wears off.

My diagnosis actually made some sense at the time, as I never experienced anything like the manic highs. All I got were depressive lows. This leads us at last to bipolar II disorder. The mood swings are not as extreme, the lows less debilitating and the highs less overwhelming. The person with bipolar II stays closer to a baseline of normal mood, but still experiences swings back and forth.

Technically, the mini-lows are called dysthymia and the mini-highs are called hypomania. In my case, the lows were just as low as in unipolar depression, but I never got the mini-jags of buoyancy that accompany hypomania. Instead, these feelings, came out sideways, as anxiety. My brain was still racing with little control, but in a different direction. Instead of elation and purpose, I was beset by in worries, fears and catastrophizing.

One of the difficulties with treating bipolar disorder (of either type) is trying to find a medication or a combination of medications that will level out the person’s moods. Usually this requires more than one drug, and finding the right mix or cocktail of chemicals usually requires more than one drug. It takes a great deal of trial and error. In the meantime, the mood swings continue.

At this point, my bipolar II is fairly well-controlled on medication. I still have spells of depression. Now, they last at most a week and sometimes just a day or two. Untreated, they could last months or years. I still have anxiety too. However, I have the medication I take for that so I don’t feel like I’m about to jump out of my own skin.

Most of the time, I’m fairly high-functioning. I can write, work and earn a living. I have a great marriage and a number of friends, including some who are closer than family to me. I have never been hospitalized, nor have I had electroshock (though that was a near thing). Before I got my proper diagnosis and treatment, I would have not believed this to be possible. My goal in life was simply to stay out of a psychiatric hospital as long as I could or at least until I qualified for Social Security Disability.

I’m sharing these experiences with you today because I believe mental disorders should not be hidden or viewed with shame and horror as they have been in the past and sometimes the present.

It’s undeniable that there is a stigma associated with having mental illness. Going public with it entails a risk. I’ve seen the fixed “smile and back away slowly” reaction. I’ve seen sudden turnarounds in my work performance evaluations, but I’ve also seen the, “Me too!” response.

There is strength in numbers. As more of us who live with psychiatric conditions talk about it and share our stories, the more we build understanding. Perhaps, we also encourage those who are “roller-coastering” to seek treatment.

So that’s the nuts and bolts of it: Bipolar II disorder is a mental illness. I have it and live with it every day. I do not go around threatening the safety of other people or my own. I take medication for it. I know I will likely have to for the rest of my life, and I’m OK with that. I hope that eventually the rest of the world will be, too.

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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Why I Wear My Bipolar Like a Badge of Honor

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I’m allowing my bipolar to be a badge of honor.

I know at this moment you are going, “‘Crazy’ lady say what?”

But the truth is I am the strongest person I know. Bipolar is horrible, but I fought back and became stronger. This horrible, painful disease made me fight. I fight to fall asleep every night when insomnia hits. I fight to wake up to go to work when my body is frail and wasted from not going enough rest. I fight to smile and control all emotions so no one will see my anger, my anxiety, my overwhelming joy or whatever bipolar threw my way that day. I fight the fatigue that drains my body throughout the day.

I fight not go near or become dependent on shopping, alcohol, food, drugs or whatever I think I need to ease my pain at the end of the day. I fight to be productive even when I feel like I’m more tired than everyone. Because I never compare myself to them. As I lay my head back on my pillow, I fight the urge not to think about tomorrow.

So yes, bipolar is a badge of pride. I am a fighter, and no one can take that away from me.

I’m a child sculpted out of mania, rage, tears and joy. I’m a child formed out of bipolar. When I was tired, bipolar taught me to keep going. When I had 50 emotions, bipolar taught me self-control. I worked harder than the day before because I never knew when I was going to feel OK again. Through the pain, I became the strongest person I know.

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The Kindness of a Psych Ward Staff Member Saved My Life

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I hit rock bottom in life a little more than 10 years ago. I lost everything that was important to me, from my child, to my car, to my house, to my dignity.

This is when I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and I ended up spending six weeks in a short-term psych ward. The average stay there was five to seven days. I blew that average right out of the water.

I made a lot of poor choices before that hospital stay, which ultimately cost me custody of my child. For a time, it also cost me my family and friends. When I was staying at this hospital, I had no friends or family to come visit me. Everyone had written me off. I had no one to call during open phone time. I had no one to bring me money to get a soda or something besides the semi-edible hospital food.

That kind of isolation will wear on a person, until they begin to truly believe they are nothing more than a body breathing air and taking up space. This being a difficult point in my life, I actually contemplated ways to end my life while in the hospital. I hated myself, and I felt like no one should waste their time on me.

Since I had that attitude, several of the nurses and techs treated me as such. There was one who didn’t though. He treated me as if I were a person, as if I mattered. He was always subtle in his approach to letting me know I had value, but it was always there. It was the little things like getting me a soda every week or so or buying me french fries from the cafe downstairs. He knew I wasn’t getting that stuff any other way. He would let me choose the radio station and encourage me to rock out.

These don’t sound like huge things, but they were life-altering for me. I was able to slowly come back from the brink of the dark abyss because of his actions. I started writing while in the hospital, to get the words that were poisoning my soul out. I started trying to live again, even though every day was like having a glass shard in my heart.

I learned a valuable lesson from this man’s treatment of me. I learned that you never know how much of a difference you can make in a person’s life by being kind. So be kind, always. He’ll never know that he helped save my life, just by treating me as a person.

Now, I try to pay that forward whenever I can. Random acts of kindness are my favorite things to do. If you’re ever in a position to either be kind or say something hurtful, then always try and choose the higher road. You never know when you’ll be saving a person’s life by doing so.

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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On the Days Happiness Is Just a Tease

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Wake up, shake up, searching my brain,

Good day or bad day again?

Out of bed to clean and call a friend,

Is this the day I will be on the mend?

Nope, it’s telling me the same old stuff.

You’re worthless.

They hate you.

You’ll never be enough.

I hate days like these.

Dragging me down, happiness just a tease.

On those few days I feel like me,

I remember how I once used to be,

Happy, laughing friends and free.

I’d give anything to just be me.

You hear a lot about mental health these days. It’s hard when people don’t fully understand it. I live with bipolar disorder, emotionally unstable personality disorder and paranoid personality disorder, which ties into my anxiety and panic attacks

I’ve been this way since a teenager, and now, I’m 25. I’ve destroyed so many friendships, so many relationships. I have so many people hate me (or at least I think they do).

Well, a lot of people have said they do.

The problem is I already hate myself. I also have my thoughts and this little voice I hear telling me I’m worthless, I’m nothing and that I have destroyed my life. I can’t even walk out my front door without someone accompanying me, in case I’m attacked. Of course, that’s only on the days I can actually get out of my bed.

There is a lighter side these days though. I’m in a new relationship and holding this one down so far. Seeing my mental health team helps me vent my emotions even when they are hard to express. Every minute of every day is a struggle. I’ve tried to end it, but I won’t let go. I won’t give up this time. I will carry on. I will stay strong. I hope this time it works.

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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5 Tips That Got My Mental Health Recovery Back on Track After a Crisis

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It’s inevitable at times for something to happen that can shatter the beautiful recovery we’ve worked so hard to maintain. This is life. Reclaiming that recovery after a crisis can happen, but it may take some time. I recently had to deal with a few crises that happened all at once, which almost broke me. Here is a list of some tips that helped me and may help you get back on the road to recovery.

1. Focus on getting sleep.

There is so much to say about sleep therapy, especially with an illness like bipolar disorder. Make sure both during and after the crisis you get enough sleep. I know that depending on the severity of the crisis, you may not be able to sleep. However, bipolar disorder is one of those illnesses that can require you to maintain a routine. If you are able to, make sure you at least go to bed at the same time every night, even if it is just to close your eyes and rest your body.

One of the events that happened to me recently was that my son had unexpected surgery, and I stayed with him in the hospital every night. I made sure to go to sleep on my regular schedule, which helped me get through this tough situation more smoothly. If you are unable to maintain your normal sleep routine during a given crisis, when the crisis is resolved, try to get back into your sleep routine as soon as possible. Here is an article that may be beneficial for you in your quest to get back into a sleep routine.

2. Make sure to take your medication.

Another thing that helped me through these crises was being sure to take my medication regularly. Taking my medication helped prevent an even bigger crisis from unfolding: a relapse. So even though I was going through tough situations and dealing with a tsunami of emotions, I knew I would be in a better state after it was all over than I would have been if I stopped taking my medication.

3. Lean on others when you need help.

I tend to try to tackle everything on my own. I hold back from asking others for help because I am extremely independent and feel like asking for help shows weakness. However, when the load is just too much to bear, it’s OK for you to ask for help. Your loved ones would probably rather you ask for help than see you overwhelmed or get hurt. At one point during these crises, I reached my breaking point. I called family members who would make my work load more bearable, and it was the best decision I ever made. You never have to struggle or face things alone.

4. Prioritize.

Trying to get back to the way life was before a crisis can be a difficult journey. My life was flipped upside-down, so the best thing for me was to prioritize my life. Basically, I tackled situations and tasks that needed my immediate attention while less important tasks that were not as relevant were put on hold for the time being. This helped me feel less overwhelmed and not like I was drowning in all of my responsibilities.

5. Be kind and patient with yourself.

It can take time for you to get back to the way you were before your life took this twist. Be patient with yourself. Don’t expect to be back to normal overnight. There will likely be meltdowns, crying spells, and thoughts of giving up. During these times, be kind to yourself and do something for you. Self-care is one of the most important parts of recovery with any mental illness. Do something fun: go for a walk, eat your favorite food, meet up with a good friend, watch a movie, drink some coffee, or get a pedicure. You only live once, so take care of yourself and know that in time, recovery will happen.

These twists and turns in life can be challenging for a person living with bipolar disorder, but the tips I just listed and discussed can help you through a crisis and help you get back on your feet afterwards. Life is not easy, nor is it linear — so we just have to make sure we have the tools we need to recover from whatever life presents us with. If I can do it, I know you can, too.

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

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Dear Younger Me Struggling With Bipolar Disorder

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Dear my younger self,

I wish I could tell you everything works out in the end. I know growing up in a home that was always in shambles was scary. It shaped your outlook, and made it seem like the the world is a scary place because you’ve never known safety. I know growing up with anxiety and never learning coping mechanisms was exhausting. You’ve questioned your worth so many times, resorting to self-harming at the young age of 7.

It seemed like there was no place for you in the world, where your qualities could shine. The world was a cold, dark place and all you felt was sadness and pain. The sadness consumed you at age 12, with your first attempt at suicide. I wish I could tell you that you are worth more than people are willing to see. After being hospitalized for my first suicide attempt, you had a great support community, and you began to recover successfully.

Entering high school changed everything. I am sorry I have caused you so much pain. I know it was easy to bury the pain from the past and continue like nothing ever happened, but then it happened again. The sadness consumed you, and the self-harming began.

Yet, this time was different. The colors seemed brighter, and you were flying close to the sun. I wish I had caught this manic episode when it first happened, and I am sorry I didn’t. I did not understand my feelings, and there was no safe environment for me.

During manic episodes, I engaged in so much risky behavior that ended up leaving more scars. These scars would be buried so deep in hope that I would never have to face them again. It is hard to talk to someone about what happened, but I wish you did because that post-traumatic stress has caused so many problems in your life.

Despite having great friends who were always there to support you, you should have told them what was really going on. I know withdrawing from society is all you know, but you can learn how to cope properly with the help of friends and family. I know you have a fear that they will judge you or not understand, but that is OK. I wish I could tell you if your friends judge you or don’t understand, then they aren’t worth your time. There are good people in the world, I promise. You just need to give people a chance.

I know there will be days when you sit and contemplate suicide. Please, remember you have held on this long because it’s not your time yet. You still have much to do in this world, and one day you will have a fiance who loves you very much. You will have the ability to be in a safe environment where you can have bipolar episodes that do not have quite as terrible consequences. You will be able to find yourself. You just need to hang on.

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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