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7 Things I Wish People Understood About My Bipolar Type 1

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I have bipolar disorder type 1. I wish those in my life knew a few things about my life.

1) I am not a threat: Whenever someone finds out I have bipolar disorder, they give me a look of insecurity and fear. They treat me differently, and I can see and feel them judging me with everything I do.

2) I have no control over my symptoms: When you get mad at me for my mood swings, outbursts, or ups and downs, it doesn’t change anything. I am not making an excuse, I’m explaining a fact.

3) I am not lucky to be home all day by myself: I do not like being alone, I did not choose to be unable to work. So your ignorant comments about how great it must be, how lucky I am, they only hurt me.

4) Stop telling me it’s all in my head: I suppose it is because it’s a mental illness, not a thing I chose.

5) Bipolar depression is more than being “sad.” I feel impending doom all of the time. I want to die. I isolate myself. I hate myself. I can’t do responsibilities like bathing, doing housework, going out with a friend, etc. All become kind of impossible for me to do. I feel nothing or everything all at once. I cannot make it go away. I cannot “fix” it.

6) All of the positive thinking in the world will not make my illness go away.

7) Guilt: I feel it every day, all day. I constantly feel like I am not good enough because I do not work, because I have this illness, because I can’t do “normal” things that everyone else can do. But I fight, every day, all day.

This is an illness, not a choice.

There are more, but I hope this helps.

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

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Thinkstock photo by Pavel Ivanov

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The Invisible Tattoos of Bipolar

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Today I found myself hopeless, depressed and just staring at this permanent marker.

I kept imagining what I would look like with all the words I have been called over the years written all over me… Would there even be enough skin?

I may not have the wounds on me for everyone to see, but I feel like they are visible to the world and they are more than visible to me.

I want more than anything to rid myself of these heavy scars, but they always seem to be there staring me in the face when I look in the mirror.

How do I rid myself of painful thoughts that threaten to tear me apart? I want to stop living in what seems like an endless circle. I want to take my life back and smash this mirror that has a hold on me, but in a way the mirror has become my twisted friend. Why do I embrace the guilt when it feels so cold?

I don’t want to be familiar with pain. I don’t want to face it another day. These invisible tattoos are weighing me down, and I must be rid of them.

Someone once told me we are never given a burden we cannot handle, but sometimes I wonder if there was some mistake. People have told me I am strong. The truth is I feel weak in almost every way.

Bipolar is not something I chose. It was just something that happened to me, and now I live with it every day.

The tattoos will never define me. I know who I am. Bipolar is a part of me, but it will never define me. That is the one battle I refuse to lose.

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

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To the First Responder Who Gave Me Hope When I Was Suicidal

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I’ll never forget the night I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Life had become too hard to handle. My great grandma had just passed away, my dating life was hard, abuse plagued my life at home and school. I was struggling with a paralyzed stomach but was being told it was all in my head. I was slowly losing my hold on reality. Slowly slipping away.

There were nights I would hide under my blankets, trying to escape the noises or the shadows of people present but not real. First it was hypomania, then psychosis that took over my life, my first semester of college. I couldn’t handle it any longer. So I wanted it to end. I planned my suicide and in that moment opened up the portal for judgments like, “You’re so selfish” and “You’re a coward.”

There was one guy that night who talked with me like I mattered. He cared. His actions spoke volumes to me that night and helped me through the darkest time in my life. So here is a letter I wrote, to the man who changed my life for the better. As a reminder that there are first responders who are not judgmental or uncaring, and who genuinely care about the lives of those they serve.

Dear Officer,

I’ll never forget the night I was home alone, crying and working up to ending my life. You and your partner knocked on my door. You asked to come in and then proceeded to ask if I could tell you what was wrong. I had stopped crying, but that question, the very idea of trying to put into words my distress broke me down even more. Suddenly, my rule of not crying in front of people became obsolete. What did it matter anymore? I was breaking down and couldn’t go on any longer.

You had me sit down on the couch while your partner stepped outside to talk with dispatch. You talked with me like I was another human being worthy of love. You talked to me with love and respect. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for giving me hope that life isn’t always going to be this dark, scary and hard. Your words let me know someone heard me that night and cared enough about me to remind me of my worth. You told me about your family history with mental illness, and in that moment, whether you knew it or not, you reminded me I’m not so broken that others won’t or can’t love me.

You reminded me there is life after this. There is life after contemplating suicide. There is life after my planned suicide. It’s not always going to be easy. In fact, some days and nights are going to be so hard I may hate myself for reaching out for help. Then your voice, your message comes to mind, and I know someone cares. Someone will miss me. You only saw my darkest storms within. You saw nothing really of the happy woman I am.

You should know it’s because of you and your kindness, your love, that I found my hope. You could have come in and repeated what others were saying. You could have blamed me for these thoughts and feelings and done the same thing, accused me of one thing or another as if I had complete control over my thoughts. Instead, you reminded me it’s not my fault — it’s a real illness, it’s mental illness, and there is no shame in living with it.

Because of you I have gone on to meet new friends and have new life experiences. I won’t say my life is easier since you gave me hope again, but I believe it’s worth it. After my diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I moved home and struggled with finding a doctor who could help me. I finally ended up in an outpatient program at the psychiatric hospital. I learned things about myself I didn’t know before.

There have been days and nights I have felt like I am so broken, dirty and unlovable. I didn’t understand how someone — anyone — could love me again. My mind felt broken. It was as if I was trying to look at myself, view my life, through a broken, cracked window with cobwebs on it.

Still I find myself thinking of you. Your demeanor. It was 10 at night, and you took the time to talk to me like nothing else mattered. The very idea that someone out there cares gave me hope, that maybe someone else cares, too. My family and friends care. The ones I met after that night care. I have gone on to write, and to somehow change lives. All I could see was darkness. No spark of light.

Thank you for that night. Thank you for the night you walked into my life and showed me nothing but love and respect. Thank you for showing me that someone does care, that there is hope for my life, and life is worth living. Thank you for taking my hand and helping me up. Thank you for doing your job the best way you could. I know it couldn’t have been easy for you, sharing your story or opening up about your family history. I know this because I, too, have a family history. This history is part of the reason I felt so horrible, why I hated my life, but maybe there was something to this that I didn’t understand yet. I have now lived both sides. I’m still living it. I’m learning that mental illness does not make any one of us worthless or unlovable. However broken we may feel does not determine our worthiness of being loved.

One last thing: I want you to know that I am enjoying life again. I’m fighting hard for the life I have, but I’m stable. I finally found a great therapist and a great psychiatrist. As it turns out, I’m allergic to the antipsychotics I tried, and antidepressants make me suicidal, but lithium is amazing. You talked with me like you had nothing better to do, and now here I am… My physical health hasn’t been the greatest, but I want to fight for my life because you showed me my life matters.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

One grateful young woman

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.

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Gabe Howard - Bipolar Disorder Advocate

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Talking bipolar disorder with speaker and writer Gabe Howard.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

 

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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, I'm Hiding My Bipolar Disorder From Them All

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Unlike Snow White (or any other fairy tale), I am not surrounded by adorable forest creatures or beautiful flowers and trees. When I wake up I take an extra minute or two after my alarm goes off to determine if I actually want to go to work that day or if I even want to work ever again. Once I guilt myself into believing I’d be a horrible person for making my husband be the only one who works for this lifestyle we have. I take three medications among a handful of vitamins and wash it all down with a mug of green tea. I do my best to look decent for work and head off for what I know will be a long day. The minute I leave my car to walk into that building, I plant a big, fake smile on my face. I don’t want anyone to see that I only slept for three hours last night. I don’t want anyone to see that, for some reason, I have cried the entire drive to work. I don’t want anyone to know I cannot control anything my mind is doing.

As someone who manages a group of individuals, I believe I have mastered the art of deception. People ask me how my weekend was, how my morning’s going, etc. No one seems to be uncomfortable by me; in fact, people seem to want to spend more time with me, which instantly makes me nervous.

People don’t see my heart race when I have to go into a meeting. People don’t see my anxiety when I go to a coworker’s celebration. They don’t see my scraps of a lunch because I can’t be bothered to eat, and people don’t notice I can barely focus on my tasks. My eyelids weigh a thousand pounds, my mind is anywhere but work, and I am counting the hours until I can go home and nap.

Home, my safe haven. I muster up energy to eat something, anything to make my husband happy and allow me to get back to binge-watching TV or napping. An hour before bed I take my five nightly medications and a cup of melatonin tea, and as I drift off to sleep, I hope I don’t wake up in the middle of the night and begin the vicious cycle of insomnia.

I have bipolar II disorder, which means my moods can inexplicably change as often as someone might change their socks. I experience bouts of depression, anxiety, and mania, and they come upon me unexpectedly. Like unknowingly taking a bite of a poison apple, I have no idea which mood is coming, how long it will last, or how bad it will be. It is like Snow White living with the seven dwarves.

Not many people ask me what it’s like; it is just assumed what I feel are temporary emotions that will subside once I “calm down.” It’s been well over a year and a half now since I have been diagnosed and there is still stigma, misconception, and refusal to believe what I go through to continue to live a life uninterrupted. It has become such a hassle to deal with other people that I have learned to mask my health challenges to avoid having to answer any questions or deal with any type of ridicule. My medication helps me maintain a level of stability that helps me hold a job, go to graduate school, and live day to day without being in constant fear. However, when depression or anxiety sets in, I realize I seemed to have lost a sense of control over my mind, myself. It makes my  “bad days” even
worse, and trying to explain that feeling to others creates the most awkward silence I have ever experienced.

There are a few who have become part of my support group but as for those who play the minor roles in my life or those who know my diagnosis but don’t want to ask how I am doing, I have learned to put on a show for them. I have learned that appearances mean everything for certain people, and for them, I look and act “normal” but really, I am a Snow White who has lost all seven of her dwarves and can’t find her way to the light in the darkness of the forest.

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Every Morning, I Roll the Dice of Bipolar Disorder

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Like so many others with misunderstood illnesses, I like to try to put things into a relatable perspective. It’s difficult to explain exactly what bipolar disorder feels like to someone who doesn’t have it or someone who has never been around someone with it. There are many different ways to get the point across, but I’ve found that explaining the swings by using dice is fairly effective.

Every morning when I wake up, I feel like I roll a D20. There are seven numbers it could land on to throw me into a manic state, seven to push me into a depressed state and six relatively mellow moods. Those middle of the road moods may lean more one way than the other, but at least they’re relatively manageable.

Now, I have rapid cycling, which complicates things. During times when I’m unstable and cycle a few times a day, I have to keep rolling sanity checks. Sometimes, the swing is extremely severe and noticeable, while other times the die seems to glitch and combine a high and a low. Those are the worst.

The multiple moods and constant swinging are why it’s difficult for me to answer when someone asks if I’m feeling better after a low day. In that moment, I may be, but that could be because I just rolled a 20 and am bouncing off the walls. Ask me again in a few hours and we’ll see.

Is it exhausting to have to keep rolling? You bet your butt it is, but that’s OK. My bipolar disorder is my superpower. It makes me, me. I’m grateful for it.

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