illustration of a blue wave

I come back to this place of safety to spill my words into the abyss. Forever and always the same. Depression…yes. A touch of mania? Why not. I am so tired of this intricate dance. Don’t step that toe out of line, stumble, trip… hang onto that tightrope, your life hangs in the balance.

I am so lucky. I have a good support system in place. Professionals, friends, family. I am loved by many. I am loved. I know this. I am grateful. I repeat these words over and over again. “I am loved. I am OK. This is enough. I am grateful.”

We talk. Speak in gentle waves. Don’t rock the boat. “This will not last forever. There will be calm. The storm doesn’t go on and on, eventually there are clear skies at the other end.” And if you are talking about episodes, then yes, you are correct. They don’t last forever; instead they are waves which ebb and flow, waxing and waning like the bright moon which fills the sky and is a beacon of light even on the darkest nights. They pass, if you can just ride each wave as it buffets you, trying desperately not to drown.

And this is what I hold onto. There will be peace. It will come, in time. The waves will subside, and leave behind… calm.

Except. Except it does not. Because after one episode, there is another to quickly fill it’s place. This will always be the case. This is a lifelong battle, this battle for sanity. How long can you hold onto a tiny vessel as it falls apart at the seams and leaves you battered and bruised in the midst of a hurricane? I am tired.

It comes to me even in my sleep, this metaphor. I dream of drowning. It is not terrifying as one would expect. I do not wake, tangled in sheets and blankets, sweaty from thrashing to reach the surface. Instead, I watch the waves close over my head, look up through the blue green haze and feel the air leave my lungs. The pressure in my chest is intense, and the water floods my mouth as I instinctively search for air. I do not fight. I am tired. And so I close my eyes against the haze, the pain and everything goes black.

I am tired. I dream of drowning, and for a moment, that moment between sleep and wake, there is simply nothing. No hurt, no pain, no exhaustion. Just a sweet nothing.

Bipolar disorder can consume you, if you let it. I have been teetering on that precipice where the struggle to continue feels so overwhelmingly impossible. But the truth is, in the darkness, if you can’t see even a speck of light, maybe someone else can. Maybe they can hold onto the hope for you, when yours has vanished. I am loved. I am grateful. I am enough. I matter. Bipolar disorder, depression, it tells you lies, but these are the real truths; my truths. I am enough. I matter. I am loved. I am grateful. There will be peace, and calm, in time; a shelter from the storm that rages within.

Follow this journey on Fighting the Tide’s Blog.

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741

What is it like to be trapped inside my mind? I have this conversation with my mind most of the time. I wonder what it would be like to be inside a “normal” person’s mind.

Recently, my mind has developed auditory hallucinations. When I told my doctor, she said it’s pretty common in people living with bipolar disorder. I guess she thought that would make me happy, a possible comfort because I’m not the only one hearing voices. Yet, of course, it didn’t comfort me at all. Instead, it only made me feel worse than I already did.

I hear voices of my dead mother and father. I hear a voice of a shadowy figure who wants to take over my mind. I hear a voice of another woman whom I don’t recognize and then there’s my own voice.

So, what is it like to be trapped inside my mind? I will try to describe it as best as I can.

In the morning, I open my eyes, and the shadowy figure starts to abruptly charge me with all the things that will go wrong that day.

“You shouldn’t wake up. You’re much better when you’re sleeping.”

“Today is not a good day for you. It’s better to not get out anywhere.”

“You’re not so great at writing. Why even try?”

“You will definitely be disappointed by the people who say they care for you.”

“You are ugly, unloved and fat. Nobody likes you or wants to be with you. Isn’t it better to just give up?”

The voice of the other woman starts to quiver, like it cannot take the hurtful words anymore. She agrees with all the things the shadowy figure says.

She screams, “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! All the things you say are true. I am a burden, unloved and unwanted. I should just disappear, kill myself and end the misery. I can’t take it anymore.”

She wants me to self-harm.

That’s when I hear my parents. “We are right here. Come to us. Let us be together again.”

Now, it’s time for me to answer them. All this time I was silently listening to the voices because frankly, I don’t have a clue as to what to tell them. So I just internally shout for them to shut up, keep quiet and that I can’t take this torture anymore. I want peace, not constant torment of ways to die, in my head.

Some days, I win. There have been times when the voices get so overwhelming, I attempt suicide. When I was in the ICU, asleep for more than two days, I couldn’t hear them at all.

Yet, then I woke up, and it was all the same. The voices are back, and I am their prisoner. The arguments inside my head never stop. It’s like a radio, changing channels according to it’s own wish, and I am the plaything.

I never, in my life, thought I would be played by my mind. That I would be tortured by it. I never thought that I wouldn’t be in control of my own mind. Yet, here it is. Here’s the truth about my mind and my body that gives in.

This is just an example of one day of the life I live. Can you really imagine every day of your life to be like this? Think about it. After giving a lot of thought, decide not to judge anyone going through this excruciating agony in their minds by themselves.

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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I have bipolar disorder. Like some people with bipolar disorder, I was misdiagnosed at a young age as having attention deficit disorder (ADD) and improperly medicated. I was 6 years old when my parents started me on medication for it. This was 1985.

It wasn’t until I was much older that a diagnosis of bipolar disorder was brought up. It fit. I knew then my symptoms, behaviors and actions were a result of my bipolar disorder and not ADD.

People don’t like talking about bipolar disorder. Most people don’t understand it either, as I have learned. They tend to think of bipolar disorder as something that is unmanageable and that affects every moment of your life, your decisions, your actions and behaviors. I’ve learned (for myself) that my disorder only affects those things when I am in the midst of an episode. I am a normal, functioning, loving and caring human being when my disorder is under control and I’m not symptomatic.

I have had few depressive episodes. Most of my issues seem to stem from manic episodes or hypomanic episodes. From taking risks while driving, extreme need for sexual intimacy, drug use and inability to sleep.

Recently, I came into a new relationship with a wonderful man. There had been some talk about previous women in his life and their struggles with mental health issues. It made me nervous my bipolar disorder was something that could kill off a budding relationship.

Why would this man want yet another woman with a mental health diagnosis? Would he run away? Would I be judged? Would he think I was “crazy?” Most of all, did or could he understand what exactly bipolar disorder was and how it affects those who live with it?

After several weeks of our relationship, I decided it was best to tell him. If my diagnosis was something he could not accept, then I needed to move on and so did he. Opening yourself up to such raw emotions is extremely difficult. I remember thinking, “This will be it. It will all end here. My diagnosis will ruin a relationship with a man I’ve begun to fall in love with.”

In the spirit of fairness, I told him. Surprisingly, he listened. He didn’t judge, run, laugh, and most of all, he didn’t think I was “crazy.” He asked questions, and I tried to explain my version of bipolar disorder to him the best I could. We are both still learning about each other. There are still days where I have to remind myself to speak up if something doesn’t feel right. I have to remind myself to be open and honest about how I feel so he can help me through any issue should it arise.

The hardest part of living with bipolar disorder is the fact that when you do something, be it positive or negative, people want to blame your diagnosis for it. If I don’t get enough sleep, then I must be manic. If I cry because I’m sad, then I must be depressed. I never want anyone who I care for deeply to “blame” my actions on my diagnosis. I can and do have “normal” feelings, emotions and behaviors.

It has now been four months since we have been together, and I have had one episode of mania. He has been extremely understanding of my diagnosis. I’m still trying to make sure he understands what bipolar disorder is, how it works, how it can affect me and how to help me through an episode.

To be accepted fully by someone is such a wonderful feeling. Throughout my life my mental health issues seem to get in the way of relationships. I know these things can be frustrating for people without a mental illness. I know it isn’t easy, but I am deserving of unconditional love and support no matter what my diagnosis is.

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“Happiness is a choice.”

“Wake up every day and choose to be happy.”

“Nothing will make you happy unless you decide to be happy.”

“Happy people do not have the best of everything. They make the best of everything.”

These optimistic messages are scattered everywhere. They are in the titles of self-help books, the bold headlines in magazines, trending on Pinterest and featured in your best friend’s Instagram bio. They may even echo off of the lips of your sweet grandmother as she gives you a batch of homemade cookies along with some words of wisdom from her many years of life experience.

These quotes state that happiness is a commodity. They say we alone are responsible for its presence in our lives and that it can be accessed at any point if we try hard enough to unlock it. The problem with these messages is not the happiness part in itself (because of course happiness is a good thing). However, the problem lies in the fact that they present happiness in a way that diminishes the struggles of a life that is not, as much as we all want it to be, always sunshine and rainbows.

For every person who gets out of bed early and greets the day with an open armed “hello,” there is another person who does not get out of bed at all. Instead, their mind is telling their body it is immobilized and that it is simply not possible for them to greet the day. I know, because I have been both of these people. I, however, always seemed to take it to the next level.

I have been the bubbly, goofy, annoyingly positive girl who talks-a-thousand-miles-per-minute-and-has-the-motivation-of-a thousand-women-and-is-not-tired-because-how-could-you-be-tired-in-a-life-that-is-this-inexplicably-awesome. These days were wonderful but exhausting, exciting yet terrifying and brought out the best and worse in me. Though I was fun and bubbly, I was also impulsive and incredibly irritable. I would get increasingly angry at any small thing I perceived to be hindering my happiness. I felt as though these feelings were justified when they largely were not. I was like a pot that was trying to boil over but couldn’t. It was at first awesome and then terribly annoying.

I tried to hide the fact that my brain wouldn’t stop, and I hid the negatives pretty well. I was the only one who knew the extent of the havoc this “happy” was wreaking on me. On these days, I couldn’t remember what it was like to be sad.

I have also been the other girl, the “broken” girl. The girl who doesn’t have much to say at all. The girl who gives a slight smile or sympathetic laugh to your attempts to cheer her up because she doesn’t have any sense of humor left. The girl who stays home “sick” because she cannot will herself to face a life that doesn’t seem to be worth living anyway.

I would lie in my bed motionless and pretend like I didn’t exist because it felt pointless to even try. It was a cross between feeling every unpleasant emotion all at once and at the same time not feeling anything at all. Trying to reach in to my core and find the hidden ocean of happiness that was allegedly hidden inside of me was like trying to quench my thirst with an empty water bottle. On these days, I couldn’t comprehend happiness or remember what it was like to be happy. I didn’t have any interest in being happy either.

The sad days came much more often than the happy ones, and when the happy ones did come, they were not without consequences. I couldn’t live life in the “in between,” so I would sleepwalk through the dark days semi-functioning until a jolt of dizzy euphoria would bring me back to the “bright” ones.

I don’t think many people could notice how dark the “dark” days truly were. Most of the time, I was good at hiding them. Sure, others noticed sometimes, but I looked like I had it under control. I hid my pain because I was bombarded with these messages that sadness wasn’t OK. I thought if I tried hard enough to hide it and push it down that my sad feelings would somehow go away and be replaced with happy ones.

This however, did not happen. This was, as it turned out, because my “sad” feelings were not just sad, and my “happy” feelings were not just happy. “Sad” was actually depression, and “happy” was actually hypomania.

So what does that mean exactly? Well, I actually am not in control of my emotions or my happiness. This means I have a legitimate yet invisible illness that I cannot just will away, and I will have to take medication for the rest of my life to maintain any form of contentment.

I have bipolar II disorder, and there is not anything that anyone can say to me to change this. There are no number of quotes or words of wisdom that can “fix” me, and even if I try to will it away with every fiber of my being, it will not happen.

I am not writing this to merely tell my story, but to raise awareness about mental illness and give a separate point of view. We all are worthy of happiness, but not all of us get it at the exact moment we want it. We all want to be happy in the underlying, content sort of way, but brains get sick sometimes, too.

Maybe instead of saying happiness is a choice, we can say kindness is a choice. Instead of shaming others into feeling as though they don’t have a right to cry, we could give them a reason to smile. We honestly and truly never know the battles another person is fighting, but we can make those battles a little less dark if we let in a little light.

We all have a light inside of us. Sure that light may fluctuate and that candle may get blown out, but shame will not make the flame come back. Instead of pointing fingers at those whose flame is gone, we can give them some of our own flame and both grow stronger.

Internal struggles are powerful, but I’ll be damned if love and kindness isn’t immensely stronger than them. We are so much more than our illnesses and current circumstances. I will end with my favorite quote, one that I believe is true for all people in all situations and at any point in time. The quote that proves to all of us that every feeling, no matter how good, bad or unbearable it is, will at some point go away: “This too shall pass,” and we will all be OK.

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Dear bipolar disorder,

At first I was stubborn and did not want to admit we had a relationship. However, over time you grew on me, showing your true colors at every turn. The extreme shifts in mood became a way of life, resulting in extreme pain and struggling. Because of you, everyone who surrounded me felt like they were walking on eggshells, unsure of my triggers.

You made me feel so good, confident and filled with energy. You told me any actions I took would have no consequences. You filled my mind with delusions of grandeur and lured me into believing I could actually fly. Yet, while flying so high, you filled me with agitation and unexplainable anger that was taken out on my fiancé or through self-harm. Then, you would break down my confidence and taunt me. You told me I was worthless and no one would ever love me. I cried multiple times a day and felt so numb inside. Ultimately, I resorted to self-harm, a habit I cannot seem to break. You made me truly believe I was better off dead, so I tried to die by suicide multiple times.

This was our cycle for four years before a proper diagnosis was made and treatment had begun. This felt like being on a roller coaster I could not get off mixed with an abusive relationship. However, I am thankful I got to have this relationship with you because you have taught me so much about myself and my family. I felt so frustrated to be diagnosed with the rarest form of bipolar, but without it, I wouldn’t have learned my grandfather had bipolar I as well. You have taught me I am a strong person who is worthy of life and love. You have shown me despite all my pain and suffering, life is truly worth living and I am lucky to have someone to share it with. You have helped me to find my purpose and given me a way to reach out and help others. I understand living with you is a lifetime commitment and I’m ready to make that commitment. You just need to promise me you will continue to teach me and help me through this healing process.


The one you’re stuck with forever

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

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On January 21, 2017, along with millions of people in America and worldwide, I marched in support of women’s rights and against the agenda of the new presidential administration. I saw cute signs and pink knitted hats aplenty. I marched with a group of women my own age. We chanted. We carried signs. We filled the streets of our planned route to overflowing.

I found the experience profoundly alienating. Here is why.

I have a disability known as bipolar type I.

I am one of the lucky ones. I can take a pill every day and keep symptoms at bay. I can “pass” for normal. I can hold down a job. I can date. I can meet new people and form superficial friendships.

When I went to pick up my prescription the other day, the woman told me how impressed she was I knew the name of my medication. What does that tell you about people’s perceptions of people like me?

Nothing good.

About two months ago a guy who runs an online journal asked me for an article about stigma and why I don’t like it as a label. I tried to write one, but I actually couldn’t. Partly because I had a lot of other things going on in my life. Mostly because I was just too angry.

Here’s the way I see it.

The root word of stigma is stigmata, a bleeding mark or wound that is impossible to hide.

With prejudice and discrimination, the moral fault lies in the person who is prejudiced.

They are the bigot, the racist, the sexist and the homophobe.

With stigma, something is still wrong with you  —  the victim. The person who is signing a “Stop Stigma” pledge, or wearing a “Stigma Stops Here” at a National Alliance on Mental Illness fundraiser is showing what a kind and gracious person they are to look past your “flaws.” They are doing something above and beyond what is expected and necessary.

I believe the image of the person with a mental illness this brings to mind is somebody who needs proper care and treatment from family members or the state. Somebody not capable of looking after themselves and who certainly should not reproduce.

These images do not match, in the slightest, the brilliance, heroism and achievements of Kay Redfield Jamison, Sylvia Plath, Patty Duke, Ted Turner, Lord Byron, John Nash or Winston Churchill. It does not match the lives and achievements of the people I know with diagnoses personally. It does not measure their ability to recover and bounce back.

We’re here. We’re crazy brilliant. Crazy in love. Passionate, visionary or you know… just our everyday selves. We are accountants and poets. We are parents. We are black, we are white and we are queer.

Stigma is discrimination. Pure and simple. Why do we need another word?

Or if we’re stuck with this word, stigma, why is “stigmatizer” not in our vocabulary? Why does it seem people consider it one iota less bad to hate a person with mental illness than to hate another marginalized group?

We’re here, but you would never know it. Because we are invisible.

And our invisibility puts us in danger.

We are at risk for loss of health coverage because we live with mental illnesses. We are 16 times more likely to be killed by the police. Yet our problems are seen as primarily medical or personal, not political.

I am not here to compare injustices. I am not here to deny that I have access to certain categories of privilege due to my skin color and education. This isn’t something well-meaning allies can fix for us. You can kindly treat us as human beings and stop to check your privileges and assumptions, yes. But change has to come from somewhere else. Basically enough other people who have been dealt this shitty impossible magical hand-decorated game winning card in life need to decide that they are actually still human too, and worthy of respect and dignity.

Injustice is difficult to impossible to attack without community. And community in our case has major obstacles for building. It is too easy to hide. Too risky if you don’t. I of all people should know. But we’ve got to start somewhere.

The women I marched with didn’t know I was bipolar. Nor was I about to tell them. That label has cost me too many close relationships in my life. Not the illness, the label. Most people don’t get that distinction.

I wonder if anyone from my support group would have been willing to march. Maybe I should have asked them.

Maybe next time, if there is a next time, I will.

A version of this piece originally appeared on Medium. Follow Rose on Twitter @rosecheval.

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