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The War I Battle Is in My Own Mind

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I’ve wanted to share my story for quite some time, but I’ve been super nervous. I’ve been second guessing myself (it’s what I do best) because part of me feels like my story isn’t going to be good enough to be seen by other people, and then the other part of me is like “heck yes! I can do this!” So here it goes!

Being diagnosed with ADHD when I was 12, and then years later being diagnosed with anxiety, bipolar disorder and depression, finally helped me understand the war I was battling. That war I battle is in my own mind. Sometimes I come out on top, and other times I lose to the depression, anxiety and bipolar. Just because I sometimes “lose” to my illnesses doesn’t mean I am a weak person, it just means my armor wasn’t all the way protective against certain aspects. Even though I take medication and try my best to be proactive in defeating the war that is my mental illness, some days are bad days and some are good days. Medication doesn’t magically rewire my thought process, but it helps “knock off the edge.”

Medication has always had a bad rep when it comes to mental illness. People refer to it as “crazy pills” and sometimes I joke back with them, depending on who they are, because I can do that. Sometimes I snap at people and tell them, no, you have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. But without my medication, I don’t feel “normal.” Without it my brain runs 100 miles a minute, I get super pissy and even more emotional than usual. I don’t like the person I am when I’m off it. And plus, it’s not healthy for me to not have it, or skip doses. I let my mental illnesses control me and it’s scary.

When I was younger, it was hard coping with my mind because I didn’t know a lot about the type of mental illnesses I was diagnosed with. But as I’ve gotten older, I have learned a lot through researching, reading and experiencing a lot of things. Like when I was younger, I turned to self-harm. I can honestly say I never wanted to cut to kill myself (although I thought about dying every day), I just wanted the numbness to go away. I wanted to feel something other than “nothing.” It’s been a couple of years since I actually self-harmed, but I still crave the feeling sometimes. I crave to feel something when I feel nothing at all. For me, it’s an addiction. That’s what your mind wants you to think. It wants you to think you need to self-harm because no one loves you, you’re not good enough, you’re a failure. But that’s not true.

I know what is true, though. I know I am loved, I am not a failure and that I am good enough. I know I can and will get through my bad days. And I will cherish my good days. Everything will fall into place and make sense one day, and I just need to keep trucking along. And here’s something else too. It’s OK to talk about mental illness. It’s OK to talk about the scary stuff, the good, bad and ugly stuff when it comes to mental illness.

Here’s my advice: It’s OK to be afraid to talk about what’s going on in one’s mind, but nonetheless people need to talk about it. Find someone who you trust wholeheartedly, and tell them what’s going on. Or you can even go to online to a crisis hotline and tell them if you don’t feel comfortable telling anyone else. Someone is always always going to be there for you. And in the end you will feel better about it, and you will be glad you did.

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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Some Days Are Really Hard. And on Those Days, I Need You the Most.

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I have bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed about two years ago, but I’ve been living with symptoms of this disorder for most of my life. Since my diagnosis, I’ve seen a lot of misconceptions out there about it. There are a lot of things I wish I could share with people to tell them about what it’s really like living with this disorder.

But there’s one thing in particular I really need you to understand about mental illness:

It’s hard. Living with bipolar disorder is hard for me.

Living with any mental illness can be hard. Living with any illness at all can be hard. Living can be hard sometimes.

But I need you to understand that life is really genuinely hard for me some days (actually, a lot of days). I spend a lot of time trying to explain that I can live a “normal” life despite living with mental illness. I spend a lot of time trying to explain that people who have bipolar disorder are not “crazy.” And even though these things are true, at the end of the day, I struggle a lot.

I’m not telling you this because I want your pity. In fact, please don’t pity me. I’m telling you this because sometimes I feel incredibly broken, and I require a lot of support and love from other people. Sometimes I need a little extra affirmation in my existence. Sometimes it takes everything in me to just keep on living, and in those moments, I need the most support.

So please understand that some days I can barely get out of bed, much less function at school or work or in social settings. Some days are just really hard. And it’s on those days that I need you the most.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our 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 Am Bipolar. This Is What I Want You to Know.

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Editor’s note: The following originally appeared on the writer’s Facebook page.

I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever posted anything on Facebook. I’m not exactly sure why I chose today, but here goes. I don’t think anyone will actually read this so I guess I don’t really have anything to lose.

The world can be a cruel place. God, if you believe in God, can play devastating tricks on people. There are many debilitating diseases out there that affect millions of people every day. People suffer endlessly, people die painfully and all the while their loved ones suffer as they watch the inevitable happen. They watch as cruel fate destroys life. They watch as love and happiness crumble into darkness and death.

I believe the ultimate cruelty, however, lies in the silent suffering. The disease you can’t see. The disease that creeps in without warning and slowly, methodically and inevitably kills you from the inside, deep within the depths of your brain. Without explanation, without prejudice and without mercy it consumes you, paralyzing you, forever changing you. Your mind becomes a dictator and you are powerless to stop it.

My name is Chad and I am bipolar. I have been for most of my life. I knew at a very young age that there was something “wrong” with me. I had wild mood swings that left me sobbing uncontrollably one minute, then to uncontrollable rage the next. Alcohol and a litany of drugs were a constant in my life from the time I was 14. “Self-medication” was all I knew. I couldn’t control my mind or my thoughts by myself, but when you are a teenager, what else can you do? I wanted to die, but I couldn’t bring myself to suicide at that young age, so I did incredibly reckless things to hopefully do it for me. That is for another story. It didn’t work.

I am 43 years old now. I have been to dozens of doctors, therapists and psychiatrists. I have been on just about every medication there is. I have experienced every up, every down and every gut-wrenching side affect imaginable. I have been hospitalized, poked, prodded, tested and humiliated. And yet, after all that, here I still am, hopelessly broken, sad, exhausted, alone in my struggle, still wanting to die every day, just like when I was a teenager, just to get some peace. It’s never ending. It’s relentless.

So what is this all about you ask? This is not a cry for help. I am way beyond that. This is to let you know each and every one of you, whether you know it or not, has a friend, has a family member, has someone out there who is struggling — and they desperately need someone to reach out to them. It doesn’t take much, only a few seconds, just to say, “Are you OK?” Three simple words can make all the difference.

Lately, it seems to be a fashionable thing for celebrities to come forward and talk about their private struggles with mental illness. I think that is great. Breaking down the stigma and shame of mental illness should be on the forefront of the American conversation.

I am not a celebrity. I am a regular person who has a voice and I have something important to say — a desperate plea for everyone reading this to share this with anyone who will listen. If you are struggling, you are not alone. Reach out to someone, anyone, just do it. If you know someone who is struggling or you think might be, reach out to him or her today, you just might save a life.

Suicide is devastating, there is no question. For those left behind there are only unanswered questions and hurt feelings. So often we hear “I had no idea.” Take it from someone who has made the conscious decision to take their own life, only to be brought back and given a second chance. In that desperate moment, when all is lost, we are not ending it all to spite the people who will be left behind, we make that decision because we no longer want to hurt the people who are watching us suffer the most. We want to give them a reprieve from the pain and anguish that lingers day after day in the depths of despair and depression. It’s the only way. It’s an awful choice. Just imagine thinking that death is a better option than life. 

I would like to thank anyone who is still reading this. If you take only one thing from this, remember just because someone has a mental illness doesn’t mean they are any less of a human being. You don’t have to be ashamed or embarrassed. You don’t have to struggle alone, you don’t need to be afraid and you don’t have to be silent anymore. 

Life is filled with endless possibilities. We all have our own path. Take the time to make a difference in someone’s life if you have the chance. There is truly nothing that is more rewarding.

Since this is social media, go ahead and share this, get the word out there. This story is not over by any means, it has only just begun.

My name is Chad. I am bipolar. I am no longer ashamed. For many years I have not been afraid to die. I can now honestly say that I am no longer afraid to live.

Thank you.

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Accepting It's Time to Leave My Job to Take Care of Me and My Bipolar Disorder

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Sometimes I wonder if my life is real. Especially when I’m feeling up. I question if it’s all a fantasy. Is my perspective really in line with reality?

I’m planning to quit my job. I’m sacrificing a bit of security, in that throughout the last four years I’ve had numerous hospitalization and taken countless days off. Twice, since May 2013, I have taken two extended leaves lasting three months. It might help that I’ve been at my job 17 years and have been a “model” employee. My perfectionism, workaholism and the fact my identity is wrapped up in my work probably played a major role.

I have two job opportunities in the proverbial hopper. I think they are legit. But, I fear they are not. My anxiety certainly tells me they are not. Paranoia creeps in and I think a new place of work can’t handle my “issues.” Should I be transparent and divulge I have bipolar disorder now? Should I wait? Should I just close my eyes and hope for the best?  Everything is uncertain. I don’t do well with that. It’s fodder for my restless brain.

I do feel like I know my current work situation is not healthy for me. It’s taken me a long time to admit that. I always thought it was my fault I would become overly stressed and symptoms would arise. Turns out with bipolar disorder I am more susceptible to stress, which in turn can trigger either mania or depression. I can attest to both. I’ve reached heights of psychosis that were terrible frightening and lows of depression that were devastating. 

I think it’s important to acknowledge I have to do my part. Utilize coping skills, communicate with my treatment team and take my medication. But, there is also a point where raising the white flag makes sense. Self-care and self-compassion need a place in my life. I can push and push. Pull and pull. Demand I do better. Work harder. Not allow stress to overtake me. But, there’s reality.

I am stressed. I am exhibiting symptoms despite my best efforts. Sure there will always be ups and downs, I’m the first to utter those words… damn roller coaster. But, if I can help myself avoid peaks and valleys, shouldn’t I at least try? If it turns out no matter what I do, this is my lot, this is my coaster… well, that’s for another day.

So, as I envision turning in my resignation letter, it’s bittersweet. I literally grew up at this agency. It was my first career-type job. I was a young, naive 25 with a heart of gold ready to solve the issues that plague social service agencies. I was going to be the best social worker they had ever seen. I’ve made my mark. It’s time to move on and put myself first. 

The hopper I mentioned is as real as it gets. I’ve put myself out there. Maybe it’s a fantasy I get hired, maybe not. It’s a resolution I find a new place for myself in 2017. I listen to my needs. Make time for self-care and self-compassion. Honor myself in a way I never have before. I’m going to let that unfold as it may. No expectations, just intentions this year.

Dancing with bipolar disorder can be exhilarating, fun, devastating, confusing, uncertain… but it’s definitely real. One step at a time. One day at a time. I’ll keep moving forward down the line.

Happy New Year to The Mighty Community I so cherish.

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16 Mental Health Lessons I Learned in 2016

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2016, you’ve been a learning curve to say the least. Here are 16 lessons I’ve learned over the past year:

1. A diagnosis doesn’t define me. I define me. The way I take my coffee with a shot of hazelnut, study passionately, and go on spontaneous road trips: those are the beautiful things that define me.

2. I’m feeling well because I’m taking my medication, not because I don’t need it anymore. Going off my medicine because I feel well will only wreak havoc; I always need to listen to the advice of my doctor.

3. Sometimes people don’t have the words to make me feel better. Sometimes being there and holding my hand is exactly what I need, and the only way they know how to help. Embrace people’s willingness to love and care for me.

4. Resources like a psychologist and doctor can catapult my recovery, but I’m the one who needs to focus on getting well. It’s hard to help an unwilling heart. Embrace help from professionals.

5. Wellness means creating balance for myself. A balance between work, school, social life, and alone time. With bipolar disorder, having any of these areas out of whack can be damaging for me. Aim to create a good, consistent balance.

6. I believe life was not meant to be lived alone, and that we were created for community.

7. When there’s a resource lacking in my community, I can be the one to instigate change and fight for the resource to be implemented.

8. After dealing with unending grief from many deaths, I was always on guard for the next bad thing to happen. Instead, I learned to expect good things.

9. Recovery doesn’t fall into my lap. I have to work hard, run toward recovery. It will take a lot of tears and setbacks, but it is possible. I refuse to give up.

10. Recovery is not black and white. It’s not “I’m unwell” and then jumping over the chasm into the “I am well.” It’s a spectrum of varying shades, and it’s not a jump over a chasm: it’s a million baby steps in the right direction.

11. Academics and school are less important than being well. Maybe I won’t finish my degree in four years, or at the top of my class, or with honors. Maybe I will need a year off to heal or to only study part-time. That is OK. Academics don’t define me. I’d rather pace myself and cross the finish line eventually than suffocate and never finish.

12. Friends will leave when they find out about my illness. Have mercy on them. Harboring anger only hurts me, not them.

13. In the same vein, fight for mental health education in workplaces and schools. Often times the reason people leave is because they don’t know how to handle it. Equip them.

14. It’s OK to pursue passions that are different from what people thought I’d do. It’s OK for me to write books and perform poetry when the rest of the world thought I’d be busy doing something else.

15. I am loved. I am cared for.

16. It took five years to get into this hole, and I can’t expect to get out of it overnight. Recovery isn’t easy, but it’s possible. Surround yourself with people who will make that precious recovery possible.

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To the Family and Friends I've Lost Touch With Because of My Bipolar Disorder

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Dear friends and family,

I’m sorry we have lost touch throughout the years. I have been fighting this uphill battle since a young age. I’m sorry I cause confusion when I reach out to you, and then you never hear from me again. It’s nothing personal. I promise.

Sometimes, when I reach out to people and they seem uninterested by the conversation, the devil on my shoulder tells me I’m not worth their time or they hate me. The last time I reached out to an old high school friend, I got the sense I was a waste of their time. I have been scared to reach out to people because I have a severe fear of rejection. I think about reaching out to you, even if it’s just to say hello and see how you’re doing, but the fear overwhelms me and my body shakes. I let the devil win and tell me I’m worthless and nobody wants to talk to me.

During the past few years, I have met many people who do not understand mental illness and have treated me like trash. I lived in one house where a girl believed everything I must be doing was directed at her. However, she did not stop to think I’m human and maybe something bad just happened.

I’ve experienced manic and depressive episodes since 2012, and I could not comprehend why my emotions were so extreme. I’ve had manic episodes so intense, I should have been hospitalized, but, until recently, I didn’t know that. In all honesty, my social media pages make my life seem more glamorous than it is. I have contemplated suicide since I was 12 years old, and I have been self-harming since I was 7 years old.

To this day, I don’t see the point in life, and I’m tired of pretending. I have never fit in anywhere, and my whole life I’ve felt invisible. I have trouble trusting new people. So if I have opened up to you, then I trust you.

These past few years have been nothing but trouble from terrible landlords to terrible neighbors. I was already afraid of trusting strangers, but now I just hit my panic button. Finding safety is an ongoing process, and I don’t think I will ever find safety in a rental.

I am sorry if I have reached out to you and not responded or forgot your birthday. Please, know I do have the desire to be your friend, and I would love to hear from you. I’m just in a fragile state and trying to recover from a couple suicide attempts. I am just learning how to live a “normal” life with bipolar 1 disorder.

If you don’t feel you want to be friends with me anymore, I understand that and I am grateful to have shared moments with you. I come with way too much baggage and even I don’t want to deal with it all. Just promise me you will remember the good times we’ve had.

If you are willing to stay and try to understand, then I thank you so much. Words cannot express my gratitude. I may not be able to see you often, but I will try my best to text you and see how you are doing. The road to recovery will be tough and a constant battle, but I am glad to have you by my side. Please, do not always judge people based on their actions without considering what else might be going on. Remember, everyone has problems. Be sensitive.

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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