Daisy flower rain on spring meadow

What It's Like to Experience 'Spring Mania'

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It’s only mid-February. Winter is here in almost full force in my area, but I’m already looking ahead to spring. Not so much in a good way though; it’s more a feeling of dread. Mania hits me every single spring, no matter what I do. I take vitamins, I eat healthfully, I take my psychiatric meds. But mania still hits me every spring. Most things make it worse, so much worse.

One doctor finally explained that my circadian rhythm just doesn’t adapt well to the extra hours in the day. Well, great. I feel like the only person on Earth allergic to sunlight in this way. OK, I know that’s not true at all, but when I’m feeling sorry for myself or hating my bipolar disorder, it seems to be so.

It’s happened each spring since I was a teenager. As soon as the time moves forward an hour and I’m exposed to more sun, I have a pretty major episode. I’ve even started to notice physical changes during those times. My skin glows, my eyes and hair are extra shiny, it’s unbelievable. Sometimes my eyes actually turn more hazel than dark brown during “spring mania.” I remember having a kind of “glow” when I was pregnant. This is like that glow, but it’s that much more pronounced.

A good friend of mine commented on my change in appearance during an episode once. She said she couldn’t put her finger on it but that I looked noticeably different. Possibly younger, even. She asked what had caused me to radiate like that. She was suspicious, I sensed. She didn’t ask any more questions and we just let the uncomfortable silence hang in the air until I left. It normally would have been embarrassing but since I was in the throes of mania, I took it as a complete compliment. I thought everything was simply wonderful and I was happy everybody else thought so, too.

One time in college during one such episode, I was racing to a job interview, and I do mean racing! I was going so fast I sped past a cop while blowing through a yellow light that turned red. Of course I got pulled over. I remember the officer was so annoyed that I was in such a “good mood.” He kept trying to bait me into an argument about why I was going so fast, and he insisted on repeating that he should give me a ticket. I just kept saying, “OK” to whatever he said and smiling. Finally he threw my license back at me and stormed off. To this day I don’t know if he understood what was happening or not, but at least I didn’t get a ticket.

I’ve recently begun to read articles about spring mania. I’m glad that others know what this is like, though I hate that we all go through it. Nothing good comes from my springtime mania, and I almost always end up in the hospital. The last major episode I had was when I went to Los Angeles one April to visit a relative. That was a mistake. Not the trip, mind you, but the timing. I should have paid more attention to my symptoms. By the time I got on the plane to LA, I was already fully manic. I know that now. When I got home, I’d stopped sleeping and eating. I had the cravings I only get during mania. And my mood was off the charts. Needless to say, I had to become an inpatient. I’ve since learned that changing time zones during travel can cause a manic episode. Good to know!

I keep looking outside and seeing the gloom winter brings with it as an unwelcome plus-one. I know that we have a ways to go until the time changes and spring comes blossoming in, but I’m still preemptively nervous. I hope this time things go well and I am thinking positively, but I’m also prepared for what usually occurs. I don’t want to say it’s inevitable, but that’s how I feel sometimes. Here’s hoping the upcoming season only brings showers and flowers for me and all those who experience spring mania.

Here are some tips for staying well in the spring with bipolar disorder:

1. Make sure to get plenty of sleep, regardless if your body wants it or not.

2. Eat a well-balanced diet. Food definitely plays a role in how our episodes play out.

3. If you take medication, take your meds exactly as prescribed and be sure not to skip any doses.

4. Monitor any symptoms that may occur as soon as you notice them, then check in with your healthcare provider.

5. If all else fails, and you end up getting sick, please be kind to yourself. Get the appropriate help needed for the situation and don’t get frustrated with any setbacks.

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Thinkstock photo via Thomas_Zsebok_Images

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From Your Friend Who 'Does' Friendship Differently

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I am not a “good friend.”

I probably won’t call you much because I don’t hear well on the phone and my mind does not process verbal communication well unless I can see you. I can text, but I get overwhelmed easily if I get multiple texts or distractions. I don’t keep up with email very well either — again because I get overwhelmed with information so quickly.

I probably won’t visit you either. At night when most of you are available I get confused easily and I don’t see well in the dark. On weekends when most people are off work, I don’t like to go out because I get overwhelmed by crowds. You are welcome to come visit me, but you must know that I get tired quickly and may have to go take a nap or sit in another room. Fact is, being around people drains me just like running around the block several times might drain you. It is exhausting.

You see, I have bipolar disorder and chronic cluster headaches (a very rare and debilitating neurological disorder). I take lots of medication that fatigues me and does all kinds of other things to me which I can’t control. If I stop taking my medication, I get real sick, real fast. And besides all that, my world might be very different to yours. I see, hear and feel things differently. I often have such horrible pain I can’t even talk (yes, that is possible during a cluster headache). Sadly, this all means I am not a very good friend — in the traditional sense.

While you may not hear from me often or see me much at all, I am still thinking about you. I do care about you. When I feel well, I may send you a text or an email. I may write you a little note or send you a card. On very rare occasions when everything aligns the right way, you just might see me. We might meet for lunch. Like you probably, I love to eat. But more than anything, I cherish the memories of spending time with you.

So please don’t think I don’t care about you or value our friendship. I care about you very much and I am thrilled that we are friends. Please know if you ever need prayers or just warm thoughts, you have them from me. I just “do” friendships differently. It’s not about you, it’s about me.

Please don’t give up on me.

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Why I'm Going to Tell My Psychiatrist I'm on the Wrong Medication

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Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

I wanted so badly to just give up that night. I called my dad and ended up in tears over the phone. I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to throw away my medication. Suddenly, I found myself agreeing with everyone who had told me I didn’t need them. Suddenly, I was desperate.

What caused this panic? The realization my new antipsychotics weren’t working.

I’m fairly new to the struggle of finding the right medications. I’ve been without a working antidepressant for a while. I’ve finally found an ADD medication that helps me think clearly. But that night, I wanted to give it up. It had gotten too heavy to bear on my own.

The first week I was on my antipsychotic medication, I felt on top of the world. I cleaned my apartment, I did all my laundry, I was happy, I was myself again! And then, it leveled out and I got used to it. Since then, I have been in this constant state of being emotionless. The only time I feel anything is when I’m with someone.

I no longer enjoy my writing. I don’t enjoy my coffee. I don’t enjoy a damn thing. I’ve become afraid of having to go back to bed at the end of the day. I get so exhausted I shut off at 8 p.m. But then I lay in bed for hours awake. And then, after finally falling asleep, I’m half-awake again. I haven’t gotten a full night’s sleep in a month. I’m miserable.

The mornings, they’re just the worst. I lay in bed for hours trying to go back to sleep. I don’t want to get up. I used to love mornings more than any other part of the day, but not anymore. I don’t want to get up. I feel like I’ve lost the point to all of this. I’ve forgotten the meaning of my life. All because I was on the wrong medication.

I’m going to move my psychiatrist appointment to be two weeks early. I’m going to tell her what’s happening, ask if there’s a different medication I can try or if I should stop taking them all together. I refuse to be a zombie just to make sure my bipolar II doesn’t act up. I feel more suicidal when I’m numb than I ever have while going through a depressive episode.

I’m meant to feel, to be happy, to enjoy life’s ups and downs. I’m not meant to stay “stable” on a flat line of nothingness. This isn’t me. And I refuse to stay here.

I encourage everyone to have an open and honest conversation with your doctors. Let them know how your medication is affecting you. Be strong and find the right path. You deserve it.

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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Thinkstock photo via Creatas Images.

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Would I 'Cure' Bipolar Disorder If I Could?

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Recently, I have been thinking, “What if bipolar disorder had a cure?” and questioning if I would want to be cured. After weeks of thinking about it, I finally have an answer, and it would be no. No, I would not want to be cured of bipolar disorder. You may be baffled and questioning my answer. I was too, but here’s why.

I would not choose to be cured because being diagnosed with bipolar has changed my life dramatically, both positively and negatively. The negative effects did have consequences such as losing friends, making lots of enemies, and spending my entire life savings in one weekend. However, without those negatives, I wouldn’t have had the positives. The positive effects of bipolar disorder have truly helped me, and without experiencing extreme highs and lows, I wouldn’t have gained this type of courage.

The extreme shifts in mood played havoc in my relationships, and I was left confused. Everyone around me seemed to be walking on eggshells or talking negatively about me. These experiences gave me the courage to reach out and admit I needed help. Unfortunately, I only asked for help while feeling depressed and I went misdiagnosed for a few months. I eventually experienced a manic episode which helped me get the correct diagnosis.

Today, I am medicated with five different medications and I still experience hypomanic episodes and milder depressive episodes, but I wouldn’t change that for anything. Yes, I battle these extreme changes in mood, but experiencing these hardships has taught me a lot about myself, my strength, and how to channel it.

My depressive episodes taught me it is OK to not be OK. I always thought I didn’t feel any emotions because I grew up in a household constantly under strain and I never truly felt safe. I would fake a smile or pretend to be happy and that was a way of life for me. Even as an adult, I pretend I am happy because I do not want to face allowing myself to truly feel emotions. I have always been mean to myself, and whenever I feel sad or worthless, I feel powerless and that is a terrifying feeling. Depressive episodes leave me feeling worthless and numb. Feeling like that is not OK, and bipolar disorder has taught me that.

Nevertheless, there are manic episodes where I am flying so high, I feel I am truly invincible. I have limitless energy, tasks to complete, and social desires. I feel as if I could conquer the world, so alive! But this comes at a high price; the voices in my head can steer me the wrong way. They lie to me, they lure me in. I could become agitated and extremely irritable. Without these experiences, though, I wouldn’t have learned I was feeling emotions more intensely than the average person. I would never have realized how truly sensitive I am.

I was diagnosed with bipolar I shortly after unlocking all my demons and it may be all-consuming, but it has helped me get to where I am now. I can confidently say I battle with bipolar, I am a suicide attempt survivor who has multiple anxiety disorders. I battle post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from multiple sexual assaults as a young girl and as a teenager, and I tend to self-harm. I have a severe fear of gaining weight and during manic episodes, I have binge-purge cycles. But bipolar disorder has taught me to speak up and use my voice. It has helped me figure out so much about myself and why I am a strong person. In dark times, when I am feeling suicidal, I try to remember I am strong.

I may be a large psychological mess, but bipolar disorder has become a part of who I am, and without it, I would be lost. I have come to accept and love my bipolar disorder, and I could never have that taken away.

So, now I ask you, if there was a cure for bipolar disorder, would you go for it?

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 IPGGutenbergUKLtd

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5 Things I Ask Myself Every Day to Help Manage My Bipolar Disorder

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Living with a mental illness can be challenging. Over the years, through all the ups and downs, I have learned to tune into myself and listen to what I need. I have found that I can manage my symptoms much better with careful planning and a deep sense of self-awareness. As I have learned my triggers, I have learned to create a lifestyle and environment that helps stabilize me. In addition, I have learned how to avoid and set boundaries for situations that cause chaos and wreak havoc in my life. I try to make it a point to ask myself these five questions at various points throughout my day to help keep me on track and protect myself from a breakdown.

1. What am I grateful for today?

I try to start every day in gratitude. I like to do this first thing in the morning before I even get out of bed. This is especially important during depressive episodes. It helps to balance my natural negativity and give me something to keep me grounded.

2. What do I need today?

Every day is different and I never know how I’m going to feel when I wake up. I have found it’s so important to reflect on what I need to do on any given day. Is it rest? Is it an adventure? Is it time to get work done? Time alone? A conversation with a friend? Time to create? This question is especially important as I go into the day so I can figure out my expectations for the day and communicate those to my loved ones.

3. If I can only get one thing done today, what is it?

I find I get depressed on days I feel I didn’t accomplish anything. So, I like to check in with myself and see what I want to get done on any given day. Maybe it’s just, “I want to take a shower today” or “I want to write a chapter for my book” or “I want to get a specific thing done for work.” If I don’t check in with myself and have that conversation, I am more likely to get disappointed with myself at the end of the day and feel like a failure or get depressed or anxious.

4. What can I take off my plate today, so I can get the most important thing done?

I have come to learn those busy days that are packed full of things to do do not work well for me. They tend to cause stress and irritability and that triggers episodes of anxiety, depression, anger, mania and the like. There is always something I can take out of the day but if I don’t stop, look at my schedule and see what I can move and shift, I will get caught in chaos, which is never good for me. I have learned to set boundaries and have learned to be OK with changing appointments around or saying no to something I know will end up causing problems for me later on.

5. Where can I find time for rest today?

I tend to forget to recharge and I let myself get burnt out, and a burnt out me is not a pretty sight. I have tried to make it a point to focus on self-care and find time and space for rest. I believe that healing comes in the quiet. If we don’t stop and let ourselves rest and replenish we can never really heal or flourish. Along with my illness, I juggle motherhood, marriage and a career. There are always a million excuses for why I can’t rest or don’t have time to stop, but for the sake of my health, I know I have to. Sometimes rest is just a cup of tea in the afternoon. Or maybe it’s a yoga class, dinner with a friend or a bath. On the good days, it’s an afternoon at my favorite tea shop, alone or sitting on a blanket in the park and writing. There are so many ways to find and create rest during the day but if I don’t stop and seek it, I won’t find it.

These questions can be helpful, regardless of what you are dealing with. They have especially come in handy for me as I have dealt with grief and loss, and they have given me a rhythm for my day. If you find yourself struggling through your days, stop and add these questions to your daily routine. They have consistently helped me to gain insight and stay ahead of emotional episodes and breakdowns. Hopefully, they too will help ground you and guide you through your life journey.

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Photo by Anthony Scarlati

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The Invisible Fight Against Mania

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The sun is shining. Outside my window, birds are singing. It’s a beautiful start to a beautifully new day.

I hate it.

My bed is soft, warm and comforting. Inside my room, my sanctuary, the curtains are drawn and the harshness of the sun’s brightness cannot overwhelm me. However, the day must begin.

I smile as I drop my son off at preschool. His teachers tell me what a joy he is to have. They do not see the exhaustion and dark circles hidden beneath my sunglasses caused by the overwhelming fatigue due to the mood stabilizer I take.

As I stand in line for coffee, I feel dizzy and lightheaded. Strangers mumble behind me. I’m paranoid their conversations regard me and my lack of coordination. I want to turn around and tell them it’s a side effect of my antidepressant. I want to ask if my paranoia is valid. I order my coffee and my voice cannot find the correct pronunciation for frappuccino, so I order tea instead. A memory that rivals a San Francisco fog, it’s yet another side effect of medication.

A fellow driver changes lanes with no signal and I honk my horn, angrily. Inside my neighborhood Target, I loudly correct the woman attempting to get in line in front of me. I’m downright belligerent when I go to return a shirt, expecting a confrontation. I want to say it’s not you, it’s me. I’m manic right now.

The store is hot. There are too many people too close to me. Voices blur like surround sound.  My chest hurts and I feel the familiar wave of an attack. I’m beyond humiliated. I’m in my car somehow. I cannot remember how I got there. Tears stream down my face as I cry into my steering wheel like it can somehow offer me comfort. As if depression were a blanket someone could wrap around me, it feels heavy and burdensome.

Please see me.

Please see me.

My days are a carousel of emotions. I’ve begun grandiose projects, maxed out a credit card and rearranged my living room in one day. The next day is spent huddled in a ball with a guilty sickness over my spending spree. I drive too fast, talk too loudly and smile as though the whole world were created as my personal playground. And I haven’t even hit Wednesday yet.

Everyone experiences bipolar disorder differently. Treatment will vary based on individual needs and medical advice.

Simply because our illness is invisible does not mean we are. 

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