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When Springtime Spells Disaster for Someone With Bipolar Disorder

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Ah, spring is just around the corner. It’s so close I can feel it! But for me, that feeling of springtime can often lead to the most difficult phase of bipolar — the dreaded mixed state. Don’t get me wrong or view me as ungrateful… theoretically I love the blooming flowers, buds on the trees, longer days and abundance of fresh air. However, the change in time and fluctuating weather can often wreak havoc on my system. Chris Aiken, MD who is director of the Mood Treatment Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina recently described it as: “Being tired and wired and urgent and distressed and anxious…you feel driven to do something but you don’t know what to do.” This is exactly how it presents itself in me and it’s frustrating, puzzling and very scary.

The extra light and fresh air feels amazing, but it triggers something almost indescribable in my brain. It’s like breathing in a huge breath of fresh springtime air that saturates my lungs then travels to my brain as a current, cleaning everything out it encounters (including the fog of winter depression). At first it is refreshing. I equate it to a pressure valve opening to get rid of all the grogginess that has built up inside my head. The problem is it doesn’t know quite how to regulate the release — it quickly erases the cobwebs but suddenly my mind feels as though it is being stretched too far and might snap. It’s as if upon emptying, the ability to connect to the world around me has also been sucked out along with all inhibitions, judgment and self-control. The initial feelings of motivation and renewal morph into desperation and urgency — to do what, I usually have no idea — and that is what becomes maddening.

I find myself pacing a lot, I can’t sit still and my patience is virtually nonexistent. I lose interest in reading because I can’t concentrate and it’s difficult to absorb information especially at work. I get disorganized despite the fact that I am constantly “organizing” everything. My mind bounces back and forth to all of the things I need to accomplish but it paralyzes me because even though I am capable, I can’t figure out where to start so often I just sit and stare at nothing while getting trapped inside my head. The urgency to do is incredible. The ability to start is gone. It’s a tug of war that declares no winner.

Reflecting on my past I clearly see a pattern of my springtime “awakenings” dating all the way back to my late teens. They have been characterized by risky behavior brought on by a sense of invincibility. In hindsight it’s obvious how this state led to staying up all night partying, suicide threats and episodes of self-harm. If I close my eyes, instantly I’m transported back to those moments vividly reliving how I was feeling and it was the same every time. The same sensations were present in my head, my eyes and even the blood coursing through my veins.

My most recent episode was several years ago when my kids were very young. Sleep became nearly impossible — two to three hours a night if I was lucky. I would wake up exhausted, but within an hour my mind became wired. It was absolutely necessary to keep moving because I felt if I stopped the crash would be just around the corner, so I spent every waking moment trying to outrun it. When it was time to go to bed anxiety flooded my entire being because I had run out of things to do, but the thought of laying still in my exhausted body while my mind raced at lightning speed was torture. My thoughts had no substance and made little sense, whereas my body would be on the verge of collapse. The nightmare would peak when my skin would literally start to crawl and my blood felt like it was shivering. Knowing that despite not sleeping the sun would inevitably rise and I’d have to do it all over again made me cry and want to rip my skin off and pull my hair out. After a week or so of trying to cope with this I would feel desperate and often end up in a hospital because if it was bad enough I would envision jumping through windows or actually harm myself as an attempt to wipe out the agitation that took over every cell in my entire body.

I used to feel so guilty because it was spring! How could anyone be unhappy? There would be people everywhere declaring how springtime was their favorite time of year and I desperately wanted to join them, but I could never shake the sense of being on the brink of destruction, so eventually I began to dread the season. Even when I didn’t know what I was dealing with, I somehow knew there was something lurking.

Now, thankfully, I know there is a name for it and I am not the only one who has ever felt this way. I recently read that springtime (March in particular) can be the most difficult time of the year for people with mood disorders. At first I found that very surprising because we often associate long, dark winters with depression, so logically I thought the light of spring should make it all better. But studies have consistently shown suicide rates peak in the spring. Theories range from increased energy, circadian rhythms and increased socialization. Whatever the cause, it is real and is difficult to deal with.

Yes, it is once again springtime and I’ve already felt my chemistry shifting. I write this as a reminder to myself to use what I have learned to avoid falling apart so I can truly appreciate the beauty of what is going on around me. I have done it before and I will do it again. That means I must swallow my pride, ask for help and turn to God over and over again because let’s face it…medication is unreliable, the weather is unpredictable and the chances of me following through on everything I need to do in order to stay completely symptom free are pretty low. But, thanks to people around me, I am reminded I will get through this.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via moodboard

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My Worries About Having a Baby as a Woman With Bipolar Disorder

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

I’m terrified. No. Make that petrified. How do you hold two entirely separate things, one in each hand, and weigh the importance of one over the other? How do you wrap your head around the possibility that you might not even be able to have the one thing in life you have wanted for as long as you can remember? How can you choose your health over an innate, natural desire, or even need? How do you sacrifice your health for a dream?

Or do you have a choice?

Do you stand a fighting chance against the cards that life has dealt you?

And is life telling you to back off? Or fight back?

Fight for what you want, what you feel you need in every ounce of your body? Why should I be different? Why should I be deprived of something I’ve wanted for so long? Something that makes a part of me ache a bit because I yearn for that something to be a part of my life as well. A part of me. A part of us.

But…it is not that simple. Then again, what major decision ever was?

You see since I was young, I’ve wanted children of my own. Three. I’ve always wanted three. Whether it be two girls and one boy or one girl and two boys, I could never really decide. But I always knew it had to be three. And through the years, I’ve dreamt about what their names would be, what their personalities would encompass, what talents they might have.

But never in my wildest dreams could you have told me 15 years ago that having kids might not be an option for me. I would’t have believed it. And then, I would have dropped my bottom lip even further to the ground when you told me it is because a year later, I would discover I was bipolar, which meant, medication, which meant chemicals, which meant hundreds of milligrams cramped together in little yellow and green cases that could potentially bring harm to an unborn baby. Do I dare to take that risk?

It might be risky to try and have a child while on all the medication I am taking. Right? Sigh. And I’d be pretty foolish to try and stop taking the meds so I can have a child. Right?  Of course. I wouldn’t do that. Ween myself off slowly sure… I mean, that is what my psychiatrist told me is what I’d have to do.

But I’m so scared. I have been on these pills since I was a teenager. I’m scared to death to simply stop taking them. Will I be able to handle it? Could I cope? I mean, I’ve had a major relapse even when I was on the pills! What happens when I’m off them entirely? It…I don’t know. It seems so unfair. I feel like bipolar disorder makes my life abnormal enough as it is. Is it so wrong to have one thing in my life that is “normal?” So I can at least pretend to be “normal” again? Why should I have to deny myself of one of the things I want most in this world because I developed a mental illness?

But if I were to go off my meds? I fear the paranoia will come back. I fear I will start hearing voices again. I fear getting depressed. I fear getting stuck again. I don’t want to put myself in the position I was in before. It literally almost killed me.

But the thought of not having children kills me as well. It’d be easy to say, “I’m going to be strong!” And I’ll have the greatest reason ever for it. But the truth is, I might not be able to control myself or my illness once I’m off my meds.

But, and yes, I know this is like the 20th “but” now in this post, but (there I go again) I’ve always felt I was meant to be a mother. Always felt that motherly instinct. It is a part of me that’s been present for decades. What’s more, I don’t want to deny the man I love something he wants as well. I want to be able to give him children.

I never really know which part of me is my medication, and which part of me is me. The two have been blended together for so long, it is difficult to divide up the pieces. You are left guessing. And you are left to ask yourself, “This person I am giving up (this person who has been tweaked, formulated and regulated through the years), will that person disappear once I abandon my meds in order to create, what I want to believe, is a better, more magnificent life for myself (which I feel would occur the moment I am holding my baby in my arms for the first time)?”

But I know who I am and I like the person I have come to be. It’s taken years, but I’m happy in the state I am in. I am comfortable in my own skin. I have to believe this is the person I will continue to be once I stop taking my pills. I have to believe it because if I don’t… I won’t recognize me at all. And others won’t recognize me. My own boyfriend might question my new state of mind. My new behavior atypical of the girl he’s grown to love the past eight years and eight months. I don’t want to change for the worst. Hell, I don’t want to change at all if it means losing myself. I can get by in life being who I am today. I could excel if I wanted to.

But really, what I want is simple. A baby.

I’m working with my doctor to take the best path for me, but why does it have to be so hard? It’s all that B.S. baggage and everything that comes with it. But really? As petrified as I am to live a life without these drugs? I’m even more petrified to live a life without children. I can’t imagine that life. And it’s not that I don’t love this life I am in. It’s not that I don’t love Richard immensely because God only knows how much I love that man. But…I don’t think our family is complete. Not yet. It is missing a baby bottle or two…or three.

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Finding My Own 'Bipolar Beats' When Society Keeps Playing the Same Old Music

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The rhythm dances in my ears and the sun blinds me as it radiates huge beams of happiness down onto the world. There is a spring in my step and I can feel the softest breeze on my skin, like silk as it pulls across the body. A chemically charged ball of fire is pulsing through my veins and as my hair bounces on my shoulders, I cannot stop smiling. Life is good! Life is great!

Thoughts race around my mind, ideas crash into one another and I struggle to control the pace. Voices echo loudly. And music cannot drown out the screams. With hands tight over my ears, the sun hides away behind the looming clouds. The wind tears my heart and soul from my body and an icy grip wraps tightly around my neck. The light begins to falter.

With or without mental illness, life is a battlefield of people trying to figure out their hows, whys, whats, whens and whos. Then society throws in labels to identify the whos and whys. Not quite yet satisfied, society wants to tell us the label means we can’t do or be something. Then we tell ourselves the same lie. We listen to the same rhythm of untruth that wraps around our sore and broken souls. It is time to change the beat we’ve been listening to. Take out that old scratched record and replace it with something new. Those well-rehearsed lines are doing you no favors.

Yes it hurts. Sometimes it’s exhausting and sometimes exhilarating. Sometimes I think that ball of energy might burst from my body leaving a gaping hole in my chest.

Change your music, find a new beat to walk to, a new beat that makes your soul sing. Find your own rhythm to live to.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Robertobinetti70.

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5 Reminders for a Stressed Parent Living With Bipolar Disorder

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With my sons most recent admission to the hospital I have found myself in dangerous waters. I have been manic for over a month now, and the exuberant amount of energy and ideas of grandiosity have begun to take  heir toll. I am not sure what triggered this manic episode, if I had to guess the incredible amount of stress has something to do with it. For the past six weeks I have been living a life of medical necessity. Days are marked by doctors and medications — my son’s not my own — and the weight of responsibility is starting to take its toll.

I have been living a life of medical necessity, battling sepsis and surgeries alongside my son, and mania and depression on my own. While the depression has been kept at bay, my mania has not, and it is beginning to show. I have tried to keep it under wraps and while my therapist applauded my efforts at controlling my impulses, I can’t help but feel I am fighting a never-ending battle.

Living life at the hospital poses a unique set of challenges, masking my mania included. For me, I feel like I always have to be “on,” which is exhausting. My son deserves a mother who is emotionally and mentally present, not just physically there. The past month it has taken all of my coping skills to stay above water. Every day poses a new challenge, for me and my son alike. And every day I have remind myself of a few things, which I hope you find helpful if you are ever in a similar situation as the one I am currently in.

1. Take your medications. If you are on a medication schedule, keep it. My biggest mistake occurs on nights when I sleep at the local children’s hospital with my son. I tend to not take my medications on those nights, and pay for it dearly. Skipping doses does not do (any) body any good, especially me.

2. Keep talking. If you see a therapist, keep seeing them. It can be incredible hard to carve out time for therapy when life is calm, add in the additional time constraints and responsibilities of having a child in the hospital, and therapy seems damn near impossible. Make it a priority. Even if you can only phone conference from the hospital room (I’ve done it), make sure you have your support system intact. Keep your medical providers and therapists informed. This might seem like a no brainer, but it took me a long time to have the confidence to call my doctor and tell him when life became too overwhelming. During times of stress, it is important to keep everyone on your care team on the same page.

3. Ask for help. Rely on family and friends. If you have a support system, use it. If people offer to help, take it. I have a freezer full of ready to go meals, made by friends and family. I’ll admit I rarely take the time to eat them, but I have them.

4. Open up about it. I have found the easiest way to manage my mental health is to be honest and open about it. Close friends and family have been looped in for years now and my husband is incredibly supportive. And while I have an incredible support system, already I have learned that there is nothing wrong with looping others in. One day last week, during a conversation with an incredible nursing friend, I opened up about my disorder. Was it uncomfortable? A little. Did I worry what their reaction would be? Of course. But at the end of the day it was important for me to be open and honest with this person when they asked, “How are you doing?”

5. Take care of yourself. Above all else, practice self-care. This goes right along with taking your medications, but includes so much more. Take a break once in a while, get a cup of coffee and chat with a friend. Sleep — this is probably one of the most important things you can do when managing mental illness and stress. Try to eat well. I know it can be difficult to eat healthy if you’re living on hospital cafeteria food or take out, but try to fit in a vegetable or fruit once in a while. If you aren’t on one, add a multivitamin to your regimen. Exercise. This might seem a little selfish but one of the best tools I have against my mania is exercise. Physical exertion helps calm the anxiety that often comes with my manic episodes, so for me fitting in a run here or there is vital to my survival. Whatever you do, however you manage to fit it in, just remember to take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

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Thinkstock photo via diego_cervo

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Woman With Bipolar Disorder Shares Video on Facebook After Experiencing a Psychotic Episode

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Sophie Eliza has always been open about living with mental illness, but to her, hearing about someone’s experience is different than witnessing it. To help her family and friends understand her illness, Sophie decided to share a video on Facebook of herself after what she called a “psychotic event.”

“The first photo is of the Sophie that everyone knows. Happy and smiley,” Sophie, who lives with bipolar disorder and anxiety, wrote in her Facebook post. “The next photo and video is of me is during a psychotic episode after I had calmed down a bit to where I could talk and I was seeing things other than visions of people screaming covered in blood.”

“The video is really about the realization of what had been happening to me,” Sophie told The Mighty. “But amongst the self-hate and despair and continued fight to stop the visions, I realized very few people had ever seen me in that state. I realized I could count all the people one one hand who had ever seen me ill.”

Another part of her decision to share, she said, was based other Facebook posts she’d seen where people claim to be “a little bipolar” or “OCD about something.” “It makes light of a very serious thing, and I doubt the people who wrote them, or shared them, have any idea what those things look like,” she said.

In the week since posting her video, Sophie’s post has been shared more than 33,000 times. Most of the feedback, she said, has been overwhelmingly positive, including hundreds of messages she’s received from old friends to strangers thanking her for sharing her experience as well as sharing their own.

There has also been negative feedback, including the loss of her part-time job working with kids, but Sophie said that hasn’t deterred her. “Comparatively I’ve had job offers from people saying I’m exactly the kind of person they want their kids to meet.”

Adding to her original post, Sophie has included several edits, and a blog post, to address some of the comments and feedback she’s received. Mainly, she wants others to know that it is OK to have a mental illness. “The point is I’m ill, but that’s OK, and if you are, then that’s OK too,” she writes. “You’re not alone, we just need help from doctors, just like any other unwell person. We are shaped by our experiences, take courage from the fact that you are still here and you’re still okay even though you battle your own brain every day.”

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How I Found Purpose in Life After My Bipolar Diagnosis

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Finding purpose in a life with bipolar disorder and various other mental illnesses is not easy. I had no aim in life. I was born, I grew up under the shelter of my parents and then suddenly I was pushed into the real world when my mother passed away.

I gave up my college life. I gave up on my jobs. I gave up on everything that should have given my life a purpose. This was the starting point of my downfall. I didn’t even know I had a mental illness. I tried to die by suicide and that’s when the first psychiatrist saw me and diagnosed me with depression.

But it wasn’t until later when I found out about my bipolar disorder. And life became as harder as it became easier. Easier because now I knew what has happened to me. Harder because it didn’t make me find my purpose in life.

I remember the time when I said and I actually believed I couldn’t write. I had zero confidence in myself. Today writing is all I do. I never thought I would actually find a reason to keep living. I wanted to die every moment of every single day. And now I’m still here. There must be a reason why.

I honestly don’t know why or how I wrote my first story. When I first wrote a story on Facebook, I didn’t think I would get any positive feedback from people. I was rather afraid, tense and anxious. But then I started getting messages from people I didn’t even know, asking me how to find a doctor and asking me how to get to know their own illness. I was surprised and shocked by the response.

Now I know this was the point where I found my purpose. I knew I wanted to help people struggling in silence like I did for so many years. I knew I wanted an opportunity to give back the help I got myself. I started writing about my own experiences. But it wasn’t enough.

I saw everywhere the stigma attached to mental illness. I saw people like us are not accepted as we should be. I saw people afraid to come out and say what they’re going through. I saw people in suits and dresses sitting in my psychiatrist’s office but I didn’t know where they were going after that. There must be a reason for all this secrecy and there must be a way to deal with it.

This was my life’s purpose. I knew in my heart I needed to put my foot down and do something to eradicate the stigma attached to mental illness in our society. I started Hope is Good India because of this. I want to make a difference by giving back what I have received.

This secrecy about mental illness is why we’re losing the bigger battle to these illnesses. It’s the reason why nobody comes out to talk about it. Well, it’s time to change this view. It’s time for a brand new beginning.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via MangoStar_Studio.

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