digital painting of love couple on bench watching heart shaped sunset, watercolor on paper texture

You Still Choose Me When I'm Fighting Bipolar Disorder

It’s true. I have a mental illness. To be exact, bipolar disorder. When we first met, I was euphoric. Invincible. Insatiable. We ate. We drank. Drank some more. The sex was amazing. In the park. In an elevator. In the backseat. My entire high school and college career I never exhibited this kind of behavior. Maybe I had finally found myself. Maybe I had never been in love. Maybe I never realized I was manic. Actually, I didn’t know it was even a symptom.

I remember our first “fight.” You threw my keys down the street in frustration. I was drunk. Very drunk and emotional. OK, distraught and out of control. You had to call the police, despite my tearful pleas. Only four months in, when we were still getting to know each other. I’m still shocked you visited me in the hospital. You must have chosen me at this point.

We found freedom and love when they let me out of the hospital nearly two weeks later. Music festivals. Sleeping in your van by the ocean. You had no money to spare. Lucky for us, I had a savings account. I gladly, so gladly, swiped my first ATM card. Lucky in love.

Time passed. My moods alternated from love to hate to pack your bags to move in. My red hair and freckles swayed you every time. Something about me made you choose me. I was loyal. Free spirited. Rather innocent. Quite adventurous.

But riddled with issues. Some in the forefront like bulimia and depression. Others later to be revealed: bipolar and anxiety. Still, you chose me.

We’re married now. Sometimes, I sink into the couch. Sometimes, I roar from the rooftops. Sometimes you bring me extra clothes in the hospital. You carry me more than I carry you. I do my absolute best when I can. You are a torch. I’m sure I don’t say that enough. You are a torch. My tether. When it’s dark, you are crawling to find me. Even when I don’t want to be found. You still choose me.

Truth be told, I always chose you. You understood me like no one else. Had patience for me like no one else. Reached into me and saw beyond the “issues.” Sat patiently as they checked me out of rehab or out of the hospital. There you were, in the hospital waiting room, choosing me.

Gosh, it’s only 18 years later. You didn’t waver as my anxiety over a new job prospect reared its ugly head. Panic attacks. Nightmares. Bursts of tears. Or my intermittent friend, insomnia. The loop of obsessions fueling my extreme self-doubt and fear. You sat patiently and listened, reminding me I’ll be OK. It will all be OK.

We chose this life together. When we met, I had no idea I would later be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, experience psychosis and have multiple hospitalizations. I didn’t know how much pain and fear I would cause you. I — we — didn’t know a lot things about a lot of things. But, somehow you knew you wanted to be with me. Through it all. You are still here. We are still here.

Some days I battle this illness alone. Withdrawn. Isolating. But always, you let me know you are still here. Willing to battle with me.  

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A man running in a field. Text reads: 20 things people who've experienced mania don't always admit

20 Things People Who've Experienced Mania Don't Always Admit

No two people with bipolar disorder are the same — just like not everyone experiences mania — an elevated mood characteristic of bipolar disorder — in the same way. That was abundantly clear when we asked our mental health communityIf you live with bipolar disorder, what’s one thing you don’t want to admit about experiencing mania?

One commenter was offended we asked this question. (“I hate this question you posed. It immediately implies that there is something wrong with us. The implications of mania [are] very negative for some people. Where is the question where you ask what do you celebrate about having bipolar disorder?”) Another said reading the answers made her realize she wasn’t alone. (“Wow reading these comments make me feel like I’m not alone… Thank you for sharing.”)

We hope this diverse mix of answers acknowledges the diversity in the community — and that at least one or two of them shines some light on your experience.

Here’s what people don’t always admit about experiencing mania:

1. “I like it. Mania makes you feel like you’re a superhero. You can do anything, be anything, go anywhere and take on the whole world. When mania goes away because my medication stabilizes me, I miss it, even though I know it’s always followed by the devastating effects of a depressive state.”

2.The hypersexuality that comes with mania is not a subject that is spoken about openly but affects so many. The consequences can be so humiliating and embarrassing and may pose potential health risks. Feeling elated and ‘sexy’ for a few days isn’t worth it [for me]…”

3. “Mania is scary for me. I feel out of control. I’ve consumed a lot of alcohol and done unmentionable things I regret later.”

4. “I was crushed when someone said I was more fun and sociable when in mania. A depressed person doesn’t need to hear that.”

5. “I don’t even realize it’s happening until it’s over. I legitimately think I’m finally doing OK, stable and happy. Until suddenly one day all of the destructive behaviors and the consequences of them smack me in the face once it’s too late.”

6. “I like mania, especially when it takes me a bit to realize I’m in mania. But when I realize I’m in the manic stage, I then become overwhelmed knowing the depression and suicidal thoughts are moments away, and I’ll lose my mania.”

7. “My consciousness is infinite. I travel to galaxies far far away with multidimensional beings and learn the secrets of the universe. I also can write the most profound pieces of literature with six storylines being created in my head simultaneously… for me mania is 100 percent a gift.”

8. “If you learn how to control your mania and your depression, bipolar can be a powerful gift. That’s just my experience though. I’m not ‘crazy,’ I feel enlightened.”

9. “Mania for me makes me extremely reckless. I don’t care about the repercussions of my actions and have a ‘what’s the worst that can happen’ attitude. I lose interest in things super quickly and can’t concentrate no matter how hard I try. My mania always makes me want to try things I know I shouldn’t, whether that’s different drugs, driving unsafely, different sexual partners. Mania feels exciting when it’s happening. So much energy. But when it passes, whether that’s after days or weeks, I feel exhausted and disappointed in myself.”

10. “I crave it and dread the end when I crash and burn, all of my goals and projects mocking me in their perpetually unfinished state.”

11. “Mania is like that feeling as you reach the crest of a roller coaster. You look out and you see as the land meets the sky. You feel like you are flying. You could do anything, no one could stop you. The sun setting in the sky scatters an array of colors so beautiful. Like a burning fire. Then suddenly you drop. Your stomach falls and you feel overwhelmed, a scream building in your throat but the wind cutting it off.”

12. “It can get to the point where psychotic symptoms start. Usually people associate hearing voices, seeing things that aren’t there or feeling things that aren’t real as being ‘crazy’ or ‘psycho’ and just don’t understand or run for the hills away from you. It’s honestly so scary. Those having to witness it and finding it scary should think, ‘How must it feel for them?’ It’s not just a high mood for me. It’s destructive, scary, a total out-of-control feeling.”

13. “It’s an eye-opening experience that is so much more preferable to the depths of depression. I see the world in completely new, exciting and inspiring ways in mania. I’ve never been more creative than when I’m manic.”

14. “All throughout the manic period you can feel the dark clouds of depression hovering just behind you, and you feel like you’re having to run away from those clouds to avoid going back down into a depressive state. Mania is exhausting. You’re constantly trying to prolong all of your energy before being sucked back down into a dark hole.”

15. “I love it more than anything and fear it more than anything, at the same time. You can see every tiny molecule that makes up the universe, yet also not see some of the things that matter the most to you in life.”

16. “I enjoy mania. I know it can become destructive and even dark quickly, yet I still enjoy it. I sometimes crave to become manic again. Mania is an amazing high — the world even looks brighter, louder and more beautiful during that euphoria — and I do truly miss it.”

17. “It’s nowhere near as fun as it looks. Once it wears off you realize you’ve lost all sense of self-control and you now have to deal with the consequences.”

18. “The one thing I wouldn’t want to admit about experiencing mania is that I prefer the depression that tells me what’s ‘real’ or not and what’s possible. Most people want to feel unbeatable, but that scares me more than anything because feeling invincible tells me that something is really wrong.”

19. “When the mania is in the driver’s seat, I’m tied up in the back.”

20. “I feel like a malfunctioning robot with glitches in my system that cause an overload of information, stimuli and thoughts that make it near impossible to function. It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never experienced this kind of thinking.”

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

What would you add?

Corner of an old wooden pie

How My Bipolar Disorder Is Like the Rushing of a River

I live in a New England town that’s on the mouth of a river leading out to the sea. One early morning as I drank coffee along its banks, it came to me that living with bipolar disorder is a lot like this inlet. When the tide comes in, the water becomes brackish, dark and cold. The sea slowly floods the low-lying spaces, filling every crack and eddy in the riverbed and riverbank with its immense power. I can’t see what’s below the dark, salty water. It rises so slowly that it seems to not move at all, a wet blanket covering the landscape. But it is moving and unstoppable, slowly, methodically and relentlessly surging.

That’s what my depression is like. Finally when the tide recedes, a river of freshwater rushes back downstream, freed from the retreating massive wall of seawater. The freshwater washes out the debris brought in by the tide, which was left to languish on the bottom. I revel in the beauty of the freshwater system, but this flow is sharp and disruptive in a different way. Rushing water isn’t clear after all; it churns up what was left undisturbed by the slowly retreating tide. These pieces of debris are everywhere in the river, tossed and roiling in all directions. The river moves so quickly that I’m tricked into seeing only the reflections of the beauty above the water, caught in the prism-like surface. This is my view through the distorted lens of hypomania. Ultimately there is a point of relative calm, that peaceful place where the sea and the river mix and exist in balance.

Some people pass by the river at different times of day and never pay attention to what condition the river is in. Maybe they just see water, or maybe they don’t notice the river at all. Some play in the river, boating or swimming. Some sit beside it, dining, relaxing and enjoying the day. But there is beauty in the midst of this constant natural back and forth flow, that is hard for me to see when I’m experiencing extreme symptoms of bipolar disorder. I might see the ugliness of the bottom, or I might revel in the river’s rushing beauty. I may want to disappear into the darkness and drown in the cold salty water. If I could just disappear, then the pain will disappear too. I might want to dive into the freshwater, riding the flow in an exhilarating rush toward open water with no regard to where the river will take me, how I’ll get out or even if the water is deep enough for me to jump in without hitting the bottom. In that moment, I’m certain it’s the greatest idea I’ve ever had.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2 over a decade ago, but I now know I began to experience its symptoms two decades prior to that. My earliest memory of severe depression was in high school. That’s when I first felt the cold creep of depression make its way up the back of my spine and neck, slowly enveloping me in it damp, oppressive weight. I had convinced myself that my girlfriend had become pregnant, but in reality that belief was completely delusional. There was no evidence that what I believed was true, but I believed it with all my heart. For the first time I had the thought that the solution was suicide, and that’s the first time I almost took my life. The next delusional thought was that if I just broke up with her the problem would go away. That’s what I wound up doing, and she had no idea why as I couldn’t give her the real reason for my actions. It would be years later that I could make amends for my behavior.

I first recall experiencing what I know now as hypomania later in my high school years. Growing up in an upper-middle class family, I was fortunate to have the luxuries afforded by that situation. I went on what would be the first of numerous spending sprees, amassing a collection of guitars and musical gear. I thought that if I had the right equipment, I would be an amazing player. It was just another delusional belief, but I clung to it as if I had stumbled upon the cure for a disease. That’s when first felt the exhilarating rush of hypomania. It was fantastic, and the ego boost I received from my friends surely didn’t hurt.

Once I left the nest and began making my own way in the world, my hypomanic spending sprees only grew as my income grew. What I experienced time and again was that each hypomanic period would be followed by worsening, lengthy depressions. Two decades after the crisis in high school, I experienced a four year chronic depression and hospitalization for self-harm and suicidal ideation. Receiving the diagnosis of bipolar disorder type 2, I went on a mix of medication and was launched into the most severe hypomanic state I had ever experienced. Five months and several hundred thousand dollars spent later, I crashed and back into rehab I went. I was given the gift of desperation, and threw myself into the work of recovery. With the help of many kind people who are still in my life today, I began the healing period of my life. I worked with my doctors, I stuck to my medication regimen, I learned breathing and relaxation techniques with the help of yoga, I stayed close to 12-step work and I built a network of loving people who know me and can call me on my stuff when things go sideways. There are many solutions to healing, and I don’t know which one will work for me in any given day. That’s why I try to do as much as I can each day to keep the illness at bay.

Learning to live with and manage bipolar disorder is striving to find this place of peace between the creep of depression and rush of mania, the push and pull of the river and the sea; that’s the ecosystem I live in. It seems as though the power of the river pushes the dark, brackish tidewater out. The opposite seems to be true when the tide comes back in. Depression and mania mainly exist at opposite ends of the bipolar spectrum for me, coming and going in between periods of stability. However sometimes I experience mixed states, that is both depression and mania together. This is the place where the river and sea mix in a chaotic tug-of-war, and I can’t know which will win. It has been my experience so far that neither of these states last forever in me. I know the illness will be with me as long as I am alive, but I also know that I can exist and thrive in between these two opposites.

Fortunately today, I feel like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer at the beginning of their trip down the Mississippi. I’ve left behind the oppressive town of depression, but I haven’t reached the manic rapids that surely lie ahead. I’m just floating on the water, on top of the darkness and out of the chaos.

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, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Evgeny Sergeev

What It's Like Living With Bipolar II

This is a piece I have wanted to write for months but didn’t have the courage to write, nor the words to put onto paper.

This feels difficult to write because I am writing about own my mind. And the mind can be a subtle and mysterious thing. Once you shine a spotlight on your mind, it either runs away or it may just bare its teeth and lunge at you.

My mind seems to be either random or just raw.

I can live in my mind. I am a writer, so I guess it comes naturally. Entire conversations occur in my head without a word being spoken, relationships come and go, and lifetimes are lived without breaking a sweat. Once the dream concludes, I am left with little else but fragments of feeling. Most days, my mind seems random. I can play out solutions to problems and imagine myself carried off into some new adventure.

All without leaving my desk.

My mind can take me to every possible outcome in a conversation. At times, I feel talked out and exhausted without even uttering one word. On those days, my mind is more like a prison, holding me inside. I want to reach out to my friends, my wife and those who care about me. But my mind has already been there, and it has covered that conversation. My mind has already said what needs to be said, and it did not go well.

So why talk about it anymore?

Some days, my mind carries me to places I don’t want to go. They are not always dark places, but they are not usually helpful. My mind is not really a dangerous place. It’s a little like my garage. It’s a mess, and the half-completed projects are like wooden skeletons that call to me. So I leave the garage and lock the door behind me. It’s just better that way.

The creative mind is a compelling place. Random things can become linked. A phrase from a book can mix with something a friend said to me, and my mind is off running in three directions at the same time. I imagine how an idea can be a new article, a possible series or a theme that might help people find greater freedom in their recovery. Later when I look at the idea, it may seem like little but words on the page.

My mind can be a wild and undisciplined place sometimes. Some days, it feels a little like the Wild West, all within the thick walls of my skull. Most days, though, my mind plays nicely in the sandbox. Ideas are helpful, and they seem to make my life a little better. I get excited by a new idea, kind of like I get excited when I open presents on my birthday.

I endeavor to be a good father, a good addiction therapist, a good writer. I never set out to be a good person who also lives with depression, anxiety and what my doctor calls bipolar II. These labels can loom large; they can define how you think about yourself… and how other people think about you.

And that is scary.

It’s like living with Santa Claus.

Living with bipolar disorder type II for me is like living with Santa Claus. A few days of the year he is jolly and everyone loves him. But most days, he is busy in his shop with his creations. He gets lost in his imagination and can spend hours in there. He brings gifts and makes everyone feel great. When he comes out of the shop, he heads home. He eats supper, watches TV, talks with his wife and then he wonders what it would be like to do some doughnuts with the sleigh and reindeer.

The diagnosis sometimes sits in my head like the books on my desk. It holds space. Sometimes it gets in the way, and other times it is a resource. And just like the books on my desk, for me, the flavors of my mind can be as divergent as my bookshelf. Some days my mind is full of dark fiction and mystery. Other days, science and psychology take me on a journey. And yet other days, I become lost in the “how to” section and try to fix everything in my life: my mind, my relationship, and my tendency to overthink things.

When I feel depressed, I write raw. When I am anxious, I write raw. On good days, I write raw. And on days like today, where my mind is a harsh and dry place, I write raw. Writing raw seems to take the edge off my tendency to live raw. It dulls the raw emotions that cut like razors through my mind. Writing gets me out of my mind. It frees me from the hell I am in. I am able to walk through the door, clothes singed and smoking.

Good things pull you to better places. I write, and I am learning to walk by myself well. I have a few good friends, and I am opening up to them about the things that go on inside of my head. I have a good relationship with my doctor and we regularly talk about the things inside the walls of my skull. Most days, I can listen to my mind but it holds much less power over my moods or over my actions.

This post was previously published on The Good Men Project.

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Photo by smswaby

Desperate woman getting support from her best friend

The Promise I Made My Roommate in a Dark Moment With Bipolar Disorder

It was a dark, drizzly night when I found myself sitting on the floor, leaning against my dresser, fighting the demons inside my head. I was in the depths of an episode of bipolar depression, and tears were streaming down my face. I sniffled uncontrollably, trying to fight back the tears. But they just kept coming.

My roommate knew my day had been particularly rough, and she was quick to offer whatever kind of consolation she could. She sat down next to me on the floor, held my hand, and told me I would get through this. I tried so hard to believe her. I wanted to believe her. But I was so tired. The battle just to get out of bed and get through that day had sapped me of all of my physical and mental energy.

“This is just getting so hard to keep doing,” I said, the exhaustion in my voice audible even to me.

She suddenly squeezed my hands as tightly as she could. I looked up and saw tears welling up in her eyes. I had only ever seen her cry once before, so I was extremely caught off guard. I wondered if something was wrong, or if I had done something to hurt her in some way.

“Are you OK?” I asked, my voice trembling in my own emotional pain.

She squeezed my hands even tighter. “Promise me something,” she said, her eyes glistening.

I nodded my head weakly. “OK.”

“Promise me,” she said, her voice shaking, “that you’ll be here tomorrow.”

Promise me that you’ll be here tomorrow.

At first, I didn’t grasp what she meant. But after several minutes, I understood. She knew the magnitude of the pain I had been feeling. She knew I might be battling suicidal thoughts. She knew I was getting tired of constantly fighting my bipolar disorder. She knew every day was a battle, a battle she had to witness constantly.

She knew.

And she cared.

“Promise me,” she said again, firmly. I had been so busy turning her words over in my head that I hadn’t said anything.

I took a deep breath and held onto her as tightly as I could. “I promise.”

And I felt, in my heart, a renewed will to fight, to keep going. I felt something move inside of me. I was overcome by emotion, by an immense outpouring of love. Sure, she was my best friend, but I never knew just how much she loved me. I never knew just how much she was on my side.

At my words, we both broke down. We held each other, for God knows how long, promising each other we were going to be OK. That we weren’t going to let one another go. That we would fight this together because nobody should ever have to be alone in their struggle. We held each other, and we cried. And we kept repeating the words that changed everything for me.

“Promise me.”

“I promise.”

Battling mental illness is not easy, but having an ally, having someone who cares, makes the fight that much more worth it. For all of you out there who think you have to do this alone, I am here to tell you that you don’t. I am here. I am fighting with you and for you because I care for all of you so deeply. And I know you all are out there fighting with me and for me. So let’s not do this alone. We can do this together. We can fight this thing together, one day at a time. 

So just promise me one thing. Just one, simple thing.

Promise me that you’ll be here tomorrow.

Because I promise you that I will be.

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 by oneinchpunch

Driving car in winter with much snow

The Simple Metaphor I Use to Describe My Bipolar Disorder

It’s winter. I go outside to my car to find that it’s stuck in a snowdrift. I don’t have a shovel, so I have to dig my car out of the snow with my hands. I don’t have gloves. All I want is to get in my car, but my fingers are turning blue. I’m feeling dizzy and overwhelmed. The world feels like endless inches of snow, under a grey sky. It starts snowing, with a wind that whips the snow about my face.

I am so weary. I feel like I have nothing left. I want to give up and go inside, but I fight to keep moving. I am so incredibly tired. I can barely see anything with the snow and wind, but I keep pushing on. I want to get back in the driver’s seat of my life and not let the depression win. Finally me and my frostbitten fingers slide into the front seat and start up the car.

I pull onto the highway thinking, “I’ve done it — I’ve beaten the depression.” Then I unexpectedly hit a patch of black ice called mania. My car skids and slides out of control for what feels like an eternity. I watch myself spinning across the road, spinning out of control. Other cars honk at me, but I have no control of the car. I am powerless. I don’t know what to do. I call all the contacts in my phone and say all sorts of different things. I think I hear the other drivers shouting at me, or is it just my head pounding, my thoughts echoing back?

I finally land in a ditch, a deep snowdrift. Back to depression. I go outside to dig out my car again.

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Thinkstock photo by mariak raynova

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