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When we talk about what it means to live with bipolar, to be a person with bipolar, it’s too easy to find one-demential, bleak views that focus on the negative — rather than talking about what it means to be bipolar as a whole.

When Paul Dalio, director of “Touched With Fire,” told his story to the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF), he said the narrative he was told about bipolar when he was first diagnosed made him feel as though he would just be able to get by. “But the human spirit needs more than pity,” he said at the IBPF Luncheon.

To help change the narrative about what it means to have bipolar, and in honor of World Bipolar Day on March 30, IBPF is asking people to share what bipolar fuels their passion for. You can join in the conversation by submitting your answer here and by using the hashtag #bipolarfuelsmypassion4.

Here are some of the answers they’ve gotten so far:

1. “It fuels my passion to make the world a better place. Your tomorrows are finite. Be the change today.” — N.M.W.

2. “Helping people bipolar/ADD.” — Janice G.

3. “To create new things, to explore the world and to get to know others better.” — André W.

4. “Well, I guess I’m myself because of bipolar — bipolar only fuels my passion for myself to be the best me I can be.” — Sarah R.

5. “Bipolar has fueled my passion to paint abstracts in encaustic wax and acrylic. It has made me more understanding and kind to other people. I have learned about myself too.” — Rita H.

6. “Creating my ‘Bipolar Me’ blog and writing in it every week.” — Janet C.

7. “Helping other people with bipolar! Get rid of the stigma!” — Brenda C.

8. “Writing!” — Kathryn D.


10. “I’m a composer, artist, and musician, and the bipolar side of my schizoaffective disorder definitely assists in the creative process. The lows of depression usually create an idea or feeling from which I can draw creative perspective, and the highs of mania help me to see the idea through. Sure, bipolar disorder is tough, but I may as well make something out of it!” — Charlie S.

11. “Bipolar fuels my passion to understand my illness and my parents illnesses better so I can do whatever I can to help them. It also gives me the motivation to create my art which hopefully one day I can support myself on after college.” — Angie B.

12. “My bipolar fuels my passion for motorcycling.” — Angela R.

13. “It fuels my creativity.” — Christan A.

14. “It fuels my passion for music. Nothing tastes as good as music makes me feel.” — Becca G.

15. “Mental health care! I never knew how important it was before it was crucial for me.” — Katy I.

What would you add?

Thinkstock photo via jakkapan21


I’ve been hospitalized 12 times, mostly for depression or mania. Not only do I happen to have autism spectrum disorder, but I also have a mental illnessbipolar disorder.

I believe that some of my hospitalizations were not directly related to depression alone. But I think they were times in my life when the outside world was just too chaotic and I needed structure I was, at the time, unable to provide for myself.

Psychiatric wards can be disturbing in many ways, but I always found the routine and structure of daily life to outweigh the negative. I found the empathy of certain nurses to be comforting.

Structure and routine are very important to me, as is the case with many on the spectrum. I recently had a change in schedule and depression and confusion followed. I haven’t sought solace in the hospital this time around, but I have signed up to do some volunteer work with animals. Hopefully my new schedule will provide me with as much pleasure and sense of accomplishment as my old one.

Have you ever found comfort during a hospitalization? I wonder if I’m the only one.

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Why am I so afraid to talk to you about mania? It’s gotten pretty easy to be open about my constant bouts with depression. I mean who can’t relate at some point in their life? But mania? That’s when things get weird. That’s when things get “shameful.”

A month ago I had a manic episode. And not really the fun kind. I’m talking about the kind where you lose friends because of petty bullshit. The kind where you fear for your life driving because you might take some risk on the road killing everyone. I’m talking the kind where you actually understand the appeal of Trump because hey, he can do and say whatever he wants and people love him for it.

Yes, the euphoria was a relief from my seemingly endless depression but that quickly spun out of control. What started out as something I needed ended up as something I hated myself for giving in to.

And then I woke up the next morning. It was gone. It disappeared like it had grown tired of abusing me. I have zero clue how it happened. And that’s scary, not going to lie.

I often say that mania for me is believing I can overcome the disease known as society. That I’m the one whom the shackles cannot contain. And when it becomes all too apparent that I’m just some guy and I’m not immune to the disease… well, that’s when the bottom falls out and I crash right through it. And so on and so forth.

Everyone I know who identifies as bipolar wishes they could somehow manage one pole to the point where they can benefit from all its positive traits and avoid the ugliness of the opposite pole. If I ever write a memoir (don’t hold your breath) I’m going to call it “Working the Poles.”

Maybe by then I won’t be so afraid to be completely honest with you.

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I started blogging in January and in the nearly three months I have been blogging, I have been very upfront about my chronic pain and illnesses and how they affect my life.

I have also mentioned — at least in passing — my long struggle with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder. Other than my Chiari malformation, which I was diagnosed with in eighth grade, my anxiety is the condition I’ve been diagnosed with the longest and I’ve learned to be open about it.

But there is one diagnosis I have not written about openly and that is my bipolar disorder II, a diagnosis I received late last August.

The more I don’t talk about it, the more my bipolar feels like this big secret, this heavy weight. But honestly, most of this is self-imposed. I was so afraid of all the “what ifs,” of all sorts of imagined judgments, that I did not allow myself to be an advocate for bipolar disorder like I attempt to be with my other conditions. I let it be the elephant in the room, something I let my doctors treat but never talked about.

But I believe it is something we should talk about. Mental illness is often comorbid with chronic pain. Me hiding my bipolar disorder diagnosis doesn’t help anyone. And if you’re afraid to talk about a particular diagnosis you’ve gotten, you’re not alone. But your mental health diagnosis is not shameful. It is not something that has to hold you back from a job or parenthood or a full life. It’s just something else that needs to be dealt with and treated, just like any illness.

My bipolar disorder, just like my Chiari malformation and other disorders, doesn’t control me. Sure, it is definitely hard some days and it is something I have to treat, but it is just like any other condition. By acting like it’s something shameful, I actually only hold myself back from getting good treatment.

I have found a good treatment plan for my bipolar disorder, thanks to my doctor and therapist. It didn’t come overnight and my fear of the stigma was a big reason why. I have never had a problem taking medication for my chronic physical illnesses, but fought having to take medication for my bipolar. I treated it like a personality weakness, something I could power through, rather than what it is: an actual medical condition. Finally, with the support and urging of my family and friends, I stopped fighting my need for medication and counseling. Thanks to them, my bipolar is incredibly well-controlled and my treatment plan helps me to be my best self.

I am finally sharing openly about my bipolar diagnosis because I do not believe it is a diagnosis that is shameful. If any of my friends were to share with me they had bipolar, even before I had gotten my own diagnosis, I would have accepted them fully, asked how I could help and not treat them any differently. So why would I not talk about it myself? I cannot talk about how much I value honesty and vulnerability — two things I value most in the world as a writer, minister, educator and person — if I am not willing to be honest and transparent about all the conditions I’m being treated for.

People with all sorts of chronic illnesses, both physical and mental, thrive in all sorts of professions. We are writers, teachers, business owners, scientists, advocates and much, much more. And if I believe that bipolar is nothing to be ashamed of — which I fully do believe! –then I need to practice what I preach and be open about my own diagnosis. It is a diagnosis I am happy I got, because it has led me to effective treatment which therefore helps me live a more healthy and happy life, where I flourish in all my roles.

Finally, I also believe, as a Christian and a Christian leader, that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, because we all are created in the image of God. Mental illness is exactly that — an illness. It is not a personality weakness or a punishment from God and we should treat mental illnesses like we do all illnesses: honestly, with dignity and respect for the whole person for whom our illness(es) is only a small part.

This post originally appeared on Writer Kat.

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To my dear professors and classmates,

First of all, I am diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 with psychotic features. It is an illness I cannot just “snap out” of. I have extreme mood swings and my emotions are uncontrollable sometimes. I experience panic attacks. I am taking medication, but it doesn’t give me rainbows and unicorns. These medications just stabilize my emotions and help with my psychosis. I experience both visual and auditory hallucinations and no, I am not “crazy.”

Being a college student is hard enough. Being away from your loved ones with tons of work to do and trying to actually learn something that could potentially help build your future. However, it is much harder to survive college if you have an illness. The most important thing I have done for the past semester and this semester is surviving. My life feels like it is hanging on a thread sometimes. It feels sad and rewarding at the same time that the most important accomplishment of my everyday life is that I am still breathing after a long, tiring day. I never knew being able to last the day would be so tiring. I actually need to convince myself a couple of times a day I am loved and can get through this.

I am writing this letter not to make excuses but to tell you what I am feeling right now. I am ashamed, embarrassed and sorry. I am ashamed of myself for not doing a great job in class compared to the previous semesters you had me as a student and a classmate. I am ashamed that I already used all of my allowed absences even though the semester is not even half over. I am ashamed of myself because I cannot even finish a paper or review for an exam or a quiz without breaking down. I am ashamed because I am not the same straight A student I used to be. You barely see me in class and whenever I am in class, I’m either asleep or not focused. I am embarrassed of my poor performance.

I am sorry I fall asleep in class. I am sorry. My medications are making me feel sleepy. I try my best to focus but my mind and body won’t cooperate. I cannot focus in our lectures and I don’t think I am actually learning. I am embarrassed because I feel like I am being left behind. I feel like everybody in my classes is learning except me. I am embarrassed every time I suddenly walked out of our classroom. I am having a panic attack and most of the time, I go straight to the comfort room to cry.

I am sorry for failing to show up on exam and quiz days. I cannot help being anxious. I find it hard to get out of bed. I would spend most of the days sleeping and crying. I am sorry if I do not show up for class or if I show up unshowered. It is a marathon for me to get up and take a shower. 

I am sorry for the all the make up exams and quizzes. I thank you for your support and patience. I am sorry that despite your support, I still think of killing myself. I am sorry that one minute I am laughing in class with you and then another minute later I am bursting into tears. I am sorry.

What I am actually saying is this: I would like you to know I am struggling and every day is a new challenge for me to stay alive. I would like you all to know I am sorry for all my shortcomings but I am trying my very best, even though it may not look like it sometimes. I am asking you a favor. Please do not pity me, but instead try to understand me.

Thank you.

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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You thought it was just another appointment with your therapist. One that will consist of questions upon questions about your week and emotions. And for a time there, it was. Just like any other appointment. Full of the underlying diagnoses of depression and anxiety. Just like any other appointment. Then she says it. The words that will change your life. The words that will flip it inside-out. “I believe you have bipolar disorder.” Not just like any other appointment.

Your breathing starts to quicken. Your heart beats a mile a minute, like it’s trying to break out of your chest and run away. Run away from the hard reality of this situation. You want to run away with it because you definitely don’t want to be there either. Stuck in that tiny room with that diagnosis. Not just like any other appointment.

There’s a calm while you process the meaning of those two little words, bipolar disorder. Then all hell breaks loose as tears cascade down your face and you begin to hyperventilate. You don’t want this. You didn’t ask for this. You don’t even know how this could have happened. But you do see it. The signs that all point towards bipolar. You want to ignore it and protest. Surely your therapist has made a mistake. There’s no way you could have bipolar disorder. That’s a serious illness. All you have is a little depression and some anxiety. No big deal, right? Wrong. Every mental illness is serious and anyone could have bipolar disorder. It doesn’t save itself for a certain person.

You feel destroyed. How am I going to live now? My life is forever changed. Yes, your life is forever changed, but everyone goes through change. Your change just happens to be a bit different. This does not mean your change can’t amount to something beautiful and new. A diagnosis is just a diagnosis; and though bipolar is now a part of you, it does not have to define you. You’re the only one who gets to decide what defines you. You are still the same person you were before… with a few added adjustments. Your life will now hold some higher than highs and some lower than lows. Bipolar disorder. Manic-depressive disorder. You.

Medication is now your new best friend. You’ve taken it before for depression, but now it’s not just a sadness repellent. It’s a life saver. It saves you from all of those red flags. The impulsivity, the risky behaviors, the agitation, the poor sleep, the ascension into mania, and the final crash into depression. Though it saddens you to rely on them to function properly, you take your meds like clockwork. Every morning and every night. They are your life preserver. Without them you lose control, you are not yourself. With them you finally have a smidgen of clarity. This is not a weakness. This is you surviving. This is a strength.

Day by day you work on accepting the diagnosis thrust upon you. The one you never wanted but will forever have. You being to realize you are not alone in this. There are others who can relate and sympathize with your struggles and with your victories. Day by day you realize this is not the end, this is a new beginning. You learn bipolar, though daunting at first, can be managed. You don’t have to live in the uncontrolled world you have lived in before. Day by day you move forward. One awkward, uncomfortable step at a time, you move forward.

It’s been a year since that diagnosis. You are back in school, you have a job, you have people who love you, you have control. You finally realize, though you still have a long way to go, you can do it. No matter what obstacles stand in your way, you cannot only survive in this world, you can thrive in it. And that’s exactly what you’re going to do.

This does not depict everyone’s struggles with bipolar disorder. Everyone has different experiences. I have written about my own personal experience. But what I have written I believe to be true. You are not alone, you can survive, you are strong, and there is hope for a better future.

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