Dear Bipolar Disorder, How Are You Doing?

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Dear BP,

Hi, how are you? How have you been? I’ll admit I’m a little nervous writing to you because I don’t want you to think I’m asking to see you. And I don’t want you to think about me and decide to visit. I’m just not ready to be around you. But I did want to check in with you since you’ve been relatively quiet lately. If you recall, it’s been about six months since we spoke. Well, formally anyway. I see your posts online from time to time but I never comment. I think we were last together at the hospital, right? That particular stay was a doozy! I hope I never go back. That was so wild.

So Ziprasidone and I are pretty friendly these days. I know how you guys feel about him, which is also why I’m staying away. But he’s good for me. I do miss our old friends, though.

How’s Elevated Mood doing? I hear she might be coming to town soon. I know she always heads this way in the spring for an extended visit. Ooh, maybe she’ll get to see the cherry blossoms this time. Tell her I said “hi” if you talk to her. Out of everybody, I miss her the most. She can be a lot to take, but she doesn’t mean any harm. She just has a ton of energy. We always have fun when we’re with each other. I wouldn’t mind getting together with her for old time’s sake.

Hey, you know who I’ve been thinking about?

Impulsivity. Man, we used to get into so much trouble back in the day! I’m so glad I’ve learned to love him from afar. But sometimes I like to reminisce about the things we used to do. If nothing else, to remind me what life used to be like before my health got better.

Do you remember when he and I went to get matching tattoos? Goodness, it was like we couldn’t help ourselves. We just had to do it and nothing would deter us. I was shaking so much in the chair from all my nervous energy that the tattoo artist got upset. He said if I couldn’t sit still, he wouldn’t continue. Imp just laughed at me.

Afterward, I felt so ridiculous. And by then, Imp was nowhere to be found, as usual. I was embarrassed I’d let him talk me into getting the tattoo. What bothers me is I’m not even supposed to have those. It’s against my religion. But as soon as Imp started hyping up the idea, I couldn’t say no. And it came up out of the blue, so suddenly too. We didn’t think about the consequences or wonder if we’d regret doing it. This didn’t occur to either of us. All that mattered was getting that ink. To be honest, we’d been hanging out with that guy Compulsion too often back then, and we let him influence our choices. I think both Imp and I are pretty suggestible if you ask me.

Oh my gosh, do you know what I did the other day? I decided to create a gratitude journal to remind myself of all the good things in my life that I’m grateful for. Oh BP, it’s been such a help.

Every day I write about the things that make me happy and what I appreciate. You know they always taught us to do this whenever we’d go to the hospital. Well, I finally got around to it. You should try it sometime. You’d love it!  And maybe it will give you a better outlook on life.

Guess who I’ve been chatting with lately? Insomnia! Can you believe it? I know we used to hate each other. But we’ve since reconciled and we’re spending almost every night together. We laugh and carry on like two little old ladies. Her jokes about not sleeping are too funny. And she still loves to play pranks on me in the middle of the night, as much as she always did. That Insomnia is such a card! We really have to stop meeting up though, or I’ll get sick again.

You know how that goes.

So I have to know, how’s BPD doing these days? Do you see her often? Has she gotten herself together yet? Last I heard she was ruining yet another relationship. I’m sorry to say it but I hope I never interact with her again.

She and I do not get along.

She makes me so mad, I can’t stand it. And we always bring out the worst in each other. It’s always all or nothing with us. Things are either great or horrible. There is no in between, it’s awful. She’s just not a good influence for me so I try to avoid her at all costs. And if you remember, I had to go to therapy partly because of her. I’m still salty about that. I’m not trying to shift blame or anything, but I can’t help thinking that if I’d never met her, my life would’ve been much less stressful and anxiety ridden.

Speaking of my cousin Anx, did you hear she had a baby? Yeah, she named her OCD. I’m not one to criticize name choices, but OCD? OK, I have so many questions. Don’t tell my cousin… but why that name?

What does it even mean?

That kid’s going to have a tough time in life with a name like that. Why OCD? Is it a family name? Is it symbolic in some way? I keep saying it over and over, letting it roll around on my tongue so I can get used to it. It just makes me feel so prickly inside when I say it. But I can’t stop. I’ve repeated it about 500 times now. OCD. OCD. Nope, I still can’t get used to it. It sounds strange in my head, like an echo and a hollow tinny sound all at the same time.

Oh wait — I’m getting fixated again. Don’t mind me. You know I do this sometimes. It’s gotten better, but I still slip now and then. My brother Buspirone has been helping me overcome it.

He’s been such a blessing. He has his moments, like everybody, but overall I’ve loved having him around. I wish I had told him sooner that I needed his help.

You know, Depression has been on my mind a lot lately. I can’t help thinking about him and wondering if he’ll ever get better. He just seems so lost sometimes. It’s like he lives in his own dark world where no one can reach him. I feel so badly for him. He brings everyone down with his misery, negative outlook and detachment, and he doesn’t even realize it. He’s a good guy, just misunderstood I think.

I guess you heard that Anger and I made up a few weeks ago. We decided to part ways for good, but in doing so I think we’ve reached an understanding. I’m so happy about it. I think he realized how he much he was hurting me and knew why we couldn’t see each other anymore. It’s really for the best. I sometimes get scared that I won’t find anybody else, but I’m trying to be patient. I don’t want to go back to him just because I’m lonely. It’s hard, though. Being alone I mean. I can’t shake the fact that I’ll die by myself, with nobody there to notice. That thought bothers me all the time.

People say, “Just be positive.”

But even in doing so, I haven’t found anybody else that understood me like Ang did. A friend of mine always counsels me to accept things as they are and to look forward to better times. You know that girl, Patience? The one everybody always talks about? Well, she’s his best friend. I guess that’s why he’s always so calm and collected.

Maybe I should meet her someday. She sounds lovely.

I’m not even going to ask about Grandiosity. He annoys me to no end. Always thinking he’s better than everybody and deciding he can do whatever he wants. He seems to think the world revolves around him. That guy is so obnoxious. And he makes me look bad when he’s around. I get sucked into his schemes and plans, and I forget who I am. But his presence is so intoxicating. You know how he is – charismatic and charming — until he completely alienates everybody with his over inflated sense of self. I’m sure I’ll run into him again soon. It’s inevitable.

Oh wow, I just realized this whole letter has been one big gossip session. Hey, maybe we both needed that.

Anyway, I hope you’re doing well, BP. I don’t hate you or anything, but I need some space. I hope you can accept that. I know we’ll always be in each other’s lives. I just think it’s best if we limit our time together. Take care of yourself.

Love,

Karen

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Thinkstock photo via efks

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Deeply Satisfying Joy Is Still Possible With Bipolar Disorder

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I am a 58-year-old grandfather who enjoys his family, gardening, music (classical and roots), literature and creative writing. Next year I will take vows as a lay Buddhist. I love nature. My illness, bipolar disorder, presents as racing thoughts, alternating with periods of exhaustion – to a devastating degree. When unstable, my inner environment was distinctly altered from the norm. This, for many years was a horrible state beyond imagining.

I was diagnosed in 1968 when I willingly sought help. As I seem well, I was mistakenly diagnosed with an “identity crisis.” When I was properly diagnosed, it was crushing for me and my family. I would wake up hoping it was all a bad dream.

The impact of my illness is that I was unable to work or to return to university. Because of this, some people struggle to accept my illness. Discrimination and stigma were extremely difficult to overcome. Once, in the 1970s, I actually found bags of human feces tied to my shrubs that I took to be a show of discrimination against me as a person with mental illness.

My wife, however, was very loving and supportive. In fact, my wife, son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter are crucial in my continued health. Also, medication and meditation – Buddhism and my Buddhist colleagues at the Atlantic Soto Zen Center; having gone to the mental health inpatient unit, and New Hope where I have gained acceptance and loving kindness; my wonderful, loving friends – have all been vital in allowing me to maintain my health.

I would like to stress that there is very definitely life after illness. We are all individual human beings who have an illness – we are not our illnesses. For those who find themselves ill presently, my advice is to educate yourself. Be proactive. Don’t do it alone. Don’t let the stigma keep you from seeking help. Comply with your treatment program, don’t self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, and divert yourself with interests.

Never give up. Deeply satisfying joy is still possible.

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Thinkstock photo by jacoblund

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On Hard Days With Bipolar Disorder, It's OK Not to Be OK

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In the depths of my mind I know as I awaken that today is another day I may or may not be OK. My mind is clouded with questions and racing thoughts that take hold of the gracefulness of the morning and press for answers. There is a reluctance in rising to conquer the day, and then at that very moment I realize I’m not OK.

You create excuses and stories of exhaustion and too much to do when in all honesty you’re just not OK.

Today is a day I don’t want to go to work. Today is a day I don’t even want to waken. I know deep down the rapid cycling of my bipolar disorder will make sure I am motivated soon enough, but for now I am mellow and disheveled. Yesterday the curtains were hung, the dishes were washed, a five-course meal was prepared from scratch, and then even some reports for work were completed. Today there will be no coffee, and the energy to even eat has dissipated. Yesterday I played and laughed with my children at their silly stories and silly personalities, but today I can’t even leave the room. I cannot withstand a hug or a kiss. Yesterday I was the most gracious and attentive wife, and today I cannot even be bothered to text back or listen to the pressing concerns of the love of my life. Today is not my best day, but I must know it won’t be my worst day.

I take deep breaths and tell myself I will be OK. I lie and tell everyone I’m all right. I’m not though… I’m overwhelmed over the simplest of things. I have moments I am unsure of myself. Moments that compile themselves on my insecurities and suffocate me with uncertainty. Moments where I try to breathe in and hold in all the pain and confusion. These are the moments that define who I am. These moments come and try to break me down and make me into the person I fight so hard to not be.

I know that these are little victories. The smallest of victories but a victory nonetheless. I woke up. I brushed my hair. I went to work. Even though the smile may not be genuine and the day may not be the best, I know that today, it’s OK to not  be OK.

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Thinkstock photo by Instants

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I Have Bipolar Disorder: This Is What Manic Means to Me

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A short film that demonstrates what being manic is like for someone with bipolar disorder.

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What I Wish I Said When My Relative Tried to 'Educate' Me About Bipolar Disorder

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I once had a relative who described bipolar disorder to me when he discovered my diagnosis. I don’t know why. I am the one who lives with it. He said it in the most simplistic terms, too. He said it feels good when you are up, but then you inevitably go down.

I sat there, with my mouth open, not knowing what to say. So, I said nothing.

I wish I had spoken up.

It is not that pretty, neat or simplistic. For one thing, I tend to get psychotic. For me, mania is more terrifying than “fun.” It is paranoia, hallucinations, delusions — not the party he described. I tend to isolate so I don’t go out and get in trouble, but I ignore people around me. I get distracted from those who mean the most to me. Other people I know have ended up with jail time, debt and ruined relationships.

And, this inevitable crash I hear about may be typical, but I don’t experience cycles like that. I have more depressive times than manic. And my depression doesn’t correlate with how “high” my mania went.

I don’t think he really wanted to be educated, but I wish I had said something along the lines of “It is much more complicated than that. I can tell you more if you would like.”

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Thinkstock photo via Zoonar RF.

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Bipolar Isn't Separate From Me, It's Who I Am

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I read a lot of posts about mental illness, including accounts from those who live with it. I frequently see one idea pop up: that the illness is not the person. Depression, anxiety or what have you is something that we have, not something that defines us. We’re not broken. We just have something extra on our plate.

If that view is comforting, and if it describes you accurately, then by all means keep it. I’m not here to rain on anybody’s parade. But I have come to accept the opposite for myself.

Bipolar disorder is an integral part of my personality, my mind and who I am.

Let me break it down.

What, exactly, defines someone? How would you describe a friend or yourself? “He’s a funny guy. She’s very sweet. He’s super strict. She’s quite smart.” Other than physical attributes, we tend to view people in terms of their temperament, emotions, experiences, words and actions. My bipolar brain influences all of these.

People call me smart. Some may say I’m talented. Many times I dove into challenging subjects, books and creative pursuits. I believe I can attribute nearly all of those initiations to swings of mania and delusions of grandeur. I wouldn’t have tackled a statistics minor in college, “Les Miserables” and “The Phantom of the Opera” when I was 13, or music composition in general without a surge of courage and energy.

That came from mania, and is difficult to maintain or replicate under normal circumstances.

I’m often described as calm and collected. I developed this trait through practicing constant cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, even in social situations. I would not have learned that and internalized it without therapy. I can thank my illness for sending me there.

I listen a lot. This comes from an innate sense of empathy my depression has given me. So many times I just want to scream all of the dark and lonely thoughts in my head. I totally understand wanting someone to listen to me. When someone else needs the same courtesy, I give it to them. I know how important it is, and I’ve come to enjoy it.

My illness prompted me to start a support group and get a job as a social worker. Those experiences color my political beliefs heavily. I depend on my religion for quite a bit of strength. I don’t know where I’d be spiritually if things came easy to me.

Most of the thoughts in my head are spontaneous. In depressive periods they are dark, crippling my social and professional lives. In mania they are wild fantasies that fuel any number of imaginative speculations from politics to dating to religion to science to art. In stable times they are dull comparatively.

Again, thanks to bipolar disorder.

Speaking of dating: I become a decently hypomanic with most dating successes. This influences how I speak, act and even boosts my sense of humor. When I am depressed it’s hard to put up a good act and I feel I come off as muted or boring. If I feel well, I’ll go on dates. If not, I turn people away.

There certainly are aspects of myself that do not come from my neurodiversity. My ethics come from my parents and my religion. My intelligence is largely a product of my education. My tastes, hobbies and interests probably come from the circumstantial influence of friends and family.

But I do think differently. I daydream a bunch and my imagination can be wild — a side effect of racing thoughts, I presume. I can be incredibly suspicious of others’ motives — a product of paranoia. I mull things over and over, including solutions for work and relationship turmoil — obsessive tendencies, anyone?

I don’t want to challenge or upend the dominant narrative that mental illness is a feature and not a definition of a person. For myself, I am myself largely in part to a different kind of brain. I’m OK with that. I think that’s a beautiful thing.

Follow this journey on That Bipolar Guy.

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Thinkstock photo via Halfpoint

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