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“Don’t be upset.”

“Calm down.”

“Smile. It’ll make you feel better.”

“Stop getting all revved up.”

Never in the history of ever has communication of this sort had the desired effect on a person – especially one with bipolar disorder.

When you offer this sort of “advice,” what you are basically doing is telling the person not to feel the way they feel. Not only is this useless, it’s insulting.

It’s useless because ordering someone to feel a certain way simply won’t work. Saying “Be cheerful,” will not make it so. Emotions aren’t like flipping a switch on command. Even for neurotypical people, emotions are complex interactions of chemicals in the brain. While some people claim – or may perhaps be able to – shift their emotional state at will, it isn’t easy or natural. There’s a reason people feel the way they do.

For a person with bipolar disorder, it’s even more difficult – if not impossible – to shift moods at a whim. Bipolar is a mood disorder. It affects moods and emotions in a nonstandard, often unpredictable way. Telling someone to alter their own brain merely by thinking about it, is ludicrous.

Even if the bipolar person’s moods or feelings seem exaggerated or uncalled-for to you, that person is having an experience no different than when you feel elated or despairing or fearful. The emotions may even be more profound and less susceptible to alteration by force of will.

In telling a person with bipolar disorder things like this, you are denying their perception of reality, invalidating their experience, dismissing their concerns, minimizing their problems and discounting their feelings. In effect, you are saying, “I don’t feel the same way, so your feelings are wrong. Change them to match mine.”

Imagine you have written something – a report, a poem, whatever – and feel good about it. You’ve made your point and done it well. You’ve captured reality as you see it and communicated it in a way you think is clear and effective. Then someone comes along and reads it and says, “This is crap.” They have denied what you feel and believe. And even if they’re right, they have profoundly insulted you. And, of course, they may be wrong.

People with diagnosed bipolar disorder people most likely already know their emotions do not run the same as other people’s do sometimes. There’s no need to remind them of this. People with bipolar disorder are generally doing what they can to alleviate their symptoms, be it through therapy, medication, mindfulness, meditation or whatever works best for them. When you discount their feelings, you are discounting them as people. This can be anywhere from annoying to soul-damaging.

Adam Savage, of Mythbusters fame, sometimes wears a t-shirt that says, “I Reject Your Reality and Substitute My Own.” He is talking about substituting a provable, scientific reality for a mythical, uninformed one. But to go around substituting your own emotional reality for other people’s – and trying to make them agree with you – does a disservice to the people you think you are trying to help.

Instead of saying, “Don’t be angry,” how about trying, “I know you feel angry and I can see why” or “I can tell you’re feeling angry. How can I help you?”

In other words, start by acknowledging the other person’s feelings are real. Then ask what the person needs. This lets the person know you understand his or her feelings and you would like to help in the way the person thinks best. If you know other things that have worked in the past, you could suggest them (after validating the feelings, of course). Would you like me to run a hot bath? Do you need a hug? Do you just need time alone? Do you want to talk about it? Maybe later?

So, if you know someone who makes comments like this – a friend or loved one, maybe. Feel free to send this post to them, if you think it will help. I know it helped me when I figured out what was going on and what my husband and I could do about it.

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Thinkstock photo via Olarty.


It’s not easy feeling so intensely. I try to pull back. I try to not feel this way. If I could feel less, maybe I would. They give me drugs that supposedly help me to feel less. I’ve been on drugs that do that even more, but it’s hard to go back to black and white once you’ve seen a rainbow. So you try to find a balance that still lets you enjoy life without letting it swallow you whole.

To everyone who reached out, I can’t thank you enough. I’m sorry to keep doing this to you. It feels like it happens far too often. I don’t want to be the boy who cried wolf. This isn’t some act. This isn’t some overdramatization. It’s hard to feel like you want to die when someone breaks your heart. It’s hard to share with others that you care about someone in a way that you feel ashamed to feel. It’s hard to feel like folks won’t be as happy about it as you are. It’s hard to know they’re trying to look out for you, but it only makes you feel more isolated because they don’t understand how this girl is different. It’s hard to understand exactly where they’re coming from and begin to question your own passion for someone. It’s hard to feel like you’re crazy…

But sometimes, I think we need to be “crazy.” We need to reach outside the borders of what we’re told we should do or how we should feel. That’s the good stuff. It’s the best parts of life. Not everyone can even see past the horizon, and for those of us who can and dare to color outside the lines, it can be amazing. But those lines exist for a reason, and the world outside them is dangerous, too. It’s so alive and exciting, but it can also hurt like hell.

I think a lot of you get that and understand it. In fact, I think the ones that tell me I shouldn’t feel that way are the ones who understand it the most. You dared to dream, but maybe it didn’t work out like you’d hoped. You’re trying to save me from that pain. It’s funny how often we tell others how to feel or how to act in order to protect them from our own pain. I do that, too, sometimes. I don’t know what to tell people in those situations anymore. Like Icarus, we want to fly to incredible heights, but we forget that if we fly too close to the sun — if we see too far — our wings will melt, and we’ll fall back to earth like a ball of fire.

But do not forget that we had those great wings, that we are capable of rising like the phoenix from the ash. I think that is the difference. Those who dare to fly into the sun again are so brave. They know the risk. They know how much it will hurt if they crash into the ground, for they have lived that life. But is not the sun worth it? Is not its warm embrace beyond anything else we feel? And perhaps the only way to learn how to find that balance is to be willing to step into its warmth once again…

I felt so lost this morning, wishing yesterday was just a bad dream.

I felt so incredibly lonely when I woke up. For the past few weeks, do you know how incredible I felt? It was the most amazing feeling. I was Icarus before the fall. I felt like I had just started the rest of my life. I felt like I had one thing checked off that I knew was gonna be forever. I had a reason to wake up.

And not just wake up, but jump out of bed! I was excited for life in a way that I haven’t been in years. She was my hope for a better future.

And this morning is the first time I’ve woken up since meeting her that I don’t have that hope anymore. And it is crushing. I thought I was over the worst of it, but I feel like I’m slipping back into it. I just feel awful. I feel so fucking lonely. I used to love that feeling of serenity in the morning before everyone else had woken up because that peaceful, silent world was mine and mine alone to enjoy. But now it just reminds me of how beautiful she looked curled up on her side, her beautiful curves rising and falling like the green Carolina hills from whence she came…

I guess it’s good that time makes us forget. In time, I’ll forget how good it can feel.

But right now, I remember.

There’s a bullshit mentality of “we shouldn’t be going so fast” that society beats into our little heads to beat back our hearts so that we don’t get hurt so much. Well, y’know what? It’s dumb. Those are the greatest loves. And the greatest heartbreaks. But as shitty as I feel, this has only reinforced the idea that it’s absolutely critical to love with all your heart when the right person presents themselves. I don’t feel this way about just anyone. And honestly, I don’t want to be with someone that doesn’t bring that out in me. I know how much I can feel for someone. I know the possibility of how much I will want to give them. I don’t want to put up with a half-love. I want the full thing. And if that flies in the face of what everyone else tells me, then fuck it. If it means I break my heart to the point of wanting to die, that’s a risk that I’m willing to take.

I don’t regret any of the great relationships that I’ve had, despite the mess and pain that followed. I think my life is richer for those experiences and the love I felt. I’m just saying that if you asked me if I would prefer knowing now that it wouldn’t work or if I’d prefer getting tangled up in her for a year and hurting even worse later…I’d take that year in a heartbeat.

Every time.

A friend told me that when she looks back on it, she sees how the sadness gives her depth. And how she is grateful to not be a shallow well.

Another friend said, “Chase the happy feeling. And do everything in your power to get there. And sometimes it might slip from your grasp, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying.”

I believe that with my whole heart. I’m gonna continue to chase that happy feeling, even when it gives way to deep sadness. Because I am not a shallow well, I’m a phoenix.

So thanks for listening. I’ll be OK.

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Thinkstock photo via frimages

A couple of weeks ago, I went to my new primary doctor. We changed counties, and my old doctor was more than 90 minutes away. Quite honestly, my nerves are not equipped to handle the drive there, waiting up to an hour to see the doctor, and then the drive back home in the interstate — all in one day. I went to my new doctor, armed with my medical notebook and my husband. After the medical assistant took my vitals and my medical history, I was taken to the exam room. Eventually, the doctor came in and started reviewing my medical history with me. After a couple of minutes, he stopped me mid-sentence and asked me if I was bipolar.

Now, when I gave them my medical history, I intentionally left out my extensive psychiatric history. A history starting at 11 years old with therapists, medications, reactions — eventually turning into psych admits, more doctors, therapists, medications — you get the point. It takes up more than two pages in my notebook. From what I have noticed, as soon as a doctor (primary, emergency room, anything) finds out I have a psychiatric diagnosis, they start treating me differently.

Back to this doctor. When he asked if I was bipolar, I told him yes. I told him I was diagnosed my junior or senior year of high school. Right away, he started blaming everything on my diagnosis. Every medical condition, every medication reaction was — in his words — fabricated by me because “that’s what bipolar people do.” Now, these are medical conditions multiple doctors have confirmed. Some of the conditions cause great pain, causing me to pain for days.

I left the office feeling completely destroyed. I couldn’t stop asking myself and my husband questions. How could a doctor treat a patient like this? Whatever happened to taking the Hippocratic Oath? Telling someone with some pretty serious medical conditions it’s all a fabricated because they have a psychiatric diagnosis is pretty harmful!

I decided right then and there I was never going back to that doctor. I called my insurance and changed doctors. After the change was completed, the insurance rep asked me why I was changing my primary care physician. I explained what happened and was told I could file a formal complaint against him. So I did just that. There is absolutely zero reason why a doctor (or anyone) should ever speak to a patient (or anyone) like that.

Just because someone has a psychiatric diagnosis, does not make them any less of a person. Battling your own inner demons say in and day out? That makes you a damn warrior!

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you aren’t worthy of proper medical care due to a psych diagnosis. You are not your diagnosis. Your diagnosis is part of who you are. Fight back and make your voice heard by your doctors or insurance.

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We are Blackhawks fans. My husband’s family is from Chicago, and when we started dating, he taught me hockey. I fell in love with the game and the team for myself. When we got married, “Chelsea Dagger” (the song that plays after a goal is scored) played after the priest declared us man and wife.

I hesitate to say hockey saved my life. A lot of things combined together to do that. But I will say hockey has, on more than a few occasions, saved my quality of life.

Like most people with depression, I can barely pry myself out of bed when I’m depressed. I’ll spend the day under the covers or get home from work and immediately retreat to the mess of pillows and blankets I left that morning. I don’t want to do anything. That’s when hockey quietly rescues me. My husband will sit with me, watching the game on silent, in case I’m not interested. Inevitably, by the end of the game, I’m either watching or asking him to turn up the volume. Either way, I’m hooked. Suddenly, I have something to rally around. I have players I’ve watched for years that I want to cheer on and a team I want to win. Some games, I’ll lay quietly and just let the game overrule whatever thoughts I’m trying to escape and sometimes I’m calculating goalie stats on the fly and trying to tell the players through the TV that I could really use a win.

Then there are the manic episodes. I’m anxious in my mania and often easily annoyed. On the best days, I am scattered and on the worst days, I am unable to function. Once again, there’s hockey. This mood requires the game to be on mute. Too many different sounds only make me more and more agitated, as they add to the commotion already going on in my mind. I may not be able to focus wholeheartedly on the action, but it anchors me in time just the same. It was the first period. Now it’s the second. We used to have two points. Now we have three. Depending on the severity of the episode, it may be all I really process — just the time and whether we’re winning or losing. But if it’s a more minor episode, the fast paced game catches up to my fast paced mind, and suddenly I’m running on Blackhawk time. Move by move, change by change, from one side of the ice to the other, I’m right with them. And when the game dips, suddenly I realize my thoughts aren’t so fast anymore.

High or low, being able to get immersed in something besides my own thoughts is a big deal. Win or lose, I’ve had something to cheer about. Usually mind has evened out a little, and I can sleep a little better that night. I’m not saying hockey is some magical cure, but I don’t know what I would do without it.

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How can a little bit of money go a long way in helping someone in the hospital with mental illness? I found out last year when I began my project called Jogging 4 Journals. J4J provides free journals to patients with mental illness so they can start their healing process through writing and drawing.

Jogging 4 Journals began in 2016, with me jogging a race a month and asking for donations in honor of that. I ran for five months, then had a mental health crisis and stopped for a while. Now, I am feeling better and want to resurrect J4J.

This year, I am doing things a little differently. I will be jogging three races throughout the year (April, June and October), and am asking people to donate in honor of my races, and all year long. Like usual, with the donations, I will buy journals (marble composition notebooks for 50 cents each at Target) and labels ($13 for 150). I use the labels to write out a loving message on and stick one on the first page of every journal. I give out 45 every other week to my local hospital’s (Franklin Square Hospital) Mental Health Unit.

I created Jogging 4 Journals because I live with bipolar disorder and anxiety. I have made great strides in my recovery, but I still struggle sometimes. I also care about all people who are struggling with brain illnesses, especially those in the hospital. Mental illness is so stigmatized, and I want to help combat that by showing patients with mental illness they are loved and they are not alone. I have been in the hospital more times than I can count, and so I get what  they’re going through, just trying to say yes to another day of life. Journaling is also a wonderful, helpful coping skill. I also chose a journal because I want the patients to feel that the journals they are given are something that is all their own in their recovery.

And the best news is that the journals are helping the patients! The other day I gave them out, and one of the nurses said that the patients love them and are always asking for them. They like that the journals I give out are much bigger than the ones given to them on the unit. They have ample room to write, draw or write out song lyrics they have come up with (like one patient did). They often take them to groups and take notes about the topics of the groups (like coping skills).

For this cause, I am partnering with a non-profit organization called NoStigmas. NoStigmas is based in Chicago, but does many things online. NoStigmas “empowers a global mental health community through education, support and action. It’s mental health our way, created for peers, by peers.” Among so many other things, NoStigmas has a Facebook Peer Group of which I am a part. The group is a place to gain encouragement and insight into our illnesses. By partnering with NoStigmas, we are going to split the donations half and half. They are a wonderful organization!

If you want to help me to brighten these patients days just a little, please consider donating to my project. The donation link is here. Your donation will go a long way! Even $5 will allow me to help eight to 10 patients! Thank you so much!  (You can find out more about Jogging 4 Journals on my Facebook page called You Are Loved.)

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Thinkstock photo via lzf

I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. While it’s comforting to know there’s a reason for everything that has been going on with me for the past six or so years, I can’t help but feel like there’s now something inherently “wrong” with me. Which I guess just goes to show how much of a stigma there is surrounding mental health issues today. However, I’ve decided to use this new diagnosis as a way to change my life for the better. I’ve started taking medication and I’ve been doing a lot of research on this illness. When I want to learn more about a subject, I won’t stop until I feel like I’m an expert. I’ve read countless books, scholarly articles, blog posts — anything I can get my hands on to help me better understand this disorder and, more importantly, myself.

One thing almost every single piece of literature I’ve read has in common is the views on bipolar disorder and substance abuse. It’s a dangerous combination. Ever since I can remember, I’ve used drugs and alcohol to ease into social situations or as self-medication when I’m feeling really down. You name it, I’ve probably done it. As I sit here writing this, I can’t help but think some major change in my life needs to happen for me to truly get a handle on this illness. That’s why I’m deciding right here and now to put my party girl days behind me and stop using substances as a crutch. I need to face my demons head on if there’s any hope for me to lead a relatively happy and healthy life with bipolar disorder. The list of reasons why this is a good idea for me are probably endless, but I’ve come up with a few I can look back on for when things get particularly difficult, which I know they will. Who knows, maybe they might help someone else who, like me, is struggling to get a handle on things.

1. Alcohol and drugs can make mania and depression worse.

For me, it’s the mania. My mood is already unstable enough as it is, and I’ve learned drinking and drugs only further escalate things. I’ve written before about how sometimes I miss being manic because it makes life seem more exciting. I go searching for ways to try and feel that high again, but it just ends up making it that much harder to come down. When I finally do — and oh boy, I do come down — the depression is even more debilitating. Then I’ll end up using when I’m depressed to try and make myself feel better, but it’s always a temporary fix and usually just ends up making me feel worse. Bipolar is cyclical and the substance abuse makes that cycle a vicious one.

2. I have an extremely addictive personality.

Sure, most people can kick back with friends and have a few drinks, but I am not one of them. I think a lot of those with bipolar disorder struggle with this issue. Once I start, I just don’t seem to know when to stop. Throw in the fact I also have borderline personality disorder (you know, that whole “all-or-nothing” mentality) then mix in my impulse control issues and suddenly, what was supposed to be a few drinks with friends has turned into a two-week-long bender. I don’t know when to admit the party’s over and it’s a recipe for disaster that always leaves me mentally, emotionally and (usually) monetarily drained.

3. I’m not supposed to be drinking with the medication I’m taking.

In addition to the research I’ve done on bipolar disorder, I’ve also dug into all the information available on the different prescribed psychiatric drugs I’m currently on. I was only diagnosed in December, so I’m still working with my psychiatrist on finding the right balance of medication for me. It’s been a process of trial and error, as I’ve learned it is for most people. I mean, one girl I’ve talked to said it took years for her to find a combination of meds that worked for her. There’s so many different mood stabilizers, antipsychotics and antidepressants out there and they all have a whole mess of potential side effects. What’s one thing most have in common, though? “Patients should avoid the use of alcohol while taking this drug.” I copy and pasted that straight from Google. That right there should be reason enough for me. I know my medicine won’t be able to help me if I don’t give it the chance to.

I could go on forever about why getting clean is the best decision for me right now. I haven’t even touched on how it affects my personal relationships. That’s a story for another time and place. One thing I am grateful for as a result of this diagnosis is it’s forced me to become more introspective. I’m finally dealing with my problems and I think only good things can come from this. I’m looking forward to leading a healthier life both mentally and now, psychically. I’m also really curious to see if there are other people out there who struggle with bipolar and substance abuse the way I do.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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Thinkstock photo via ARTQU.

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