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What I Do When Bipolar Disorder Makes Me Feel Alienated From Others

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Last month, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Until my body gets used to the medications, I’m considered to be on the “bipolar spectrum,” meaning there is no specification of whether I am bipolar type I or II. Regardless, I am happy to have at least some idea of why I am the way I am.

One of the worst parts of having bipolar is feeling alienated. I feel isolated, left out and alienated on a daily basis. My friends don’t seem to care what happens to me, how I feel or what is going on in my life, despite my numerous efforts to be active in theirs. I am rarely extended an invitation anywhere and I am usually the person who extends the invitations, despite the lack of people who show up. The only time I am checked on is after I tell someone how I feel, and that only lasts for a few days before I am suddenly on the back burner again. Some of you may be thinking, “Why don’t you get better friends?” The problem is not only that it is difficult for me to make friends being unemployed and out of school, but it’s hard to determine what is real and what is a symptom of my bipolar disorder. Are my friends actually leaving me out, or am I overdramatizing the situation?

To determine the answer to this question, there are a few things I can do. Firstly, I need to stop keeping score. I find myself often going back in my texts and seeing who was the first to message who. How many times did I get called by Person A today? How many times has Person B responded within a few minutes vs. a few hours/days? Doing things like this only leads me down a path my disorder has created. One of the best things I’ve done for myself recently is delete my texts at the end of each day. This way, I can’t go back and check on these silly little details.

I feel alienated for several reasons and social media only makes that 100 times worse. It helps me to avoid checking up on your friends’ social media profiles. I noticed I started taking mental notes of my friends’ activities. Person A went to the movies with a mutual friend, but when I invited them to a movie they turned me down and said they didn’t feel well. In reality, that person most likely didn’t feel well or wasn’t in the mood for a movie. That’s not a crime. However, my bipolar disorder tells me that person is making excuses to avoid hanging out with me because they dislike me, think I’m too sick or am boring. No matter what that person’s excuse is, my brain makes me believe they dislike me. Instead of keeping mental notes about my friends’ days, I decided to avoid social media. I unfollowed many of my close friends on Facebook and Instagram so I can avoid those dangerous thoughts.

What about in real life? How can I avoid real life triggers for these feelings? This one’s not as simple, and I’m still trying to figure out this portion of my thought life. One way I’ve started to succeed in this is to stop overanalyzing situations no one else is analyzing. For example, when I go to the bar with friends, I start to notice who is the center of the conversation, what body language and facial expressions are made toward certain people versus myself and who is surrounded by the most people. This is another way of keeping score that I have rationalized into being simply “fascinated with human behavior.” In reality, this analyzing causes me to feel inferior when, in fact, I am equal to my peers. Once I learn how to stop this behavior, I will be more capable of maintaining relationships without feeling second best.

Bipolar disorder is a sneaky disorder, tricking me into believing things that are much more simple than I perceive them. I struggle with my relationships daily, and it’s hard not to feel second best. Thankfully, I am on a daily medication to assist me, but I have to control my own behavior as well. One day, I will be able to feel equal to my peers and have a healthy relationship. Until then, I am learning about myself all over again.

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Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure.

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How Bipolar Disorder Makes Every Day a 'Recovery Day' for My Brain

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With bipolar disorder, every day my brain is in recovery. If you thought I was referring to depression, you’d only be half right. See, my brain doesn’t only have to recover from depression, it has to recover from hypomania, too. No matter which state of mind I was in the day (or days) before, my brain wakes up in recovery mode, and it’s exhausting.

Some days I feel like I can’t catch up, and when I do, I wonder if it’s another bout of hypomania or if it’s a stable day. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

If you have a chronic illness — mental or physical — your body is basically fighting itself all day every day, and we all have to recover in our own ways.

At 27 years of age, I have to pick and choose my battles. Whether it’s a decision regarding fun or a decision of importance, I have to choose which one I’ll have the energy to struggle with, and just as importantly, which ones I can recover from when needed. Most people my age can run circles around me, go out with friends, work and have extracurricular activities…but not me.

Even at such a young age, I have to choose if having a night out with friends will be worth the struggle to recuperate in the days ahead. Deciding can be tiring itself, and being the people pleaser that I am, I usually choose to go out anyway.

Likewise, my husband and I have opposite schedules, so I rarely get to see him. On some nights, I have to choose whether or not to stay up a little later to spend time with him. I have to think about if it will leave me exhausted and emotional the following day and if I’ll have the chance to catch back up.

As a wife, a mother, a friend and an employee, I have to choose which exhausting tasks I can conquer and recover from, while others don’t have to even think about it.

Luckily for me, I have a wonderful support system. I have an amazing husband who picks up my slack without being disgruntled. I have a sweet little girl who only wants mommy to feel better and tries to take care of me when she can. I have employers who know of my illness and know when I request to leave early, I really need it, because I rarely make that request. I also have a select few friends I can trust and vent to who will listen without judgment. I am lucky to have the support system I do when I need help on my recovery days and I hope you do too.

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Thinkstock photo via LanaBrest.

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8 Tools for Tackling Bipolar Disorder

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When you’re facing bipolar disorder there are some things you can do to lessen its hold on you. But in order to do so, you’ve got to have the right tools. Try to collect as many as possible for best effect. Shall we take a look at what they are?

1. The usual suspects.

Medication helps tame your symptoms, level your moods, get your brain back in gear and/or regulate your energy. A psychiatrist helps prescribe your medications (a primary care physician may also do this). A psychotherapist can discuss with you the issues you haven’t resolved, the problems you still have and the things the medication can’t do.

2. Self-care.

I believe the two most important tools you need for self-care are sleep and food. Without either, the body can’t function properly, and if the body doesn’t function, the brain is less likely to function properly. Ideally, the food should be nutritious and eaten regularly, but let’s face it, that doesn’t always happen. But you’ve got to give your body something to run on.

3. Support.

Find support where you can: a friend who’s willing to listen, a support group online or in real life. Try for a combination of these and don’t rely on any one of them for too much. Maybe you have a friend you can phone once a week. A support group that meets every two weeks. An online group of two of people who really understand, with links to helpful articles and blogs. Before you know it, you’ve got a support system — especially if you count your therapist (which I do) or have a supportive family.

4. Spoon Theory.

Basically, “Spoon Theory” is a way to measure how much energy you have on any given day. It is an understandable metaphor for explaining your symptoms to others and a shorthand for other people who are also up on the theory. It can also help alleviate the guilt of not being able to do all the things you are “supposed” to do in a day. It’s not an excuse, but an explanation.

5. Distraction.

Let’s face it, it can be all too easy to dwell on symptoms and how miserable you are. And if you’re at the bottom of the depressive well, there may be nothing you can do about it. But maybe there is. Do you know a person who tells good jokes – or really bad ones? Do you have music you used to play but have forgotten about? Do you know of a TV show you like? Do you have a go-to movie that never gets old no matter how many times you see it?

6. Creativity.

If your distraction involves creativity, so much the better. Coloring books and pages for adults have been the trend for a while now. I know someone who can make little sculptures out of drink stirrers or paper clips. The point is, you don’t have to paint masterpieces. Just keeping your brain and your hands occupied is a good idea.

7. Comfort.

Soft, warm, fluffy things and smooth, silky things are soothing. They just are. Cats and dogs come instantly to mind, but I also have a collection of teddy bears and other plushies I sometimes cuddle with. These are “comfort objects,” which is an actual psychological thing. I even took a plush bunny with me when I went to have a sleep study.

8. Stubbornness.

This may be the most important tool of all. Be stubborn. Take those meds, even if you hate them. Eat that egg, even if you don’t feel like it. Go to that appointment, even if will take all your spoons for the day. Call that friend, even if you don’t think a joke will help. Post on your support group, even if you feel you are alone.

We can’t let bipolar disorder beat us. Not when we’ve got so much to beat it back with.

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Thinkstock photo via gresei.

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Listening to Your Body When You Live With Bipolar Disorder

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We’ve all been told at some point in our lives that exercise will make us feel better. And while that may be true, it’s not always that easy for those of us who live with a mental illness. Especially those of us with bipolar disorder.

See, with bipolar disorder there is a fine line between mania and depression, and then there’s the gray area in between. Triggers can make exercising and routines difficult to achieve, and here’s why.

In order for me to have the energy to work out, I need caffeine… which just so happens to be my biggest trigger. If I have too much, I’m hypomanic, but eventually take the spiraling plunge to the inevitable crash that follows. It’s like being pumped full of adrenaline to ski down a slippery slope and suddenly losing control! Before you know it, you’re crumpled at the bottom of the hill, but with no energy to climb back up again.

So then I’m faced with a dilemma: do I do something that I know triggers me so I can feel better for a little while and then end the night crying and yelling because I’m so tired and irritated? Or do I skip working out and end the night feeling so tired, and a little less irritated?

In a difficult to explain kind of way, caffeine is my trigger, but exercise is my solution. Because you know, luckily for me, I have been able to learn my body and gauge how I’m going to react to the trigger of caffeine. When you have been struggling with bipolar disorder as long as I have, you tend to learn your body and moods to decipher what will work and what won’t. I can tell when I’m “up” mentally but “down” physically, if I take anything with caffeine I will put myself into overdrive, only to crash later. But if I feel tired mentally and tired physically, I know if I have just a little bit of caffeine, I will be able to get through a workout and not crash after. I also know, if I am “down” mentally and “down” physically, taking anything with caffeine would be a disaster and instead of making me hypomanic I would become more depressed.

That’s the thing with mental illness. There’s a balancing act we struggle with all day long. Even when it comes to making decisions that could benefit our health… sometimes it could make our health worse. If you’re anything like me, all you would like to do is be the type of person who can exercise every day, work hard at a job you love without struggling to keep up and be able to balance those things with a productive and exciting home life.

I’m naturally too hard on myself, so I convince myself that if I can’t achieve those things I am not worthy of a happy life. But I also have to remind myself that I can only do my best and I need to accept when I’m struggling, and that it’s OK to take my time with exercising to feel better.

Some days I rock at life and some days I need to skip the gym, lay in bed in my PJ’s and pig out on soul food. It’s called balance, and that’s OK.

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Thinkstock photo via fizkes

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When It Feels Like Everyone's Talking About You

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You know when you feel sure other people are talking about you? You notice them whispering, or looking at you, or studiously not looking at you, and you think, what are they saying about me?

Psychologists call those feelings “ideas of reference.” Ideas of reference are often associated with paranoia. However, if you ask people with clinical depression or people with bipolar disorder, you will find many of them have them as well.

I know I have. It’s hard not to. You already feel that you’re not really “normal” (whatever that means) and you’re afraid that it shows. If people can see you’re not like everyone else, they’re bound to be talking about it. Never mind your difference is a mental one; you’re sure everyone can tell just by looking at you that you’re “crazy.”

In actual fact, the people you think are talking about you usually aren’t — until you go over to them and defensively berate them or accuse them of doing so. Then you can be sure they will be talking about you after you leave.

Except most people in everyday life do not spend their time discussing how odd the people around them are. The average person is too involved in his or her own daily life to give more than a passing glance to a stranger. The people you see whispering behind their hands are most likely developing their own secrets or gossiping about someone you don’t even know.

Even if the people are talking about you, ask yourself — so what? Do their opinions really matter? I know you want to say yes, they do. But in the larger scheme of things, they don’t. Your life will not change in the slightest if they are saying they don’t like your haircut or that they heard you bite your nails. Malicious gossip and social bullying are separate matters. But again, you don’t really know these people are saying anything that’s actually harmful.

Perhaps you feel it’s more significant if the people you think are talking about you are family members, coworkers or friends. They may really be talking about you. The point is, even if they are, you have no idea what they’re saying. Most of the time they speak in low tones so as not to upset you, never realizing that upsets you more. Tell yourself they could be planning a surprise party or talking about Aunt Edna’s affair with a younger man. Remember not everything is about you.

Ideas of reference may be a factor in imposter syndrome – the feeling that you are not really successful, competent or talented, but are just faking it and that everyone around you can tell. Or perhaps your ideas of reference are like intrusive thoughts — sudden, distressing notions that pop into your head, seemingly without cause or warning. These can be anything at all, from, “I wonder if my passport has expired,” to “Who would miss me if I died?” to “Those people are talking about me.”

What can you do if you have ideas of reference? Resist the urge to ask if the people are really talking about you. Ignore them if you can. (This is not the same as the bad old non-advice about ignoring bullies. You know when a bully targets you. With ideas of reference, you never really know if your fears are true.) Since you didn’t actually hear what the people said, you can realistically assume they were talking about someone or something else entirely. Imagine that one is telling the other that her slip is showing. (Do people still wear slips? I know they don’t wear pantyhose anymore.)

If you feel you must react, use a minimal response such as the good ol’ side-eye, which is sufficiently ambiguous that the person (who may also have ideas of reference) can assume it’s directed at someone else. Another suggestion I’ve heard is to work with your therapist on issues of self-esteem and self-concept, or to try cognitive behavioral therapy. Some medications may help, too. Still, if you feel you can manage it, I think the best idea is to tell yourself, “So what?” and move on.

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Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure

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A Note to Myself for When I Miss My Mania

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To myself for when I miss my mania,

You’re bipolar. I know it’s been hard to admit to yourself until now but after an official diagnosis, there’s finally a word to describe the chaos you’ve been going through for years.

After a terrifying bout of what you now know was mania, you’ve finally realized there’s something wrong. Now you’ve slipped into depression and you’re missing that euphoric high. You miss the days when you had all the energy in the world, as you lay in bed unable to get up the energy to do anything. I’m here to tell you that your mind is playing tricks on you and not everything was as great as it seems.

You can romanticize being a free spirit all you want, but deep down you know better. Even though you tell tales of your spontaneous world travels to others, you know that feeling like you’re on top of the world — that everything is beautiful and thinking, “How could you ever be sad?” — one moment, only to be crying on the floor of a hostel the next isn’t healthy.

You can romanticize dramatic relationships all you want, but deep down you know better. You think you had torrid love affairs, the stuff of poems. However, you know sleeping with random men you just met because you were feeling every emotion too deeply for words isn’t healthy. Your poor judgment, combined with your erratic, seemingly “quirky” behavior, may have been attractive to some. However, it also led to a series of self-destructive behaviors that caused you to lose a good friend and have to pay for an abortion. That’s anything but healthy.

You can romanticize not needing sleep all you want, but deep down you know better. You thought you were the cool party girl, but recklessly spending over $1,500 in less than a week on drugs and alcohol is anything but cool. Plus, during these all-nighters, you couldn’t stop your thoughts from racing and had only anxiety-inducing panic attacks to greet you in the morning. You might’ve thought you were being productive and creative like the “crazy artist” trope you identify with, but in reality, all you had were “amazing” ideas combined with a mind so scattered you were unable to accomplish anything. That wasn’t creativity.

These feelings of euphoria may seem amazing at the time, but you know they have devastating effects on your wallet, on your body, on your overall mental state. It’s like you’re borrowing happiness from your future self. Being manic means the crippling depression is just around the corner. Stability may seem boring and routine may get stale, but it’s what you need more than anything right now.

Going into a manic state isn’t the way to get over your depression. I know taking medication and going to therapy seem like lost causes, but they can only help you. Happiness may seem like an impossibility right now but being manic won’t fix that. You don’t miss your mania; you miss feeling alive. One day this fog will lift and you’ll feel alive once more — this time, without leaving a path of destruction in your wake.

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Thinkstock photo via tatyana_tomsickova.

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