A woman making lunch

I throw a dinner party at my apartment every single Wednesday night.

This usually results in things like enough rosemary garlic chicken and twice-baked green bean casserole (yeah, I go hard) for 10 people when there are only 5 around the table that night, which is fine because I keep a stash of to-go boxes on hand. Chicken alfredo night is sort of like that children’s book where that old lady accidentally uses some magical stock pot to make spaghetti and it keeps overflowing until it fills the whole town with pasta. That’s basically what happens to my kitchen. This past week, though, was a four-course “breakfast for dinner” spread where the runaway hit was the make-your-own Belgian waffle bar with blueberries and chocolate chips and also pancakes shaped like elephants and enough bacon for 20 people that the six of us packed away no problem. And the pumpkin spice cupcakes and gourmet s’mores bar and and champagne kept us going until late into the night with telling stories and laughing until we cried.

You guys. I’m back.

Not “I think I’m back.” – I am.

Not “I think I feel better than ever.” I do. I do feel better than ever.

You might know I’ve struggled with depression for the better part of the last five years. Have had that label slapped on my forehead since ’09, baby. (If you didn’t know that, there you go.) What you probably don’t know, because I haven’t talked about it a ton, is that we (my family, doctors, support team of Guardians and Warriors) found out that I have something more complicated than just depression. I have bipolar disorder – type II.

You can react to that however you’d like to.But what I want to do now is talk about how I reacted to it and am continuing to react to it.

On one hand:

This makes so much more sense. Bipolar type II is also called manic depression. It means that sometimes I get really sad, and sometimes I get really euphoric and not sad, and have a hard time being in the middle. Until. We found this really great medication that lets me live in the middle. And that is where I’ve been hanging out for the last six months and let me tell you — it is wonderful. I have never felt this good. For the last five years, it felt like the antidepressants never really did their job all the way, because I was either still really, really sad all the time or really anxious all the time or couldn’t actually feel any of my feelings and instead had the emotional capacity of a rock. The past year was a lot of really sad and a lot of feeling like a rock. Extra points to my roommate, because we never really knew which one we were gonna get when I woke up in the morning. Anyway, type II is often misdiagnosed as “just” depression before then. Bingo.

On the other hand:

The fact that the word “bipolar” is in my chart is really, really scary. It felt, at first, a whole lot scarier than just “depression.” I was like, “Well now people are going to think I’m “crazy” instead of just sad. I have to keep this a secret. Being bipolar is bad and scary and it really means there’s something wrong with me. I don’t want to be bipolar.”

Oh, no. No, no, no.

(Are you ready for this?)

*steps onto soapbox*

I am not bipolar.

You see, me saying, “I’m bipolar,” gives people permission to go grab a copy of the DSM and open up to the page that says “Bipolar Disorder Type II” and go, “This is who Amanda is.”

I have a mental illness.

I am not my mental illness.

I am not bipolar.

I am Amanda Eileen Phillips.

I am kind and have a heart full of love that lives for throwing dinner parties and dance parties in Bath and Body Works. I am a student. I am a work in progress. I am a rap music aficionado and a spin class enthusiast.

I have a mood disorder that I am thriving in the face of because I am successfully managing it through counseling and pharmacotherapy.

There is a very big difference between what I have and what I am.

And I refuse to succumb to the dialogue that I have to go live a certain way and act a certain way and wear a scarlet letter because I have bipolar disorder. The world does not get to tell me what I can and can’t do because of my mental illness. (It is mine, don’t get me wrong. But it is not me.) People have tried. Believe me, they tried. Don’t get me started. And I believed them for a while. The critical people the you’re-a-liability people and the shhhh-don’t-say-it-out-loud people. And I have nothing but love and respect for them, because they were just doing what they thought was best for themselves or for me. I don’t want to call people ignorant here, because a lot of people just don’t know better. Or they’re getting information from sources that don’t know better. And I didn’t know better until I was here. And a lot of people who are where I am can’t or don’t want to talk about it. And that’s OK. I couldn’t for a while. But now I can and want to and am. And so I forgive the people who counted me out. (I counted me out for a while, too!) Because I have a lot of other people who never counted me out, or who have seen me grow and don’t count me out anymore. I have people who believe in me, and there are a lot of them (of you, I should say). It’s not just one or two; it’s a lot and I figure they must all be onto something.  And so I choose to believe them.

That was a very hard place for me to finally arrive at. For a very long time, I prayed that all this would go away. I wanted to ignore it. I wanted to be like everyone else, to be “normal,” to be free. And now, I am seeing, I was free before I ever asked. And that was a truth I had to arrive at all on my own, when I was ready, when I could accept it. And now I do. And so…

There’s a stigma surrounding mental illness in this country. It’s powerful. It’s pervasive.  And I’ve been marginalized and told that I’m not as good as other people and treated differently and discriminated against and have suffered because of it. And I hate it. Deeply. Unabashedly. (The stigma—not the people who perpetuate the stigma. I still love them and have lots of hope there.)

But I’m not submitting to it because I’m not afraid of it anymore.

Let’s all take a moment to realize there are people walking around everywhere, who are going through a living hell because they feel too ashamed to go get the help they need to manage their mental illness or struggles — whatever those may be. And let’s realize that it’s because we are too quiet, as a society, about how it is OK to get help and struggle out loud. And let’s realize we can do something about that.

OK I’m done yelling.

I’m tired of acting like this isn’t a really important part of my life. I refuse to be reduced by it, but I also refuse to act like it’s not there.

What a shame that would be. What a waste.

I’m not sitting in the corner anymore.

I’m not keeping my mouth shut, not keeping my head down.

So. I am not bipolar.

I am ridiculous. I am full of life. I am a child of God. I am loved and blessed and safe and I am trying my very, very best. I am messy and hilarious and flawed and bright and vibrant and I am absolutely yes going to decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving. I run so I can eat s’mores for dinner. Sometimes I am sad and sometimes I prefer the company of a dog. I laugh too loudly. I throw dinner parties.

And I am back in action.

The best compliment I think I’ve ever received is when somebody said to me,
“When you get passionate, when you step into your power, it makes me want to rally behind you and I’d follow you anywhere.”

Well, friends.

Let’s. Go.

Follow this journey on Hello Amanda Phillips.

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Thinkstock photo via nd3000


Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

If you’ve experienced domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by clicking “chat now” or calling  1-800-799-7233.

So, what do you do when you get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder?

When I got mine in 2013, along with my prescription for a box of mood stabilisers in tow, I didn’t know what to do, whether to tell anyone or what was to lie ahead for me, but what I did want to know was what it meant, and what I was going to do about it. For about a month, I kept relatively quiet about my psychiatrist’s recent conclusion. However, eventually, it appeared to be no secret.

For anybody who is unaware of what bipolar disorder is, it was formerly known as manic depression and it can affect your moods by swinging from being in a depressive to an elevated state. It’s common and can affect 1 in every 100 adults. Many people like myself are usually diagnosed when depressed.

Side effects can include a range of symptoms from having difficulty in concentrating and remembering things, difficulty sleeping, hallucinating, self-doubt and lacking energy, to being irritable, easily distracted, talking quickly, being overjoyed, hyperactive and having racing thoughts. Mania is an extremely elevated state which can include extremely risky behavior, but I myself have never experienced it. I have experienced hypomania though. In some of my depressive states, I haven’t left the house for weeks except for school runs, I’ve cut off the outside world and barely looked after myself. On the other hand, I’ve jumped up and down on the bed randomly in the middle of the night being full of adrenalin along with my bedroom window wide open whilst singing loudly to the birds, all while not caring who is listening or who I may potentially annoy.

So, you’re probably wondering how all this came about.

Well, I think that my mental health problems began when I was approximately 16. I had never known much middle ground in my life, but what I knew, as did others, was that I was different. By now I was told that I stood out from most people, and I liked it. I never once wanted to blend in. Unfortunately, a year before I moved out — so I will have been about 15 years old — I spent mixing with the wrong crowd of people by getting into trouble and I was up to nothing but pure mayhem. I’m ashamed to admit that I think I became a “dreg of society” within that space of time.

At just 16 years old I moved out of the family home and spent nine years in an abusive relationship. I was bullied, spat on, conditioned, spoken to like I was worthless, controlled, stalked, mentally, financially, sexually and physically abused and so this was the beginning of a downward spiral in my mental health. I sometimes had knives held to my throat and at one point I even had a fractured left hand and bruises on my body. It wasn’t easy to walk away from the life that I had and it was easier to “put up and shut up.”

Whilst I was in this relationship, age 19 by now, I took on a fish and chip shop for six years with help from family members to buy it. Not one of my best ideas, but most definitely a learning curve I must admit. I had a love-hate relationship with my business. I say this because it was what put food on my daughter’s plate and what I wanted at the time so that I could have more stability in my life. On the bright side, my shop was listed as one of the top 50 in the UK and the only one north of Whitby to get the Sea Fish Industry Authority Award; it was ranked alongside a celebrity chef’s fish and chip shop and mentioned in numerous national newspapers and magazines. Radio interviews followed, as did photographers randomly turning up at my shop to get their share of photos of myself with the award. To say it was rather surreal was an understatement. It’s on my wall in my house right now and I am proud of that achievement. Nevertheless, the roller coaster of my life continued.

I was about seven months pregnant at the time with my eldest daughter, and my life literally changed overnight.

After my ex-tried to unsuccessfully take mine and my daughter’s life, I felt like I had to finally take matters into my own hands. However, I found myself being too scared to move on in my life. So, I attempted to die by suicide.

I didn’t die. I was alive but sick of my life. I didn’t want to die — I just wanted my pain to end. It was more of a cry for help. I felt exhausted in every way and I wanted to leave the world behind as I thought it was my only way out. From the outside looking in, it would have appeared that I had everything: a family, a business, a house and a car. This was maybe the case, but behind closed doors, it was a different story. A house it was, but a home it was not. My then-partner never did find out about my suicide attempt and so my life went on, every day like Groundhog Day.

After some time, I finally dared to move on. I sold the business and moved house with just me and my eldest daughter. I spoke to the police about my violent past and unfortunately, with my case being historic by then and the fact that I had little proof of what I had experienced, they couldn’t really help me. I wanted to help others not to go through what I had, so I started work as a police volunteer in Domestic Violence, Adult Vulnerability and Child Abuse Investigation. I sometimes spoke to victims, signposted people for help and I typed hundreds of transcripts of police interviews ready for court. I loved what I did.

I met someone else, moved house again, had another child and eventually started married life. I was in the relationship for about four years before we parted ways. My complicated personal life continued. Disastrous toxic relationships followed, but at the same time without what has happened in my life I wouldn’t be here and where I am today. It’s now 2017, roughly 10 years since I was at the lowest point in my life. Now I’m telling you my story, pleased that I did not die by suicide that night.

In just over three years, what have I done with that diagnosis?

Well, to aid myself to get on the path to a better life, I decided to teach myself what it was all about and the rest is basically history. From then I set up a Facebook page called Me, Bipolar & I to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and bipolar disorder, all of which I experience. Today that page has over 12,000 followers worldwide, is recognized by The International Bipolar Foundation.

I try to be an advocate by speaking out, blogging and campaigning by breaking the silence, and I believe if more people like myself spoke out about mental illness, there would be a lot less stigma and discrimination in society. I speak for the silent, but together we can be stronger in numbers. You know, when we learn how to work together versus against each other, things might start getting better.

I find that weightlifting and boxing benefit me. I help my new partner and he helps me, as we both have experience of mental illness.

I believe bipolar disorder fuels my passion and inspires me. To be honest, without bipolar disorder I don’t think I would be as mentally strong as I am today. I find it a curse at times, but more definitely a blessing, and from it, I now have a passion and a purpose.

If there is one thing you could take away from this article, then please remember to try to see the person and not the diagnosis. Change your fears, change your boundaries, change your limits and choose your hobby as your job.

Go somewhere even if you have no idea where the road will take you.

Choose to be excited about your next idea whatever it may be. Move out of your comfort zone.

Choose health and to look after yourself, to help people even when you don’t want to help yourself.

Choose to be the person you would want to know. Smile at the person who isn’t smiling back at you.

Choose to be different and to stand out, not to be consumed by everything.

Choose your thoughts not to be controlled by society, not to be told what to do.

Choose not to let trivial things get to you. Be inspired by whatever may inspire you and to laugh when it’s totally inconvenient to do so.

Choose to be the person that everyone wants to genuinely know. Love the life you live.

Choose experiences over possessions. Never give up.

Choose life.

Thank you.

If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via anyaberkut

As I sat and watched Meryl Streep’s speech with tears streaming down my face, a thought kept repeating over and over — how will we get through this? And then she said something that punched me in the gut and made my tears dry up. She quoted Carrie Fisher: “Take your broken heart and turn it into art.”

Ironically, I’d just finished watching the new HBO documentary about Carrie and her mother Debbie Reynolds, just as the speech was being shared all over social media. Meryl Streep’s words and Carrie Fisher’s prompting to turn our pain into something beautiful lead me to pick up my friend Jacob Nordby’s book “Blessed Are the Weird – A Manifesto for Creatives.” The book is my go to these days to help me understand the thin line that seems to exist between feeling a sort of madness and being creative all at once. When I am in a manic phase, much like other bipolar diagnosed creatives, I feel in touch with the “real” me, and this is when my fingers take to the keyboard, my brain comes to life and out of me flies creative and different ways of seeing the world. It’s moments like this one that always beg the question – does a touch of madness exist when we are our most creative self?

In “Blessed Are the Weird,” Jacob addresses this very question in his chapter on misfits, he lists out some of the people we know and love who were diagnosed with mental illnesses and who created brilliance in our lives. It is these people who embody Carrie Fishers statement. I think it’s OK to embrace that “broken” piece of us and allow something beautiful to come out of it. I think sometimes it’s part of what makes us human. We all have fundamental needs that require meeting, and for some of us it’s being able to say I have a mental illness and I’m going to be creative anyway. Art is a form of therapy in and of itself, and by art I mean anything that moves you to want to get outside of yourself and create something. A sort of healing occurs when we give this a chance. When I write, much like I’m doing right now, it is cathartic and helps me process the steady stream of “noise” in my mind. Some people paint, color, play music, draw, make movies, do stand-up comedy, write poetry or fiction, some even become so creative that whole new technologies emerge. And some write their life stories and share their struggles to feel less alone, it’s why communities like The Mighty are created or why books like “Blessed Are the Weird” are written, or why we revere words spoken by someone who championed mental health awareness and was full of creativity. We do these things to feel less alone, to hold onto the connection between all of us, even those of us who walk the thin line between madness and creativity.

In the challenging days ahead, that may lead us to wont to despair, I am choosing to turn my life into a piece of art. I’m choosing to find connections to the people and things that matter and make a difference. When we find ourselves in the thick of madness not of our own doing, but of merely being part of a maddening world, we feel usually one of two ways — like we’re stuck with no way out or like we want to run away as fast as we can. I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to feel a third way that is more liberating — find a way to make use of the broken feeling and turn it into your own kind of art. The world needs more of us to do that. If there’s one thing that you do this year for the sake of your mental health, find a way to channel your feeling of brokenness. I promise you, you’re not alone in this quest, you’ve got an army with you, rooting you on. Let’s go forth and create something, and maybe what emerges will be a better world.

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Thinkstock photo via Thomas Northcut

After my diagnosis of bipolar disorder, it took me years before I could fully accept I had this life-changing mental illness.

The first step in my recovery was acceptance. I realized I had to accept the truth of the reality of my illness before I could be ready to seek the necessary treatments to start the recovery process. I had to be ready to fight and heal my pain and internal mental scars.

I wish my acceptance of bipolar disorder would have been automatic and not taken so many years because then I think my life could have improved sooner.

To begin to accept my bipolar disorder I had to go through a grieving process, which took me a long time. It was a painful process and journey for me.

1. Denial I do not have bipolar disorder. I do not have a mental illness. You are wrong. I do not want this. I can still teach and do everything I used to do. I am the same good person. I am a great person so I cannot have this illness.

2. Anger – When I was first diagnosed, I was very ill from the side effects of the medications they were giving me and other reasons as well. I did not understand what was happening to me. This caused me to have a lot of anger. I blamed everyone around me and basically hated everyone, especially if they tried to help me. I was not a good patient at all, and I tried to fight everything they said and did to me when they tried to help me. I lashed out at others and made people people feel bad. I have guilt for some of my past behaviors when I was first diagnosed, as I acted horribly. I felt like a horrible person at the time of my initial diagnosis. Ugh! My anger was very painful and intense.

3. Bargaining – Why me? If I stop taking all of my medications I will be “normal” again and I will be fine. I will show everyone they are wrong. If I stop taking my medications and stay away from all medical care, psychiatrists and hospitals and go back to my life the way it was before, everything will be OK. I will show everyone I am fine.

Going off all my medication was a bad idea because after a couple of years of not taking my medications and not receiving any help or support I had a full blown manic episode which lasted about a year. Because my episode caused me to become so severely ill I had to receive medical help again and have continued it ever since. In a later post, I will share what my full blown mania was like.

4. Depression – I realized the true magnitude of the loss of myself and loss of my life the way it once was. Everything changed for me. My old life was permanently gone with bits and pieces still hanging on but not many. I had no more control in my life. People were telling me how to live and who I had become. One doctor told me I would never be the same again but they could get me to live a functional life. What? That sounded like a death sentence to me, and it was like a death sentence for many years, as I tried to end my life many times. My life was put into a survival mode with doctors and professionals basically just trying to save me. I was not living, but I was trying to find a new way to survive for years. I thought: I am sick. My mental pain is horrific. They give me medication that gives me severe side effects and adverse reactions that I do not like and that change my personality. I have no friends, and I am so lonely. No one likes me or even wants to be around me. I am worthless. The old me is gone and died. I cannot function, move or even get out of bed. I can’t live like this anymore. My life is over. No one will even care if I am gone. I am all ready dead. I want to die.

5. Acceptance – Acceptance is the last stage of grief and the most vital and important step on the road to recovery of my bipolar disorder. The acceptance of my illness and my new life was a slow and gradual process. Things slowly started to improve and look better over time. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness, but I saw glimpses of hope and of what happiness was again. I accepted that things will never be exactly the same again. I gradually started to adjust to my diagnosis, and my changed life. My depression began to decrease in spurts but would come back periodically and ferociously at times. I began to figure out how to live with my symptoms and start living my life again. My mind started to work better, and I began to feel more normal and a part of life again. I soon began the important process and one of the most essential parts of my new life of redefining who I was.

I had to find my new identity and learn to like myself again and eventually love parts of the new me. I found a way to work part-time again in a field that suits me well by helping others in the home health field and I started going back to church. I started getting out of the house more and around other people.

I do have bipolar disorder. I do have a mental illness, and that is OK. I have a new identity and that is OK. I am still a great person. I believe God saved my life and I became born again.

My greatest blessing is that I have always been and am still a good mom. My children were always my life support and still are. I love my three beautiful, amazing and wonderful children beyond words. I am so blessed to be able to be their Mommy. Thank you, God.

Sometimes I still grieve parts of the “old” me and think about what my life could have been. I try to block those moments of memories of my past out of my head, as the past is the past, and I try very hard not to live there. I try to live in this very minute and moment one day at a time.

I never thought I would have a mental illness, but I do and I must strive to make the best of my illness and always strive to be the best person I can be and become. It is a never-ending battle of struggles, growth and discovery and acceptance of the new me every day.

I have found joy in the experience of living.

“Don’t wait. Make memories. Celebrate your life.” — unknown

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.

Follow this journey on Loud Bipolar Whispers.

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Thinkstock photo by Ramana Venkat

I lay here, curled under the covers at 1 p.m. Motionless, I stare at the curtain blocking the world out. Sometimes I think it ripples, feeling the breeze against the window. The overnight rain has subsided but I guess there’s more to come. The dark cloud of depression has settled itself in my room. Stretching out. Getting comfortable. The air feels thinner now. It’s a struggle to breathe. In fact, everything is a struggle.

This thick veil of blankets used to weigh me down, but in this moment I think it’s my very existence causing undue pressure. I repeat over and over how sorry I am — sorry for the burden I feel I’ve become, the trouble I seem to cause, the constant worry you shoulder. The fear of not knowing who I’m going to be when you arrive home: angry or agitated or manic or depressed. Or worse yet, cycling through them all.

My voice: 12 octaves higher, signaling I’m manic — not to mention all the projects I’ve started in the last 8 hours. “Honey! Honey, I wrote a song today. It’s really good. You are going to like it.” Racing around with paint in my hair. “Look at the colors in this. I don’t know how I did it. Came out great, right?”

My lifeless body on the couch. I can barely muster a “hello.” Can’t muster a “how was your day, dear?” This is where I was when you left this morning. “No, I haven’t eaten. I’m just not hungry. No I didn’t shower again, I’m so tired.”

The echo of my rage throughout the house shakes the pictures, scares the cat. Nothing you say is right. “I’m not fucking hungry, alright? Leave it alone. Why don’t you cook once in a while, for God’s sake! I clean and I clean and look at this mess. I don’t know why I bother.”

You wipe away the never-ending tears fielding my questions: “What happened? I was doing everything right. I mean, wasn’t I? I’m a good person, aren’t I? I don’t mean to be this way, to cause so much pain. I don’t understand. Why now? Why?”

These are the many faces of my bipolar disorder.

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Thinkstock photo via Zoonar RF

Three years ago I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. It was scary and confusing, but in a way, it was also liberating. I finally had a reason for the long bouts of depression and the high octane stretches I learned were manic episodes. At 27, I had an explanation for the previously unexplainable. It wasn’t me, it was the disease.

Now that I’ve sorted a little bit of that out, I find myself turning less to defining the disorder and more to defining me. Instead of marking things off as a symptom of the bipolar, I want to know who I really am.

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned so far:

1. I am loud.

When whatever holy being (I’ll go with God) created me, they omitted volume control. My whisper can be as loud as other people’s regular speaking voices, and when I get excited or passionate, you can hear me from across the room. This is not the result of mania or anxiety, it’s just me.

2. I have a ‘Type A’ personality.

I thought this might go away once I started my medication, but now that I’ve been medicated and in therapy for a while, I’m realizing it’s just who I am. Yes, it was certainly exasperated by manic episodes, but take away the mania, and I am still just as driven, ambitious and competitive.

3. I am a “crier.” 

Or a sobber. Sobbing is more my style. Commercials with puppies, championship sports games, books, movies, weddings — I have teared up during or sobbed through all of these. I cry when I’m frustrated or relieved.  Occasionally, I cry and laugh of the same time.

And the biggest thing I’ve learned about myself? 

4. I am resilient.

The bipolar wants to trick me into thinking I’m not strong enough. It wants me to think I’ll never make it and my life will always only be a tennis match between depression and mania. But I’m still here. I’ve survived the three years since my diagnosis and the countless years before. More than surviving, I’m actually living my life. I have a husband I love more than anything, incredible and supportive friends and a job I truly enjoy. If we are keeping score, I am winning by a long shot.

I will always have bipolar. I don’t believe medication and therapy will magically “cure” me. But now I know I am so much more than a disorder.

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Thinkstock photo via kameshkova.

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