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How Bipolar Disorder Affects My Role as an Activist

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America is going through a major crisis right now. The political and social climate couldn’t be more tense. And yet for me, it feels as though I’m living in a bubble. I can see and hear everything that’s going on in the real world and witness the events unfold, but I can’t get involved and put in work as I would like. I’m watching from a distance, unable to connect with anyone or anything.

I want to be on the front lines, making my voice heard and speaking up for justice. Instead I’m confined to my home, relegated to social media as my only means of resistance. My mental and physical health are just not up to par these days. I’ve been pretty sick for a while now, actually. I always hear having bipolar disorder makes you less able to handle stressful situations and at the same time stress exacerbates the symptoms of the disorder. It’s a trap I long to escape.

In my mind, I know this storm will pass and I will feel up to joining marches and attending rallies. But deep down I can’t help but feel a sense of shame and regret my illness is taking so much out of me. Some days I’m able to put my best foot forward and be grateful for the outlets I do have. And at other times, I give in to the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. All in all, I know the best thing I can do is accept myself for where I am and what I’m able to do at the moment. And look forward to the days when I will feel whole again.

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Passion Pit Uses Facebook Live to Show TMS for Bipolar Disorder

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On Tuesday, Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos went live on Facebook to share his experience getting a lesser-known noninvasive mental health procedure, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), as a way of treating bipolar disorder.

“The whole point is like, everyone says, ‘Oh, I don’t want to show people what I do, I don’t want to talk about therapy.’ If we don’t talk about it, it’s quite literally why no one understands what we’re talking about,” Angelakos said in his video. “So, I don’t have anything to hide. I think this is an amazing treatment.”

TMS is currently considered an off-label treatment for bipolar disorder. The procedure, which uses magnetic fields to simulate nerve cells, is approved for treating major depressive disorder and treatment-resistant depression. Because TMS is not yet approved for bipolar disorder, and therefore not covered by insurance, it can be expensive, Angelakos, who said he used to get electroconvulsive therapy, explained.

The video, titled “This is what getting help looks like,” is almost an hour long, and features Angelakos and his doctor, “Bobby,” answering questions and providing information about TMS. All of this takes place while Angelakos undergoes treatment.

“I’m manic right now, I’ve not slept in three days,” Angelakos shared. “I’m tired, but not at all. I talk a lot. Ideas are kind of just going, going, going, going, and I need to calm down. Sometimes I take lithium, I would prefer to do this. This helps calm me down.”

This is not the first time Angelakos has opened up about living with bipolar disorder. In 2012, he told Pitchfork he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 18.

Angelakos also used the video to talk about mental health stigma and answer questions from fans about his experience living with bipolar disorder. Since posting the video, many have thanked the artist for sharing his story and shedding light on a less common treatment option.

“Thanks for being open about this. It’s super helpful to have famous musicians show that mental disorders are common and manageable and bring that message to the rest of the population,” one commenter wrote.

“It’s so amazing to hear someone else verbalize and express what I feel on a daily basis. It really means a lot, because it feels like I’m not going through this alone,” another shared.

Update:  It appears the live video has been taken down, and Angelakos posted the following update.

You can watch Angelakos’ full video below.

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What I Learned After Being Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder in the Marine Corps

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I learned a valuable lesson in retrospect. Looking back on my initial diagnosis and hospitalization with bipolar, I guess I was in no condition to make a sound determination on my own treatment. To be honest, I didn’t realize there was a problem.

I was serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and had just recently gotten married. My first child was born, I had changed jobs and there were a plethora of other life changes happening simultaneously. After a few weeks of some odd symptoms, I headed to sickbay one morning. The thing that triggered my move to action was my memory. I had always prided myself on it and it had started slipping, mainly, facial recognition. Friends of mine I had served with for quite some time would approach me and I kind of knew them, but simply couldn’t place them. Additionally, my sleep was a wreck, mostly non-existent — and there were the taco salads. Yes, taco salads. It’s the only thing I would eat or had any appetite for eating. Anything else just seemed to turn my stomach when I considered them.

So here I was at sick call. I laid out my perceived issues in the same manner I just did here. That’s when the doctor shifted his attention to my left arm.

“How’d you get those cuts?” the doctor asked.

“Oh those? I sit in the window at night and look over downtown Washington D.C. and cut myself with an X-Acto blade. It helps to ground me. The pain sort of takes away the numbness,” I responded without a second thought that this behavior was anything except normal.

It was at this point that the doctor rose and asked me to take a walk with him down the hall. He led me through a set of double doors that locked from the inside. He told me to take a seat in what appeared to be a makeshift lounge. I waited. When he returned, there were two others with him. They sat down and asked what number they could reach my wife. I was a bit confused at this turn of event and running rampant through my mind were a hundred different scenarios, the most prevalent, that I was in trouble for destruction of government property because of the cuts to my arm. Was I headed to the brig or worse? The one thing that was not in that typhoon of scenarios however, was that I was mentally ill and about to be hospitalized because of this condition I had never heard of prior to this visit.

I did my three weeks in the rapid treatment unit. That was the unit I was in. It was for people who were not yet suicidal or a harm to the public, but there were some behavioral markers that indicated that I just may be. During those three weeks, I learned about occupational and recreational therapy and took whatever meds they handed me without knowing what they were. In group, we talked about this thing called bipolar disorder and how I was categorized as rapid-cycling.

I was no longer numb. I was scared and just wanted to go home. The day of my release, I was happy to get out and eat with regular metal utensils again. Unfortunately, of all the things I learned, I wasn’t proactive in pressing for ongoing treatment and medication. I assumed, at the time, I was “cured.”

Twenty-five years would pass for me before I had a total relapse, although is there such a thing? Basically I spent those years oblivious to the new behaviors I had developed. The hyper-sexuality, the risky behavior, the manic and depressive episodes, the anxiety, fear and anger. Because I assumed I was cured, I shrugged them off to being moody and overly ambitious with possibly an overactive sex drive. Wow, I was more lost than when I first sought help for a taco salad problem.

After getting myself back in to treatment, real treatment, a little over two years ago, I started to sift through those years, realizing the damage I had caused. From disposable relationships, to behavior I am not very proud of, an additional memory surfaced.

About 18 months prior to that visit that landed me in the hospital, I sat in a bar one night with a friend. We rolled lit cigarettes in between our forearms until they snuffed out. I still remember that pain. If you’ve ever done this, the ember doesn’t die right away. Of course the following morning, I headed to sickbay as my arm was a charred, weepy mess.

This doctor asked no questions, if he did, I don’t recall the lie I told. Following a clean-up of my arm, I was sent back to the barracks with a week supply of iodine swaps, gauze pads and bandages. That was that.

Why that incident surfaced was that who knows how very different my life may have been if I would have been diagnosed and treated a year and a half earlier. The memory of my hospitalization taught me I am the one that has to be proactive in my treatment and not to just accept what is or isn’t being offered to me.

It’s a bit painful and shameful to share some of this as I was a Marine, served with distinction and even promoted meritoriously to Sergeant. However, this disorder has a way of bringing even the most prideful and squeaky clean people to their knees, and I for one am responsible for these wrinkles in my character.

I hope that through this public sharing and acceptance, the importance of seeking out and maintaining the best possible mental health care and treatment reaches at least one person.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo via jhack

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Bipolar Is Not My Friend, but I Can’t Ignore It

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I have struggled with bipolar all my life, but was only diagnosed a few years ago. I never went to consult a doctor out of shame to have to put my thoughts and problems on the table, although I knew something was wrong.

One moment on top of the world, the other wanting to disappear. For many years I survived by putting up a mask. Smiling from the outside and burning and crying from the inside. Feeling very lonely and searching for a bit of happiness. A few years ago I could’t deal anymore with my problems and wanted to step out of life and die by suicide. While making plans, I thought that I couldn’t step out because of my wife and children and decided to dial the helpline to prevent suicide.

They made me go to my family doctor. Talking and putting everything on the table was a big relief. They understood the seriousness of my situation and opened the door to a psychiatrist. Since then I am being treated at a specialized mental illness clinic for bipolar. Sessions, medication and light therapy help me to stay within my safe range. The disadvantage is having to deal with the side effects from medication: loss of memory, problems with concentration and trembling hands.

I am self-employed and plan my own days. Some days I do a lot of work and other days nothing, and I don’t feel guilty about it. As I said, bipolar is not my friend, but I can’t ignore it. The hardest thing is the stigma and not being able to talk about it. People think those with a mental illness are scary and a bit “crazy.” I stopped fighting and live my life, and try not to sink back into a serious depression. Bipolar is and will always be my challenge.

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.

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Thinkstock photo via francescoch

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To My Co-Workers Who Don't See the Shame Within My Shadow

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To my co-workers,

I realize morning comes early for us regardless of when we actually wake up. I’m still deciding whether I’m a day person or night person. A host of things contribute to this including inspirations, anxiety, mood, etc.

But that’s not an excuse for my obvious erratic, questionable behavior. Deep in the framework of my body, to the flowing marrow, shame and sadness consume me. The most stressful part of the day is my commute to work. While commuting the thoughts and sensations race towards me making me fight the internal along with external traffic. This is a time for me to figure out a way to present myself, a new persona, but subliminally a method to regress.

I can’t express enough how sorry I am for the witticisms, sarcasm and put-downs toward you all. I’m scared the façade will drip away, resulting in the arm’s length becoming an impassable bridge between you and me. The bridge becomes longer and narrower the more of you all’s weaknesses I expose to everyone. I understand if you think I’m a heartless person, but believe me, I reinforce that character trait within myself constantly. Relationships are something I genuinely want. My incessant attention seeking-behavior, I will admit in hindsight, masks my craving for belonging.

The result of my variable behavior more often than not is me being apathetic. The apathetic mindset contributes to my self-loathing, beating myself up and retreating to the solace of my own room.

Despite the solace and freedom I feel in my room, it conversely fuels any chance of belonging and identity. Ultimately the climax of most days is the breaking of the levees and emotions rushing through creating an overwhelming sense of sadness and the shadow of shame becoming larger than me.

Please find it in your hearts to forgive me. If forgiveness is not an option, I hope that whatever glimpses of me you glean and the picture you paint is one of a confused, scared, shameful person who is trying. What you’re seeing is someone in the face of adverse situations, trying to come to terms of the maddening voices combating each other in the battlefield of my mind. Glimpses are what I see of myself daily, to the point where I don’t even know who I really am, or who I’m striving to be. What I’m trying to express to you all, friends, is how much shame is in my shadow.

One of my greatest desires is for some of you to see the river of tears flowing up inside me, and the waterfalls of insecurities splashing down. These waterfalls flood my mind reinforcing what could and should be. Help me understand myself, by you all understanding me.

Thank you.

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Thinkstock photo via Rawpixel

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When My 16-Year-Old Son Spoke Out About Bipolar on the News

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One day, my son’s psychiatric doctor contacted me with a special invitation that may never come along again.

“How would you both like to attend a movie screening and panel discussion for a new movie coming out about bipolar disorder, and be interviewed on the radio?”

“Ummm….yeah.”

“The movie is called ‘Touched With Fire.’ Katie Holmes is in it. The director, Paul Dalio, has bipolar disorder.”

“I will check with him, but I’m sure he would want to do it!”

My son is a movie fanatic. He knows the names of nearly every director, and can speak intelligently about intricate plots and multi-faceted characters.

His doctor appreciates that about him, and they enjoy talking about movies and music.

She knew that not only would he jump at this chance, but he isn’t afraid to speak openly about his bipolar disorder.

The radio interview would feature his doctor and the child and adolescent mood disorders clinic where she works. She was asked to choose a patient to be interviewed.

“Naturally, I thought of our guy,” she said. “It will be a great experience for him. I’m excited for you both to join us on this journey.”

I was thrilled and touched that of all the teens she works with, she chose him.

She referred us to the clinic’s public relations director, and we made plans for the big day. The interview would take place at their office before the movie screening. After the screening, clinic doctors, the “Touched With Fire” director and actors from the movie would be part of a panel discussion about bipolar disorder.

Would Katie Holmes be there? 

The day finally arrived. It meant an absence from school for my son, which of course he was ecstatic about.

We met his doctor and the public relations director in the office. I was relieved when they told me they would only be interviewing him, and not me.

“Sit down and relax. The people from WBBM will be arriving soon.”

The camera crew and interviewer arrived.

The interviewer had dark hair tinged with gray. He had a calm demeanor and a warm personality.

He introduced himself and shook our hands. “It’s nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot of good things about you. Go ahead and make yourselves comfortable while they set up the cameras.”

Why are there so many cameras being set up for a radio interview?

The interviewer chatted with my son, and told him about his brother, who has bipolar disorder. The focus of the movie is the astounding creativity associated with bipolar disorder, he noted. There are so many talented people diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

He asked about his interests, and my son told him about his interest in film, his work at the radio station at school and his writing projects. He told him about a poem he had written about his struggles with bipolar disorder.

Do you have a copy of the poem, or can you get one?” he asked me.

“No, but I can get one.”

I left the room and phoned my husband to send a copy of the poem.

The interview began, lights on, cameras focused on the interviewer and my son.

He’s a natural. He doesn’t even look nervous. I would be a wreck!

They talked about how it feels to have bipolar disorder, his creativity and his current stability in comparison to when he wrote the poem.

My son read his poem, “Twister,” which compares his bipolar disorder to a storm that sweeps in quickly and leaves all its wreckage behind.

I’m so proud of him.

The interviewer asked him how his illness feels. He described it: “You can either be amazingly happy….or really angry…..or you can be really depressed and feel like you want to die.”

The cameras paused.

“Do you mind if we go outside?” the interviewer asked me, and my son.

“Sure!”

They went for a walk outside, wrapping up the interview.

The interviewer invited us to come to the news station anytime for a tour. He definitely had a soft spot for my son.

Who doesn’t? He’s a great kid.

After the interview was over, my son’s doctor and the public relations director pulled us aside.

The interview would be on the Chicago evening news in a matter of hours, they told us.

The news! I knew it wasn’t a radio station with all those cameras!

As a person who doesn’t enjoy much attention, my son sure was smiling broadly, and his eyes were bright.

They told us he would have a chance to meet the director at the screening.

Wow!

When we left, my son and I were practically jumping out of our skins with excitement. The news, tonight! We phoned my husband immediately.

“Oh wow, I have to tell everyone! Post it on Facebook!” he exclaimed.

Later, waiting in line for the movie, my cell phone began to blow up with messages. The news broadcast must have just aired!

I checked my messages.

“I saw him on the news! He was amazing!”

“He’s so brave….” I heard over and over.

I never really thought of it that way, him being brave. It just seemed so natural, so him, talking about how having bipolar disorder feels. He really was speaking out for himself and for others. An advocate.

By the time the movie started, my son was exhausted. It was a long, exciting day, starting early that morning when we woke up and drove to the city.

His anxiety was kicking in. I hoped he would be OK. He asked for an extra large soda for the movie.

“I need it,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll make it.” I understood. That happens.

I hoped he would make it to meet the director afterward.

The movie was incredible. Yellows and bright colors of mania, blues of depression. The leading characters, a couple with bipolar disorder played by Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby, nailed it. I glanced over at my son a couple of times, worriedly. This sure hit close to home. I was nervous it would be a trigger for him because it was so true-to-life.

He just stared, quiet, sipping his drink through a long straw.

“How’d you like it?” I whispered to my son after the movie ended.

“It was really good.”

Katie wasn’t there for the discussion following the movie, but actor Luke Kirby was a thoughtful, intelligent spokesperson. He discussed his and Katie’s intensive research into bipolar disorder for their roles. He talked about method acting. I was impressed.

When the discussion ended, my son’s doctor ushered us over so he could meet the director.

I saw them talk for a few minutes, and then my son came back.

“I’m ready to go home.”

“That was quick! How did it go?” I asked.

“Fine.”

And that was that.

Afterward, watching the news interview, it was even more impressive when it was all put together on television. My son was so composed. I may be biased, but this was a comment often made by people outside the family, too.

“You must be so proud of him,” they said.

I was so darn proud of him and his moment in the spotlight. He deserves this, and so does every person out there living with bipolar disorder. They are beautiful souls.

Thank you, Paul Dalio, for bringing this true-to-life portrayal of your illness to the screen. Thank you, Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby, for doing your research on bipolar disorder and working with Paul Dalio to create characters as realistic as possible, and putting your hearts into the role. And most of all, thank you to my son’s doctor for giving him this amazing experience to speak out about his bipolar disorder, and for always being there for our family.

There is hope. My son’s doctor is a shining example of someone who fights for these kids every single day.

Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son.

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Screenshot via Vince Gerasole’s YouTube Channel

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