woman in the dark shining a light

Young and Bipolar: The College Search With Mental Illness

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The day I got into my dream school, I cried approximately three times. Twice, due to crushing anxiety prior to the 5 p.m.-release of decisions and the third at 5:01 when I opened my email to a flurry of “Congratulations!” and digital confetti from the college.

I cried that third time for a few reasons. Besides the overwhelming emotional relief that washed over me as soon as I realized I had been admitted, I cried because, at some points in my high school career, I thought I would never see the day I was admitted to college. After being diagnosed with anxiety and depression at a young age, I went into inpatient psychiatric hospitalization at the end of my freshman year due to a mental breakdown. At the time, I believed nothing was wrong with me. I fought to be released. By the end of the ordeal, I was diagnosed as bipolar disorder type II, a mental illness categorized by drastic mood swings and impulsive behavior. After another hospitalization, multiple medication trials, and daily struggles associated with my disorders, I became stable, content, and made it to my senior year of high school. College, finally, loomed on the horizon.

Of course, as interviews and essays approached, a question loomed over me: do I tell colleges about my mental illnesses? Disclose extremely personal information that could make or break my application? I wanted to be evaluated fairly in my applications; however, over the course of my four years in an extremely competitive, high-stress private high school, my grades had taken a toll — mainly due to motivational struggles I endured from depression. I had to make a decision: do I divulge my mental illness in a truthful reason for my dropping grades, or do I stay silent? The last thing I wanted to be was discriminated against, especially after how far I’d come in recovery. Not to mention, in a time where mental health has been shoved into a national spotlight and with ableism reigning strong, I didn’t want my mental health to be seen as a downside to my application.

In short, there’s no right or wrong answers to my questions. Google searches along the lines of “do I tell colleges about my mental illness” provided conflicting interests. In a world of promises of “you are not alone,” I couldn’t seem to find myself in line with anyone else. However, when one out of five people will struggle with a mental illness in their lifetime, I knew there were fellow seniors out in the world going through the same process as me, asking the same questions in the same Google search bars. College application decisions exist in a world behind closed doors; would a rejection mean the college was telling me it wasn’t the place for me? Or would it be a rejection based on stigma, looking past my qualifications?

So here’s what I did: I brought it up when the moment appropriately presented itself. I am fortunate enough that I never had to take a leave of absence or have any issues marked on my transcript or record. When one college asked for an essay about grit, I felt the only thing I could truthfully do was describe an account of my experiences as a bipolar student. I was accepted. In the case of my dream school, a question along the same lines arose in my in-person interview. My words sunk in my throat. Did I risk my acceptance at a school I had pined to go to for so long? With a deep breath, I said I lived with a mental illness. I didn’t disclose what I necessarily was diagnosed with but instead moved on to describe my successful recovery and activism within my school community through giving speeches about mental illness and advocating against stigma across social media. If there’s one thing I learned, it was to find the silver lining. I didn’t enjoy glossing over my struggles, pitfalls, and triumphs with bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression, and presenting a watered-down version of my personal accounts. But by pointing out the upsides to my recovery, I left the interview feeling prouder that I had spoken about my mental illness in the mildest of terms rather than not bringing it up at all.

Of course, anxiety plagued me until the day that admissions decisions were released if I had done the right thing or not. But my early-decision acceptance confirmed my initial relief after the interview. Through presenting my mental illness as a learning experience and something I had gained valuable insight about life through, I felt as if I had figured out the right thing to do.

Recovery is not linear. If you are applying to college and are in a similar spot that I was in, I believe the best thing you can do is tell the truth. However much information you disclose to your schools is a personal decision; still, I abide by the rule of finding an upside to a seemingly negative situation. Describe your recovery. Talk about a time you faced the impossible and overcame it in the light of your mental illness. College admissions are very personal, and colleges want to know as much about you as they can, but you still have a decision of how much information you give them and withhold. Much more, no two cases of mental illness and no two stories are the same. Make your story your own and take control of the situation.

I have fears about going to college. Will my recovery be for naught in a new place? Will I face discrimination that other college students living with mental illnesses have? Whatever happens, college admissions are a scary, anxiety-provoking time in the lives of high school seniors; but to live through it is another feat in the face of living with mental illness.

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Photo via Audrey Lee

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The Missing 'Reason' From the '13 Reasons Why' Discussion of Suicide

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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.

The hype is whirling around the new Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why.” It is the latest binge-watching event that many people cannot wait to talk about. Now perhaps I should not be commenting, since I have not actually watched the show. With so few hours in the day, and so much to do, it’s simply not at the top of my watch list. However, I have read several commentaries and conversations that have been sparked by the show. I will leave the praise and criticism to those who have seen it. But there is one point that still needs to be made.

Sometimes suicide doesn’t need a reason.

I was once a high school girl who spent many days contemplating suicide. But I was different than Hannah. There were no dramatic events that led to my struggle. In fact, I could create a list about my teenage life highlighting the reasons why I “shouldn’t” have wanted to die by suicide.

My parents were happily married and absolutely adored me. I had many friends. I had a big brother who teased me, but not too much. I attended a small wholesome high school in rural New England with no cruel cliques or rivalries. Social media did not yet exist and my mobile phone was attached to my car. I grew up on a small family farm with nutritious food I helped raise myself. My father owned his own business, which was quite successful. I had countless material things (clothes, electronics, cars, toys, even diamonds at age 16). We took frequent family vacations, including weekends every summer on our boat. I was an outstanding student. I was in good general physical health with perfect orthodontia work. I had a nice big college fund waiting for me after graduation.

There was no trauma in my childhood or teenage years. There was no clear list of causes. My “reason” for nearly taking my life so often in my teens and 20s was elusive for many years, even though it had been with me always, likely sent down through my genes.

The reason was mental illness.

The long, messy path to emotional wellness took me through misdiagnosis, allergic reactions, terrible side effects, weight gain and a stalled start to my 20s. I battled on and survived, in great part to love, support and financial resources.

I tell my story not to negate the one Hannah tells. Bullying and sexual assault are real issues and should be discussed openly and honestly. But while Hannah and her reasons are lauded as a chance for a national conversation, I continue to see my bipolar II and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) diagnoses used as punchlines for jokes and sinister plot lines for “Criminal Minds” episodes.

Many have different “reasons” for contemplating suicide. For Hannah, it seemed to be retribution and escape from her 13 reasons. For me, it was a way to end the guilt, self-hate and nothingness that had seeped into me for only one reason.

I write this from a place of wellness after two decades of effort and treatment. But I worry often that we forget about those still hurting, whose reasons are perhaps more subtle than those portrayed in “13 Reasons Why.” But these reasons are no less haunting.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Screenshot via Netflix Youtube channel.

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The Hurdles That Had to Be Jumped on My Journey With Bipolar Disorder

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Mind, body and spirit all require care. If one is being neglected, it affects the other two. Sometimes it can be a neglect or damage that is out of your control. This is the story of how my damaged mind, body and spirit became whole again.

The beginning

It begins well: a happy home, a supportive family, an excellent student. I never showed signs of having a mental illness. There was the emotional stage going through puberty, but these were the things I believe are typical of a teenage girl or boy. I got into a great college and was excelling there.

Dreaming of Paris all my life, I decided to study abroad in France. That is when the unthinkable happened. I was sexually assaulted, and it was done by two young men whom I knew (or thought I knew) fairly well. It took a long time to recognize the gravity of what had happened to me. I came home about a month after my program was complete, but told almost no one what had happened.

Back to school

My junior year internship was coming up, and I began commuting into New York that summer. All seemed normal at the time. I was doing well at work, felt confident and productive, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Waking up from a complete fog in the middle of the night in downtown New York, I was completely disoriented and scared. Lucky for me, there was a police officer just down the block from where I awoke from my haze, and he called my parents.

Not knowing what to do, I was taken to the emergency room that morning in a state of distress. I thought everything was an alternate reality. The best way to describe it is to say that everything that I saw, heard or touched around me seemed to be connected by some great cosmic plan. My clothes were intact, I had absolutely no drugs nor alcohol in my system, but I kept insisting that I had been drugged and raped. Tests were run on me, and the only explanation that doctors could give me and my family was that I had a psychotic break.

Terminology aside, the next couple of months were not completely unpleasant. I was taken to a mental health residential facility after being severely overdosed on a mood stabilizing medication, but the nurses, doctors and other colorful characters who I met during this time kept me laughing and upbeat. In spite of the new and scary time for my family, I seemed to be in good hands.

Back to school … again

Taking a semester off from college in order to recover, I returned when I was well enough a few months later and resumed life as normal. No mention of sexual assault had been made while being treated. A common effect after a trauma such as rape is Stockholm Syndrome: I felt as though I needed to be closer to my predators, and felt as though they did no wrong for quite a while. I did not feel like the victim, so much as more the worthless girl who deserved what had happened. No one ever deserves sexual assault. It is a real crime and epidemic.

I later had the strength to confirm that what I had encountered was a real crime by doing research on the Department of Defense website. However, I was often told not to take action because it would lead to more stress for myself. The best I could do in order to get myself out of my depression was to speak up about it to friends, family and supportive professionals.

Before reaching this point, I became catatonic from depression after the semester I completed going back to college. Still, this was scarier for friends and family than it was for me because I only remember bits and pieces. I received about 10 ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) procedures in order to sufficiently pull me out of the nearly vegetative state. And thank God I did, because it pulled me out of the catatonia and I was able to go back to college a month later and complete my degree.

Things are looking up!

Things began looking up again. I found a great job after graduating and felt successful professionally and personally. But there was still something lying nearly dormant inside of me that was not addressed fully. After less than a year of going to work and feeling productive and happy, another ton of bricks hit me: I felt suicidal. It happened so abruptly all I could do was to call my doctor in the middle of the day, and he made an immediate appointment for me to see him. He called the facility that had helped me twice before in so many ways, and he said: I have a bipolar patient who needs a bed. It was the first time I heard a label. I thought, “I’m bipolar? This is getting serious…” Labels aren’t everything, though.

Or are they?

Again, a short stint in the mental health facility and I was on my feet again, just with a new “burden.” I was bipolar. It shocked me. I bought every book about the disorder and tried to educate myself on something I was going through firsthand. Still, it felt overly critical. Every mood that I felt, I thought, “Oh I’m manic now,” or, “Aha! This is that nasty depressive episode that I was warned would come…” It was difficult to lead a normal life. I came to realize that there is no right way of living, and there is no perfection. This took a long time to accept, being the perfectionist I had grown up as.

I’m no doctor, but I have been on every medication under the sun. I cannot prescribe, but I know how each one affected me, and it has taken years to come down to the correct concoction. There were brief times when I completely stopped taking medication, with or without a doctor order, and I have to say that this is not smart idea for me. When I consistently worked with my current doctor in order to be able to get to this level of clarity and contentment without over-medication, boy, did that feel good. I never gave up hope that I would someday reach this point, though there were incredibly difficult periods of time where I came very close.

Almost there…

One last hurdle had to be jumped before I could reach my level of zen: the voices. I began hearing voices, again very abruptly. And they would not go away no matter what medication I took. It felt as though I was in that alternate reality again, with visualizations daily that were termed as hallucinations and terrifying tactile hallucinations where I would wake up at night feeling as though I was being raped again. This was not a fun time, as one could imagine. And it lasted for three years, unbearably. Here is where the moral of my story comes in: what got rid of these voices and hallucinations. I spoke up, I told my family exactly what I was feeling and thinking and I stopped being afraid.

I told myself enough is enough, and that this was a symptom of a disorder. Once this happened, and I explained it to my doctor and therapist, the voices disappeared. It felt like a true miracle. I sought help for myself, learned DBT skills which help me when I am distressed or in need of a mindful moment, and pushed from the darkness into the light again by taking care of my mind, body and spirit.

I’ll leave you with this

My advice after all the turmoil is this: having a mental illness does not define you, and don’t let it! I was later diagnosed with PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizoaffective disorder. The labels sound a bit worrisome, but there is treatment available if you are honest about what you are going through and seek help. Don’t focus on the label, but rather learning new ways to cope and deal with your situation. Some of the smartest and most creative talents and leaders have succeeded in spite of their mental disorders. And always speak up about what you are going through. You are not alone, and there are millions of others going through what you may be going through who can relate. Never give up hope, you can shine like the stars in spite of the darkness of night.

Originally published on Challenge the Storm

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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How I Broke Out of Mania and the Cycle of Compulsive Spending

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I always seemed to have a funny relationship to money, and being a compulsive spender with bipolar disorder doesn’t make it any easier. From a very early age, I always thought if I had money, I had to spend it. My belief was quite simple, I should be able to spend money on me because, wasn’t I worth it? Compulsive spending seemed to be one of the things that could provide any small piece of relief from the way I was feeling — especially in a manic phase. Once I was earning my own money as an adult, my justification became simpler. I believed since I took care of everyone else in my life — and financially I did — whatever money was left over was mine to spend on me. And I would spend all of it.

Ever since I can remember, this is what would happen. I would get a thought — usually irrational — that would turn into a full-blown obsession. If I just bought that “thing,” whatever it was, I believed it would “fix” me. But usually, I couldn’t buy just one because to me, more equated to better. I would amass a collection of that “thing” in different colors and perhaps with different features. Once I had completed the collection, a curious phenomenon always set in. The euphoria of the buying binge would dissipate, and the deep hole in the center of my body would just ache in a complete disconnect from the flow of life. When the spree was over, I’d have to sell what I had collected because I couldn’t stand having it around. After all, buying that particular thing didn’t work. It didn’t fill the hole.

The spree almost always was followed by some prolonged period of depression. Eventually, the idea that some new thing could fill the hole would come along, and I’d be off on a new manic obsession. The mindset that would precede my buying sprees was quite subtle. I wouldn’t consider the financial consequence of the spree in light of the unrealistic reason that this particular “thing,” would fix me. The cycle was: obsess, spend, deflate, sell, repeat.

And my spending was marked by great secrecy. Those close to me never knew how much I spent. Deep down, I knew what I was doing was unhealthy, and I knew they wouldn’t approve. Over the years, the severity of the cycle of depression and mania grew, and I ultimately became suicidal and started self-injuring. I opened up to my therapist about this, and looking back, I realize this was the start of my recovery. He suggested depression is really anger turned inward, and I must be one really angry guy to want to hurt myself that way. Working with him, I committed myself to a psychiatric hospital. I stabilized while I was there, and I emerged with a new doctor, a new bipolar disorder diagnosis, and a whole new set of medications.

It wasn’t long after I got out that a new obsession took hold. My financial life was out of control, and that’s when someone suggested I go to a 12-step program for money issues. I went and began to relate to those who borrowed, to those who spent and to those who were “self-debting” by giving more than they had to give. I saw this was me, taking care of others at my own expense — in other words, self-debting. I had done this all my life. What I didn’t know is by not taking care of myself, I really couldn’t do a good job of taking care of others even though that’s what I convinced myself I was doing financially.

My final spending spree ruined me financially, and I found I was getting angrier by the minute. Why couldn’t I find that magic thing that would fix me? I wanted someone to say, “Go to the corner of Main and Elm. On the brick building, there is a red button. Push it and everything will be OK.” A man came up to me after a 12-step meeting where I was venting that the program didn’t work for me. I didn’t acknowledge I wasn’t really doing what was suggested to recover. He suggested that I try being willing to just to be willing to do the work to recover. I heard the message that day.Willingness to change my beliefs and behavior was all it took to get into healing. Most importantly, when I started feeling that obsession to spend, I reached out to people and talked about it. What an amazing tool to relieve the power of obsession. By telling someone else what was going on with me, it diminished its hold on me. I believe we’re only as sick as our secrets, and manic, compulsive spending was a big secret for me.

In that program I learned tools, tools to manage my financial life and the compulsion to spend. I track my income and expenses on virtually a daily basis and have clarity on my spending through a spending plan. I don’t keep credit cards handy, and I turn my online financial affairs over to someone I trust so I don’t have ready access to money when I’m obsessing. I talk with people before I make unusual purchases so I have a checks and balances system. I don’t keep secrets. It’s hard to fool those who know my condition the way I can fool myself. That’s why I talk it out.  These are all part of my larger wellness plan to manage my bipolar condition.

Sometimes I get angry that I have to do so much to be in recovery. It takes a lot of energy to fend off the obsession and behavior I honed over years of misguided practice. I just have to remember this work is much easier than being in the throes of a manic, compulsive spending spree. By staying open with my recovery team, I hope I don’t forget this.

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Thinkstock photo via Ryan McVay.

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I Am Not Bipolar. I Am Amanda.

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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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My Experience With Bipolar Disorder, From Origin to Recovery: A Transcribed TEDx Talk

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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.

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Thinkstock photo via anyaberkut

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