black and white image of woman in checkered shirt sitting in field looking at camera straight-faced

Hi. I’m in a bad mood — a murderous mood in fact.

Call it being moody, call it irritable, call it stress; for me, it’s cyclothymia or bipolar III disorder. A mood disorder, whichever name you know it by.

This title earns me the privilege of — when stating my grievance — to be asked almost by rote, “Have you taken your medication? How much did you sleep last night?” This is instead of the human response to such, by asking, “What’s wrong?”

Does the fact that part of me is defined by a diagnostic manual remove my attributes from being purely human? When I reprimand someone, does that person get to ignore the admonishment because “it must be your disorder speaking?”

Can one not simply follow what I say without my words being referenced in comparison to see if it is “normal?” Tell me, have I lost my humanity by virtue of a label?

I’m still me. I’m the same girl I was before my diagnosis, before the years of “madness” sucked me into its whirlpool. I may be confused, sad and depressed.

I may be high in elation.

I’m still me.

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Unsplash photo via Victoria Heath


It can seem like I am alone. I live with a mental illness that no medications are approved to treat, an illness that is hard to identify, often misdiagnosed as borderline personality disorder (BPD), and only estimated to affect up to 1 percent of the U.S. population. It’s likely something you have never heard of; this illness is called cyclothymia.

Cyclothymia may be regarded as a “milder” version of bipolar disorder; it is basically when an individual bounces between dysthymia (“mild” depression) and hypomania (“mild” mania). I put “mild” in quotes because the concept of “mild” might suggest it is not severe and is manageable. However, I will tell you from my own experience, this is hardly manageable. Imagine living in a world where you lack stability: One week you are feeling as high as a kite, and then the next you are hardly able to get out of bed.

Living with this illness is complete hell for me. I can be fine, or feel really good, but then again, I always know the depression is going to come back. It’s like planning your life around depressive episodes and making sure you budget your energy knowing you will crash. Because only up to 1 percent of the U.S. population struggles with this illness, I’ve found it often gets overlooked in mental health awareness videos, online forums, research, medical services and by mental health professionals. In my experience, struggling with this has left me feeling alone, lost and confused. It seems like everyone knows what depression, anxiety, BPD, PTSD and other mental health disorders are, and oftentimes people seem more than likely willing to support people who struggle with those on their journeys to recovery.

But for me, there is no one. It’s as illness that many people ignore; they seem to think, because I am a young adult, it is just hormones. They tell me I will grow out of it. It’s OK, I will get used to it, or I just need to keep working on it in therapy. But I think there comes a time when you have to accept your reality, perhaps not get used to it, but learn to accept and live with it. It means I need to find people who will listen to how my illness is affecting me. But I want you to know…

What is my Cyclothymia like?

Periods of deep, unexplainable depression that come in waves.

Periods of feeling great, like I have finally “recovered” from my depression.

Periods of living in agony knowing my depression is coming back, just waiting to struggle again.

Periods of pain when the memories come flooding back.

Shame, loneliness, self-doubt and pain every time I start to slip. It’s always the voice in the back of my head: “If only you worked on your therapy more,” “If only you went out today,” “If only…” you name it. The voice that tells me my depression, cyclothymia, episodes, patterns are my fault.

Living alone because I have had this likely my entire life and no one knows, not even my parents — and I’m in college.

Living with having to explain to so many people who think I have depression what cyclothymia is and why I don’t have depression.

Living with an illness there aren’t specific medications for. SSRIs have been known to make it worse, and bipolar medications can be too strong and have adverse effects.

Living with the precursor to bipolar I and bipolar II.

I think the hardest thing about living with cyclothymia is the lack of awareness. People see me as someone with bipolar disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder, a hormonal woman — but I am none of that. I am a 21-year-old female struggling with cyclothymia. It’s not my fault. Therapy helps, but for my friends reading this, here is how you can help:

Ask me what my limits are that day. Do I feel up to going shopping at the mall all day? Do I want to stay in and watch a movie? Maybe half a day out and half a day in.

Ask me how I am doing. Ask me if I am in a depressive episode or a manic episode or none. Ask how you can help for whichever episode I am in. Be there for me.

Just listen. Don’t tell me it’s a phase. Don’t tell me it’s hormones.

When I am in any episoderemind me I am loved. The hardest thing can be to accept love because of the emotional instability. Love me even when I cannot love myself, even when I cannot accept love. Love me when I am depressed or manic or nothing. Just love me.

Hugs. Hugs are amazing — they calm me down; they remind me I am loved. Hugs help me slow down my racing or dragging thoughts to hear you.

Talk to me. Tell me about your day, tell me about your job, the dinner you had. Talk to me like a normal person.

I am not asking anyone to “fix” me. Research knows that outcome, but just be there. Be a friend. Know it’s not my fault, it’s not your fault, it’s no one’s fault — but know that I do deeply care about you. I love you, I think about you all the time, I thank God I have a friend like you in my life. I just need help sometimes. Help by first understanding cyclothymia.

Image via Contributor.

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On August 11, 2016, I attempted suicide for the seventh time. This was my most serious attempt, landing me in the ICU for several days as doctors raced against the clock to save my life. Once I was stabilized and completed my stay at a psychiatric hospital, I was referred to a residential treatment facility. I was admitted on August 30th and returned home on November 15th.

I’m writing this almost exactly two months later. These past two months have been my first in complete and total recovery since I first began struggling with mental illness many years ago.

Being in recovery and living a life not totally consumed by my illness is something I once thought was absolutely impossible. Unreachable — a lifetime away from me. Even professionals in the mental health field believed I was too far gone and nothing more could be done for me. I was actually told I was “untreatable.”

Yet, here I am – two months into my recovery and I am doing wonderfully. I want to share the beautiful things I have experienced during these last two months.

Thanksgiving. Being alive and well to experience it. Understanding the meaning of this holiday on a completely new level. Appreciating and enjoying the delicious food.

Christmas. Truly realizing this holiday is not about gifts but instead, about love.

The first snowfall of the season. Feeling the snowflakes on my face and watching my dog run around in complete and utter delight.

Eating at my favorite restaurants over and over again, because life is short and food is wonderful.

Exploring New York City, my favorite city.

Standing at the top of the Rockefeller Center.

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Eating at Serendipity by myself and devouring their frozen hot chocolate.

Discovering chocolate covered potato chips. (Seriously, they’re amazing.)

And just simply, living.

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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Why is it so difficult for people to understand mental illness is real? Why is it such a shock to learn an actual person might be struggling with some form of mental illness, especially in India? I have been pondering on it for a while now.

I’m from India and I have bipolar disorder, major depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), all of which are more than society can accept. I have heard a lot of criticism for the way I am, for the reasons I don’t go out and socialize, for not being who society wants me to be.

There is a general air of ignorance among all “normal” people around me. But it’s not just them. This general air of ignorance also spreads among people who are struggling with mental illness. It is the truth.

Recently, I tried to start a campaign for my cause where people would take selfies, write a hopeful message on it and post it on social media with the hashtag #DontLoseHope. I got the idea from another campaign called #ItsOkayToTalk, which was brilliantly done and spread a lot of suicide awareness among men.

I really hoped people would come together to erase the stigma attached to mental illness in our society by being part of this campaign, but that didn’t happen. I created an event on the page, I posted on Twitter and Instagram. No one came forward to accept the invitation.

I didn’t expect this to happen because there are people who are actually struggling. I thought they would share where there is an ear to listen to them. I was proved wrong.

It’s hard to for people to accept themselves as they are. It is even worse in India, where no matter what’s being said to you, you just silently take in. There is no “team effort” and not a single reason for them to come out and act as a participant in something that might make a difference in the world.

There are people who hold more power than celebrities on Twitter, but I’ve never found anyone who would actually help me spread the word about Hope Is Good. Many people will talk about traffic, the food they are eating, how much sleep they got the night before and outrage about the news. But they won’t talk about stigmatized mental illness.

Is everyone happy who is talking constantly on social media? The people who chirp all day on Twitter, do they go back home, go to sleep and the next day it’s the same as any other day? I know people who are struggling, but they would rather suffer in silence than talk about what’s going on.

I have been trying to get the message across to others for a very long time, but it has hardly worked. It feels like people here are busy faking their good lives rather than accepting the existence of mental illness.

This is the reason it is so hard to spread awareness here where awareness is needed more than anything. I have been trying and I will keep trying, but even in this age, where any news goes viral instantly without much effort, I find myself disappointed with people.

Let’s hope my efforts bring about a change in how this society works. I’ll never stop trying.

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I started reading the Dalai Lama’s teachings to reduce my anger and irritability (often due to my intrusive thoughts and anxiety.) His teachings really help me in my attempt to self heal and be a mentally healthier person. These are my takeaways from his teachings:

1. Stressing out about something inevitable or something that will never happen is useless.

I know it doesn’t solve anxiety, but it is good to remember this when anxiety starts setting in and makes us feel like everything is out of control.

2. Dialogue is the way to solve conflict.

It is extremely important to talk about our mental illnesses in order to get help.

3. We need to find a way to respect everyone.

Try to find respect for the people who do not understand our illness, because negative thoughts hurt ourselves more than it hurts the people who misunderstand us.

4. Your wellness depends on the people around you.

As a person with a mental illness, you need to find a community, rather than staying isolated. We are interdependent.

5. The physical world has limits but our mental growth does not.

It is important to keep busy and grow as a person, through achievements to keep our minds healthy, even when our mind is sick.

6. Better education is the solution to everything.

This includes mental health awareness and mental illness.

7. Our similarities are greater than our differences.  

Mental illness does not discriminate regardless of age, race or class.

8. Compassion is important.

With the number of people who have different mental illnesses, it is important to have compassion for each other and understand you are not alone in your suffering.

9. When we focus on ourselves, our problems seem bigger, but when we focus on others, our problems seem smaller.

I know it’s wrong to say some people have it worse, but the Dalai Lama says it helps to focus on others. I think getting involved in helping our community can help us feel included and less isolated with our problems.

10. We are so much more than our mortal body.

Our body and brain will fail us but we are so much more than them. It doesn’t mean we have to stop trying because we can still grow spiritually and through our actions.

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Image via Dalai Lama’s Facebook

I’ve never been one to shy away from being a fierce defender of the underdog, often breaking through barriers on behalf of those who can’t find a voice for themselves. Whether it’s standing up to bullies or supporting LGBTQ rights as a straight person, you name it, I’ve done it. But no cause has ever been closer to my heart than breaking the stigma around mental health, especially since I have a personal and deeply painful history with it. This is one of the reasons I feel the Bell Let’s Talk campaign is such an important one. For one day out of every year, many people are offered a safe space where they can come out of the mental health closet, share their challenges with the world, and realize that they are not alone. If only every day could be #BellLet’sTalk Day!

I see many clients in my counseling practice who struggle daily with symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress or other mental health challenges. For many, picking up the phone to make their initial contact with me was a mountain they had to climb. After all, we live in a society that first makes it hard for us to admit we have a problem and secondly ask for help with said problem. I always commend my clients for taking the initiative to seek professional help. It takes a lot of courage to own up to your difficulties, open up to a complete stranger and most importantly, be willing to roll up your sleeves and do the inner work needed to heal. It’s not a walk in the park, by any stretch of the imagination.

Opening up old emotional wounds that have been holding you back is like picking at scabs. Here’s the thing though. It’s important to go through the process so you can let those hurts go. Best-selling author Elizabeth Lesser wrote in her deeply insightful book “Broken Open,” “as spiritual beings having a human experience, we each will experience many challenges in our lifetime, be they illness, divorce, unemployment or bereavement. Yes, these moments will test us deeply; but the question becomes whether we will be broken down and defeated by them, or whether we will use them as opportunities to be broken open and emerge from the ashes transformed and stronger as a result of them. I don’t know about you, but given a choice, I would prefer to live wiser and stronger rather than broken down and defeated.”

As I said earlier, I speak about this topic not just from the perspective of a clinical mental health counsellor, but as someone who has been broken open. Everybody’s got a story. Years ago, I struggled painfully with treatment-resistant depression and a decades-long battle with an eating disorder. Broken open? More like broken into a million little pieces! I went through some very dark days I thought would never end. In fact, some days were so bleak and hopeless, I considered ending my life. I remember barging into my family doctor’s office one morning after a particularly rough, sleepless night, throwing all the bottles of medications she had prescribed to me onto her desk and pleading with her: “You need to babysit these, because I was going to swallow them all last night to end my life.” You would think this was the darkest moment in my life, but it was just one of many. For two full years, I was unable to work, concentrate or even walk 10 steps without feeling completely winded. My depression was so severe it affected both my physical body and cognitive abilities.

My mind was so deeply affected I often couldn’t remember where I had parked my car. I remember trying to take up knitting as a hobby on the suggestion of someone on my healthcare team, but couldn’t make sense of the simple diagram instructions that came with my newly purchased knitting needles. It literally felt as though I had lost my mind and couldn’t breathe. Add this to the fact I couldn’t stop crying every single day for two years straight. That’s 730 days of tears! The darkness of depression manifests itself differently in each individual. Some people might feel anger or guilt, loss of interest in things that used to bring joy while others may feel sad or even emotionally flat, too tired to feel anything at all. The symptoms and severity vary with everyone, but this was how depression showed up in my life.

In the midst of my struggle, I felt like I was faced with three choices: going through with my suicidal plan, suffering in silence or using this life test as a stepping stone toward a healing transformation. Suicide would have no doubt ended my physical and emotional suffering, but it also would have devastated everyone I love. Essentially, I would be dumping my darkness onto my loved ones. As someone who has always appreciated Buddhist wisdom on suffering and self-compassion, I opted to embrace one of its most well-known metaphors. Just as a lotus flower grows out of mud and blossoms above the muddy water’s surface, we too have the ability to rise above our sufferings. Sure, life can be messy, dirty and muddy at times. But it can also be beautiful. We have to accept the delicate yin and yang balance between mud and beauty. Between darkness and light. What we resist will persist. So rather than trying to resist the mud, I believe it’s better for us to accept its purpose to nourish the lotus bud until it can break open toward the sun’s rays.

I believe if you tend to your inner garden and break through the inevitable mud that gets slung your way, you will find your way back toward the brilliant sunshine. Just like in Thich Nhat Hanh’s simple teaching “no mud, no lotus,” you can’t have one without the other. In other words, the sooner we can face our suffering head-on, are present with it and tend to it, the closer we will be on the path toward happiness. There really is something to be said about taking the path to least resistance.

And so I chose to use those two years of darkness to diligently tend to my muddy garden. I may not have always had faith my nursery would one day blossom with lotus flowers, but I trusted my healthcare team were expert gardeners who could equip me with the right tools to cultivate my barren flowerbed into the beautiful oasis it is today. All these years later, I can now pay it forward by helping my own clients along their paths toward a brighter tomorrow. This is one way I choose to bust the stigma every day around mental health. Another is by sharing my personal story here to let anyone out there who is struggling right now know they are not alone and that there is a way out from the darkness. I believe all you need to do is take the first step and seek out professional help. Develop a strong mental health care team and apply the techniques they recommend.

If your physician recommends a course of antidepressants or other medication, keep an open mind and ask questions. If your counselor introduces new behavioral exercises and coping strategies that seem foreign to you or difficult to apply at first, discuss your apprehension with him or her so that s/he can help tweak the tools to best work for you. Understand your professional team is made up of subject matter experts in the field with years of clinical experience between them, but remember only you are the subject matter expert on you. Work with them to find a customized treatment plan that makes the most sense for your situation. Above all, do the work. Face the mud. Allow yourself to break open and ultimately flourish.

If you too have a history with mental illness, I encourage you to share your story with others in order to break the stigma. Speaking out about mental health is the first step towards meaningful and lasting change. It fosters awareness and leads to acceptance. Given the fact one in five Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their life, chances are somebody in your inner circle is currently deep in the mud right now. According to the Canadian Medical Association, two out of three people struggle in silence, fearing judgment and rejection. Nobody should have to suffer in silence. Let them know they matter, and help them find their way out of the mud. Not just today, but in the days ahead too. Every day should be Bell Let’s Talk Day.

This January 25, let’s talk to raise awareness and help end the stigma around mental health. On Bell Let’s Talk Day, Bell will donate 5¢ more towards mental health initiatives in Canada by counting every text, call, tweet, Instagram post, Facebook video view and Snapchat geofilter.

This post originally appeared on Huffpost Living Canada.

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.

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

Image via Bell Let’s Talk Facebook page

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