Dear Dad, From Your Daughter With Bipolar Disorder

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My father, my hero. I know that I would not be the woman I am today without my dad. I have lived with bipolar disorder since I was 17 years old and have manic episodes. I have had many ups and downs with my illness for over a decade (I am now 29) and am lucky to have the support of an incredible father.

Throughout my life my dad has taken me to countless doctor’s appointments, visited me when I was in the hospital and at my worst and supported me throughout college — both financially and emotionally — although it took me six years and three different schools to get my bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. My dad has always been one of my biggest fans.

I have bipolar 1 disorder and lose track of reality when I have a manic episode. I have incredible grandiose ideas and lose track of who I am. It takes a lot of patience, support, help, money and love to get me through these episodes. When I am depressed I feel worthless, like a failure and hate myself when I’m depressed. My dad has supported me through all of it, along with my mother and my husband Jeff. They have seen me at my worst and have been there unconditionally.

I currently receive electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments about every six to eight weeks for almost a year now. We have a tradition where, on the night before my appointment, I sleep at my parents’ house, drive to the hospital with my father the day of treatment and then have biscuits and gravy from a local diner to reward myself for going through the treatment. ECT takes a lot out of me. I have had an extremely bad memory after the procedure, knowing my dad, mom and husband support me means everything.

My path has not been easy. Being hospitalized about seven times, taking numerous medications, going to group and individual therapies and building myself up after I forget who I am is exhausting. I often question what my purpose is, but I have no doubt I have been blessed with a loving family, a fantastic husband and a dad who is my hero.

He often tells me I am his hero for all that I have been through. That is the kindest thing he could say and it always makes me feel like maybe I am an okay person. My depression tends to make me lack confidence so hearing his praises really fills me up with pride.

Anyone who has gone through a manic or depressive episode knows you can’t do it alone. Thankfully I don’t have to and I am grateful for all that I have been given. I know I haven’t been the easiest daughter to love and support so this father’s day I plan to let my father, and the world know just how great my dad has been. I love you, dad!

Thinkstock image via dinamelnikova.

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When I Feel Shame Following an Episode of Mental Illness

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Part of my struggle with having mental illnesses is dealing with the shame following episodes of mental illness.

During a manic episode, I lose impulse control. I have many ideas at the same time and I think all of my ideas are brilliant. I meet people online and think I am in love with near-strangers.

After the episode is over, I feel ashamed of how I’ve acted. How could I say those things out loud? How could I take those risks in relationships and get hurt? How could I be so impulsive? That was really dangerous.

Along with the shame I think, I’m not that kind of person. I’m not reckless. I’m not wild. I am a rational, intelligent person. I’m conservative. I’m not that person.

So I tell myself firmly, I have an illness. I had a manic episode. It doesn’t mean I’m a wild and reckless person. I have an illness.

During a dissociative episode, I act bizarrely and tell people fervently that all of these bizarre things at true. I see them look at me strangely but I don’t know why. I hear voices and see things. I have intense flashbacks. My friends get weird and distant. Nobody knows how to talk to me and I don’t understand why.

After the episode, I feel ashamed. How could I have acted so weird and said all this stuff out loud? Now I’ll lose my friendships. I was really acting “crazy.”

So I tell myself firmly, I have an illness. I had a dissociative episode. It doesn’t mean I’m “crazy.” It’s part of my illness.

Shame follows episodes of depression.

I can’t believe I went to work wearing the same clothes I wore the day before, not showering, not even combing my hair. I stayed in bed all day and didn’t show up places. I feel ashamed.

I remind myself, I have an illness.

Shame follows episodes of self-harmWhat kind of person causes themselves pain to deal with emotions?  This is messed up.  I am messed up.

I remind myself, I have an illness.

Shame follows panic attacks. I can’t believe I walked out in the middle of church, or class, or a store. That is so embarrassing. I’m sure everyone was judging me.

I remind myself, I have an illness.

I try to accept that these behaviors are not strange for someone with my illnesses. It’s typical for someone with bipolar disorder to act like I do during manic and depressive episodes. It’s part of our illness. It’s typical for people with dissociative problems to act bizarrely. All of this is “normal” for someone with my illnesses.

Instead of beating myself, I grieve about things that have happened.  I remind myself, I have an illness where it’s typical for me to act in these ways.  It’s not me, it’s the illness.

It’s not as important what has happened. It’s more important that I keep going.

How I act during an episode does not define my character. My character is shown in how I work hard to deal with an episode while it was happening, and keep fighting afterward; how I work hard to repair relationships, to make healthy choices and be a better employee.

I keep going. I strive to manage my illness better, and I work to give myself some grace when I have an embarrassing episode.

I am proud that I endure these episodes and find peace on the other side. I wish these things didn’t happen, but I don’t need to feel ashamed. I just need to keep reminding myself that this is part of my illness, and I am coping the best I can.

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 Marjan_Apostolovic

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How I Learned the Importance of the Correct Diagnosis

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My bipolar disorder diagnosis came out of the blue. It completely took me by surprise, but I guess it’s not exactly something you can prepare for.

Years before, I had been misdiagnosed with depression. I had been on medication which turns out only made my mental health worse. I was being treated for the wrong disorder after all. Antidepressants often worsen the effects of bipolar disorder and that’s exactly what happened.

When I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was angry. I was angry this was happening to me and didn’t understand what I did to deserve it. I was also angry I had been treated for the wrong disorder but didn’t blame my doctors as mental illnesses are often very difficult to accurately diagnose. I would never wish it upon anyone else, but a part of me couldn’t help but wonder why I was the one that had to deal with mental illness.

Why couldn’t it have been someone else?

Why me?

Where did this even come from?

Shorty after I was diagnosed, my mom went to a psychiatrist to get her medication for anxiety and depression that she had been taking for many years. She wasn’t very open about her diagnosis but it wasn’t a secret either. The family knew. But while she was at the psychiatrist she received a different diagnosis.

Bipolar disorder.

Now I knew where I got it from.

I didn’t blame my mom or anything like that — after all, it wasn’t her fault. But I was angry that I happened to be the kid who got the bad genes. I was frustrated that I couldn’t change my genetic makeup or do anything that would permanently fix my brain. I hated being on medication.

But not only was I angry, I was sad too — sad that my mom had been going through the same thing I had been going through. Sad that she had been dealing with it for so many years and had been coping on her own without the correct treatment.

I couldn’t imagine it.

Her strength inspired me and continues to inspire me.

There was also a part of me that felt happy in a way though — excited almost — because now that we had our diagnoses, we finally knew what we were fighting, and more importantly how to fight it. I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time.

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Hope.

Getting a diagnosis doesn’t have to be a negative experience. It doesn’t have to feel like a death sentence. It’s certainly not fun, but you can turn it into something positive if you choose to. It is often the first step to recovery and a better life. Even though it’s hard to be positive and see that in the moment, try your best to change your mindset.

Getting a correct diagnosis is so important because it ultimately determines your treatment plan. Make sure you spend time on your mental health and do get a correct diagnosis, even though it can be incredibly difficult to do and is easier said than done. Get a second opinion. See multiple doctors if you feel like you need to. Do your own research. Make sure you know what you’re up against because once you know what you’re fighting, you can adjust your strategies accordingly and ultimately win the battle.

Now that doesn’t mean that the war is over unfortunately, especially when it comes to something like mental illness. The war might never be over, but you will get better at fighting it and the fight will become easier every single day.

So keep that chin up, soldier; you’ve got this.

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

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Unsplash photo via Joshua Earle

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How I've Learned to 'Weather the Storm' of Mental Illness

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It’s interesting. Nine years later and I can still have those days.

Everything can be perfect. I’m fulfilled. Mentally, spiritually and physically. All my needs are met. Trust is given. Promises exchanged. There is nothing warranting concern. And with a steadfast progression, nothing will change.

But then… it unravels.

Usually, I can pinpoint the moment and prevent the fallout. Experience has given me the tools to prevent the chaos. But depression, anxiety and the ever fickle bipolar disorder, somehow, without rhyme or reason, can get to me.

Sometimes, sometimes. Sometimes a person can’t prevent the spiral. It overtakes. It claims me. It grabs hold and refuses to let go. I cannot reason with it. I can’t prove it wrong. I tend to think of it as an uncontrollable and awesomely powerful storm. Thunder echoes. Rain pounds. Lightning strikes. Hurricanes form, tsunamis crash, quakes split the ground — the entirety devastating everything it touches.

This always proves to be an apt metaphor to me.

Really, this is what can happen. My mind can be torn asunder by an uncontrollable force, and while preventative measures can be taken, there can be the occasional exclusion.

When this happens, when the proverbial storm collides with my sensibilities, for me there is only one recourse.

To ride it out.

While I do, I pray the damage is not too catastrophic. That nothing is beyond being fixed.

I have seen many storms. From mild gusts to vengeful squalls, I have weathered them all. I have lost my footing. I’ve been lost at sea. But every time, a certainty arises. As it always has. As it always will.

The storm ends. The sun comes out. And I can see the world as more — much more — than gray skies and despair. The world is mostly beautiful, even if I can’t always see it. And rest assured, I will see it in that light again.

For those like me, please remember to hold your resolve.

Predict. Procure. Prevent. Prepare.

And when all else fails…

Weather the storm.

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Thinkstock photo via thanaphiphat.

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When Bipolar Disorder Keeps You Unemployed

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I was browsing my Facebook “on this day” app and it said I left my job one year ago today. I was at that job for two years before my mental health took a turn for the worse. Seeing “one year ago” made me realize how quickly time passed when I was taking care of myself.

The issue with bipolar disorder is that sometimes there’s little distinction between reality and the drama your own brain creates. While my employer was not kind and everyone was aware of this, my illness took it a step further.

Anytime I had a bad day at work, it was the end of the world for me. I would come home from work feeling emotionally drained, mistreated and underpaid. While all these things were actually happening, my brain couldn’t turn off at night. I would spend hours going over what my boss said to me about my performance or what they thought of a project I worked on. Any amount of criticism sent me into those dark thoughts of, “Why do I even try anymore? I should give up.”

Many of my coworkers despised my boss, which only made my delusions worse. I couldn’t help but feel everything so intensely, so while my co-workers rolled their eyes at our boss’s comments, I was taking into consideration what steps I could take to end the pain she caused. I can’t get over being mistreated, especially when my brain forces me into making it worse than it needs to be.

Many bipolar people are told they are “drama queens,” and they might be right… at least that’s how my story goes. I am dramatic because my brain tricks me into seeing something as more serious as it is. Empathy comes in abundance for me, and that’s OK.

I’ve been unemployed for a year, but not without trying to find a job. Luckily, my husband’s income is secure enough for us that I can take time off, but I don’t want to. I got a job as a hostess, but on my first day, I drove halfway there and decided to quit. My co-morbid anxiety took over and I couldn’t handle facing people and didn’t feel like I was good enough. So I kept trying.

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I’ve applied for several jobs and when I get a callback, I get excited. When the interview day comes, I bail. Getting a job sounds wonderful in theory, but I can’t imagine myself getting out of bed every morning and having the strength to push myself through each day. And that’s OK.

If you feel this way, too, take time off. While it may not be plausible for some people, it’s important to know that being unemployed is not shameful. Leaving my job was the best decision I could have made for myself. On the verge of suicide, I learned you should never allow someone to influence your thoughts or ability to live. Leaving the situation is the best choice you can make for yourself. I’ve spent the last year working on my mental health and getting treatment while attending school online. I may not be thriving, but I’m making it through each day and that’s all I can hope for.

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. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Thinkstock photo via gpointstudio

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What My 'Bad' Dog Taught Me About Mental Illness Recovery

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted a dog.

Every birthday, every Christmas, every half-doubting prayer at bedtime, I asked for a dog. But it was never the right time. My grandmother moved in with us, it wasn’t the right time. I was busy with extracurricular, it wasn’t the right time. I was in university, it wasn’t the right time.

Finally, in 2015, it was the right time.

It was the summer after I graduated from undergrad. I was living alone in a beautiful old apartment, I had a stable income and the stars had aligned. I spent every spare minute poring over adoption websites. I connected with a rescue based in Ontario, sent in my paperwork, had my phone interview and two weeks later, my precious pup was en route to New Brunswick.

Peyton arrived for a home visit on August 4, 2015. She was eight months old, a skinny brown thing with her tail tucked tight against her belly.

“She’s really nervous meeting new people,” explained the woman who brought her. “She’ll warm up eventually.”

I made it my life’s goal to earn Peyton’s trust and turn her into a confident, happy dog. With enough love, I knew, anything was possible.

Two years later, I’m bawling my eyes out at obedience class.

Peyton, as it turns out, is not an easy dog. She’s what dog trainers call “reactive” – a fancy word for “people cross the street when they see you coming.”

See, Peyton’s developed pretty serious anxiety. The list of things she’s afraid of includes, but is not limited to: men, men with hats, new people in general, strange dogs, confined spaces, things falling on top of her, water, being reached over, people falling, losing her favorite toys, icicles falling from eaves, bicycles, loud cards, anything falling from the countertop, people knocking on doors and autumn leaves that swirl too fast in the wind.

To Peyton, the world is a scary place. And when she gets scared, she lunges and barks and growls so the scary thing doesn’t approach her. And it works, which is why she keeps doing it.

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What I know, and what Peyton doesn’t know, is that she doesn’t need to be afraid of most of these things. When a stranger stops us mid-walk to ask for the time, they are not a super villain with the sole intention of ruining Peyton’s life. But Peyton doesn’t know that, and so she freaks out and I’m left with the embarrassing task of dragging her away while shouting apologies over my shoulder.

“Sorry, she’s nervous.”

“Sorry, she’s scared of men.”

“Sorry, we’re working on it.”

And we are.

Since I adopted Peyton, we have been in an almost constant state of training. Dozens of classes, hundreds of hours of practice, thousands of dollars. Every trainer I’ve worked with has told me some variation of, “Yup, she’s an anxious dog, just keep working at it.” At this particular obedience class, I was crying because I was so embarrassed. The scampering antics of the adorable Boston terrier in the class set her off into a fit of lunging and barking. All the other dogs in the class were indifferent, and here Peyton was in a shrieking rage.

The trainer, a woman named Stephanie who is stern with people and endlessly patient with animals, took me aside.

“Why are you crying?”

“I’m-I’m-I’m em-em-em-embarrassed,” I blubbered.

“Why are you embarrassed?”

“She’s barking. None of the other dogs are barking, I’m worried people will think she’s vicious but she’s actually such a sweet dog…” I began to rattle off insecurities, and Stephanie patiently listened. Finally, I got to the real reason: “I feel like it’s my fault.”

See, Peyton’s not the only one who’s got some issues.

I’ve got mental illnesses, as my mother would say, “up the wazoo.” Bulimia, self-harm, bipolar disorder, anxiety, ADHD — some people collect spoons or stamps, I apparently collect DSM diagnoses. Since I’ve had Peyton, I’ve had two fairly serious episodes, and honestly if it weren’t for her there, it would have probably been more. Pets are not a cure for mental health issues by any means, but when I was sick, Peyton gave me a reason to get up in the morning, to get outside, to make sure I ate and slept and didn’t go out binge drinking for five days at a time. She’s not a therapy dog or a service dog, but she is a constant daily reminder that I have a reason to be alive.

What is frustrating to me is that other people don’t get to see the Peyton I know – the dog who smiles so hard that she sneezes when she’s excited to see you, the dog who snuffles in your ear when you’re crying, the dog who follows you from room to room because she just wants to be near you, the dog whose tail goes so fast that it makes her whole body wiggle, the dog with the clown antics and the goofy face and the big personality. They see a scary dog, a vicious dog, a “bad” dog.

“It’s not your fault,” said Stephanie. “You have nothing to be embarrassed about. You’re doing the best you can. Just be patient with her.”

Patient. That word that comes up again an again in my life.

The therapy will eventually help, just be patient.

The meds will take some time to work, just be patient.

You’ll eventually feel better, just be patient.

I’ve never been good at being patient with myself, but being patient with Peyton is easier. I understand where she’s coming from. She’s afraid, she reacts. For her, there are no mind games, no self-loathing, no disguising your feelings. Just feel and express. Sometimes that expression comes out in unhelpful ways. She’s learning. When she knows better, she’ll do better.

Working with Peyton takes a lot of patience, and through learning to be patient with her, I’ve learned to be patient with myself, too.

When Peyton does something wrong, she’s not doing it to make me mad. She’s not doing it because she’s inherently bad or vicious or spiteful. And when Peyton does something right, she deserves to be recognized and rewarded and celebrated.

When Peyton is scared, she needs comfort. When Peyton is uncertain, she needs direction. When Peyton is stressed, she needs soothing. It is OK to need these things, and it’s OK to need them from other people when you can’t give them to yourself.

Peyton is not an easy dog. She is not a naturally calm or confident dog. She can be hard to deal with at times, but her love is so rewarding it’s more than worth the work. Just because she has issues, doesn’t mean she can’t live a full and happy life. Is it the life I first imagined, when I wished for a dog all those years? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less full, any less valuable, any less important.

Regardless of her struggles, Peyton is important and valuable and worthwhile. She matters. She deserves a good home, good friends, good food. She deserves to feel safe and valued and happy and loved.

And, I’m slowly learning, so do I.

Follow this journey here.

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