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7 Things You Can't See About My Life With Mental Illness

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I decided to start writing to help people like me, but I didn’t really pursue it seriously until my sister passed away unexpectedly last year. I needed to transfer my grief into something productive (that’s just my personality) and so here I am, writing to help others with a diagnosis succeed. I want to give hope, but I also want to share the harsh realities of mental illness, especially since I’ve struggled so much this past month.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

It seems people think navigating through this bipolar life is easy for me. Well, I wish that were so. Most days it’s a battle. Seriously, a knock down, drag out fight with only one winner standing on the other side. I could share example after example, but I’ll try to keep it to a few. With a mental illness, there are a lot of things you don’t see. That’s what people don’t get because if you talk to me any day of the week, you’d be surprised (and honestly most people are) I have a mental illness.

Here are some things about me you might not know:

1. I need more sleep than most people.

People don’t see all the times I go to bed early on a week day (like 8 p.m.) or sleep in late on a weekend (always on a weekend because of work).

2. I need to constantly be aware of my emotions.

They don’t see how hard I have to hold back emotions (I’ve gotten really good at hiding it). They don’t see how many times I have to check in with my body and my feelings. I have to be so in tune with my body, it’s sometimes ridiculous.

3. I need to constantly distract my mind from obsessive thoughts.

Obsessive thoughts for me are constant worries. I have so many worries. Mainly worries something bad will happen or someone will die. I have to constantly refocus my thinking. I have to continually analyze and talk myself out of obsessive thoughts. I’ve had to become an expert at distracting my mind from negative thoughts.

4. I have to be cautious with alcohol.

I learned the hard way it’s best not to drink with a disorder like mine. Not only is alcohol a depressant, it also interferes with the medication I take. Nowadays I only drink alcohol on special occasions and even then, I limit my alcohol intake to one or two drinks.

5. Crowds are scary for me.

I can’t be around huge crowds because I start getting anxious. My anxiety increases when I feel I have no way out. I have to avoid places that have a lot of crowds because it just isn’t a pleasant experience for me and could cause a shift in mood.

6. I have stay on a pretty strict schedule.

Routines are very important for managing my bipolar disorder. Going to bed at the same time every evening and waking up at the same time every morning is key to keeping mood swings at bay. Also with the medication I take, I have to get a solid eight hours of sleep or I’m so groggy I can’t operate a vehicle. A set schedule also mentally prepares me for the activities I have to devote my energy to. With bipolar, my energy level fluctuates based on the activities I do. I have to make sure I have sufficient energy to engage in the tasks I need to do, whether it be work or play.

7. I need to be vigilant of triggers.  

This has gotten easier over time. One of my triggers is violence. I don’t do well with violence and steer clear of violent shows and news stories. Sometimes, it’s inevitable. So many shows depict violence. There are some where I can just look away, squeeze my husband’s hand and he’ll tell me when it’s over. But some shows the violence is never-ending and I just can’t handle watching. These are the shows I no longer watch. One such example of a trigger: My husband and I were watching “The Walking Dead” mid-season premiere and I couldn’t finish it because I was having flashbacks. I literally couldn’t breathe. If my husband hadn’t been there centering me, I think I would have passed out.

But you don’t see these things. I show you only what I want to show you. I’m always waiting for the next tragedy, the next shoe to drop.

You never know what someone is battling.

A version of this piece originally appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation’s blog.

Originally published: May 13, 2016
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