Bipolar Disorder

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    What to Know If You've Just Been Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder

    It’s more than two and a half years later, and I still remember what she said to me, turning my entire life upside down. It was a late evening appointment, so the waiting room wasn’t packed. Comfortable on the plush lavender sofa, I attempted to relax with a hot cup of lemon ginger tea and the lobby’s ambient meditation music. I hadn’t met with my psychiatrist in a while. So much had transpired since my last visit. After some small talk, she pulled up my file on her laptop. I told her that I knew something had been wrong. It’d been three months of little to no sleep, risky behavior, random travel, spending our life’s savings and hurting people I loved in the process. I was surprised I even made it to her patient chair. Someone hurting, who’d lost almost everything, and who just wanted answers. Now for the part that turned my entire life upside down. My psychiatrist said, “Based on everything we now know, I’m diagnosing you with bipolar I disorder .” After we talked about medication, side effects, follow-up appointments and what this all meant for my life moving forward, I jetted to the parking lot to call my wife. Paranoia set in somewhere between flying out of the lobby and unlocking the door to my Corolla. It was hard to breathe, not only because of how cold it was outside but also because of the panic. My wife, supportive and patient on her end of the call, had been through the worst of my episode. I was thankful I had her in my corner because the news was too much to digest. I recounted the appointment and begged her not to tell anyone about my bipolar diagnosis. Shame was at the root of my plea. Invisible walls were closing in. Winter ended and spring passed like rush-hour traffic. With the diagnosis came cocktails of medications, therapy appointments, psychiatrist follow-ups, medication management and dealing with the depression that can exist on the other side of mania . I was encouraged to take as much time as I needed to heal. No one could give me the exact amount of time it’d take me to rest and stabilize. I was convinced no employer would hire me anyways — not when everyone knew I lived with this disease. Eventually, I came to terms with my diagnosis though, at times, the guilt around it still creeps up on me. My therapist taught me to ask myself, “Is this true” whenever negative thoughts invaded my mind. This was especially helpful at times I convinced myself that I was unlovable, unforgivable, forever damned. Things slowly improved. At the end of the day, I’m glad I took the year to process everything that had transpired in the wake of my manic episode . I’m thankful I’m here today to share my story with you. You too can get through this new chapter of your life. Here are a few things to keep in mind: 1. Take it one day at a time. We can’t rush healing. I’ve learned that time is valuable, so if you have an opportunity to take time to rest, work on your wellness routine and build a network of support, you’ll thank yourself in the long run. 2. You’re not alone. This is something I’ve learned in support groups. Others are still struggling with their diagnosis to this day. There is a community that exists for you. A great place to start is the community space provided right here on The Mighty. 3. This is not the end. In fact, it’s a new beginning. It’s an opportunity for you to have clarity on your moods, emotions, tendencies, challenges, and gifts. Yes, there are gifts that come along with bipolar disorder . I’ve personally found this to be true as a parent . 4. Not everyone will understand. For me, it’s been important to be mindful about who I disclose my diagnosis to, and when I disclose it. It’s for my own peace of mind. You get to set the pace and establish boundaries. 5. You are not your diagnosis. My therapist and I worked extensively on unlearning shame. Part of that work was learning to tell myself, “What I did was bad” versus “Who I am is bad.” The same is true for bipolar disorder . You are not your diagnosis, but you live with a disorder. It’s another thing to manage. Tracee Ellis Ross said, “I am learning every day to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be to inspire me and not terrify me.” So, I’m sending this to you wherever you are on your journey. It’s going to work out. And yet, it’s OK to still be in shock, to struggle, to cry, and to feel defeated. Just know living is not in vain.

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    Self-Care Tips for People With Bipolar Disorder

    Self-care has been all the rage for a while now . Sales for bath bombs and face masks have been through the roof, I’m sure. And there’s also been some clap back about the difference between pampering and self-care. I’m not here to argue about what counts as real self-care and what doesn’t. These are just the things I’ve noticed have helped me walk the line between my best self and my best self with bipolar disorder. The Easy Stuff I know, I know. I said I wasn’t here to define. But you have to start somewhere, right? This suggestion comes from knowing what makes my day a little better. In a manic state, I want to feel luxurious, to feel like royalty. And there is no easier way than to pop on a mask, toss a bath bomb into my tub and put on some empowering mood music. It encourages me. It energizes me. In depression, these things remind me that I deserve to take care of myself. That I may not feel empowered, but I am still fighting. These little pampering moments are my rewards for making it through the tough days. Physical Self-Care I’m still struggling with this one. Everyone suggests exercise to improve your mood. But I’ll let you in on a secret: I hate working out. I hate sweat. And that means I have to get crafty with my workouts. Swimming, tai chi, calisthenics and low intensity workouts mean I’m not lying in my bed waiting for sleep, and I also get to burn a little of that manic energy. But workouts aren’t the only physical self-care! Staying hydrated or taking your vitamins are quick ways you’re putting yourself first. Your body can’t function to the best of its ability if you’re not giving it the stuff it needs. And speaking of: if you manage your conditions with medicine, take them! There is no shame in having a prescription so your body can keep going. If your meds aren’t working as well as you want them to, make an appointment and see if you can change up some things! Mental Self-Care It’s OK to have bad days . Give yourself permission to be human. If I’m having a tough time pulling myself out of a depressed cycle, I usually take a day or two to just be there. I may not believe it will get better, but I don’t have to force it. I can sit at home and focus on resting, drinking water and healing myself. On the upswing, I have a lot of frantic energy when I’m manic, and that can get me into some interesting moments. Even though I won’t want to, learning to take breaks and give myself five or 10 minutes where I try to refocus (or do a meditation to ground myself) can make the difference between a bad decision and being in control. Lean into the emotions. Give yourself breaks. Be human. Spiritual Self-Care Being spiritual and being religious don’t have to mean the same thing here. If going to church or synagogue or mosque lifts you up, do it! If going outside and breathing in fresh air or planting succulents in cute DIY containers gives you peace of mind, do that! Find something that connects you to a higher feeling: prayer, meditation, community service or whatever gives you a sense of peace and purpose are things that you should regularly engage in. Social Self-Care This one is a big one for emotional types. Do you feel energized or depleted when you’re with a bunch of people? Is there someone you go to in order to recharge your batteries? Do you know when to keep your plans or cancel? Set boundaries for yourself. It will feel like you’re cutting social engagements out, but in the end you’ll have more energy ( more spoons too! ) for events you really want to attend. Sometimes this will be hard to swallow — I know I’ve missed a couple friend activities because I spread myself too thin and had to back out. Sometimes this will be the best decision in the world — like refusing to take on another shift at work so that you can rest. Whatever your boundaries look like, make them and keep them. They’re for the best. The Prep Self-care doesn’t have to break into “right here, right now” categories. Some of the best ideas for self-care (for me) are actually preventative ones. I make little survival packs in case I can’t handle the task later. Meal prepping is a great example of this. I usually get a couple days of weird moods before I go fully manic or entirely depressed. These few days (as much as I won’t want to) I spend making food for the next week or so. It helps future me stay on track and gives me a little breathing room. I’ve also got long-term preparations that I call survival packs. These are filled with comfy clothes, coloring books, essential oils, my favorite candy and inspirational sayings for when I’m too depressed to do much else. For mania, I include some cash (my spending budget for when I want to shop), a list of DIY videos to try myself and granola bars (a healthier snack than straight candy bars!). Having these prepared ahead of time means I get to worry less about those emotion-based decisions and more about living through the moods. This isn’t the most glamorous of self-care items, but it’s one that I use the most. The Point Self-care, however you define it, is meant to help you live your best life. If you are able to connect with your body’s needs and find ways to healthily cope with life, you’re on the right track. Picking one of these areas is a great place to start, but self-care is about the whole self, and finding balance. Mental illness can take up a lot of your time and energy. Self-care can bring that focus back to yourself. Have any great suggestions I didn’t think of? Pop them in the comments below!

    Sinclair Ceasar
    Mental Health Speaker. Writer. I help Black men unlearn shame around mental illness so they can live fuller lives.
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    How to Find the Right Online Therapist for You

    Seeking a therapist can feel overwhelming, daunting and a little bit scary. What will they ask me? How will I feel? Do I need to tell them everything? What if I feel uncomfortable? The questions we ask ourselves are often what hold us back from making that first appointment. However, professional counseling is often the missing link when it comes to managing our mental health, and sometimes the best person for you might actually be online. Two therapists from Talkspace , Kate Rosenblatt LMHC, LPC, and Amy Cirbus  PhD, LMHC ,  answer some of the most common questions from The Mighty community regarding online therapy. Talkspace’s mission is to provide more people with convenient, affordable access to licensed providers who can help those in need to live a happier and healthier life. Talkspace aims to present more people with the opportunity to utilize and benefit from therapy in a stigma-free environment. Learn More See their answers to the community’s questions below: Is there a difference in treatments if I see someone online versus in person? Online therapy has similarities and differences to in-person therapy. The biggest difference is how you communicate with your therapist. In-person therapy typically involves meeting in an office for a 50-minute or 1-hour appointment (frequency can vary depending on your specific needs). With online therapy, you can often send a text, audio or video message to your therapist anytime you like. Depending on your plan and insurance, regular live video sessions can happen too and can conveniently take place from almost anywhere. One of the distinct advantages of online therapy is the ability to reach out to your therapist more frequently instead of waiting for your weekly in-office appointment. Being able to get support, work on your goals and check in with your therapist throughout the week can make a significant difference. How do I know if my therapist is a good fit for me, especially in a virtual setting? Therapists vary in their specialities and offer different types of treatment, regardless of whether you see them in person or online. The best way to understand what to expect with your therapist is to ask questions about their qualifications, approach and areas of expertise. Finding the right fit can be really hard; it can take some trial and error. Therapists are human too, which means they may not be aligned with your wants, needs and values. And that’s OK! It’s important to find someone who is possibly in a similar life phase (so they relate to some of the experiences you have) and specializes in treatments that are relevant to your needs. Having followers, reviewers or other clients attesting to their competence helps too. After the first few sessions, whether in-person or virtual, start to ask yourself some important questions. Does your therapist spend more time listening than talking? Is this a person who demonstrates empathy and tries to “walk in your shoes?” Do you feel like they are open-minded and fluid? In therapy sessions, clients should be encouraged to lead the way, so it’s important that your therapist is a gentle guide, mentor and facilitator to help you move toward your goals. If they seem to take over the conversation, lack empathy in their responses or appear close-minded to your life situation, they may not be the best fit. I’m not sure how to articulate my feelings. What if I can’t express myself? Everyone is different in how they express their feelings. Some find that activities like art, movement, music and spoken word are the best ways to convey emotions. One of the great things about online therapy is that it allows you to use these mediums (and more) to communicate your feelings to your therapist. Try breaking the ice by sending your therapist memes, videos and songs that resonate with you. It’s also important to always go at your own pace when it comes to sharing what’s on your mind. Will they be able to understand/read how you are feeling on just a computer screen? If you are writing to your therapist, you may need to be more direct about how you are feeling since your therapist won’t be able to hear your tone of voice or see your body language. Consider using other methods of communication, too, like leaving your therapist a video or audio message or sending them some photos of your life. This can help your therapist get to know and understand you better. I keep talking about the same things over and over in therapy — is this normal? It’s completely normal (and typical) to repeat conversations in therapy until you reach a resolution! Sometimes you find it right away, and other times disclosing details can reveal it’s way more complex than you thought and will require more time to work through. That being said, if you feel like you’ve spent too much time on one particular subject, and it’s taking away from your ability to work through other things, tell your therapist you’re feeling stuck. We love your feedback! I’m feeling OK (I’ve felt worse).  How do I know if I should start therapy or wait? Even if you are feeling OK overall, therapy can still be beneficial. It’s a great place to find non-judgmental support outside of your friends and family.  Being in a fairly stable place in your life, as opposed to being in crisis, is also the perfect time to focus on creating and maintaining healthy habits and coping skills. Your therapist should also support you in identifying and achieving personal goals. Therapy is a space where you can reflect on your core values and use those values to create a meaningful life. It’s not only for times of urgency (although that’s important too!). Can I choose my therapist? What if I want to change therapists? Online therapy is, in many ways, like in-person therapy,  so you can always choose your therapist. The client-provider relationship is an important factor to ensuring a successful outcome, so you’ll also be able to select a better match for you if it isn’t working out. However, it’s important to give your therapist a chance to work together for at least a few sessions before making the switch. Is an online therapist available nationwide? I plan to travel in the near future and wonder if it will allow me to get care on the go. Talkspace online therapy is available nationwide. If you are on a trip or traveling, you can stay in touch with your therapist and continue working on your mental health goals. Where can I go to try online therapy? Interested in trying online therapy? Talkspace partners with some insurance plans. Even if you don’t have an insurance plan that covers mental health services like Talksapce, online therapy is typically less expensive than traditional face-to-face therapy. You may find that it fits your budget even if you are paying out-of-pocket . To help you get started, T he Mighty has partnered with Talkspace to give Mighty members $100 off Talkspace services with code MIGHTY . Learn More

    Community Voices

    Which area of your life does your bipolar impact the most?

    <p>Which area of your life does your <a href="" class="tm-embed-link  tm-autolink health-map" data-id="5b23ce6600553f33fe98e465" data-name="bipolar" title="bipolar" target="_blank">bipolar</a> impact the most?</p>
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    45 People Living With Bipolar Disorder Explain What It's Like

      About 5.7 million adults in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder, but the illness is often misunderstood and rarely talked about. Like other mental illnesses, bipolar disorder faces a stigma that can make it difficult for people living with it to openly discuss it or access the resources they need. The Mighty wanted to hear from people who live with bipolar disorder about what they wish others understood about the condition, so we reached out to the International Bipolar Foundation, a nonprofit that works to end the stigma surrounding the disorder and supports those living with it. The organization asked its readers to share one thing they wish others understood about bipolar disorder. Here is what they had to say. 1. “When I’m upset, it’s not always because of my bipolar. I can be upset about having a bad day at work, not having a good night’s sleep or anything reasonable. I’m a human, just like everyone else, and I try not to let bipolar run my life.” — Faith Amber Rios 2. “It can be exhausting and overwhelming to be in your own skin.” — Casie Brown-Bordley 3. “We do not choose to feel the way we do. We aren’t “crazy.” We have an illness. We deserve to be treated with respect, just like anyone else.” — Courtney Lovitt 4. “I know I’m hard work to be friends with, but the ones who stick around mean the world to me and have kept me alive.” — Tess Vandenberg 5. “Articulate, creative and talented people can have bipolar disorder.” — Danielle David 6. “I wish people understood its complexities. It’s not necessarily up one day and down the next. There are also times when you feel completely normal.”  — Emma Brooks 7. “ People with bipolar are great people to hang out with. We do not need pity; we just need you to understand we are different.” — Sam Kay 8. “Everyone who has normal mood swings is not ‘a little bipolar.’” — Kaitlyn Wolff 9. “No matter how hard you work at keeping yourself balanced, you can still get thrown off.” — Kymberly M. Price 10. “Even if on the surface I look like I’m coping, it can take a huge amount of will, the cumulative effect of years of therapy and damn hard work to keep functioning and doing everyday things.” — Tracey Katz 11. “It’s a broad spectrum disorder. No one person with bipolar has the exact same symptoms as another.” — Amanda Stanford 12. “I hate when I tell someone I have bipolar and they get a look of terror in their eyes.” — Christine Kirton 13. “We are not bipolar disorder. We have bipolar disorder. And most of us lead fairly normal lives.” — Amber E. DeCorte 14. “The mood swings can come suddenly and without warning.” — Susan Foster 15. “When I’m down, it’s not a reflection of how others are treating me, it’s just the wiring in my brain. Sometimes I don’t know how to feel because the illness and the medications are difficult even for me to understand.” — Art Wartenbe 16. “Sometimes, I just want to be left alone. Other times, I need a puppy pile.” — Buffy Franklin 17. “People should not feel guilty because they cannot ‘fix’ it. Company and love are the best things they can give me.” — Joseph A. Golden 18. “You are you, even after a bipolar diagnosis.” — Sharon Willheit Frederickson 19. “I can’t help it. I can’t always just ‘calm down.’” — Rachael Lee 20. “You would never say, ‘Wow! This candy is so diabetic.’ So why would you use ‘bipolar’ as an adjective?” — Brandi Hall McBroom 21. “I’m a productive member of society. I’m not some crazy disease that needs to be locked away. I can do things just like everyone else. I’m strong and funny, and there isn’t anything more wrong with me than the next person.” — Alisha Roney 22. “Though it may not seem like it at times, I’m really doing the best I can.” — Mick Goodman 23. “Just because I’m unable to socialize or communicate with friends and family during my low points doesn’t mean I don’t love them.” — Sherry Danielle Fish 24. “[We’re not] crazy or insane. We are just people living with a condition.” — Emma Sinclair 25. “I can fully maintain my status as a good mother and take care of my children just as well and give them all the love and care they need. They’re what keep me going on my dark days!” — Debi Burr 26. “‘Bipolar’ is not a person. People ask how my bipolar is doing more often than how I’m doing.” — Viki Carter 27. “I hate not trusting my own thoughts or decisions because I’m afraid they’re results of my illness.” — Tiffany Bezayiff 28. “Being manic is not all fun and games. When I’m manic, I can be extremely paranoid, hard to understand (due to my fast speech) and anxious. I take risks I shouldn’t take. I’ll be broke during the duration of the episode (due to shopping sprees). I have no sense of empathy for those around me (since that would slow me down), and I’m restless constantly since I’m working on something all the time.” — Emmaleah Brooklynn Alkire 29. “I wish people would stop asking me if I am happy or sad.” — Lisa Marie Miller Osban 30. “Not everything is due to my bipolar. Sometimes I’m just an as*hole.” — Sarah Klapprodt 31. “People sometimes don’t get how debilitating it can be because it’s invisible.” — Pamela Jean 32. “You sometimes feel incredibly lonely even though you’re surrounded by loving family.” — Hayley Bootes 33. “Just because I’m having a bad day doesn’t mean I didn’t take my medicine.” — Sarah Howerton Kakkuri 34. “I’m tired of apologizing.” — Heather Souza 35. “I wish when people think I’m having an ‘episode’ that they wouldn’t get scared and hide, afraid of what was to come. It sets me up to fail.” — Katie Kennard 36. “My mood does not always mirror my character.” — Asit Mohanty 37. “I don’t always understand it either.” — Stephanie Lee 38. “When under the strain of bipolar’s strongest symptoms, we certainly can make selfish decisions, but that doesn’t make us selfish people. In fact, because we have struggled and known such depths of darkness, our compassion runs deeper.” — Lyss Trayers 39. “For many of us, mania is not an extreme elation or euphoria — it’s anger and irritability and impulsivity and recklessness. It’s a big loss of control of our grip on rationality and reality.” — Lyss Trayers 40. “I’m not a mean person.” — Beth Wilcoxen 41. “I’m standing in the middle of a seesaw trying to stay perfectly balanced.” — Emily Anne 42. “I am still me no matter my mental health.” — Niki Mcbain 43. “I wish more people understood the physical toll managing this disease takes. It’s not just side effects from medications — it’s also the sheer exhaustion from adrenaline rushes, fatigue from depression, etc.” — Toni Jacobs Burke 44. “Being on medication doesn’t mean I won’t have breakthrough mania or depression.” — Michelle Mirabella Fowler-Wise 45. “I can be happy, I can laugh, I can smile and I can feel good about the world and about life and be optimistic about things without being manic or hypomanic.” — David Luzhansky *Some responses have been shortened and edited. ** Editor’s note: This headline has been changed. A previous version of the story was titled “46 Truths People With Bipolar Disorder Wish Others Understood.” For more resources and information about bipolar disorder, visit the International Bipolar Foundation. If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline . You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world. The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here .

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