Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What You Can’t See About Living With Bipolar Disorder

There are so many things that people don't see about living with bipolar disorder.

No-one sees the anguish of knowing you're cycling, and feeling helpless to stop it. No-one sees the crushing weight of the depression. No-one sees the drug-like euphoria of mania.

People don't see you curled up in a ball on the edge of your bed as you hold your pill bottle in your hand, trying to convince yourself not to take them because you just can't take life anymore.

People don't see the shame spiral you fall into when you wake up from the mania haze and see the path of destruction you've left behind.

People don't see how deeply sorry you are, and how you'd give anything to not be like this.

No-one sees the difficulty of having to explain that you really are sick, even though you look totally healthy. Or the shame that can come along with looking totally fine, yet being broken into a million little pieces on the inside.

People don't see the internal struggle, the often daily internal struggle of living with this. Sometimes it feels like things will never be right; when you're feeling great, you have to worry if it's mania, or if it's not mania, you're worried about how long it'll last. Then when you're depressed, you have to try and hold on to the hope that there will be brighter days ahead, even though your head is messing with you and screaming that there will never be a light at the end of this tunnel.

No-one sees the tears, because you get tired of sharing them. No-one sees the haunting sadness, because you don't want to scare people away.

People see the beautiful smile, and hear the, 'I'm fine.', and leave it at that.

On the other hand, people don't see the compassion, the sheer empathy, and the love that people with bipolar disorder have for humanity.

We suffer, so we are more in tune with others' suffering, and want to alleviate it.

People don't see the absolute genius that is in our brains, usually because we're too disorganized to bring it to fruition, or too scared of failure, or for any other number of reasons.

People don't see enough stories of hope in bipolar disorder. They hear the horror stories, the untreated souls who are suffering, and think that's all that's there.

There is hope. Medications aren't fun, but they bring you peace and relief from the dark roller coaster ride. Therapy helps you understand yourself better, and gives you practical skills to use when you're struggling. Maybe what people need to see, how hard people with mental illness work to improve themselves.

It's a long uphill battle sometimes, but it's certainly not a death sentence - unless you make it one. And people can't see that without help.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Why I appreciate people like Carrie Fisher being open about MI.

I relate a lot to Carrie Fisher.

She's funny, poignant, sweet, and charitable. I'd like to think I have some of those same qualities.

I once had the opportunity to meet her, and got to tell her how much I appreciated the work she does to bring light to bipolar disorder. I'll never forget the hug she gave me, and how she seemed to genuinely care how I was doing at that exact moment.

I love hearing her talk about the struggles she has with bipolar disorder. I'm really a nobody with bipolar disorder, who writes articles that get a few views here and there. But Carrie Fisher, and Demi Moore, and others, they speak, and they command attention.

I appreciate the work she does because she gives me hope. She inspires me to keep writing, and to keep sharing my story. The fact that she is so raw and honest encourages me to do the same. I think she does the same for others who are struggling with mental illness as well.

There's a quote, 'with great power comes great responsibility', and I feel that celebrities who struggle with mental illness and come out about it, have a responsibility to be real. Don't sugarcoat it. Help people see that we're human, We have fallibilities, yet we have redeeming qualities as well. Fight the stigma.

I can't do that as a relatively anonymous writer, but my heroes, like Carrie Fisher, can.

I love that she fights the stigma, and does it in spades.

I'm grateful for people like her, who have the courage to show the dark side of mental illness, as well as the light side. That there is hope of recovery, and even though the possibility of relapse is always there, it can be overcome. A 'normal' life of purpose and happiness is possible, even with serious mental illness.

That's what I love about Carrie Fisher. She shows that there is hope of a meaningful life, no matter how the odds are stacked. I'll keep trying, I'll keep fighting the good fight because I've got a role model to help keep me on point.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Remembering the importance of stability even when it's boring

It's hard being well. It's hard to continue to take the same meds; day in, and day out.It's hard to 'keep your nose clean', and stay out of trouble. It gets boring.

Living with bipolar disorder is much like walking a tight rope. Too much 'fun' and I'm manic; too much 'down in the doldrums', and I'm depressed. God forbid I have an emotion that is human because it will be analyzed to pieces by myself, my husband, my doctor.

And staying out of trouble gets hard to do when you're bipolar. Many people, myself included, get an adrenaline rush like no other from the heights of mania. Giving that up for stability sometimes looks like a poor choice. You can feel as if you've lost your creativity, your 'spark', your muchness, to quote the Mad Hatter.

So what's a person to do when boredom strikes, and it starts looking like a good idea to 'poke the bear', as some would say?

The biggest thing I do, is talk to someone. That's the number one most important thing you can do when you start thinking stirring up some trouble would be swell. Talk to a trusted family member, or your therapist, or your psych, or even a member of the clergy, if you're so inclined.

Use your emergency contingency plan. I've had to make one every time I've been discharged from a psych ward, and they all look similar. It details what behaviors I exhibit when I'm starting to relapse, who to contact first, and things I can do to prevent things from deteriorating further.

The next thing you should do is actually use those coping skills that are talked about so frequently. For example, I color, I find something to clean, I pull out my Cricut and create something new. I write. I do something, anything, to keep my hands and mind busy.

I certainly don't ruminate. Those voices in my head love trouble, they thrive on it. If I listen to them, I'm headed for disaster.

I suppose the most important thing of all that I do, is not quit my medications at this time. If you're doing well, but you're bored with being well, quitting your meds is one of the worst things you can do for your continuing recovery.

Boredom is okay. In today's world we're taught that boredom is the worst possible punishment you can give a person, and that we must be entertained at all times, but it's not true. Sit with the boredom for a little while. This is super DBT-ish, but let the boredom flow through you like a wave. Acknowledge it is there, and then let it pass on by. Don't hold on to it, but don't push it away either. Soon the bored feeling will pass, and you'll be eternally grateful you stayed true to the course of recovery.

If none of this works, you may well be struggling and need a med adjustment, or a new approach in therapy. But you'll be ahead of the curve by being able to recognize a trigger for you.

I'm not going to lie, allowing myself to be bored sucks. I hate it. I don't like feeling like I need to stir up problems for entertainment. I know myself though, and knowing is half the battle, right? It's hard to admit when you're struggling, at least, it is for me. Don't be like me, who has too much pride to ask for help sometimes. Be yourself, a person who has learned from my mistakes.