Mental Wellness

Today marks the last day of May and my final post for Mental Health Awareness Month. Do not let this stop you from reading or discovering more about mental illnesses, though – or rather, mental wellness, as I heard someone say this month. Because that’s what we’re striving towards. And I think today’s link makes that point.

Too often, when someone asks us how we are, our conditioned response is, “I’m fine.” Even when we’re not. Especially when we’re not. But what if we were honest with ourselves? What if we were honest with others? What if we opened up to those we trusted and let others help us heal? It’s not easy, but worth it.

Don’t read over what follows: if you or someone you know is struggling with depression or mental stress, text ‘Start’ to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. It’s free and confidential; and someone is available to talk to you 24/7. You can visit their website www.crisistextline.org for more information. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) or National Alliance on Mental Illness (800-950-6264) for support and local referrals.

What I Would Say If I Was Honest About My Depression

By Fraser Speaks

I’m not OK.

I wish I could tell you this. I want to so many times. When you ask how I am.

I’m not OK.

Is what I want to say.

Instead I nod my head. Usually just one confident nod. Sometimes I’ll nod a few times. For security.

Tilt it slightly to the left.

Make sure my smile is big but not too big.

I am so good!

And then I immediately segue into talking about you. Asking how you are. What you have been up to. Steering as far away from the subject of me as I can get us. See how good I am at it? I amaze myself sometimes with how good of an actress I can be.

I feel myself dying a little bit more on the inside. Angry that I let another opportunity come and go. Another opportunity to open my mind up, just a little, and let some of the creatures out.

But I don’t. I can’t. I want to. I want to so badly. But I can’t.

Because here’s the thing: I was fine the day before. I was fine the week before. I’ve been fine for a whole month before!

Before it came back. Because it always does. It tricks me. But it tricks you more.

You see how good I have been. Maybe I was even great. Amazing. Fantastic. And I want you to know I really was. But you, like so many others, were tricked into thinking maybe it wouldn’t come back. That sense I had been doing so well. I’d been so happy. That I could do this.

You’re not the only one though. It got me too. Except, deep down, I always knew the truth. I knew it would eventually be back. It always comes back.

And so I can’t tell you. I like feeling as though someone is proud of me. I like seeing and hearing something other than concern when someone asks how I’m doing. As long as I don’t say it aloud.

I’m sick.

Then I can pretend for a little while longer that I am OK.

So I can’t tell you. I don’t want all of that to disappear yet.

Even though I need you. The longer I continue treading water, trying to keep a smile showing above the water, the more detached I become. Not just from you. From everything. Family. Friends. Strangers. The world.

The longer I keep news of this unwanted trespasser to myself, the harder it becomes for me to get away from it. The harder it becomes for me to kick it out of my house. Out of my mind. The harder it becomes for me to defend myself from his advances. Eventually I will become too tired. And I’ll let it take my innocence and spirit away. What’s left of it anyways.

My therapist says I need to open up to someone.

Who are your close friends? Maybe one of them?

My mind goes blank.

Who is your best friend?

I have turned into a mute. Unable to come up with an answer. Unable to say anything at all.

I tell him I don’t know anymore. I tell him I feel so removed from everyone I don’t think I have any. I tell him I don’t feel close to anyone.

He asks when the last time I felt like I had a best friend was. I tell him I don’t remember.

He tells me my mind is telling me all of these things. And I know this. I do. But I can’t shake the feelings and thoughts that have once again taken up residency in my already overcrowded mind. I don’t have the energy to evict them right now.

The loneliness. The sadness. The numbness. The fatigue. The overall melancholy that seems to hang over me at all times. So thick I sometimes I can actually see it. Hanging dense like fog. Hanging heavy on me like humidity in the summer when all you want is relief from the heat. It smothers you. Except this kind of humidity isn’t warm. It feels cold. It numbs me more instead of thawing me out.

I’m always cold. But I wake up at night sweating. My sheets damp from it. The side effects of my terrible, violent, excruciating dreams. So vivid I wake up screaming and crying more often than not. There are shapes lurking in the shadows, but the light is even more frightening. I can hear people whispering. And I know it’s about me.

I want to tell you this. I want to tell you that Saturday night I sat on the bathroom floor hugging my knees as tight as I could in an effort to keep myself from falling apart even more. I want to tell you about how badly my sobs scared me. How I found myself yelling in anguish. I want to tell you about the only way I was able to get any sort of relief from this. But I don’t want to scare you.

I want to tell you about the hand that roughly grabs my heart every time I decide to leave my house. I want to tell you about the dizziness that takes over. Sometimes just from walking across my room. The shortness and sharp intake of breath when this happens. I’m too tired for this.

I don’t want you to think of me as a burden. As another source of anxiety. Of worry. I don’t want you to pity me. I don’t want you to think of this as something to add to the list. The list of what’s wrong with me. I don’t want to pollute your happiness with my despair. I don’t want you to see me as something to be handled with care. Something fragile that could shatter if you talk too loudly.

Because I need you. I need you to remind me of how strong I am. I need you to be a place where I can rest. A bench to sit quietly on. To cry quietly on. Something to steady myself on so I don’t end up all the way on the ground.

I don’t need advice. I don’t need you to talk. I just need you to sit quietly with me. I just need you to sit next to me. To hold my hand. To help me up. I just need you there so that the loneliness and the sadness and the despair doesn’t drown me. I just need some help treading water for a little longer.

But I can’t tell you this. I can’t tell you because I am scared to admit it to myself yet. I need you to know my silence doesn’t mean I’m angry with you. I need you to know my awkward response doesn’t mean that I don’t want to talk. It means I don’t know how to talk. It means I don’t know how to connect my brain with my mouth and with my heart. I’ve forgotten how to.

And so I’ll whisper it onto this slate. Hoping it becomes lost among the rest of these thoughts.

I’m not OK.

* * *

To celebrate the release of my new book, Stay With Me, as well as commemorate Mental Health Awareness Month, I will be posting articles and links on the subject through the month of May. Please share this with your friends and family. And don’t forget to get a copy of my book. Go to https://ruthegriffin.com/home/bookshelf/stay-with-me/ for more information.

‪#‎mhm2016 ‪#‎MentalHealth ‪#‎MentalWellness ‪#‎StayWithMe

Dealing With Others Judging Your Treatment

If you have a cold, do you take medicine? How about an infection? Do you hesitate to go to the doctor to get a prescription for an antibiotic? Now what if you suffer from diabetes or hypertension? Any issues taking a regular cocktail of medicines or relying on pharmaceuticals to bring some semblance of order into your life?

Too often, it’s easy to judge someone and their situation based on our experience, our knowledge, our opinion. We don’t know what that other person is going through yet we decide we know better than them when it comes to their disease. Regardless of what anyone may think though, mental illnesses are valid diseases and no one should be shamed for seeking treatment or taking medicines to help them.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, text ‘Start’ to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. It’s free and confidential; and someone is available to talk to you 24/7. Visit their website at www.crisistextline.org for more information. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) or NAMI (800-950-6264) for support and local referrals.

When People See My Pills and Say, ‘You Know That Stuff Is Poison, Right?’

By Danielle Clapham

You stand there and laugh at my little plastic cup filled with pills.

You think it’s funny how my dorm shelves are stocked like a pharmacy.

“You know that stuff is poison, right?”

I know… I know what you don’t…

For while you laugh at my pharmaceutical cocktail,

You can’t see the cane sitting on top of my wardrobe,

The one I’ve named

Because somehow it makes the object harder to hate.

You can’t see the scared 16-year-old girl having vials and vials of blood drawn through needles she used to be afraid of,

having too personal pictures taken of her bones in three different hospitals,

and the 18 months of her body being attacked by an enemy that no expert could name.

 You haven’t seen the girl who cries in bed because even gravity is too heavy,

and yet is scared to take the pain pills for fear of addiction.

If pain gives you strength, then I could lift mountains.

I’m strong enough to stand in front of you while you laugh at my “poison.”

I can sit here with you and swallow these rainbow-colored pills that you think are my choice to take.

Because I know what you don’t…

What a luxury it would be to have the ignorance enough to laugh

* * *

To celebrate the release of my new book, Stay With Me, as well as commemorate Mental Health Awareness Month, I will be posting articles and links on the subject through the month of May. Please share this with your friends and family. And don’t forget to get a copy of my book. Go to https://ruthegriffin.com/home/bookshelf/stay-with-me/ for more information.

‪#‎mhm2016 ‪#‎MentalHealth ‪#‎MentalWellness ‪#‎StayWithMe

Suicide Attempts Are Rarely Rational

Because suicide attempts are rarely rational, your response, however sincere, should not be one of tired clichés or viral memes. Read the following article comes from bhHope, but I encourage you to go to the site to read the comments too. It’s always helpful to hear from those who have ‘been there and done that’, because they can help you help others.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, text ‘Start’ to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. It’s free and confidential; and someone is available to talk to you 24/7. Visit their website at http://www.crisistextline.org for more information. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) or NAMI (800-950-6264) for support and local referrals.

Bipolar Suicide Attempts Are Rarely Rational

It’s not helpful to tell someone in the grip of a bipolar episode not to make a permanent decision for a temporary problem.

“Don’t make a permanent decision for a temporary problem.” I get furious when I hear or read this anti-suicide catch-phrase of medical professionals. Partly because I am fairly certain the person uttering it doesn’t understand bipolar patients and their suicide threats or attempts. Partly because rational thinking is not a precursor to any suicide attempts that I know of among bipolar spectrum sufferers.

Maybe a bullied student might pause when hearing, “Don’t make a permanent decision for a temporary problem.” But as a person with bipolar II, when I have contemplated suicide it is when I am far beyond any rational thought. The roaring in my head has become a true tornado, yet my thoughts are not fast moving like during a manic episode. Everything I know swirls into an undecipherable mess. The only thing I know for sure is that I feel rage. Anger that is initially directed at the person who bullseyed one of my triggers, leads to heightened disgust with myself for being unable to prevent a bipolar II reaction. Next comes tsunami-sized frustration with the cycle that is my life. That is it. I am not envisioning loved ones. I don’t consciously want to hurt them. I just don’t even think of them — it is as though they do not exist.

The roar is the only existing thing.

David Foster Wallace has compared suicide attempts by some mentally ill patients to someone trapped in a burning high-rise: “It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames.” To borrow from Kay Redfield Jamison in “Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide” — “The future cannot be separated from the present, and the present is painful beyond solace.” I know during my mad confusions, I haven’t been able to latch on to upcoming celebrations and future milestones to flush suicidal urges. It is just current pain pushing me toward a dangerous action.

To cite suicidal impulses as responses to temporary problems trivializes most bipolar suicide attempts. The elephant in the room is that while we can have good lives full of love, as with any chronic disease there are near-constant worries about:

* our conditions worsening,

* the loss of friends who don’t understand,

* medication side effects,

* career implications,

* family members who get fed up with us,

* money problems related to treatment,

* etc., etc., etc.

Thanks to emotionally extreme episodes we have already experienced, we often find ourselves without a soul willing, or available, to hear about our latest crisis.

Because of the past, we feel certain we will come back to this dark place. Yet my suicidal thoughts seem to wham me to the ground with little warning. (Not to say that extreme depression doesn’t lay many people who are bipolar bare for long periods while suicidal thoughts flit about the corners of their consciousness. I just personally am more familiar with the rage-driven road to the emergency room.)

So, can we please have a new catchphrase aimed at preventing suicide attempts by people who are bipolar? One that doesn’t pretend we sit around making spreadsheets about life and death? Better yet, since stock phrases are rarely appreciated in the best of times (much less when your brain resembles a storm cloud), let us hope for continued advancements in understanding, medications, and other forms of treatment. Then maybe we can experience lives less fraught with the desperation that drives bipolar suicidal urges.

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To celebrate the release of my new book, Stay With Me, as well as commemorate Mental Health Awareness Month, I will be posting articles and links on the subject through the month of May. Please share this with your friends and family. And don’t forget to get a copy of my book. Go to https://ruthegriffin.com/home/bookshelf/stay-with-me/ for more information.

‪#‎mhm2016‪#‎MentalHealth‪#‎StayWithMe‪#‎Autism

21 Tips to Help You Keep It Together When You’re Depressed

People often mean well when they offer you advice about how to deal with your depression, but things like, ‘You should exercise more’ or ‘You don’t have anything to be sad about, just think about other things’ just aren’t helpful. Unless you’ve been there, I have discovered that the best thing to do to empathize with someone suffering is to just be there for them, to let them know you’re there. That will go farther than any advice you can offer.

That said, if you have been there, your advice can be invaluable to someone who is in the throes of depression. I found this article years ago and held onto it, knowing it would eventually come in handy. I want to write more, but I really think this one speaks for itself. And not just that, it’s actually helpful (see #17). Enjoy.

21 Tips to Keep It Together When You’re Depressed.

by Rosalind Robertson

A while ago, I penned a fairly angry response to something circulating on the internet – the 21 Habits of Happy People. It pissed me off beyond belief, that there was an inference that if you weren’t Happy, you simply weren’t doing the right things.

I’ve had depression for as long as I can remember. It’s manifested in different ways. I did therapy. I did prozac. I did more therapy. My baseline is melancholic. I’d just made peace with it when I moved, unintentionally, to a place that had markedly less sunshine in the winter. I got seasonal depression. I got that under control. Then I got really, really sick. Turns out it’s a permanent, painful genetic disorder. My last pain-free day was four years ago.

So, this Cult of Happy article just set me off. Just… anger. Rage. Depression is serious – debilitating, often dangerous, and it’s got an enormous stigma. It leaves people to fend for themselves.

It’s bad enough without people ramming Happy Tips at you through facebook. There is no miracle behaviour change that will flip that switch for you. I know, I’ve tried.

A friend of mine suggested that I write something from my point of view because, surprisingly, I manage to give an outwards impression of having my shit together. I was shocked to hear this. And I find this comical, but I see her point. I’m functioning. I’ve adapted. I’m surprisingly okay. I think the medical term is “resilient”.

So, here it is.

My 21 Tips on Keeping It Together During Depression

  1. Know that you’re not alone. Know that we are a silent legion, who, every day face the solipsism and judgement of Happy People Who Think We Just Aren’t Trying. There are people who are depressed, people who have been depressed, and people who just haven’t been hit with it yet.
  2. Understand that the Happy People are usually acting out of some genuine (albeit misguided. concern for you, that it’s coming from a good place, even if the advice feels like you’re being blamed for your disease. Telling you these things makes them feel better, even if it makes you feel like shit. (If they insist on keeping it up, see #12.
  3. Enlist the help of a professional.  See your doctor. You need to talk about it, and there are people paid to listen and help you find your way to the light at the end of the tunnel. 
  4. Understand that antidepressants will only do so much. They’re useful, they’ll level you out and give you the time you need to figure out your own path to getting well. They can be helpful. There are lots to choose from. They may not be for you, and even if they are, they take some time to kick in. Conversely, they may not be for you. Work with your doctor.
  5. Pick up a paintbrush, a pencil, an activity you got joy from in the past and re-explore that.  Or, sign up for the thing you always wanted to try. There is a long history and link between depression and creativity. It’s a bright light of this condition, so utilize it to your best advantage.
  6. Eat nutritionally sound, regular small meals. If you’re having trouble eating, try to focus on what you’d like to eat. I went through a whole six week episode of tomatoes and cream cheese on a bagel twice a day. Not great, but it was something – helpful context, I’m a recovered anorexic. Conversely, if all you want to do is scarf down crap, try to off-ramp it by downing a V-8 and doing #9 for 15 minutes, and see how you feel.  Chucking your blood sugar all over hell’s half acre is going to make you feel worse.
  7. While you’re doing #3, get some bloodwork done. If you’re low on iron or vitamin D, or if your hormone levels are doing the Macarena… these can all contribute to zapping your energy or switching your mood to Bleak As Hell.
  8. If you’re in bed and the “insomnia hamsters”, as I like to call them, are on the wheel of your head, watch Nightly Business News on PBS. This has the effect of Nyquil. Swap out your coffee for herbal tea. If you just cannot sleep, try the next tip….
  9. Learn how to meditate. Start by focusing on your breathing. Not sleep, not thoughts. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Meditation is focusing on being present in your body, not careening around in your brain. It may not be as good as sleep but it will give you some rest and recharge you.
  10. Face a window as often as you can – at work, at home. Look out into the world. Watch. Observe. Try to find something you find pretty or interesting to focus on. And, handily remember that one in five of those people out there feel the way you do.
  11. Better out than in. Sometimes it’s not convenient or career-enhancing to cry, so find a private place as best you can and let the tears go. Carry Kleenex and face wipes and extra concealer if you wear makeup. You can always claim allergies.
  12. Any “friend” who resolutely believes that your depression is because you’re lazy, because you’re not trying hard enough, who blames you for not bootstrapping out of it- that friend needs to be cut off. Polite (#2. is one thing, but there is a limit. You don’t have to explain, you can just not respond. You feel badly enough, you don’t need their “assistance”.
  13. Limit your time with people who drain you. You know who they are. Often you don’t have a choice- but you can put the meter on. And, subsequently, be aware of what you’re asking of those close to you.
  14. Everyone has stuff they’ve got to deal with. What you have been saddled with is your stuff. Recognize, just as you’re not alone, you’re also not unique. The grass may look greener, you may be jealous or envious of others who don’t have to deal with depression, but you likely do not know everything that’s going on with them.  
  15. Let go or be dragged. This is an old Buddhist saying. It’s a very useful way to frame aspects of depression. Betrayal, anger, fear… letting go is a process – often a painful and difficult process – but it’s ultimately going to show you the path out of this terrible place. Repeating the mantra can help when you’re feeling gripped by these feelings.
  16. Wear clothes that make you feel confident. It takes as much time to put on nice clothes as it does to put on sweatpants. You will want to wear the sweatpants. Fight the urge. The whole “look good/feel better” campaign isn’t limited to cancer and chemotherapy. Or women.
  17. Avoid fictional drama and tragedy like the plague. No Grey’s Anatomy, no to The Notebook, or anything that won a Pulitzer prize. You’ve got enough going on In Real Life. Comedy only.  Or trashy stuff. Old episodes of WonderWoman? I’ve got the box set. Mindless drivel, like the latest CGI blockbuster. Or clever, funny books. David Sedaris. Jenny Lawson. Fiction exists to elicit emotion, and the emotion you need to express most right now is laughter.
  18. Simple exercise, if you can. It can be something as simple as taking the stairs up a flight, or walking around the block. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, it doesn’t have to involve climbing a mountain or running a marathon. Baby steps.
  19. Depression will lie to you. Depression will try to tell you what others are thinking.  That you are unloved and unworthy, that others think little of you or don’t care – or even wish you harm. You are not a psychic. Keep repeating that. “I am not a psychic”.  Repeat. The only way to know what another person is thinking is to up and ask them.
  20. If you are well and truly losing this battle, reach out to someone. I’ve been the random friendly-but-not-close person who has fielded the occasional outreach. I like to think I’m not judgemental and generally resourceful, and others have thought the same, so they called and asked. You know someone like me. And they will help you.
  21. Forgive yourself.  I’m writing out all these tips, and I can’t always muster the strength to even stick my nose outside, or walk up the stairs, or eat my vegetables. Today, I got outside for ten minutes. I will try again tomorrow. And I will try again the day after that.

This list will not cure you. This list will not flip on the happy switch. God, I wish it were that easy. The theme here is to not to unknowingly sabotage yourself. All these little things? Like your blood sugar, or watching nonstop episodes of House, or endless Try Harder lectures from your Perpetually Perky sister?

They all make dealing with depression just a tiny bit harder than it needs to be. And it’s hard enough, all on its own.

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To celebrate the release of my new book, Stay With Me, as well as commemorate Mental Health Awareness Month, I will be posting articles and links on the subject through the month of May. Please share this with your friends and family. And don’t forget to get a copy of my book. Go to https://ruthegriffin.com/home/bookshelf/stay-with-me/ for more information.

#mhm2016 #MentalHealth #StayWithMe

 

Crash Course in Bipolar Depression

Want a crash course in Bipolar Depression? Experts are great, but they can only take you so far. Sometimes for a better picture of what life is really like with bipolar disorder, it’s better to hear from those who actually live with it.

Bipolar disorder is a serious, often misunderstood mental illness that causes dramatic shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels.

During BuzzFeed’s Mental Health Week, members of the BuzzFeed Community were asked about their experiences with bipolar disorder.  Here are their quotes as well as an interview with psychologist Vaile Wright, Ph.D., director of research and special projects at the American Psychological Association, to give a better picture of what life is really like with bipolar disorder.

  1.  Bipolar disorder usually includes manic and depressive episodes, but there can also be hypomanic and mixed episodes.

manic episode might include extreme overconfidence and happiness, and sometimes irritability or anger. Someone in a manic state may have racing thoughts, talk faster than normal, not sleep, or behave in impulsive, risky, or dangerous ways (like spending lots of money, having risky sex, stealing things, etc.). A hypomanic episode is similar to a manic episode but is typically shorter and less severe.

depressive episode can include feelings of sadness, loneliness, and low self-esteem. Someone in a depressive state may lose interest in things they typically enjoy, have difficulty concentrating, sleep less or more, or have suicidal thoughts.

mixed episode is one that includes both manic and depressive symptoms at the same time.

  1. There are a few different types of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is known to occur on a spectrum, says Wright. According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are four main types:

Bipolar I Disorder: When you have a manic or mixed episode that lasts at least a week, or is severe enough that it requires immediate hospitalization. Plus, this is usually accompanied by depressive episodes.

Bipolar II Disorder: When you experience both depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but without any full manic or mixed episodes.

Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (BP-NOS): When you have symptoms of bipolar disorder that don’t technically meet the criteria for any specific type.

Cyclothymia: When you have hypomanic and depressive symptoms that don’t quite fit the criteria for mania, hypomania, or depressive episodes (and it lasts on and off for at least two years).

There’s also rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, where you have four or more episodes in a year. You can find more info from the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) here.

  1. People with bipolar disorder are not “ticking time bombs.”

“After finding out, people treat me like a land mine. They walk on eggshells around me, because they think that if they do/say one wrong thing, I’ll explode. I am not a land mine. I am not a time bomb. I’m a 16-year-old diagnosed with several mental health disorders, working as hard as I possibly can to not let the negative sides of my mental health rule my life.” —Caitlin via email

  1. And they probably don’t fit the stereotype you have in your mind.

“We’re not all misunderstood ax murderers or manic pixie dream girls. We’re your siblings, classmates, hell, maybe even your significant other! Just like any other medical condition, bipolar disorder comes in all shapes and sizes. You might be surprised to learn that it’s not just classified by out-of-control highs or suicidal lows; a lot of the time it’s a mix of some pervasive melancholy in between. The other two certainly happen, but they aren’t always recognizable in day-to-day life for the untrained eye.” —Sara via email

  1. In the moment, a manic episode might feel like a super productive high.

“When I’m having a manic episode, I’m unstoppable. Mania inspires me to pick up new hobbies, like knitting or couponing, just to drop it all the second my manic episode has ended. In the beginning of a manic episode, it just feels like a productive day. It starts off with me doing everything I’m supposed to without much effort. But then I’m up at 3 a.m. reorganizing my closet even though I have to be at work early. When I’m manic, I don’t feel bipolar. My mania feels like success. It feels like I’m finally doing everything right and nothing can go wrong.” —Julia La Bonte via Facebook

  1. But mania can also be scary and unpredictable.

“Mania isn’t fun or simply being hyper and happy. There’s that ‘sweet spot’ you hit before everything goes out of control where you’re productive, extroverted, chatty, creative, you feel great and at the top of your game — but it’s not like that all the time. It spirals out of control pretty quickly. You’re irritable and angry and paranoid. You spend too much money, you drive recklessly, you put yourself in compromising situations, you act out sexually, you can’t stop talking. You don’t sleep. You become obsessive, you start to see and hear things. And going from such an extreme high to such an extreme low is exhausting.” —Anonymous via email

  1. Depressive episodes are similar to major depression, and they can happen again and again.

“The depression inevitably comes to break up the party, and when it does it feels like the worst it’s ever been every single time. When you’re manic it’s hard to even remember you could possibly have been depressed before because you feel so good in that moment, and when you’re depressed it’s impossible to believe you’ve experienced happiness in your life.” —Reese Smith via Facebook

  1. Mixed episodes aren’t just erratic mood swings — it’s feeling several emotions all at once.

“Mixed episodes are a special kind of hell where depression and mania are happening at the same time. They’re terrifying and they’re dangerous (suicide risk is highest during mixed episodes because you’ve got suicidal thoughts and you’ve got the energy to act on them). I used to get really bad mixed episodes and I didn’t know what was going on — I didn’t know mixed episodes were a thing so I just assumed I was losing my mind. I thought I was uniquely fucked up and defective and undeserving of help, and if I’d known about mixed episodes I would’ve felt less isolated and desperately alone.” —Justine via email

  1. Having bipolar disorder is more than just highs and lows.

“There are also delusions and hallucinations and really bad paranoia. There are so many symptoms that people don’t know are associated with bipolar.” kirstens4bb5adb45

  1. Being moody or indecisive isn’t “bipolar.” Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness.

“I hate when people throw around the adjective ‘bipolar’ for someone who is moody, snappy, or having a bad day. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been around co-workers who complain about a colleague being bipolar. It’s hard because all of me wants to set them straight by saying, ‘No, she’s just emotional,’ but I stay silent because I don’t want to out my own mental illness.” —Jessica via email

  1. And it isn’t something you can just beat with sheer will.

“My best friends asked me if I even want to get better. I don’t know how to describe the desperate need to get better, the scrambling and the weight of it all, and knowing that at the end of some unknowable amount of time, it’ll start all over again. I wonder if everyone is secretly thinking Are you even trying to change? when the war between my moods is absolutely trying to debilitate me at the deepest level. I’m tired as hell.” —Jessica Hudson via Facebook

  1. Not every emotion or mood swing is a symptom of bipolar disorder.

“I would love for people to know that sometimes I actually do feel normal. Sometimes a sad thing happens, and I feel sad, or a good thing happens and I get excited, but it’s just being sad or excited, it’s not always depression or mania. I’ve done fun and impulsive things and had my friends say, ‘She must be off her meds.’ … And it’s taken a lot for me to not punch those people.” —Megan Jones via Facebook

  1. But sometimes even people with bipolar disorder will wonder if a random feeling is actually the start of an episode.

“You know you will have swings again and you question every emotion or rough night of sleep. Is this normal sadness or am I getting depressed? I feel confident about the things ahead — am I getting manic? It becomes a battle to determine what is real and what is bipolar. At times, you lose who you are.” —Shannon via email

  1. Episodes can last for days or weeks and change in an instant.

“A lot of people assume if you’re bipolar you’ll go through a myriad of emotions in a single day. Some people do. But there are weeks where I do everything I need to, weeks where I feel like I can and will get all the things I want out of life. And then in what seems like an instant, I tell myself I should just commit suicide already and be done with it because I’ll never amount to anything. Logically I know it doesn’t make sense, but saying ‘you shouldn’t feel that way’ doesn’t work on anyone ever.” —Destiny Kruse via Facebook

  1. Having bipolar disorder isn’t like the romanticized images you see in TV and movies.

“I’m excited to tell my story because it isn’t a story that gets told often, at least not without the polished glamour of Hollywood. Bipolar disorder isn’t cured by love, as indicated in Silver Linings Playbook, nor are the psychotically manic highs quelled with one pill and a nap, as in Homeland.” —Beth via email

  1. And bipolar disorder does not make someone inherently violent.

“I wish people knew that we’re not violent. In fact, we’re much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.” —Morgan via email

  1. You won’t necessarily know someone has bipolar disorder until they tell you.

“On the outside, I’m a very functional mature adult and no one would ever suspect me having a story like this to tell. Mental disorders are real and should be taken seriously. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” —Shnay Patrice via Facebook

  1. In fact, manic episodes may even be mistaken for ambition.

“Who goes to the doctor or a therapist when they are ‘flying high’ or ‘so ambitious’?! My personality, activism, and academic career actually masked my manic episodes. I was applauded for being super driven, successful, and involved in everything. The experience was much different, though. I was propelled by fear, numbness, and guilt. Sometimes I felt like I was a tiny person looking down on my body, going to five meetings a day, partying all weekend, and drinking at lunch on weekdays.” —Robin via email

  1. Talking about your bipolar disorder can be really difficult.

“Now that I’m in a good patch of life (I always acknowledge that it can change at any time), when I talk about being bipolar I sometimes get a reaction like I’m being overdramatic or saying it to be trendy or something. If I talk about my disorder when I’m in the throes of it, I’m crazy, and if I talk about it with a clear head, I’m faking it. How can you win? It’s a lifelong journey, that’s for sure. I love myself though, and I am grateful that I have a VERY strong support system.” —Alycia Michelle Adame via Facebook

  1. When someone does tell you about their diagnosis, just listen and be there for them.

“I go and meet with my psychiatrist at least once a month and am stable on medications, but people look at me like I’m an unhinged crazy person when I disclose my diagnosis to them. I’m still me. I just know and understand what’s going on, and because of that, my doctors and therapists are better able to tailor my treatment specifically for me. So please, stop looking at me like I’m a ticking time bomb.” —Greta via email

  1. In fact, many people keep their illness private for fear of judgment or punishment in the workplace.

“I was once demoted from a management role and told to work from my home office after disclosing that I have bipolar to a VP. He said it was to help me. He kept my pay the same, but for many years I was petrified to tell anyone outside my immediate family for fear of repercussion. I wish I could say that I told my current company I have bipolar, but I still live in fear of workplace repercussion. I’m sure they will find out sometime. I need to gather the courage before an episode takes me away and I have to explain it from a hospital room.” —Anonymous via email

  1. Experts still aren’t entirely sure what causes bipolar disorder.

“The best science suggests some combination of genetics and biology along with environmental factors,” says Wright. “We know if a parent has bipolar disorder, the child is more likely to have it, but that doesn’t mean they will have it.” It’s currently thought of as a brain disorder, since research shows that the brain may function differently in those with bipolar disorder.

  1. The road to getting diagnosed might be a long and frustrating one.

“I have dealt with bipolar disorder for over half of my life (since I was 11, and I am now 24), but I was only diagnosed when I was 20. People don’t understand how hard it is to diagnose bipolar disorder. I went into my general practitioner, was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and put on some antidepressants. Unfortunately, that actually aggravated my bipolar disorder. I had no idea why every time I was trying to get better, I just got worse. It wasn’t until I saw a psychiatrist that I really started to get better.” —Thomson via email

  1. Treatment for bipolar disorder is not one-size-fits-all.

“Medications play a really critical role in assisting individuals, but that can look very different for different people,” says Wright. And one person’s treatment can even vary from time to time. For instance, the medications and therapy schedule for someone during a severe manic phase will likely be different from what their doctor prescribes during a maintenance phase, when they’re feeling stable and very aware of triggers. Every individual needs a tailored treatment plan, a high level of support, and ideally a very collaborative relationship with their treatment providers so that they can have these discussions about what works for them and what they feel like they need [at any given time].”

  1. Finding that perfect treatment plan can take a lot of trial and error.

I tried over 14 different combinations of antidepressants and antipsychotics over a period of three months. It was a roller coaster of emotions and frustration and feeling lost, but today I’m on a medication that works for me, and feeling better than I have in a long time.” —Anonymous via email

  1. Once someone finds a treatment plan that works, it can be a struggle to actually follow it.

“If I let myself forget, I know I’ll start to listen to the constant undercurrent that tells me I’m blowing everything out of proportion and the medication isn’t actually necessary, because come on, you’ve been fine for almost three years now — surely those doctors must have been making a big deal out of nothing. And that’s the danger, for me. If I stop taking care of myself, if I’m not constantly vigilant…well, I won’t relapse right away and I know that. I’ll probably be OK for a little while. For months, maybe even years. Or maybe just weeks. Or maybe tomorrow. I really never know.” —Robyn Ostrokol via Facebook

  1. It’s not uncommon for someone with bipolar disorder to decide to stop taking their medication.

“This is something that seems difficult for people to understand: why you would stop taking your medication and put yourself at risk. It’s hard to answer that question, and I’m sure the answer is different for different people. For me, I guess I just didn’t like to deal with the unpleasant side effects of the drugs and at the same time there was certainly a sense of denial about my diagnosis. I was sure it had to be wrong, sure that I was just going through ‘normal’ adult changes that come with big life stressors. It became clear that this wasn’t the case. I started a new medication regimen a few months ago and my mood has been stable since then. There are still difficulties, but I try to take them in stride.” saraw13

  1. And some people may turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.

“Getting off of cocaine and retiring my habitual marijuana use (which is extremely common among people with bipolar disorder) was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. For anyone who suffers from bipolar disorder and addiction (dual diagnosis), I encourage you to seek help. Chemical dependency programs exist and they’re awesome. I’m 90 days clean now and it couldn’t have come at a better time.” a4538e3f66

  1. Making an effort to understand this disorder is one way you can be there for someone you love.

“It’s incredibly frustrating when loved ones don’t take the time to read up on bipolar disorder, and don’t try to communicate in a way that isn’t overly aggressive or condescending, or if they don’t make a concerted effort to avoid your triggers. I’ve heard ‘what do you have to be depressed about?’ or ‘you don’t seem crazy’ about a thousand times from even my closest family and friends. Calling me crazy is offensive, but I refer to myself that way sometimes.” —Chelsea Thomas via Facebook

  1. Bipolar disorder, like any other serious illness, does not define you.

“We need to change the way we think as a culture about certain illnesses. We don’t say, ‘Hi! I’m Diabetes!’ Or ‘I’m Cancer.’ Or even ‘I’m Depression.’ So why do we say ‘I’m Bipolar?’ You are not your disease. You have a mental illness, it does not have you.” —Martamary via email

  1. Patience and understanding are deeply appreciated.

“Even though there are periods of time where we seem cruel and selfish and irritable, or reclusive and negative, we do still care about you and your feelings, too. And we appreciate the people who stick by us and try to understand during these episodes. Many of us are learning as we go, and we are thankful that you’re there with us.” saraw13

  1. Bipolar disorder is a treatable illness, and it is absolutely possible to lead a fulfilling, productive life with bipolar disorder.

“To people like me out there, bipolar disorder isn’t who you are. Bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance in the brain that we were born with. Despite popular belief, bipolar patients can have a normal life. They can have a spouse, children, and a successful career. I achieved all of those things through cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and an indomitable spirit. And you can, too.” —Anonymous via email

  1. Please, don’t be so quick to judge someone with bipolar disorder.

I’m not crazy. Something in my head just works different than yours.” —Angelica via email

I am not broken. I am not insane. I am strong. I am independent. I am me.” —Sydney via email

“Living with my diagnosis proved to me that I was stronger than I could have ever thought. I am strong, I am worthwhile, and I can and will live through this!” —W. via email

“I would urge anyone who is struggling with bipolar to find someone you can talk to. Surround yourself with people who accept you for you because YOU ARE AMAZING. Not broken, not flawed, your brain just works a bit different, and that is OK.” —Hannah via email

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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To celebrate the release of my new book, Stay With Me, and commemorate Mental Health Awareness Month, I will be posting articles and links on the subject through the month of May. Please share this with your friends and family. And don’t forget to get a copy of my book. Go to https://ruthegriffin.com/home/bookshelf/stay-with-me/ for more information.

‪#‎mhm2016 ‪#‎MentalHealth ‪#‎StayWithMe