Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

You’ll feel better when the weather is better

Many people who experience depression or mood disorders feel “worse” in the winter with the darker, dreary days and from being exposed to less sunlight. Sure, we can buy light therapy lamps (ask me how often I use mine), wonder if we actually have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD – what a great acronym right?), and then have people tell us that we will feel better when spring arrives.

“You will feel better when the weather gets better!”

“You’re usually better in the summer.”

Am I? How do you know? Is every year the same? No. Is every month, day, week, or hour the same? No.

No one knows what goes on inside my head except for me, so unless you are my psychiatrist, don’t try to psychoanalyze me. Ever. Don’t ever tell me when I will feel better, when I should feel better, what will make me feel better, or what I should do to feel better. Let me figure it out for myself.

I am ready to admit that I am in a state of depression and it is exhausting. It has been going on for years; I have been suppressing it and maybe I don’t look “sad” most of the time, but I am. I hurt. I am in pain. I struggle to calm my mind every night before bed. I battle with my brain every day. Depression makes you doubt yourself and makes you hate yourself, makes you forgetful, makes you feel worthless, selfish, guilty, and all kinds of horrible. But I choose to hold on. I will get to the things I have been avoiding doing WHEN I CAN. Not when others want me to or tell me to. If it is important or urgent, I can do it. But if it isn’t, please let me be.

take invisible out of invisible illness

I appreciate that there is more sunlight now and that I don’t have to drive home from work in the dark. But more sun does not automatically make me happy. In theory, I have all the things in my life that “should” make a person happy – but I am not happy because I have a chemical imbalance called depression and a mood disorder called bipolar disorder.

There were a few traumatic and sad events that happened over the past few years that I never had the chance to process, grieve or deal with because I was so busy with starting a new job and planning a wedding. I never had much time for myself and put everyone else’s needs before mine because it was easier that way. Compartmentalizing is an easy way to “deal” with things you do not want to deal with.

I follow a lot of bloggers on Twitter, and one of them who I really relate to, Natasha Tracy (@natasha_tracy), recently posted a blog, “Why People Forget Bipolar Disorder Is a Physical Illness“. Natasha writes,

For my part, as I said, I never forgot, really, but I acted, in my own life, like I didn’t understand the physical basis for bipolar disorder. I beat myself up for having bipolar. I begged a deity I didn’t believe in to fix my bipolar. I felt guilty for having bipolar. I felt like a lesser person because of having bipolar. I didn’t think I wasn’t good enough to be around others because of bipolar. All of these things suggested that bipolar disorder was somehow my fault and unlike all other physical illnesses – but, of course, it isn’t. Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder – physical – and my actions should betray that fact.

But, like I said, bipolar is a big liar and I am not immune to its effects. Just because I know otherwise, it doesn’t mean that other forces can’t convince me, for moments, that I’m a horrible, bad, no good, awful, weak, messed up person to exhibit the signs of this illness and not be able to “pick myself up by my bootstraps” and just get on with life….

That said, I think it’s important to fight back against this. When we see ourselves doing something that suggests bipolar disorder isn’t physical – like beating ourselves up about bipolar – then we need to confront those feelings with logic and knowledge and remind ourselves that the brain can be sick, just like any other organ, and we just are unlucky enough to have that happen to us.

Perhaps you can read a bit here to help you remember. Or maybe there’s a book that helps you. Or maybe writing helps you. Or maybe doing art helps you. I don’t know.  What I do know is that standing up to this idea is important because not believing that bipolar is a physical illness hurts us – and we already hurt enough already.

Yes. The brain can be sick, just like any other organ. A mental illness is just as real as a physical illness. We must remind ourselves of this and remind others of this, because this is one step towards eradicating stigma.

Stigma, myths and misconceptions are what we fight against. I want to correct everyone who calls the weather depressing or bipolar. I was posting an inspirational quote about owning your story on Twitter last week, and when I went to add hashtags, this is what came up:

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I guess #bipolarweather is a popular hashtag?

It’s not just the use of the words ‘bipolar’ and ‘depression’ as adjectives, it’s the word ‘anxiety’ too. People describe themselves as “so anxious” when they are confusing the word with ‘worry’. The word ‘anxious’ sounds more severe and serious. What is the difference? According to an article from Psychology Today, there are 10 crucial differences between anxiety and worry, and they are very different psychological states.  To name a few differences:

  • We experience worry in our heads and anxiety in our bodies
  • Worry is specific while anxiety is more diffuse
  • Worry is verbally focused while anxiety includes verbal thoughts and mental imagery
  • Worry creates mild emotional distress and anxiety can create severe emotional distress
  • Worry tends to be a temporary state but anxiety can linger

This is my journey. It’s my life and I will live it how I want to. And if you are experiencing a mental illness, remember to take care of you, and learn what works for you – even if it means that you reject the advice of well-meaning people. You may not realize it, but you know yourself best.

planted

 

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

World Bipolar Day 2016 – #MoreThanADiagnosis

Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people. – Eleanor Roosevelt 

richard dreyfuss

World Bipolar Day is March 30th. The theme of this year’s World Bipolar Day is “More Than A Diagnosis”.

Receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is hard. I remember feeling distraught and hopeless for a very long time and worried about what others would think of me. Stigma does that to you. This is why articles like “Just Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder? 20 Tips From Those Who’ve Been There” or “20 Messages for Anyone Who Feels Restricted By A Bipolar Diagnosis” are great because they remind you that you are not alone and are more than your diagnosis (and they show up in your Twitter feed or Facebook feed at just the right time).

I actually managed to finish a book a few weeks ago. This is the first book I have actually finished reading in a long time. The book is called “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” by Jenny Lawson. It is a comforting and funny book (to the point that I was laughing out loud while reading), but also a very honest account of what it’s like to experience anxiety as the following 2 passages demonstrate.

It’s exhausting being me. Pretending to be normal is draining and requires amazing amounts of energy and Xanax…

One moment I’m perfectly fine and the next I feel a wave of nausea, Then panic. Then I can’t catch my breath and I know I’m about to lose control and all i want to do is escape. Except that the one thing I can’t escape from is the very thing I want to run away from…me. And inevitably it’s in a crowded restaurant, or during a dinner party or in another state, miles away from any kind of sanctuary

I know many of you are nodding your heads and relating to those words. “Pretending” at work and in public is exhausting. Whether we are doing it for ourselves or for the benefit of others – it is exhausting. And the description of a panic attack? We can’t escape our panic because it’s in our mind! It’s not like it’s a mosquito we can flick away or something external we can run from. It’s not that easy.

finding the courage

In many of my posts I talk about anxiety. What I have been trying to ignore is the depression. The dark bipolar depression.  My anxiety is still plaguing me. I am managing at work. The drive to work (even thought it’s short) is still hard, and it takes a while to settle in, and until I can eat in the morning. I have a tight chest most of the day at work. But no one notices because I don’t let them notice. I didn’t notice what my mood was until recently, and didn’t realize that I was/am experiencing depression. I fooled myself.

I read this great blog post on the BP Magazine site, “Bipolar Depression Changes My Perception Of The World“, in which the author talks about how her depression takes away her energy, makes her irritable, sensitive and the following passage spoke to me:

I have to remember that I have often been stable before, and I know I have truly enjoyed the world around me, so this memory has to keep me going. I may be looking at life through dark lenses at the moment, but that does not mean that I will never again experience the world as it truly is.

There are many things that I wish people understood about me. Some things I can’t express in words, out loud. I can’t explain my moods sometimes. I can’t and don’t want to justify my need for space or alone time before I go to bed (so I can fall asleep in the right frame of mind). I don’t know when I will feel like doing certain things again. I have to learn to be okay with this.

One day (hopefully sooner rather than later) I will stop looking through the dark lenses. Right now I am grateful for the moments where I experience reprieve from anxiety (and I can attribute some of these moments to my husband making me laugh or trying to distract me with humour). I really am grateful for World Bipolar Day for educating the masses and for making me feel less alone.

I was texting with my friend Mike last week and he asked how I was. I said I didn’t know how to answer that question. It’s true, because I hate saying “I’m fine” when I know I’m not. He didn’t try to probe; I think he had the perfect response, which was, “I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m always here. Anytime, if you want to vent. Or just get your mind off things. Or just for someone to rain truth and praise on you, to remind you of how special and important you are.” This response is perfect because I hate “fluffy” answers – I want the truth, and it made me smile. It’s nice to know we are special and important to someone (and hear it from someone other than our parents/spouses).

A couple days ago, Mike gave me some more encouraging words, which relate to the theme of World Bipolar Day. I was being very hard on myself and said I was selfish and that I felt guilty for being depressed and unmotivated. His response was, “You sometimes need to remember all of the good you do in the world for other people. Realize how successful you have been in spite of your challenges. It’s hard but don’t be so hard on yourself. And if you need a reminder, message me, I’ll remind you.”

Beth Evans

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International Bipolar Foundation

Why I am More Than My Diagnosis

This blog was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation’s Website, as part of the World Bipolar Day campaign: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/why-i-am-more-my-diagnosis

why i am more than my diagnosis 1

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” – Buddha 

There are a lot of scary statistics out there. Mortality rates. Higher risk for diabetes, metabolic conditions, earlier deaths. Adverse medication side effects. What exactly does this cocktail of medications do to my body on a daily basis?

I try not to think about the negative, and focus on other things instead. Earlier this year, I decided, it would be the year of “it is what it is,” because I can’t waste my time overanalyzing everything.

This July, it will be 6 years since my doctor formally diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. I didn’t know at the time what type of bipolar disorder it was (type 2), or that I would go on to experience rapid cycling, mixed states and feel so isolated. I felt so lonely, and alone because I didn’t know anyone else who had this. Sure, I knew people who had anxiety, or depression, but not this. “This” was serious and was not easily cured and was permanent, chronic and was not something I wanted to tell people about.

That was then. Then, I was all too consumed by the diagnosis, and felt terrible (although, I did manage to contract vertigo and hurt my ankle at the same time so I know that didn’t help matters much as I felt physically and mentally unwell). So I guess when my mother told me I was “stuck in my head” I took it very personally and really wanted to isolate myself. But I had a full time job, so that wasn’t entirely an option. That and neither of my parents would let me stay in bed all day, because they knew I had it in me to get up. I am grateful that my mother dragged me out of bed when I didn’t want to get out, and that my family was very supportive and patient with me. Anyways, it took a long time to “get out of my head”, and realize that bipolar disorder was not and is not a death sentence, it is a life sentence (as in you need to really live your life). 

This year, the theme for World Bipolar Day is “More Than A Diagnosis”, which is so encouraging, and I hope that people with bipolar disorder, friends, family members and the public appreciate the significance of this message.

Because of World Bipolar Day, I decided to become a blogger for Healthy Minds Canada, I decided to be more open about my diagnosis, became a volunteer for International Bipolar Foundation and want people to know my story and know about people, like me, who live with bipolar disorder but function very well. There is hope, when you invest in yourself, and are willing to take the time to take care of your mental health, to try and be diligent with your medication and attend regular doctor’s appointments. It is a worthwhile investment. Having a World Bipolar Day makes me feel included, reminds me there is a whole world out there of people who share similar feelings to me and who understand some of my thoughts. It makes me feel less alone.

I was talking to my husband last night and I said, “Listen, if people want to know why I feel the way I feel, or to understand me, just tell them to read my blogs. That’s how they can understand what I go through. What I am thinking. What I am feeling.” I happen to be in the midst of a mixed episode and I do not want to socialize, and it was a situation where he did not want to have to explain to his family why I would not attend a family dinner. The truth is, if I know I can’t handle an event, I can’t go. I want to make it clear that 1) I do not use my bipolar disorder as an excuse to get out of events and 2) forcing myself to go somewhere will set off my anxiety and I know that.

I am sorry to disappoint people, I never want to be a burden, but as Dr. Seuss said, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Family doesn’t mind right? Actually wait, I am not sorry for putting my mental health first, and for recognizing the importance of that. This does not mean I am my diagnosis either, this means I am more than my diagnosis, as I can recognize what is good for me, and I know what to do to manage my moods. This is ME speaking, not the bipolar disorder speaking. And I mean what I say, if someone wants to understand me, don’t just see the label “bipolar disorder.” Read my story, educate yourself about bipolar disorder and synthesize the information. I can’t always communicate how I feel in person or via text or telephone but my blogs provide a whole lot of insight into who I am and how my mind works.

This is why organizations like International Bipolar Foundation are important – they give people like me a voice, provide information for consumers, caregivers, and the public and put on events like World Bipolar Day. We have to get the message out there that there is more to a person than a diagnosis, and that everyone has a story.

Having bipolar disorder taught me many lessons and helped me to get to know myself again. While I was angry and frustrated initially, and of course upset by the amount of medications I have to be on, I am grateful that I can function and I can lead a productive and fulfilling life.

Almost 6 years later, this is what I know to be true:

  • I am not my diagnosis and it is not me (and keep reminding yourself of that);
  • Hope is important;
  • Surround yourself only with people who genuinely care about you;
  • Not every day is the same, so take it one day at a time, or even one hour at a time;
  • You may lose confidence in yourself from time to time, so remind yourself of something you are really good at;
  • Be passionate about something- it doesn’t have to be anything extraordinary;
  • Even something like getting out of bed or emptying out the dishwasher is an accomplishment;
  • Pace yourself (it is tempting to do too much when you are in a manic or hypomanic state);
  • Know your limits – don’t overwhelm yourself, no when to say no and don’t feel guilty about it;
  • YOU ARE NOT A BURDEN= so stop telling yourself that!

Now, I am not saying that I always take my own advice/follow these lessons learned, because it’s easier said than done, but these are important things to remind ourselves of.

I know we all have different life circumstances, and not everyone experiences bipolar disorder the same way, but I want people to know that “labels” are for jars, not people. Bipolar disorder may be the cohesive “label” for your symptoms, but it doesn’t define you. You define you, you dictate who you are.

I want to share a “list” that I keep in my Moleskine notebook that I carry around in my purse all the time, my list says, “Keep this in your wallet or somewhere safe!”, and is titled, “Things to Remember”.  I don’t remember if I created this list before or after my diagnosis but I know I have been carrying it around with me for many years:

  1. You are kind, you are smart, you are important.
  2. You are doing yourself a great disservice by not believing in yourself, so start believing in yourself!
  3. Be the change you wish to see in the world (Ghandi)
  4. Life is a great and wondrous mystery, and the only thing we know that we have for sure is what is right here right now. Don’t miss it. (Leo Buscaglia)
  5. You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you. ( Mary Tyler Moore)
  6. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
  7. Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of traveling. (Margaret Lee Runbeck)
  8. Iwas always looking outside myself for strength and confidence but it comes from within. It is there all the time. (Anna Freud)
  9. Sometimes all that needs to change is your perception.
  10. You are seen, you are known, you are loved.

And finally, I want everyone to remember:

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” – Dr. Seuss

Learn more about World Bipolar Day and how you can participate at www.ibpf.org/worldbipolarday

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