Bipolar Disorder, My Real Opinion

Where Does Time Go?

I ask this question all the time. Where did time go? How does the time pass so fast?

Just a heads up, I am in a mixed state, and this blog post may reflect the spectrum of emotions I am currently feeling, so you are going to see some sad, anxious, irritated/angry thoughts. I am NOT looking for pity of any sort, and I am actually okay, just venting. I also have been hyper and not sleeping very well hence the irritability and agitation. I would say this blog is impulsively written, but it is not. If you know me, you know I am honest, to a fault and I do not sugar coat things and just tell it like it is. Even if whatever “it” is isn’t very nice.

Sometimes I think out loud. Sometimes I have no “filter” (thank you hypomania) and sometimes people just need to know the truth (I’m just blunt). The same way I tell people not to give me fluffy responses to my comments or my rants and tell me “Don’t worry, everything will be okay” when they have absolutely no way of knowing that and neither do I. All I know is things will happen the way they are meant to happen.

I don’t know what prompted me to do this today, but I decided to delete some old text messages off my iPad. You know, the ones that are alerts from the bank or the phone company and whatnot. In doing so, I came across so many messages to and from people I haven’t spoken to in months (or even over a year or more at this point in time), or who seem to have disappeared from my life.

I felt a rush of sadness. Like I felt I couldn’t breathe for a minute, I felt a rush of emotion.  Has it really been that long? Is it me? Did I do something wrong? Why do I not speak with these people anymore? Or why do some of my messages go unanswered? Did people forget about me? Are people that busy? Am I a difficult friend? Am I a burden?

Yeah, I get it people are busy. It’s easy enough to forget to answer a message, maybe for a few days or so, or a week, but come on, this generation is pretty attached to their phones.    And quite a few of these people are supposedly “good friends” or “close friends”, so what gives? I get the people who are going through or who have gone through difficult  times but we have had the “I’m there for you” conversation and I actually take the time to send “Just checking up on you” messages periodically when they go MIA.

I try really hard to stay in touch with the people I care about. I even started to reach out to friends I felt I was “neglecting” when I was in my bad state/funk for the last couple of years. I will say, that no matter how “bad” I am feeling, I am still here for my friends. I will warn them that I may not be that responsive or what state I am in so they know why I am “quiet” or being a hermit. I may not be fun or able to go out all the time, but I always (or almost always) welcome my friends in my home. Even when I feel shitty.

And I really want to say thank you to the close friends who do the “check-in” for me and know my patterns. They know me so well that they tell me when they will be unavailable to answer their phones/texts. Another friend who is going through a hard time is also always reminding me she is there for me too. These people are definitely special to me.

When you live with bipolar disorder, it is important to surround yourself with the right kind of people. I know who my friends are. I know who the “imposters” are. I know who is worth my time and who isn’t. As my Mom and I always say to each other, “you only have so many spoons”. And I want to save my spoons for those who count. Or if you read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, you know you only have so many fucks to give. If you haven’t read that book, you should, because it is life-changing. It puts things into perspective.

I have said before that I am not into the “power of positive thinking” and I am not necessarily an optimist or pessimist, I refer to myself as a realist. I am a practical-minded person. I see through people’s bullshit. My husband tells me “you don’t trust anyone”, which is true in a sense. To me, the most reliable person is myself. Which is funny because anxiety and depression make me see myself as “unreliable”.

What I mean is that I don’t trust people to do things the way I like them done or I don’t trust that people will follow through with certain things. I am a “believe it when I see it” person. That’s not to say that I don’t believe people are good, are kind, are thoughtful or generous. Because I do see people that are and I have experienced acts of kindness, generosity and I am grateful for that. I just have a certain distrust because it’s my way of avoiding disappointment.

I fear disappointment because it makes me feel awful. Who wants to feel disappointed? No one. Maybe I am just a really sensitive person? Actually, yes, I am a really sensitive person. I am strong, I am stubborn, but I think people sometimes forget I am sensitive or how sensitive I am. I can easily misread a text message as being rude or curt.

I am getting better with that though. I am learning to remind myself that Facebook messenger/texts/WhatsApp messages are not always the best way to convey important information and that it’s really hard to discern a person’s tone of voice through those methods of communication. So if a message seems “suspect” to me, I have to learn to let it go. Otherwise, I am just fuelling an unnecessary fire. Or as David Bowie sang, “Putting out fire with gasoline”.

I want to share a story about giving too many fucks and what happens when you stop giving too many. I used to care what people at work thought of me and was concerned I was being judged. I felt like no one liked me and felt very isolated. The one person I was friends with left to work for another company. I was so upset and then our articling student, who I was close with, finished his term and was gone too. My two “people” who knew what I had been going through (it had been a terrible summer in 2017) were gone.

So, I decided I would adopt a new attitude. I would focus on my work and act like the little things didn’t bother me. And then something strange happened…All of the other staff started to talk to me, and ask “Are you coming for lunch?” and I now have developed friendships with a few of them. I am comfortable enough to have lunch with these people even when I have a bad day and feel anxious. I have even been able to tell two of them about my journey with bipolar disorder and my experiences with mental illness. I chose to save my energy for what mattered at work.

To quote Mark Manson, the author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck,

Essentially, we become more selective about the fucks we’re willing to give. This is something called maturity. It’s nice; you should try it sometime. Maturity is what happens when one learns to only give a fuck about what’s truly fuckworthy. As Bunk Moreland said to his partner Detective McNulty in The Wire…”That’s what you get for giving a fuck when it wasn’t your turn to give a fuck.”

Bottom line? Choose your fucks wisely.

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Bipolar Disorder, My Real Opinion

How Am I?

 

Ahhh… the question that I think most people with mental illness hate answering. How are you (or how have you been)?

The first thought that pops into my mind is “Does this person really want to know or are they just asking for the sake of asking?”. You know, some people just follow social conventions and follow protocol when conversing or when they haven’t seen you in a while (or spoken to you in a while). And there’s the problem. If you haven’t seen/heard from me in a while, and you are my friend, shouldn’t that give you some indication of how I am doing?

Yes, friendship is a two-way street, BUT, a mood disorder makes it really hard to reach out and say, “Hi! Let’s get together!” or “Let’s chat tomorrow” or make plans and actually keep them. Or even pick up a phone just because, or sometimes just sending a text message or email is hard. You don’t want to expose your true thoughts and feelings and feel like you are under a microscope. You probably aren’t under a microscope, but your anxiety and depression tell you otherwise.

Our minds tell us nobody understands and nobody cares. We begin to believe it. It’s funny, because I look back to how many people were at my engagement party and wedding, and how few of them I have actually seen since my wedding! Is it my fault?  Is it their fault? Does it matter? Do I care?

The people I really care about and that I thought cared about me should know better. Sorry to be frank, but they really should.

Do I have friends? Yes. Do most of them know I have bipolar disorder? I would say many of them do. Do they know I withdraw and “hibernate” when I am not doing well? Yes. Do they reach out and try to help or do anything? Well…few do.

No one is psychic and knows how I am feeling, but if a friend knows my patterns, all I ask is to check in once in a while. I hate “how are you”, but maybe “I’ve been thinking about you, just wanted to say hi”, would get me less irritated. Or just tell me “you’ve been on my mind, I wanted to check in”. I don’t care if you tell me “you’ve been quiet lately”, because then I know that you actually noticed. And I will appreciate that perceptiveness more than you know.

I get that people are busy and have their own lives to live. But I shouldn’t have to rationalize to myself why people aren’t there for me when I am always there for them. I am emotionally and mentally drained. I had a very difficult 2017. Well… I have had a very hard time for the past 5 years let’s say. Getting back to my earlier point, if you are a friend, act like a friend. No, it doesn’t have to be tit for tat by any means. Just be real and sincere.

Have I become bitter and cynical? Am I now a pessimist? I hope not. I am just frustrated and angry about things that have happened to me and my family. Family is everything to me – and we have a small family, so it makes it that much harder to deal with.

Anyone who works full time knows it is tiring. You have limited free time. You only have the weekends. Anyone who has a mental illness AND works full time knows it is even more exhausting because you spend 5 days a week trying to regulate your moods at work and (hopefully) not explode at someone or cry at your desk and trying to keep your anxiety at bay (which is not easy to do). Nothing about anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder is easy.

Am I happy? Not yet. But it’s not out of the question. Some day, I am sure I will be happy again. I just don’t know what will make me happy, and it’s not going to be something material, it has to come from within. They say happiness is a journey and not a destination, so maybe this is a very very long journey.

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International Bipolar Foundation

Happy Birthday To a Brilliant Father From Your #1 Fan

This post was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation’s website: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/happy-birthday-brilliant-father-your-1-fan

Dad quote

Dear Dad,

On your birthday, and on every day, you should know how appreciated and loved you are. I am your daughter that was shy, was afraid of strangers, had separation anxiety from Mom (from what I hear), and was afraid of my own shadow. I played it safe and didn’t take risks. I tried not to be trouble.

You worked long hours and weekends too and spending time with you was special. I wanted to be just like you so I decided I hated butter too because butter was “gross”.

I loved writing and reading very early and we bonded over that. I loved having something in common with you (other than picky food choices), and taking trips to the World’s Biggest Bookstore (or any bookstore around). I wanted to show you I was smart because I saw how people respect you.

I always tried my best in school and in life and tried to be a good daughter so you and Mom would never have to worry about me.

I was very shy and had my fair share of bullying, but you always gave me pep talks about how to deal with bullies. And later on, how to handle terse situations in the workplace. I learned many important people skills from you.

You have been a strong provider of emotional support my whole life. I don’t think either you or Mom expected that I would experience the challenges of living with a mental illness, but maybe in the back of our minds, we all knew it was a possibility given the strong family history. And I have to say, I can’t even imagine what it is like to see your child in that state and to feel like you can’t “make it go away” for your child.

First, it was the anxiety.

No one expected that first panic attack that happened in Montreal right before we were about to drive home to Toronto. I was so scared and begged you to put me on a train or plane and insisted I couldn’t get in the car. Eventually you and Mom talked me down and got me in the car and by the end of the car ride I was okay. You didn’t question what it was and thankfully I had an appointment with my psychiatrist that week and got the treatment I needed right away.

And next came the diagnosis I feared: Bipolar Disorder

Seven years after my first panic attack, we found out why I was experiencing more anxiety than usual, unable to sleep, had out of control spending habits and other unpleasant symptoms. I received the diagnosis I never wanted to receive. I knew the family history. I knew there was always a possibility I could have it. Because of stigma, I thought this was “the worst thing that ever happened to me” and that it would be my darkest secret. But you would not let me turn this diagnosis into a pity party.

I wanted to stay in bed and feel sorry for myself and be consumed by bipolar disorder. You (and Mom) refused to let that happen. You would not let me think I was different and as you always do when I need help or advice, you would give me your famous pep talks.

If it wasn’t for you, Dad, I would not have been able to “come out” of the proverbial “bipolar closet” and write blogs for mental health awareness sites like Healthy Minds Canada or for International Bipolar Foundationunder my real name because I should tell my story. I wouldn’t be so open about my illness. I recognize it is an illness, but it is not a curse. You helped me realize this. Not only do you read my blogs, you use them and my story as an example for others who need hope and who need to know that they are more than a diagnosis.

Something else you have helped me to realize is that I should not compromise my sense of self or change for anyone. I love how stick to your beliefs and you will stand up for what you believe in and you don’t care about the opinions of others.

Just as you revered Grandpa, and we will always remember how brilliant Grandpa was, and how he would have made a great professor, I look at you the same way. You are brilliant. You are a professor in your own way. You are a professor in “The School of Life”.

I was upset when I didn’t get into Teacher’s College as I had no idea what to do with my life, but you suggested that I look into a college program to become a law clerk. I did, and it turned into a great career. I have no regrets about my career choice because it brought us closer. I was able to enjoy the courses at school more as I could discuss class material with you. I was able to feel more confident at work knowing that I am your daughter and people respect you- and boy, do they ever respect you! I always joke that in the personal injury field in Ontario, being your daughter is like being the daughter of a celebrity. Everyone likes to tell me how brilliant, witty and funny you are (because it’s true) and I am proud to be your daughter. You may not have had sons to carry on your last name, but I think your son-in-law understands why I can’t change my last name!

I want to thank you for not letting me get stuck in my head. I want to thank you for coming to my doctor’s appointments with me so you could learn more about me and to learn how to help me. Thank you for not looking at me as “incapable”. You never worried that I would be any less capable of doing whatever it is I wanted to do. You always had faith in me.

Thank you for your never-ending patience, support, guidance and for always reminding me not only who I am, but why I am more than a diagnosis.

Happy Birthday Dad. You Rock!

Love, Your #1 Groupie

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International Bipolar Foundation

Thank You For Showing Me True Friendship

This post was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/thank-you-showing-me-true-friendship

DMB quote

Dear Friend (On Your Birthday), 

We met almost 17 years ago, we dated in Grade 10, we had fun while it lasted (all of 6 or 7 months), and went through the “awkward” phase were we couldn’t be friends because “exes” weren’t friends in high school. But, that didn’t stop us for long. We didn’t realize it right then and there, but we built what we now know is a strong, long-lasting connection that has become one of the most important friendships in my life. 

In my first year of university, when I was overcome with fear after I experienced my first panic attack, you were there. I struggled to understand why I was experiencing social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder and had agoraphobia and of course, with the awful side effects of Zoloft. You didn’t change your opinion about me. When I would call you in-between my classes at school, you picked up and listened to me and said whatever you could to calm me down. 

When I started working in my career job, you were only a phone call away or text message away. You always are here for me. I am so grateful for it. 

You didn’t judge me or look at me differently when I told you about my bipolar diagnosis. Instead, if you hadn’t heard from me for a couple of weeks, you would try to reach me to see if I was okay. I remember once I really wouldn’t answer anyone’s messages as I was “hibernating” and you had to contact my husband (boyfriend at the time), to see if I was okay. 

When you ask me how I am and I say “Okay”, unlike most people, you know that means anything but “okay”, and you try to find out what is going on, but don’t push me too hard to share because you don’t want to pressure me as you know I could withdraw and hibernate. 

Our friendship is a judgment free zone. I can tell you anything and vice versa. I’ve never been so honest with a friend or been able to speak (or text) so freely without fear of being judged. I can admit things to you that I don’t even what to admit to myself. We just get one another. We can tell each other about fears and know that with complete honesty comes complete truth. We support each other’s mental health and emotional health and have helped each other through many tough situations.

I will never forget one spring day a few years ago when I was having a particularly emotional day at work and you came to meet me at my office on lunchtime, and sat with me for an hour, while I cried my eyes out. I was in such a dark place and I don’t know what I would have done without you that day. 

There are many times where I have been “a mess” and you came to the rescue. 

You are the shining example of what a true friend is. You are proof that you can have a long-lasting friendship and grow together, of a friendship where we are both there for each other and where we know each other’s tendencies enough to know when to reach out to one another. 

We are here to encourage each other and support each other, to motivate and inspire each other and we make sure we don’t compromise our sense of selves.

There is no formula for happiness but for whatever reason, when I’m with you, you remind me of happy. When I am anxious, I message you because you remind me of happy. You remind me of an earlier time in my life when I was more carefree and happy. You take me to a place where I feel “normal” and can forget about the difficult thoughts I am experiencing by distracting me. I guess it says a lot about a friendship when you can make a person forget about their problems- even if it’s for a brief few minutes.

When I met my husband, he knew there was a really special friend named Mike in my life. I am lucky that you both like each other and we can all spend time together (and you both have a good sense of humour which means lots of laughs ensue when we are all together). One of the last times I was in a dark, dark, place, you came over and the three of us just sat and talked for hours and it was perfect. 

Thank you for all the late night chats, the long conversations, the support and the confidence you give me. 

Don’t ever let anyone change you. 

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International Bipolar Foundation

A Thank You Letter To A Very Special Husband

This post was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation’s website: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/thank-you-letter-very-special-husband

audrey hepburn

Dear Husband,  

We made it through the first year of marriage (not that I had any doubts, don’t worry)! We’ve been through more than our fair share of difficult times, loss and trying times together. But, through thick and thin, we’ve stayed together and can’t live life without each other. 

I never thought I would find someone who would accept me for who I am and who would accept my irrational fears of stomach flus, germs, change and sometimes other people. I once told you that I really believed “Hell Is Other People”, a line from the play No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre. I am pretty sure I told you this in one of my depressed states. I think I said it out of frustration because I was struggling and I felt like no one understood me, and in relation to how stigma can make a person feel.  

When we met, unbeknownst to either of us, I was in a hypomanic state, and I was fun, spontaneous, hypersexual (compared to what I became in years to come), and I was thin and I was feeling great. I didn’t need to eat much and I didn’t need to sleep much. Of course you wanted to be with me, I was easy going and flirty and I was great to be around (minus the many late nights where you wanted to get more sleep of course). And then I “crashed” that summer and became depressed and I don’t know if I ever recovered. By the winter, I was severely anxious and required an antidepressant that ended up causing a tremendous amount of weight gain which to this day, I still struggle with and has shattered my self-esteem. But, you never stopped calling me beautiful and you never saw me in a different light. 

A few years after we met, we found out why I was having these drastic “ups” and “downs” and severe anxiety. It seems my genetic predisposition to something called Bipolar Disorder came into play, and it was my turn to receive the dreaded diagnosis. I know my existential rants in the middle of the night were probably frightening and my questioning the purpose of my existence, or if I “was really here” probably made little sense to you, but you still held me and made me feel safe. You tried your best to make me feel like nothing had changed and that life was worth living and that my life was not over. 

Because of you, I have managed to keep working, to keep friendships, to learn more about myself and to learn how to better interact with people. You are an extrovert and I have always been an introvert (except for when hypomanic and I overextend myself and think I can handle seeing EVERYONE- when I can’t). You tried to, and have succeeded in bringing me out of my self-inflicted protective shell for the most part, and you have helped me to blossom, even after a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. That’s not hard to do- especially when I wanted to stay in bed on the weekend and forget about the world. You would never let me do that. 

I know you want to fight the stigma toward mental illness with me. You have been trying, and you showed me from very early on in our relationship that the fact that I had an anxiety disorder did not bother you. You understood I had limitations with socializing at times. Regardless of comments from other people, you stayed with me. Even when I had to miss events because of my depression or anxiety, you defended me. You pay little regard to ignorant comments about your desire to be in a relationship “with someone like me” and you are finally learning that as your wife, I am a priority in your life and my mental health is important and if you have to miss an event because I am having a bad day and not well, so be it. I know that was hard for you to accept because you are so sweet and you want to please everyone, especially your family, but I am proud of you for learning to stand up for me and for wanting to be here for me. 

You will always remind me of who I am and why I am here. So, on our first wedding anniversary, I want to thank you for making me want to live life. I may not be able to live in the present moment most of the time, but you are teaching me not to dwell in the past. You are teaching me it’s okay to cry, to let go, to be myself and to feel emotions (because there are days when I describe myself as numb). Having a mental illness does not come with an instruction manual. Imagine how great it would be if it did? We could pick up the manuals for Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety, Depression and learn together. 

We do have our share of arguments like any married couple, which I think means we are doing okay. We have dealt with every struggle that has come our way. We have some things to work on, like any married couple does, but no marriage is perfect. What I do know is that we are perfect for each other and that’s all that matters. 

Love,

Your very appreciative wife.

 

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International Bipolar Foundation

Mental Health Awareness Q&A With David Susman, PhD

This blog was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation’s website, as part of Mental Health Month/Mental Health Awareness Week: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/mental-health-awareness-qa-david-susman-phd

celebrate small victories

The Canadian Mental Health Association first introduced Mental Health Week in 1951, and it has since become a yearly tradition. This year, Canada celebrated its 65th annual Mental Health Week from May 2, 2016 to May 8, 2016.  In the US, Mental Health Month takes place throughout the whole month of May.

Both Mental Health Week and Mental Health Month are opportunities to spread awareness about mental health, provide support, fight stigma and GET LOUD for mental health!

As a person who lives with bipolar disorder (type II with rapid cycling) and anxiety disorders, I like to find out as much as I can about my condition so I can understand what is happening to me and so I can understand past behaviours. I subscribed to BP Magazine  early on and began reading books, blogs and articles to find comfort from bloggers who have been on similar journeys and from mental health advocates, psychologists and doctors who can provide insightful information and follow many of them on Twitter and Facebook.

One mental health advocate/psychologist, David Susman, PhD, whose blogs I enjoy was available to answer a few questions for Mental Health Month that could be shared with the readers of International Bipolar Foundation’s blog.

How do you define Mental Health?

Mental health means different things to different people. But I like the definition provided by mentalhealth.gov(US Department of Health and Human Services): “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”

Do you believe stigma prevents people from seeking necessary treatment?

First, let’s say what we mean by stigma related to mental health issues. It’s a complicated term, but it includes negative beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that translate into bias, prejudice and discrimination toward people with mental health concerns. Yes, stigma definitely gets in the way of people seeking appropriate mental health care, as several large-scale surveys have clearly shown.

What do you see as the biggest barrier to ending stigma? 

In some ways, ending stigma may be as difficult as ending poverty, hunger, or war, since it’s so well-entrenched. I think one of the biggest barriers is that stigma isn’t really even on the radar for most people as even being a problem. They are totally unaware that stigma toward people with mental health issues even exists.

What do you think is the most effective way to combat stigma?

It all starts with raising awareness and education. Getting the word out about stigma and its negative effects on people is key. Getting personal accounts from consumers of mental health services about the effects of stigma is critical to bring a face and a voice to the problem.

Many people try to “self-diagnose” by googling their symptoms, or once diagnosed, google their diagnoses. Do you think this is harmful behaviour?

The Internet is full of both good and bad information. The overwhelming majority of people search for health information online, so that trend isn’t going away. It’s important to help people find reputable, well-researched health sites online so the information they find is reliable. But you still need to have a formal assessment and diagnosis by a health care professional to make sure you receive the correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment options.

What would you say to a person who was recently diagnosed with a mental illness?

Your mental illness is a disease just like diabetes or high blood pressure. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy or broken or hopeless. You didn’t bring this on yourself and it’s not contagious. There are very effective treatments including counseling and medications, and you can still have a really good life and achieve many of your personal goals. There’s also a lot of support out there to help you along the way. But you will have to do your part by learning more about your illness, how to manage your symptoms and take some time to learn and practice helpful coping skills.

What advice would you give to caregivers, family and friends of people living with a mental illness?

Be there for your friend or loved one with a mental illness. Learn more about their condition so you will understand what they’re going through. Above all else, let them know you still love them and care about them and that you’ll do your best to help them.

What advice would you give to the significant other/spouse of a person living with a mental illness?

When you live with someone with a mental illness, it’s sometimes stressful or tiring. In addition to what I said above, it’s important for significant others to also take care of themselves. You can’t help others if you are physically or emotionally exhausted. Connect with support groups where you can talk to and learn from other families going through the same thing.

There are many smartphone “apps” for mediation, mindfulness, mood tracking etc. Can these be effective tools?

I just heard a webinar on this topic. Many people are using mental health apps, but the jury is still out on how effective most of them are, because the necessary research hasn’t been done yet to show if they really work. In the meantime, apps may be a useful tool just like self-help books or websites, but remember they don’t replace working with a health care professional.

How important is it for a person to have a work-life balance?

You hear this term a lot, but it’s really so, so important to have balance in all areas of our life, whether it’s work, home, fitness, spirituality, hobbies, relationships, or health care. This balance is tricky to achieve, but if we’re intentional and planful about it, our chances to improve the balance are more likely to go up.

What are your recommendations for achieving mental wellness?

Have realistic expectations. Problems or struggles aren’t solved overnight. Change is slow and often challenging. Celebrate the small victories along the way. Surround yourself with the important things in life that bring you comfort and happiness: friends and family, pets, enjoyable work and activities, humor, faith, physical activity, good nutrition, adequate rest and sleep, and a positive attitude.

What advice would you give to a person who is struggling with low self-esteem or with a lack of self-confidence? Do you have any resources you would recommend? 

To gain confidence in any endeavor, look for the easy wins first. In other words, try to accomplish a simple step toward a larger goal first. for example, if your goal is to learn to play the guitar, first say you will learn to play one chord. Even making small progress can be very rewarding and can give you momentum to keep working toward your ultimate goal. On a related note, be forgiving to yourself when you aren’t making as much progress as you would like. One particular book which I’ve found helpful is The Self-Esteem Workbook by Glenn R. Shiraldi.

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I want to thank David Susman for his time and insight on behalf of International Bipolar Foundation and for all his many helpful blog posts. I hope that the readers of this post are helped by this information!

About David Susman:

David Susman, PhD is a clinical psychologist, college professor and mental health advocate in Lexington, Kentucky, USA. He blogs about mental health, wellness, and recovery at www.davidsusman.com. He was recently named by PsychCentral as one of the “21 Mental Health Doctors and Therapists You Should Be Following on Twitter.” You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or connect on LinkedIn.

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International Bipolar Foundation

What Happened When I Asked A Few People To Get Loud For Mental Health

This was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation’s website for Mental Health Month/Mental Health Awareness Week: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/what-happened-when-i-asked-few-people-getloud-mental-health

those who mind don't matter

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) first introduced Mental Health Week in 1951, and it has since become a yearly tradition. The official hashtag for Mental Health Week is #GETLOUD. CMHA and the Mental Health Commission of Canada asked that everyone speak up and get loud for mental health during the week of May 2-8, 2016. And of course, as you know, May is Mental Health Month in the U.S.

I asked some friends and loved ones to #GETLOUD and share their views on stigma, supporting me (as a person living with multiple mental illnesses) and to share what they have learned from reading my blogs.

I didn’t do this so I could receive praise or accolades. I wanted to write this blog to 1) show people that you can function well despite and in spite of your diagnosis (es) and that people do recognize it 2) people understand you better than you think and3) you may not realize that you make a difference in other people’s lives. My ultimate goal in life is to write and share my story so I can help other people know they are not alone and to bring understanding and awareness to anxiety disorders, depression and bipolar disorder.

Here are the views of my support system:

Let’s start with my Father. My Dad is a lawyer/mediator and has had clients who have had mental health issues and mediates many cases where the plaintiff has been through trauma and has a mental illness and is unable to work (because of a car accident, or perhaps was on long-term disability). This is what he had to say:

“Understanding the effects of mental health issues on an individual from reading about it is certainly not the same as seeing its impact on one’s child. My daughter Melanie bravely announced that she is bipolar and suffers from an anxiety disorder. She is an example of someone who can function at a high level and multitask galore. She struggles from time to time and has to put up the brave front. She has perfected her acting skills when she has those darker moments. We are proud of her accomplishments, particularly in light of her daily challenges. She is a shining example that despite suffering from a mental illness, one can succeed. When I mediate cases involving individuals who suffer from mental health afflictions following trauma I make sure to use Melanie as an example that one can overcome challenges and move forward.”

On World Bipolar Day, we used the hashtag, #MoreThanADiagnosis because we wanted people to know that we are more than that, and that we can have a real life and not be confined by our illness. Yes, I do have to “act” at work, but the important thing is that I CAN work. I think it is important to show others that there are accepting employers out there.

The next response is from my husband, Daniel, talking about how to support a significant other.

“Things change after a diagnosis, but they don’t have to change for the worst. Being in a long-term relationship with someone who has a mental illness is no different than being in any relationship as all relationships involve hard work and dedication. I have learned that the best way to support a person living with a mental illness (or multiple mental illnesses) is to be kind, patient, caring and to throw some humour in the mix, because as my wife’s Grandfather would always say, ‘Laughter is the best medicine’”.

I will say that humour and laughter is important. Especially when you have anxiety, because something that I find really helps anxiety is distraction, and what better way to distract yourself from your anxiety than laughter?

Nicole, someone I worked with and became close friends with had this to say about friendship and being there for your friends:

“True friends know when their best friend is having a bad day, or is feeling off. They don’t walk away, they stand by and remind them they are loved and you are here to listen anytime. True friends don’t let anyone they love and care about go through this alone. Bipolar doesn’t change a true friendship.”

Nicole never changed how she treated me after I told her about my diagnosis. On my wedding day, as it was nearing the ceremony and I was becoming a little big anxious, she knew what to do to calm me down. She can tell when I am “off” and will check in on me. That is something important for a friend to do, because people who suffer from depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder often tend to withdraw and try to isolate themselves.

Gabriel, a close friend but also someone I work with for my part-time business, talks about a misconception and strength:

“If a diagnosis like bipolar disorder is supposed to slow you down and make you vulnerable then someone needs to tell Melanie because clearly she never got the memo. Melanie is an incredibly hard worker as well as a loyal and compassionate friend. If anyone is dealing with a new bipolar diagnosis they should look to this strong, intelligent young lady for guidance and inspiration.”

I will say that I am a perfectionist and work harder than I should, to my own detriment where I don’t take care of myself, but that’s a story for another time. The point here is that someone else recognizes that fact and the fact that just because you have a mental illness, it doesn’t take away your ability to work or be a good friend.

Mike, a long-time and trusted friend since my early high school days and one person who knows how to handle my anxiety best and be honest with me (even if it’s something I don’t want to hear) said:

“I support my friend because I need them to know that whatever stigma may unfortunately exist out there, does not exist to those who mean so much to me.”

He also said that,

“I guess it is also about trying to separate you from the “illness”. Sometimes I get hurt by some things and can admittedly get mad or whatever. And I need to take a step back and remember it isn’t “you” doing it. I can’t hold anger towards you for it. But sometimes my feelings were hurt and I got a bit upset. I have learned not to let those things hurt me as much. Understand it isn’t “you” and wanting to be understanding an empathetic towards you and make it less about my “feelings”.

This brings up a good point. We all have our good days and bad days. Sometimes my response to people in text messages can seem rude or curt, when I don’t mean them to be, or I am being impulsive because of the state I am in. I never mean to hurt my friends or family and I am trying to be better with my agitation and irritability and to warn people when those symptoms are rearing their ugly heads so they won’t take my comments personally.

Another long-time high-school friend who plays a large role in my life, Elana discusses anxiety and what she’s learned about mental illness over the past few years:

“When Mel had her first panic attack I didn’t realize what it really meant aside from having anxiety and I couldn’t appreciate how difficult the experience was for her. I know people say a condition doesn’t change a person but for Mel, I think that it made her more aware of herself and gave her determination to not let it get the best of her. So no, it didn’t change her but it motivates her.  Reading her blogs and the different articles she’s forwarded to me over the last six years, has made me more aware and understanding of the struggle people with mental illness experience. It’s important that people accept that a mental illness can be just as debilitating as a physical ailment. Yes, the symptoms are different, but they are very real! I learned that just because a person appears happy, doesn’t mean they are.  Since her diagnosis I have become more aware of mental illness and it even has made me more sensitive to my uncle who suffers anxiety as a result of his mental illness. Mel’s determined to stop the stigma and she does her best to encourage and educate her family and loved ones about her condition and mental health in general. Just this year I supported her in World Bipolar Day, something I wasn’t truly aware of, it wasn’t for Mel. So thank you Mel!”

A few things to take away from this:

1) Sharing information really does make a difference and can help your support system to better understand you.

2) Mental illness should be treated the same way as physical illness.

3) A mental illness can change you for the better- I always say that being diagnosed with bipolar disorder made me a better person because it gave me the chance to get to know myself better and I learned to be more compassionate. I admit I still struggle with self-esteem issues and there are bad days, but I don’t regret receiving my diagnosis and finally receiving an answer as to what was “going on” with me.

Elana’s brother, Jordan, has also become a good friend and wanted to say a few words:

“I never really understood Mel’s day to day challenges. She hides things very well. That is one of the reasons I love reading her blog. It allows me to have a better understanding of how she feels and what she struggles with and that allows me to be a better friend. Her blog also helps me with my anxiety issues. There always seems to be something in every post that helps, like an anchor in choppy water. She has the ability to change my perspective (when thinking about mental illness) and routinely shares great stress reducing exercises I can practice at work or home. Mel continues to dismantle mental illness stigma through her work and gives all of us (who struggle or know people who struggle) tremendous hope.”

I do hide things very well, sometimes too well. Sometimes I just don’t feel like sharing, but it is important that people recognize my pattern of doing this and that they read my blog posts and find out how I am feeling. I do find I can express myself better in writing. I highly recommend it – journaling helps too – think of it as getting those negative thoughts out of your head!

This quote also goes back to my earlier point about how you can make a difference by sharing your story. You really never know who you are helping, whether it’s a stranger or a friend.

I hope that anyone reading this can find some comfort, learn something new or if you have bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression (or any mental illness or are just a mental health advocate), you can show this to someone who supports you, a family member, friend, or someone you want to understand you better so they can get a sense of what we go through and how important it is to have a real, honest support system.

Thank you for taking the time to read this!

love don't judge

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