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

Honesty Is The Best Policy- I think

If I told you I didn’t answer your call because I was at a doctor’s appointment, what would your first reaction be? Would you think I was seeing my family physician for a specific reason or for an annual check up? Would you be worried that I was feeling unwell for some reason? Would it ever cross your mind that I was seeing my psychiatrist for our regularly scheduled appointments?

I have to leave work early to go to my appointments, so when I say goodbye and I am leaving for the day, if anyone asks, I just say I have a doctor’s appointment. I sometimes am met with a look of concern, and am asked “Are you okay? Is everything okay?”. No one thinks I am going to see my psychiatrist. Only those at work who really know me know where I am actually going.

Why am I thinking about this now? Well, yesterday, during my appointment I missed a call, and then received a text message asking how I am etc. I apologized for missing the call via text and said I had been in a doctor’s appointment. The response I got back was hope I am okay. I made a decision that I was not going to sugar coat and say “Don’t worry, I’m fine, it’s nothing”. Nope, not how I want to do things. I responded that I was at my psychiatrist’s office. I am pretty sure this made the recipient uncomfortable because the next message ended the conversation and I felt like I was being brushed off.

So, it got me thinking. We have mental health and we have physical health. We need to take care of both. We go to various specialists or to our family doctor when something is physically wrong. A psychiatrist’s specialty is to treat mental illness and to help you maintain your mental health. I take care of my mental health. I am tending to my mental health. What is wrong with me being open to anyone and saying where I was?

I will tell you – NOTHING. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me expressing myself and feeling comfortable enough to say that. Did I feel slighted and like this person did not want to hear anymore or know more about it? Yes. But I want to know what makes people so uncomfortable? Particularly if they already know I have bipolar disorder.

I think I know what it is. Some people forget I have bipolar disorder. Not that I am trying to pat myself on the shoulder, but I have adapted very well and I have good insight into my illness and how to manage it as best as I can. These past 8 years have been one heck of a journey and there have been numerous stressors/crises that I have no idea how I got through, but I did.

Why do people “forget”? I am high functioning. I am not sure how I became this way, but I push myself every fricken’ day to get out of bed and go to work. Yes, there are days when the anxiety wins and I stay home, but those are rare compared to before. I function at work. People at work don’t notice my symptoms because I am so good at hiding them or “controlling” them. I mean, worst case scenario, I can just say I am PMSing right? Or really busy/stressed.

I am open about my experiences with bipolar disorder. There are a few people at work who know about my journey, but there are also definitely people there who would not know what to do with this information and it’s easier for me if they don’t know. It’s not worthy my energy. You never know how someone will react when you tell them, but sometimes you do get a sense of who may understand you.

Recently, I reconnected with two friends who had both played important roles in my life. One actually facilitated the introduction between myself and my husband and has always had a big heart and is a kind person. The other, is someone who I had a relationship with and who actually was with me when I developed anxiety and first had panic attacks. He is a kind soul and I was lucky to be with someone patient and understanding, considering I also had agoraphobia. I don’t know what made me want to reconnect, but when I did, I was really forward and shared my diagnosis. I was met with supportive responses.

I wasn’t surprised. These are people that were in my life when I started to have anxiety and first started an anti-depressant. These are definitely two people who are non-judgmental and I am happy I decided to reconnect with them. I don’t think these friends realize the impact they have had, so I hope that they read this and now know.

I have to add that when I met my husband, he had the opportunity to witness a panic attack during our second date. And it didn’t scare him away. He couldn’t do enough to help me. He is still like that.

Bottom line – some people do not have the capacity to understand, some people don’t care to understand, and those who do understand- cherish them. As my mom keeps saying, “Every day is a gift”. So tell people how you really feel!

Tell them how you feel, even if it makes them uncomfortable. If someone you care about isn’t supportive of you, tell them. Or if they make you feel uncomfortable for being you, say something. Life is short, so you should enjoy the people in your life and get rid of the people who no longer bring you joy. I told my doctor yesterday I know who my tried and true friends are (and they know who they are) and that I don’t need to have 100 friends. I just need people in my life that are genuine.

I am not the easiest person to be around at times. I am irritable and agitated and sarcastic and excessively chatty and perhaps annoying when I am hypomanic. Or I am bordering on being a hermit when I am in a depressed state. I am either too willing to share, or not willing to share at all. Or I am angry at the world and think no one understands or cares, but that is so far from the truth.

It is not difficult for us to believe the lies depression and anxiety tells us. I mean, when you’re in that state, it’s easy to feel like you deserve to be alone, and nobody cares, or you are a burden etc. My mind tells me “Keep it to yourself. NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR IT. YOU ARE. BURDEN”. But keeping it all in, that is not a good idea either. When you reach that breaking point, and you just can’t stop crying because you’ve held it all in, then depression tells you “Do you even have anything to be this sad about? There are people who have it worse than you”. And then you cry even harder. Or at least that is what happens to me.

Sometimes I feel guilty for sharing my thoughts because I am convinced the person on the other end of the conversation is thinking “Okay, what is she so worried about/complaining about? It’s not so bad. It will pass or get better. Other people have it way worse”. Yup – that is my thought process. I am afraid of being a burden or people wondering what is so bad in my life that I am “always anxious” or never happy.

I realize this blog post has gone off on a bit of a tangent here, I apologize. I think being able to share your thoughts without fear of judgment is important and it is great when you can share how you feel with someone who doesn’t minimize your feelings. I had an incident the other day at work on lunch where someone minimized my feelings and it made me feel pretty sh*tty, especially because she knows I have bipolar disorder and anxiety. Like I said before, some people forget I do.

Is honesty the best policy? Maybe. I think is if you want to know who your real friends are and you want to be your real self.

 

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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

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

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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PS I'm Bipolar

Expect The Unexpected

 

(This post first appeared on my blog, PS I’m Bipolar)

When you have bipolar disorder or you are bipolar, or you are living with bipolar disorder, (depending on how you prefer to refer to yourself, because I once saw this very clever posting on Facebook that said “Label jars, not people”) initiating and maintaining friendships is no easy feat.

The easiest way for me to express what I want to say is to put friendships into different categories – and break it down into “before” and “after” the diagnosis. As much as I, or most of us don’t want to admit it, there is a before and after. When you receive your diagnosis of bipolar disorder, your life challenges, whether you acknowledge,, accept or realize iit- the same way it would with a physical illness. Why? I think it is because we have to alter our lifestyle. Maybe it is a small alteration, maybe it is a larger one. For example, sleep hygiene, diet, how often you see your doctor, how much medication you take etc.

What are the categories of friendships?

1. Friends from before that you know will understand mental illness or you know won’t judge you, and are likely to accept your diagnosis. You can exhibit all of your symptoms without fear of judgement.
2. Friends from before that you are not sure will understand your diagnosis, but you trust for other matters, and trust enough to tell them something about mental illness i.e. I have anxiety and sometimes it’s hard for me to be in large crowds. You want to tell them, but never find that opportunity or “appropriate” moment.
3. Friends you meet after your diagnosis who your intuition tells you are “safe” to trust, as in #1.
4. Friends you meet after your diagnosis that you will trust as in #2.
5. Friends you meet after your diagnosis that you know will not understand anything and therefore you mask your symptoms. I suppose these people are not really friends, but maybe this applies to the significant others of your friends, co-workers you like, or acquaintances that are part of your social circle that you see often at social gatherings. You know enough about them to get a sense of personality, but not enough to want to disclose private information.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can explain the meaning of my post’s title. They say that during a crisis, you learn who your true friends are. I have had enough challenges over the past year to understand who I can trust and who I want in my life. I also learned that someone did not want me in her life- but I will get to that soon.

I am not going to delve into what the challenges/situations were because it doesn’t matter what or why, just that they happened, there were 4 major “events” that caused emotional turmoil, and I am still dealing with one of them as it is an ongoing situation.

I reached out to a friend, who was 100% in category #1 during the time of one of these situations and the response I received was not comforting. This friend did not give me the time of day, and knew I was in a bad way. He knows I have bipolar disorder. When he did contact me a month later, and asked “can you talk”, I thought it was something serious, but no, it was to tell me about something an ex-business partner did, and was being charged for. Totally unnecessary information for me and it seemed that he had forgotten about the situation. We lost touch for almost a year and I called him and left a message saying we should catch up. Instead of receiving a call back or text message, I receive a Facebook message back stating “Sorry I was working late. Early morning. Talk Soon”. That was in August. A few days ago I decided to send a text message and said essentially that our friendship was important and i was surprised that he had responded to my call with a Facebook message. It didn’t prompt him to call, just more cryptic messages about what was going on in his life and asking about mine. He apparently has been very busy, so I will give it some time and see what happens. It just made me sad because he was my “go to” person for so long whenever I was having a panic attack or feeling blue. One time he even came to my office on lunch because I was so distraught and having a bad day, and sat with me and calmed me down. I am not ready to let that friendship go- unless he wants to.

Another friend who was in the #1 category, had also been quiet and acting out of character. She is older than me and lives with her elderly parents, who are not well, and is their primary caregiver. She puts her family’s needs before her own. She is the good daughter. She is a very quiet person who does not like to talk much about her situation – I don’t know if it is because she does not like to burden others or because like me, she just doesn’t want to talk about situations that aren’t going to change or get better (when I encounter those situations). We had been very close for 6 years. Over the past year, we saw each other less and less. We last saw each other in February. She did not attend my engagement party because it was on Father’s Day and she said she wanted to be with her family that day (it was an afternoon party). She also used to suffer from anxiety and was a great person to contact if I was anxious or to talk about triggers to. She knew about my diagnosis and was very accepting- or so I thought.

I want to say that when something bothers me, the first person I talk about it to is most likely my doctor, whether at an appointment, or by telephone. I am very lucky that she responds to my urgent messages. There is not much that phases me anymore, so something really has to get me rattled- and when it does, I need my doctor’s advice. The next best person is my Dad, because he is so rational and can make me see things clearly. Of course my fiance is there too but I never wanted to drag him down or make him worry- so I tell him things when I am in a calmer state. I also would go to my Mom, but we have such an emotionally intertwined relationship that if one of us is in a bad way, the other will feel it too. We have to try to limit what we say to each other so we don’t upset each other that way. And if I really don’t want to talk, I journal. I keep a notebook in my purse or work bag- and now I have this blogsite.

So getting back to this friend, knowing what I did about her situation, I was very consistent at calling or checking in by text message to let her know that I was thinking of her, was there for her, would listen etc. Her response would be that she would call when she wanted to talk, and then she would call when she knew I was unavailable and would leave a message saying she would call the next time she felt like talking. Okay. Fine. I thought maybe she was feeling low and didn’t want to explain herself to anyone. With respect to getting together, we didn’t and the one time she offered to was the night before the engagement party, when I had an out-of-towners’ dinner, knowing I would not be available. She also told me she could not be a bridesmaid anymore because of her situation.

I didn’t see her all summer. I left well enough alone, figuring she wanted space and to be alone. I would see pictures of her at social gatherings on Facebook but I know that just because you post a picture, it does not mean you are happy or in a good place. I tried not to be insulted.

I decided to send a text message a few days ago which said I was concerned as I had not heard from her and did not see her all summer and wanted to make sure everything was okay. She responded that everything was okay and that she would respond to me later that night. The next night I received an email which was so unexpected and uncalled for.

In the email, she essentially said that it was interesting that I refer to her as someone who “gets” me and listens because she finds that I do not “get” her and basically our interactions consisted of me talking and her listening for the past little while (whenever that started) and she therefore took a step back from our friendship. She said she didn’t want to bring it up because she knew I had been going through a very difficult time with my diagnosis and she didn’t know how much if any of the issues were attributed to it (her words). I read that and my chest became tight. I had to read it a couple of times. I have been nothing but generous and kind to this friend, going out of my way, always trying to be there etc. And this is what she has to say? And she wants to attribute “issues” to my diagnosis???? First of all, I was diagnosed more than 4 years ago and I am very high functioning and I have had relapses but I am resilient. I fight every day to get up and to be (you know, to “be”). Secondly, WTF!!!!! What exactly are you trying to pin on me being bipolar or me having bipolar disorder? My not listening? My being selfish and talking too much? I am guilty of neither. I am a patient and quiet person and I put everyone else before me. I refuse to talk sometimes and my Mom and fiance worry because I bottle things up. Thirdly, NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE ever ever ever ever ever has the right to blame anything on my bipolar disorder, attribute (what they perceive to be) a character flaw or accuse me of being a certain way because I am bipolar. If I acted a certain way because “my bipolar is acting up” – I would tell you/the person. And I am not one of those people who goes around and throws phrases like that into conversations. This is MY diagnosis and I will deal with it how I please and I am me because that is how G-D made me and my illness does not define me and instead, it gives me a unique perception of the world, an amazing ability to be creative and it forces me to be strong and as mentioned before, resilient.

To me, this is the worst offence you can commit as a friend. I won’t get past it, not out of stubbornness, but because she clearly stated she was pushing me out and now she has given me reason to stop caring. I feel stupid and guilty and frustrated because I have wasted so much time being concerned about someone who really did not care about me/wanted me out. How do I know she wanted me out? Later in that email, she discussed how I didn’t understand her in more detail, accused me of making a comment which was a comment that was so out of character for me to say and I know I would never have said- even if I was on a high, and said that comment was offensive and it confirmed I don’t fully understand what she goes through. She noted that she had to pull back from a few friendships and she can’t spend time with people who don’t fully support her, therefore she can’t spend time with me and she does not know how things will be going forward. I did not respond to the email. I spent a few hours thinking of “comebacks” and things I would like to say in a response but I knew I was angry and did not want to start a hostile email exchange.

What I needed was to know, not that I was innocent of these charges, but I needed to have someone tell me I was not selfish or did not spend too much time telling people my problems. My mom spent time on the phone with me while I was in tears telling me I was a good person and giving etc. I think I was in tears because I felt blind-sighted by what happened, that a good friendship was over and that she tried to blame something on my diagnosis. It was proof-positive that she was clearly the one who did not get me and that to me was upsetting. Both my parents, who of course made me feel better, were disgusted by it, as they had been very giving to her to, as was my fiance. No one expected this to happen.

I can honestly say that even those you think understand mental illness don’t. People who have not witnessed mental illness first hand have no idea as to the toll it takes on a person. When your spouse, parent, sibling suffers from mental illness, you are affected too – and I love my support network of my parents and fiance. No one will ever understand “what it’s like” unless it is experienced first hand. I do not have any friends who have bipolar disorder. I have had friends with anxiety disorders and we can relate to each other with respect to coping with anxiety.

If someone asked me what it’s like to be bipolar/live with bipolar/have bipolar – I would say it’s hard to understand. How do you explain the profound swinging emotions that fluctuate and can torment you, alter your thought patterns, change your perceptions, make you feel lost, alone, lose your sense of self, lose your confidence, feel like you want to crawl into a ditch and hide and then other times you feel on top of the world, energetic, fantastic, hyper, giddy, extra-confident, bold or irritable, frustrated, edgy, restless? What is is like to rapid cycle and have multiple cycles in a week? In a day? Trust me, only someone who goes through it understands.

All I know is that the latest lesson I have learned is stigma is everywhere, and some people will never understand.

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