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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International Bipolar Foundation

Mental Health Awareness Q&A With David Susman, PhD

This post originally appeared on International Bipolar Foundation’s website: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/mental-health-awareness-qa-david-susman-phd-0

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Mental health awareness is a term that we are hearing more and more these days- and May is an important month for us mental health advocates!

In Canada, the first week of May is designated as Mental Health Week, which was first introduced in 1951 by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and has become a yearly tradition ever since. In the US, May is Mental Health Month, launched by Mental Health America in 1949, is a whole month dedicated to mental health awareness.

The CMHA uses the hashtag, #GETLOUD every year to encourage people to provide support, fight stigma, spread awareness and education and speak out about mental health. For Mental Health Month, common hashtags used include #MHM2017, #mentalhealth, #mentalhealthmatters, #mentalhealthawareness and #endthestigma. Much like Mental Health Week, Mental Health Month is meant to encourage a conversation about mental health, to educate, share resources and work towards ending stigma.

Last year, on behalf of IBPF as part of my effort to educate others and raise awareness, I reached out to David Susman, PhD, a psychologist and a mental health advocate to answer some questions for Mental Health Month.

This year, I decided to see if he would agree to participate in another Q&A for the readers of International Bipolar Foundation’s blog- and here it is:

Do you believe that by sharing their stories, celebrities are helping to fight stigma?

Yes, absolutely. Celebrities have a large platform so anything they share gets a lot of attention. Some notable recent examples of celebrities and public figures who have stepped up to raise awareness about mental health issues are Demi Lovato, Patrick Kennedy and the Royal Family (Princes William and Harry and Princess Kate).

Do you think that portrayals of mental illness on television series and in movies have changed in recent years?

Yes and no. There are still many inaccurate, outdated and stereotyped media portrayals which only reinforce the stigma and fear associated with mental illness. However, there are some more accurate and nuanced characters (like Bradley Cooper in the film “Silver Linings Playbook” or Claire Danes in the TV series “Homeland”) which show how someone can manage a chronic mental illness. There is also all of the recent publicity about the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” which has received very mixed reviews about how it portrays issues related to bullying, sexual violence and suicide.

In your opinion, has there been progress in the fight against stigma?

Overall, yes. So many more people, especially young people, are speaking up about their personal journeys and challenges related to mental health issues. Also, there are many incredible mental health advocates and organizations doing great work to promote greater awareness and education around these important issues.

There is hope to integrate physical and mental health care in the US; do you feel that this action will decrease stigma?

The last time I checked my head was still attached to the rest of my body. I say this a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it only makes sense that we integrate mental health and physical health care, as the two are intricately related. The more we can help people understand that managing a mental illness isn’t that different from managing diabetes or high blood pressure, the more “normal” people will feel about having mental health conditions.

Do you think progress has been made in terms of “apps” for depression, anxiety, mindfulness, mood tracking, etc.?

There has certainly been an explosion of mental health-related apps in recent years, but as in all things, some are very good and some aren’t so great. The trick then, is figuring out which ones have been proven to be effective. I think we’re still early in the process of doing research to show which apps really work versus the ones that aren’t that helpful. But this line of research is developing and we should have more definitive findings over the next few years.

Are there any apps you would recommend?

I’ve been particularly impressed with the group of apps developed by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology. These apps were developed primarily for active military personnel and veterans, but certainly are also useful for others. I’m most familiar with their “Virtual Hope Box” app, which is used to reduce distress and facilitate healthy coping skills.

How do you think we can create an open conversation about mental health?

Keep talking, sharing, supporting, validating, encouraging, hoping, advocating, educating. Repeat.

How important is self-care to mental health and how would you encourage a person to make-time for self-care?

Self-care is so vital for both mental health and physical health. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for self-care. You have to experiment and find what works for you. A few things to try out include relaxation, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, physical activity, healthy eating, getting together with friends, reading, traveling, spiritual pursuits, humor, and learning a new interest or hobby. Once you find something you like, put it on your weekly schedule and treat it just like a meeting or class you have to attend.

How important is practicing proper sleep hygiene for mental health and do you have any tips for sleep hygiene or for people who have sleep difficulties?

Not getting enough sleep can really wreck you physically and mentally. Conversely, if you get adequate sleep and rest, you will not only feel much better but it can help you keep a host of related problems like weight gain, fatigue and depression at bay. I summarized the standard sleep hygiene tips in this blog post.

Do you have any tips for staying well while dealing with the stress, challenges and uncertainty of traveling?

I was actually just thinking about writing a post on “low stress travel.” A few of the tips I thought of include: allow plenty of time (when changing planes or getting to a destination), stay hydrated, try something new, be flexible when faced with delays, and decide in advance if you want a lot of structure in your schedule or if you would rather be more spontaneous.

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I want to thank David Susman for his time and insight on behalf of International Bipolar Foundation. I hope that those of you reading this found this information useful and helpful.

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, where he also features true “Stories of Hope” from individuals who share their personal mental health journeys. You can connect with him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn.

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada

How to Practice Compassion

This blog first appeared on Healthy Minds Canada’s website: https://healthymindscanada.ca/how-to-practice-compassion/

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I’ve written before about how powerful and overwhelming thoughts can be. When you are feeling anxious or feeling depressed, or a combination of both, you have thoughts that are hard to process and thoughts that lead to further feelings of distress. These thoughts are real to you and are important as part of your mental health journey.

There will always be people who think that our anxious or depressed thoughts make no sense, are illogical, and essentially are trivial thoughts. You know the people who I am talking about. The people who think other people have “real” problems (i.e. physical injury or illness, suffering a loss, surviving a disaster) and therefore your symptoms of mental illness don’t count, because other people “have worse problems than you do“.

Coming out and being open about living with a mental illness is courageous and a brave thing to do. I wanted to share my story and encourage others to do so because suffering in silence is painful and feeling ashamed of something that is no fault of your own is foolish. It’s just plain wrong. I say we are brave to be open and share our stories because that stigma is a real b**** and we have to teach her a lesson.

I always tell people don’t apologize for something you didn’t do, or something that isn’t your fault. So why feel ashamed, or apologize for our condition, or symptoms of our condition?

I know we can’t expect everyone to understand what mental illness is, what it looks like, or how it affects us on a day to day basis, but a little compassion goes a long way.

How can someone show compassion or understanding?

Let us be our real selves.Tell us it’s okay to let it all out. Tell us to take off the “normal mask” we may have been wearing all week at work (to make things easier at work), so the real self can breathe.

Don’t make us think our thoughts have no value, or are trivial. Help us work through our thoughts if we are willing to talk about them.

Let us be silent if we don’t want to talk. Enjoy the silence with us.

Let us speak when we are ready to.

Give us space when we need it. We need down time to decompress. Mental illness is exhausting.

Make sure we practice self-care and self-compassion. Teach us to relax if you can. Give us gentle reminders that self-care is important and that whatever we insist we must finish today can wait until tomorrow, because most of the time, it really can.

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada

Talking About Bell Let’s Talk

This post first appeared on Healthy Minds Canada’s website: https://healthymindscanada.ca/talking-bell-lets-talk/

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When you feel “different”, and have difficulty “fitting in”, attending social events where you know few people is difficult. You hate being left alone even for a moment, because you are unable to start a simple conversation with another person. With depression and anxiety, socializing is difficult in general, because you don’t know what to say or how to start a conversation without worrying that you sound awkward or stupid. But, when you realize you are in the company of someone you have something in common with or you are able to find common ground, you feel less alone and awkward.

Reading about someone who experiences what you experience also lessens that feeling of loneliness.

One of the first things I did to help myself after my diagnosis was gather information so I could understand myself better. Psychology books, biographies, magazines…and one of the books I bought was “Wishful Drinking” by Carrie Fisher.

Carrie Fisher was not afraid to tell it like it is when it came to her mental illness. There have been many articles written about her passing and her legacy; one such article had a quote that stood out to me:

“The power of celebrity was best shown by Carrie that by being public, and funny, she demystified our diagnosis and showed by example we can live well and thrive.”

One of the reasons why I wanted to blog under my own name and “come out” was because I want to do those same things – show how a person with mental illness can live well and thrive and take away some of the mystery from the diagnosis. I want people to see that they don’t have to be afraid of someone with bipolar disorder or with mental illness.

Next week is Bell Let’s Talk, which is in my opinion a very important day for mental health advocates and for people who want to share their stories as it prompted me to share mine. This year will be my third year as a social media ambassador for Healthy Minds Canada for the Bell Let’s Talk campaign. I do feel that every tweet and social post makes a difference; you never know how your words can impact someone else or comfort him/her.

I plan on making it a yearly tradition to take off work on Bell Let’s Talk Day, and use that day as a mental health day. I did this last year, and will again this year, because I want to tweet and post as much as I can, and because it really would be a day about mental health.

Bell Let’s Talk Day reminds us that we are not alone and people are willing to have a conversation about mental health. It’s okay to talk about it.

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Bipolar Disorder, International Bipolar Foundation, My Real Opinion

#DearTeenageMe, Remember Where You’ve Been And How Far You’ve Come

This post originally appeared on International Bipolar Foundation’s website: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/dearteenageme-remember-where-you%E2%80%99ve-been-and-how-far-you%E2%80%99ve-come 

Strength Confidence Within

I graduated from high school 14 years ago. It seems like a lifetime ago. I was a good student, I had friends, I experienced “teenage angst”, moments where I thought “my life was over” because I had a fight with a friend or something “embarrassing” happened. I was unaware of the 1 in 5 Canadians has a mental illness statistic and mental illness seemed like something that wouldn’t directly touch me. But it wasn’t long after graduating high school that I had my first appointment with my psychiatrist, experienced a full blown panic attack and began the journey that eventually led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

If I was able to go back in time, and tell my teenage-self something comforting, I would tell her that “everything happens for a reason, even if it doesn’t make sense at the time”.

I would say, “You are just as capable as anyone else”. I used to worry that people would look at me differently if “they knew” my “dark secret”, because that’s what it felt like. I worried that I would be seen as non-functional, unreliable, untrustworthy, erratic, or irresponsible.

The truth is, I am a functioning, hard-working, creative, responsible, reliable individual. But, during the lead up to the diagnosis and the first while after the diagnosis I didn’t believe in myself and I lost my sense of self.

Did bipolar disorder define me? Did it steal my identity? Did it swallow me whole? It sure felt that way. For a long time, it felt like I had a perpetual dark cloud hanging over me and lightening could strike at any time. I was terrified of my thoughts. My thoughts didn’t make sense. My mind was my worst enemy and full of negative, anxious thoughts that destroyed my self-esteem, self-worth and made me question myself all the time.

To my teenage self, I would also say, “don’t let your diagnosis define you. One day, you will see that the dark cloud will subside and there will come a point in time where you find that you are comfortable with your diagnosis and with sharing your diagnosis on your own terms”.

I have felt more at peace with myself since I began blogging for Healthy Minds Canada and International Bipolar Foundation.  I am pursuing one of my greatest passions, writing, while sharing messages of hope, resilience and a realistic view of living with bipolar disorder. I put my voice out there to #SayItForward and to educate others.

To be blunt, stigma sucks, and unfortunately we have a long way to go before we see the last of it, but don’t let it stop you from being an advocate and pursuing your passions.

One final message to my teenage self:  “You are a kind person, but don’t forget to be kind to yourself and to practice self-care. And always remember your favourite book quote, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important”.

 

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Bipolar Disorder, International Bipolar Foundation, My Real Opinion

30 Things Not To Say To Those With Bipolar Disorder

This post originally appeared on International Bipolar Foundation’s website: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/30-things-not-say-those-bipolar-disorder

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I always enjoy reading “listicles” about “what not to say” and “what to say” to someone with a mental illness. I read them and nod my head in agreement, as I can relate all too well. There are sayings or comments that may seem helpful, but aren’t in reality because they inadvertently minimize our thoughts and feelings or may make us feel even more anxious. I devised my own list and wanted to share it.

Here is my list, in no particular order:

  1. “Everyone has something.”
  2. “You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.”
  3. “You always look for an excuse.”
  4. “How are you managing?” (And other loaded questions).
  5. “Be nice.”
  6. “Calm down.”
  7. “I’m not very happy with you right now.”
  8. “Why can’t you just be happy?”
  9. “You have every reason to be happy.”
  10. “What happened now?”
  11. “Why?”
  12. “Why can’t you have one day where you feel good?”
  13. “You’ve been like this for so long.”
  14. “Maybe you need to change your medications.”
  15. “Maybe your medications aren’t working anymore.”
  16. “You should discuss this with your doctor.”
  17. “What does your doctor have to say about this?”
  18. “What did your doctor say?”
  19. “You should exercise.”
  20. “I’ll motivate you.”
  21. “Don’t be lazy.”
  22. “Everyone has stress.”
  23. “Stop making excuses.”
  24. “You’re making yourself anxious.”
  25. “Stop anticipating.”
  26. “You’re making yourself nervous.”
  27. “Why can’t you make a decision?”
  28. “So-and-so said it would be nice to see you.”
  29. “Don’t worry about it.”
  30. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

To add some context to some items on the list, being indecisive is as frustrating for me as it is for my family and friends. It’s hard to make a decision because I am sitting there weighing the pros and cons of each choice and get lost in the process.

I don’t want my anxiety to be seen as an excuse to get out of events. Believe me, it’s no joy ride experiencing panic attacks and being afraid to leave your house because you are anxious. If someone cannot attend an event because of how they feel, it shouldn’t matter if it is as a result of a physical illness, physical injury or due to anxiety or depression. We should put mental illness and physical illness on equal planes.

I am not making myself anxious. I can’t predict when I am going to become anxious. I likely won’t believe someone who tells me everything is going to be okay because I am a realist and I will just ask, “How do you know?”, even though I know that anxiety-free periods do exist. I just don’t like trite sayings.

I’ll end on this note: happiness, acceptance and recovery are all journeys. I can’t answer why I am not happy all the time, why I keep having panic attacks or experience depression even though it’s the summer or why all the “why’s.” What I do know is that it’s my journey and I have to own it.

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International Bipolar Foundation

Wouldn’t You Feel Better If You Could Have An Open Conversation About Mental Illness?

This post was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation’s website: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/wouldn%E2%80%99t-you-feel-better-if-you-could-have-open-conversation-about-mental-illness 

If stigma didn’t exist, we would discuss mental illness more openly. I had a recent unpleasant experience on Twitter where someone posted a tweet that essentially said “Bipolar is not an illness. You simply have not trained yourself to control your thoughts and emotions,” and this person was very insistent that mental illnesses do not exist. This person had been responding to a post that a well known mental health advocate had posted about how he managed his bipolar disorder and how he was not ashamed of his illness.  

I saw this appalling post and had to respond, and one of the responses that the offender wrote back was, “If you believe you have a mental illness, then you have a mental illness. It is all a matter of belief”. First of all, I should mention that this person (thankfully) does not have a large Twitter following and I will not name his or her Twitter handle because I refuse to give this person more attention or more fuel. Secondly, does this person really think that those of us who have been diagnosed with a mental illness just simply believe we have one, and that is how it works? 

I wasn’t always this open about my mental illness. I began experiencing depression just before high school started, I had my first panic attack right before first year university ended, and have been taking medications for the better part of the last 10 years. I remember the first time I saw commercials on TV for Bell Let’s Talk and thinking this was a great campaign for raising awareness and encouraging a conversation about mental health using social media. We live in a society where we gather a lot of information from social media, so why not use it to our advantage? 

Last year, I was contacted by someone at Healthy Minds Canada, who asked me to be a part of her team for Bell Let’s Talk, I said yes, and since then, I became increasingly active on Twitter and Facebook in terms of mental health advocacy. Because of Bell Let’s Talk Day 2015, I decided to become a volunteer blogger for Healthy Minds Canada, and I also reached out to International Bipolar Foundation to become a volunteer. I feel comfortable writing blog posts using my real name, no pseudonyms needed. I am comfortable with myself because of days like Bell Let’s Talk Day and because of World Bipolar Day (which is held on March 30th every year). 

Why? Two reasons. The first, because I know I am not alone. We are not alone. When you read an article or blog post or memoir and you can relate to the writer and think “YES! I feel that way too!” or “Someone else feels the way I do too!”, don’t you feel less alone? Let’s make mental health awareness days about what we CAN do, not what we can’t. Forget about the naysayers who tell us to “get over it” and “it’s all in your head”. 

The second, because I don’t like pretending. I spent so long pretending to be someone I wasn’t because I was afraid. I refuse to compromise my sense of self again. Always be true to yourself. If you take one thing away from this blog post, please take that message with you, because that is the nicest thing you can do for yourself, trust me. 

On January 27, 2016, it is Bell Let’s Talk day in Canada. You don’t have to be Canadian to participate. You can use your Twitter accounts worldwide and Facebook to help raise awareness, send messages of hope and show people like that clearly ignorant person on Twitter why stigma is dangerous. We know stigma is one barrier that prevents people from seeking treatment. 

Last year, as part of its campaign, Bell announced “5 Ways To Help End Stigma”: 

  • Language Matters
  • Educate Yourself
  • Be Kind
  • Listen and Ask
  • Talk About It

Will you be participating in the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day? If you don’t live in Canada, all you have to do on Twitter is use the hashtag, #BellLetsTalk and because International Bipolar Foundation is participating in the event, alongside Healthy Minds Canada, be sure to include @Healthy_Minds in every tweet you post, to make sure your tweet gets retweeted. You can also include International Bipolar Foundation’s Twitter Handle, @IntlBipolar and they will retweet your posts! It’s that easy. For every tweet and retweet with the hashtag, #BellLetsTalk, Bell will donate 5 cents to mental health initiatives. If you are on Facebook, follow the Bell Let’s Talk page and share their official images for that day, and they will donate 5 cents as well. 

And if you want to keep the conversation going on Twitter after January 27, 2016, try using the hashtag, #LetsKeepTalking, and we can see how long we can keep the conversation going for. I know I will keep talking. 

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