One of the biggest worries of a mentally ill person is that they are a terrible burden on their friends and family. As an outsider, most of what you can contribute is verbal. Regularly remind your loved one that they are not a burden, they are not going to lose you, you love them, and that it’s okay to be upset. Physical contact is also very powerful: a hand on the back, a squeeze of the hand, or a hug can make an enormous difference in the current mental state of your loved one in crisis. If it’s appropriate to your relationship, lay with them and hold them, or let them put their head in your lap so that you can pet the side of their head. This sounds very basic and very infantile, but the difference you’ll make is enormous. Just being present with your sick loved one is powerful. Try to listen without judgment, and try not to give advice, only reassurance that they’re safe and loved. If your loved one is very sick and not making good choices, keep them at home. Even a trip to the grocery store could be catastrophic for their state of being. If they’re not making sense, do not let them cook or drive, and keep a close eye on them to keep them safe.
If your loved one is suicidal, take them immediately to the emergency room, because they’re going to need to Continue reading →
Good news! You can calm and soothe yourself when you hurt.
It takes a long time, some training, and a lot of practice, but you can learn how to calm yourself during a depressive episode, an anxiety attack, a panic attack, a bipolar episode, or something similar.
You start the process by noticing what things you do that calm you down: concrete actions that take place outside of your mind, like reading a book, writing in a journal, playing on social media, eating an apple, meditating, being mindful, or talking on the phone. Whenever you find something remotely soothing, write it down. These soothing behaviors will be your coping tools, so you need to write them down and practice using them whenever you are in emotional distress. It’s best to always continue to build your “toolbox” Continue reading →
Each person is mostly like every other person, but not exactly. And the not exactly goes to varying degrees. Some people are sick. Of the people who are sick, there are many different body parts that can be sick. Of the people with one specific sickness in one specific body part, each will have different and varying degrees of the effects of the illness and the effectiveness of their treatment.
Every illness is like this. The world is full of different people; mostly all the same, but each with a personal experience that no one else gets to experience. My mental illnesses are different from yours. Mostly the same, but different.
Don’t assume you know what someone feels because you wear the same label that they do. I, for example, do not have happy mania. Continue reading →
I have always desperately wanted a daughter, and wanted to have several babies. I worked in infant care for seven years, and babies are my favorite people. I feel so much love toward them and from them, and have so much purpose when caring for them. From a very young age, around four or five, I have looked forward to becoming a mother. I wrote down “get pregnant and have a baby” on a bucket list I made when I was eight years old.
When I was 19, my bipolar disorder presented. My ultimate diagnosis was bipolar II (mixed-state, rapid-cycling episodes with psychotic features), major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. I have had extreme difficulty keeping myself functional and safe over the years, and it is literally dangerous for me to do something like cook when I am in an episode. I had to leave my job working with babies and go on disability because I had an episode at work in which I was not safe and I was endangering the babies. That was eye-opening. And I did not like what I was forced to see.Continue reading →
There is a multitude of things I had to learn to manage when I got sick. There are many practical, everyday tasks that must be fulfilled in order to stay in the game. In all of my trial-and-error learning, I’ve figured out some very crucial things. If you’re mentally ill, I hope you learn to do all of these things too.
The first and biggest is managing medicine. You have to take every dose at the right time every day, or it’s not going to work for you. If you feel like your medicine isn’t helping, this may be the culprit. Even the perfect medication only works if you put it in your body on time, every single day, and that is a much bigger undertaking than one would assume. I strongly recommend putting alarms on your phone for every dose-time. When I started, I had to put a backup alarm on, too, for ten minutes after my dose-time, because I got used to hearing the alarm, turning it off, and then forgetting about it and not taking my medication. If your memory is impaired (as mine is), this will be even more challenging, but if you stick to this routine, you will eventually Continue reading →
I think the healthy way of looking at a diagnosis of depression is to view it as finding out that you are diabetic and you will need insulin for the rest of your life. It is something that is not curable, but treatable and livable. It is something that you are stuck with and there is no cure, so looking at it as similar to getting a diagnosis of diabetes is very apt.
Even though there is no cure, there are many treatment options and many coping skills you can learn that will lessen your pain, and that is a goal worth working toward on a daily basis. Depression is not curable, but it is treatable. When treated, depression can go into temporary remission multiple-to-many times over the years, and working toward remission is a very healthy approach to take. It is important to continue to see your psychiatrist, take your medicine on time every day, and see a therapist once a week or more if you need it, especially in times of crisis or when you’re feeling suicidal. You also need to keep track of things you do or think that help you feel better or function better and write them down in a centralized location. You can write each tool on its own index card, and you can store the index cards in a shoe box, so that you can build a “toolbox” of helpful ideas to rifle through when you’re in pain and need a coping tool, or as many coping tools as it takes to lessen your pain. If you build your toolbox, you will soon have a wealth of healthy coping skills that can make your life more bearable.Continue reading →
Since my mental illnesses presented 12 years ago, I haven’t been able to do much. This website is the largest thing I’ve accomplished since I was 19, and I’ve only been able to do this by building it slowly, little by little. It has taken me over a year. There are whole weeks when I make no progress. The past year has been more productive than I’ve been in a long time and has been the easiest year to handle since I was diagnosed. For that, I am incredibly grateful. Living well with mental illness takes skills, and I’m working on mine every day. I am making progress.
In college, I abandoned school in the middle of spring semester four out of four years. Springtime always makes my symptoms more intense and sometimes even unbearable. Most of my time at Oberlin I couldn’t do simple self-care tasks like laundry, or go to class or parties; I basically could do nothing but stay in my room, sit, and try to cope. Sometimes I’d use an episode to make a painting, and god, those paintings born of episodes are the darkest ones I’ve made. None of them are on this site yet, and I burned many of them one night during a manic episode. I thought it would be cleansing. It was just destructive. I get a lot of “great” ideas when I’m manic, and Continue reading →
So, you think you may have a mental illness. Time to start the process of getting a doctor. If you’re unsure about whether or not you need a doctor, ask yourself if your mental state is causing you severe pain or problems functioning. If it is, you need a doctor. Make an appointment with a psychiatrist today, even if there is a long waiting list, so that you’ll have an appointment sometime in the hopefully near future.
Now sit down and write out your symptoms. Common symptoms include bad moods, mood swings, depression, hallucinations, anxiety, irritability, engaging in risky behaviors like drug use or unsafe sex, intense sadness, suicidal thoughts, compulsive behaviors, abnormal eating, mania, sleep problems, self-harm or mutilation, or specific troubling fears. Once you’ve written down the symptoms you know you have, try to identify anything that may have triggered the symptom. An example would be Continue reading →
Delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia. I can only speak to my own experience. During the delusions of grandeur during mania that I’ve had, I felt really, really good about myself and thought without a doubt that I could achieve very difficult things, like using a chainsaw to illegally cut down all the trees on a road near my house overnight because the trees had grown to block the formerly beautiful view of the lake, and I was outraged. I believed that was a good idea, and that it was achievable. Fortunately, I got distracted from that plan. I also had a recurring delusion that I was going to write a book about bipolar and publish it. It would be so meaningful, insightful and true that it would become a best seller, and I’d go on a book tour to publicize it. I’d end up telling my story to Oprah herself. I started that book about five times and didn’t get far, but now I have a website about bipolar that has all my best wisdom in it, and I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me lately to share their stories and tell me that my words have helped them. Educating people about bipolar was always a goal, but during a delusion of grandeur I took it to the extreme, and I felt good about my future.
Now, what is it like to have these delusions of grandeur in the first place? All I can explain is how it feels to me. In the very few times that I have had pure mania with delusions of grandeur (almost every episode I’ve had is mixed-state, with features of both mania and depression at the same time. I get dysphoric mania, the opposite of euphoric) I have buzzed with energy, felt like I could lift a car, been quick to make witty remarks, laughed often and too loudly, talked too fast and believed I could do many different extremely difficult things if I just put in the effort. I also believed that I could put in that effort, ignoring the fact that my illness precludes me from even having a job because keeping myself alive is a full-time job itself. It was such a positive headspace that anything felt possible. I was just along for the ride, trying to have as much fun as I could. Of course, this has only happened to me a handful of times, since most of my episodes suck very much, even manic. Continue reading →
There is only one thing I have held back from a therapist in the past, and even that would have been far more beneficial to have said than to have kept to myself. That one thing was “I am actively planning my suicide.”
I held this back because I know that the only two pieces of information a therapist is legally allowed to report (other than child abuse) are 1) if you are planning to hurt yourself or 2) if you’re planning to hurt someone else. If they find this out, they can work to have you held in a hospital for 72 hours to assess your mental health and try to make you safe again.
I held this back because I didn’t want to be stopped in my progress toward suicide. I had already decided and was putting the necessary steps in place for a successful exit. Continue reading →