Category Archives: bipolar II

Story of ‘the cut’

Since inspiration struck a few weeks ago I’ve been working on my book diligently, spending at least a couple of hours writing each day. I just finished the Prologue and have made considerable progress in the first section of the book entitled Love is a Motherfucker (ain’t that the truth!). Writing a book is challenging and laborious and at times immensely frustrating but it is also fun and rewarding and has provided me with the gift of insight and perspective.

I recently adapted one of these chapters to be a short, personal essay for a site I write for that focuses on fighting stigma around mental illness. It will be published in the coming weeks but I was given permission to share this story on my personal blog.

The essay I wrote is the story of the first time I cut myself. I’m not afraid to write about taboo subjects and I like pushing people to the edge of their comfort zones when they read my work. I will preface this post with the fact that this is a story that will certainly make you feel uncomfortable and squeamish (and for some could even be a trigger) so proceed with caution.

Something in me is broken and unfixable. The level of self-loathing and hatred I have for myself has left me emotionally empty, unable to feel anything. At times the numbness and silence is so deep that my desire to feel something, anything really, leads me to moments like these. The ones where I find myself sitting cross-legged on the bathroom floor of my Madison apartment, 26 years old, with a knife pressed against my wrist, poised and ready to cut.

I look up and see that two of the three light bulbs are burnt out in the light fixture above the sink creating an illumination of ambient lighting. The faucet is leaky, making a drip-drip-drip sound and the fan above me is humming softly. There are no windows, just boring white walls and one framed photo of Lava Lake in Big Sky, Montana hanging above the toilet. There is nothing special about this room except that it lacked life – the perfect backdrop to my lonely existence.

Every night for the last six months I have laid face-down on the cold hard-wood floor of my apartment, sobbing. And I’m talking about the worst kind of crying – the kind no one actually ever sees – when your soul weeps profusely and it just goes on and on and on. The emptiness, numbness, and loneliness I had felt for months were so profound I thought I might explode at any moment.

This must have been what led to my sudden uncontrollable desire to cut that day. Sitting there – sentenced to being stuck in my drab, uninviting cubicle, boxed in by dull gray modular panels and even more boring industrial carpet in a tiny space devoid of any natural sunlight – I wanted to feel something, anything, other than the emotional pain I had been harboring inside me for so long. Even if cutting was physically painful it had to be better than feeling dead on the inside. So without telling anyone where I was going, I grabbed my coat, purse, and keys and walked out of the office building towards my car.

It was a frigid, ice-kissed winter day in Wisconsin and the gush of air as I opened the door made my teeth chatter and the cold seep into my gloves. I half-ran, half-walked to my car, heart racing and chest pounding. I was having difficulty catching my breath and hysterically I unlocked the car door, put the keys in the ignition, and peeled out of the parking lot towards my apartment a mere five minutes away.

By the time I pulled into the parking lot outside my apartment building I was hyperventilating. I felt like something was squeezing me so tight that my ribs would crack. In my panic I ran from my car to the building and climbed the stairs two at a time. I unlocked the front door and all but threw myself at the kitchen counter, rummaging through the drawer where I kept the knives. I picked the sharpest one I could find, hurried to the bathroom down the hall, and slammed the door shut before sliding down on the floor next to the bathtub.

I sat there cross-legged, breathing heavily with my back against the side of the tub, looking down at the shiny knife I was holding in my right hand. I ran my fingers over the smooth blade, lightly pricking the tip of my left pointer finger. A small droplet of blood oozed out, running down my finger. I wiped the blood on my black dress pants then closed my right hand over the bottom black handle of the knife and rested it against my right leg.

Sitting there staring at the dull, white walls I wondered what it would feel like cutting myself with the tip of a blade. I knew I would be crossing the line into dangerous territory and potentially creating a habit that would be hard to break. It was then that the darkness interrupted my thoughts: It’s not such a big deal. A lot of people do it. It feels good, I promise. You’ll feel relieved. Go ahead and give it a try.

His argument seemed convincing yet there was a part of me still trying to reason her way through this – sort of like a sliver of light peeking through the darkness making a last-ditch effort to get my attention. She was jumping up and down in the corner, maniacally waving her hands above her head yelling: Hey! Hey! Over here! Look at me! DUDE, IT WILL NOT FEEL GOOD. IT WILL FUCKING HURT. Don’t listen to him. You don’t have to do this. You are so much stronger than this.

To which darkness responded: And why should she listen to you? Just ignore her, Lindsay. She doesn’t know anything. Let go. You’ll feel so much better. You can trust me. I am your most faithful friend.

I looked over at darkness, finding comfort in those two words faithful friend, and reached towards him to take hold of his hand.  Just like that the thing I feared most – losing control over my mind – became a reality.

I rolled up my sleeve, placing the tip of the shiny knife against my left wrist. I hesitated slightly but then slowly drew the blade over the veins, careful not to hit the artery and careful not to go too deep. As much as I would have liked to disappear (and as much time as I spent thinking about death) death was not actually on my mind at that moment. I just didn’t have the energy to carry out all the suicide scenarios I’d dreamed up.

After the first cut I sat there in awe watching as small droplets of blood trickled down my forearm and wrapped around the side of my wrist. It was a vibrant, rich red and I was dazzled by its brightness. I closed my eyes and breathed out a sigh of relief as my heartbeat slowed and the muscles in my body relaxed. The noise in my head retreated back into its hiding place and I was relieved of the pressure and racing thoughts darkness had crushed me with in recent days. I sat there another minute then I made another cut and another and another. Each time the blade dug into my skin it stung but it was a feeling that made me ache in both pleasure and pain.

I could feel the warmth of the blood as it trickled out of each of the wounds. I could feel it tickling my skin. I could smell the iron too and I found myself savoring the metallic taste it left in my mouth. Here was the proof I had been searching for – evidence of my existence. If I was bleeding then that meant I was alive. Dead people don’t bleed.

The relief I felt was momentary, though, because when I opened my eyes to look down at my wrist that sense of satisfaction was replaced with a sense of embarrassment and dread. What had I done? Why did I do that?

I frantically reached for the towel hanging on the back of the bathroom door, wrapped it firmly around my wrist, and held it up until the bleeding stopped. Through misty eyes I saw that the cuts weren’t deep. I didn’t need stitches.

While I was both pleased and appalled at my behavior I was afraid even more. Afraid of myself. Afraid of what I might do if I was left alone a minute longer. Afraid at the realization that I was no longer in control of my mind. Afraid of how my family and friends would react if they knew.

I collapsed into a ball on the floor, curling up inside this swelling depression. With the side of my face pressed against the cold, gray tile I wept tears of sorrow and whispered a plea for someone – anyone – to save me.

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Filed under anxiety, bipolar II, depression, mental health, mental illness

Dating with a mental illness

I’ve always reveled in the euphoria and excitement that comes with dating someone new but since stepping back into the dating world after my mental breakdown, that excitement feels short-lived. Instead, I find myself worrying. When is the right time to tell someone I have bipolar II disorder? How will they react? What if they don’t want anything to do with me anymore?

When I share these worries with friends and family most will say that when it comes to timing I’ll just know and that I shouldn’t put any pressure on myself to share that part of my life with someone I’ve just met. I think the trouble for me, though, is that because I publicly write about mental health and what I’ve been through, it’s a topic of conversation that has to come up a lot sooner than it would if I didn’t write about it or if I wasn’t actively involved in Madison’s NAMI community. If I’m developing feelings for someone and can clearly see they are developing feelings for me, I would rather them hear about my experience from my own word of mouth than to read about it in an article or on one of my social media sites.

For the most part, I haven’t had to think too much about this mainly because the series of first dates I’ve been on haven’t piqued my interest enough to want to go on a second one. Though I always give honest answers when asked about my life, what I’m passionate about, and what I do in my spare time, my answers are succinct and fairly vague. So when my third date with a guy I recently met turned into a fourth and a fifth, I started freaking out. Shit started getting real!

With him, I’ve put forth a lot of effort into hiding the more public aspect of my life (I won’t even be Facebook friends with him!) in large part because of my fear of rejection. It hasn’t even been a year since my diagnosis and though writing about it is a means of me processing my experiences and fighting the stigma that comes with having a mental illness, I still carry with me a lot of insecurities and self-doubt. Getting back into the dating world almost seems to exacerbate that as I constantly worry about being judged and question who would want to take on some of the darker parts of me.

I had just reached the conclusion there was no good time to tell this guy about my mental health diagnosis when I found out that my proposal to implement a pilot program (a writing workshop for youth at juvenile institutions who have mental health issues) was approved. The day I found out happened to be a day we were having lunch. Joy was beaming out of every crevice of my body and talking about my project with him opened the door for a deeper conversation about mental health issues and why I’m so passionate about the subject.

As my family and friends predicted, you do know when the right time to tell someone is and I had reached that particular moment with him. With a wavering voice and shaky hands, I embraced vulnerability and told him I had bipolar II disorder. I also told him why I had been scared to tell him. I waited for the raised eyebrow, awkward silence, and ‘check please’ reaction but instead I got a, “That wouldn’t keep me away from you in a million years.” Those words almost brought me to tears because they erased every ounce of fear and worry I had been carrying on my shoulders.

Though dating in general is hard it can be even trickier for those living with a mental illness. The things I question and worry about now are immensely different from what I used to think about before being diagnosed. I have spent so much time building this moment up in my head, only ever envisioning a doomsday scenario. In reality, I found the big “reveal” wasn’t as scary as I made it out to be. I credit that to the type of person this guy is – kind, compassionate and understanding, to say the least. I know that not everyone I meet or date in the future will measure up to those standards but I am thankful to at least had a good first experience.

For those of you out there who are also juggling dating with a mental illness – what have your experiences been like?

 

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Filed under bipolar II, dating, mental illness, rejection, relationships, vulnerability

Lessons learned from dealing with depression

The first time I experienced hypomania and depression was at the age of 14 when I experienced death for the first time. My grandfather had passed away and I was devastated. His death triggered something inside me and I started engaging in reckless and impulsive behavior. I stole my parent’s car on multiple occasions for joy rides around town. The fact I didn’t know how to drive and could barely touch the pedals didn’t phase me one bit. It looked easy enough; anyone could do it. Not surprisingly, I was caught and taken to kid jail. I escaped relatively unscathed as my punishment by the courts was to write a paper on the dangers of under age driving. And though you think spending time in court, being told I could go to juvenile detention, and realizing I could have very well killed someone would put me in my place, it didn’t. I didn’t feel guilty at all. There was a certain kind of thrill in breaking the rules. It made me feel alive. So I kept testing the waters.

In the weeks that followed I snuck out and met neighborhood friends (the ones deemed bad influences) to try cigarettes and beer. We broke into empty houses being built and practiced picking locks. And, if you remember when instant message chat rooms were popular, I became addicted. I couldn’t sleep so I would stay up all night and talk back and forth with people around the world, mostly guys because I liked the attention. Looking back and knowing what I know now it’s probable some of them were pedophiles. That gives me the heebie jeebies.

To most people it seems like all of this was just me acting out. What makes these series of events a hypomanic episode is that all of it was entirely out of character for me. I wasn’t reckless or impulsive. I never got in trouble. I was the perfect child, never talking back and always doing as I was told. I never complained. Following this series of events my Dad said, “You’re not so much the angel we thought you were, are you?”

Depression came crashing into my life not long afterwards. It was as if a storm cloud had descended over me. I began spending all my time in my room in the pitch dark, not wanting to come out. I cried a lot, usually for no reason at all. It was the first time I began having suicidal thoughts. It was when I first started self-harming – in the form of picking out my hair for the pricks of pain it caused and which I continue to do to this day (aka trichotillomania). It was the first time my mom sent me to a psychologist. And, just like I did in the years that followed, I pretended like my mom was making it all up. “Dude, I’m fine. Mom is over reacting. I am totally normal.” I succeeded. I tricked the psychologist into thinking everything was fine  and he sent me on my merry way. My mom’s instincts were right but with the stamp of approval from the psychologist what else could she do.

While grief after death is normal, the mood swings I went through were not. Episodes, whether hypomanic or depressive, come and go on their own. When you experience hypomania, you crash and depression follows. Eventually the cloud of depression lifts and you have a period of normality between the next cycle. Sometimes those quiet periods can last for years but eventually it rears its ugly head. Thus, it begins again.

Every one of us has been depressed at some point in our lives. After all, grief and sorrow are normal reactions to loss. The difference between that and someone with major depression though is that major depression enters your life with or without reason and it stays there, hovering and tormenting you, for long periods of time.

I had just one other hypomanic episode but many major depressive episodes over the next 13 years. What is different about bipolar I and bipolar II is the severity of your mania and the episode you spend most of your time in. With bipolar II you spend more time in a constant state of depression than you do in the highs. Through those depressive episodes I’ve learned many lessons, which I am only now able to articulate given the medication I take to stabilize my mood. This list isn’t by any means exhaustive but which stick out to me the most.


Everyone’s experience is different
When I first started writing and publishing personal essays about what having bipolar II felt like and what it was like to be in a psychiatric ward, I didn’t imagine anyone would ever question the truthfulness of those stories or write negative comments about my experience. People commented on those articles with things like, “I call bullshit,” and “There are many flaws in this story,” and “She is making it up. That would never happen.” I make it a rule not to read any comments on my articles but inevitably someone I know reads them and asks, “Did you see what they wrote!? Those fuckers.” My curiosity peaks and I end up reading them.

Reading those kinds of comments do hurt and it makes me angry that someone would judge my experience or others’ experiences when they themselves have probably never been in my shoes. To say such a personal story is untrue is dismissive and wrong. Hospitals and psychiatric wards don’t look the same across the nation. Yet the beliefs we hold about how hospitals are run and how people are treated creates an image that we are all the same when in reality we are not. Even in the support group I attend with women who have exactly what I have, none of our stories perfectly align. Yet I believe every word of their story. When people share such intimate details of a painful time in their lives, that takes courage. We should be applauding those who speak out to bring awareness and attention to the issue, not condemn them for showing their insecurities. To do so is unkind and shows no compassion for the human condition.


It’s just as hard to articulate how depression affects me as it is for those around me to understand it
I have found major depression to be incredibly difficult to describe. In an effort to understand my diagnosis my family has asked me a lot of questions. I know early on my Dad struggled with why I couldn’t just snap out of it or perk up. He had always said you have one day to be sad and depressed. On day two you better get out of bed and get going because life doesn’t stop. Now that we have open communication about what I feel and he’s read endless books about depression to understand, I’m not sure he will ever truly get it. I’m not sure anyone who hasn’t been diagnosed with what I have will truly get it. When I talk to someone who wants to know about my story and they tell me they know what it’s like to feel depressed, it tends to irritate me. Though everyone experiences a case of the blues, it is far removed from what major depression feels like. But, just as it is difficult for me to describe, it’s probably equally difficult for others to fully grasp. I really shouldn’t get upset when people say that because at the most basic level they’re just trying to show me I’m not alone. They’re trying to offer up compassion and love. That is all I can really expect and I give them major kudos for trying.

There is no magical pill to fix pain
Though medication is incredibly helpful in stabilizing your mood, it doesn’t make the pain or despair you felt miraculously go away. A lot of times you feel ashamed when you come out of the episode. You ask yourself how you could have possibly thought the things you thought or did the things you did (self-harm, attempted suicides, negative self-talk). Long term healing takes a considerable amount of work and it takes time as well. You don’t take a pill and everything becomes hunky dory. People often say that time heals all wounds but I don’t necessarily believe that’s true. Time just  makes enduring pain and separating it from the events that happened in our lives easier. You never believe you’ll survive the pain, but you do survive it. Your life does go on and you continue living it to the best of your ability – day by day.


To make it out, you have to try.
The support and assistance I received from my family and friends after my breakdown was endless. It still is. It made me realize, if even just for them, I needed to embark on a path to recovery. Despite how much it helps to have them lending a hand and having my therapist, psychiatrist, and support group to talk to, I was never going to make progress until I started wanting to get better for myself. No one could walk my path to recovery except me. Though recovery doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes you think you won’t make it, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Things do get better. You get better.

May is mental health awareness month. Do you have a story to share? Feel free to comment below!

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Filed under bipolar II, depression, lessons learned, life lessons, mental health, mental illness, recovery

How to be more vulnerable in relationships

Warning: this post is really long.

Whew! It’s been a few weeks since writing in here but I’ve been knee-deep in finishing the last school paper I will ever write. Because guess what? I’m graduating with my Masters degree in THREE WEEKS (can I get a whoop whoop?!?). Obviously, words cannot describe how excited I am because it has been  such a struggle working full-time, attending school part-time, and dealing with the tumultuous and traumatizing events over the last year (well, really the past three years).

Having spent weeks in economics theory and how it can be applied to environmental science policy I definitely needed a reprieve because if I had to write one more thing about particulate matter emissions I was going to explode. So I took a break from all that and started working on something far more interesting to me. And that’s where the rest of this post comes in!

As some of you may know, a few months ago I was approached by Ambiance Matchmaking (based out of Chicago) to be a contributing writer on their blog on all things dating/relationships. I was pleasantly surprised because I hardly feel like an expert on the subject. I mean, I am the girl who is queen of first date fuck-ups. The worst being that I set up two first dates in one day (don’t do that). I got drunk on the first one and by the second one I was puking. You wouldn’t think I’d be asked out on a second date, but I was. So somehow my winning personality must have beat out the most embarrassing moment of my life. Or maybe they just pitied me. But I digress.

Last month my editor asked me to write an article on how to be vulnerable since many of her clients have mentioned they struggle with vulnerability in their relationships. It took me a month to write this because every time I sat down to do it my mind was blank. I’ve certainly taken a lot of opportunities to be vulnerable in the last couple of months but I’m definitely no Brene Brown. I struggle with being vulnerable so who am I to offer advice on the subject? Well, it turns out I actually did have something to say. After nearly a month it’s finally finished and will be posted to Ambiance Matchmaking’s dating blog (check it out!) sometime this week. Here’s a peek! 

In the exciting but sometimes disastrous world of dating I often ask myself why it’s so hard for me to be vulnerable in a relationship. I imagine most of you have asked yourself this same question too.

Sharing our vulnerabilities isn’t always easy to do, especially at the point when you and your partner decide to take casual dating to the next level. This stems largely out of fear. Fear that if we share the most authentic versions of ourselves – those things we keep hidden like our insecurities or the guilt, denial, and shame we may hold about what we’ve done to someone or what they did to us – then we will be rejected, judged, labeled, even misunderstood.

Out of this fear we tend to portray only the perfect parts of ourselves – the parts that make us fun, lively, and enjoyable to be around. But to truly be vulnerable means to reveal those parts of ourselves we keep hidden. Why don’t we do that?

Well, I imagine all of us can think back to a time in our past relationships when we bared our soul to someone we thought would protect our vulnerabilities and they didn’t. When we love with reckless abandon and fall into those kinds of people quickly and relentlessly they mess with those vulnerabilities. They find ways to abuse them and sometimes they abuse them in the most cruel of ways. We realize that rabid dogs can take human form.

In order to protect our hearts from future hurt we build walls so high that they are impenetrable. We wear a suit of armor as if our lives depended on it. We suppress the scary, beautiful, tender side of our love because the idea of letting someone else in – even for the right sort of person – seems impossible.

But despite how scary it is to open ourselves up to someone we still yearn for connection and intimacy. Intuitively, I think we all know that true emotional intimacy requires vulnerability and that to be vulnerable requires strength and courage and authenticity. It requires us to be brave. It requires us to stop suppressing our deepest vulnerabilities because without letting your guard down it’s very likely your relationship will fizzle out.

In reality sharing our deepest vulnerabilities is easier said than done. After all, our first instincts when we feel shame, hurt, indignation, or disappointment towards ourselves or our partner is to mask those feelings, likely because we fear that expressing any sort of negative emotion makes us weak.

We may even fear how our partners will react. Maybe they’ll think I’m needy. Maybe they won’t want to date me anymore. And if they don’t want to date me because of these vulnerabilities then who will?

In all honesty (and for the sake of being vulnerable with my audience) I will tell you these things may very well happen.

Being vulnerable in a relationship will not always mean your significant other will share the same sentiments. If you open your heart to them and they view it as a weakness or they belittle your feelings or they refuse to show you their heart in return, you are with the wrong person.

In fact, run. Because despite our fantasies of being the rescuer – the one that finally changes them – they will not change. Even knowing this we may very well find ourselves staying, which probably stems from our fears. In return we become trapped in emotional turmoil. We become the source of destructive habits. Our happiness wanes and we unnecessarily suffer.

The truth is that the only people we can truly change is ourselves. We can choose to be someone who expresses their love. We can choose not to close ourselves off. We can choose to love ourselves despite our faults. We can choose to walk away from someone who abuses our vulnerabilities.

In that same regard, be kind and walk away if your partner shares their heart with you and exposes their deepest vulnerabilities yet you deny them the same sort of consideration. Do not exploit their vulnerabilities or make them feel small or judge them for sharing who they truly are. Because if you do, then you are not the right person for them.

Despite the rationality of this advice, I will admit that I am no expert in actually being vulnerable. In fact, I am more likely to sabotage a relationship than I am to be the one that puts myself out there. Certainly this stems from three years of emotional abuse from someone I loved – someone who I desperately wanted to love me back. It also stems from my fear of rejection and the stigma I hold about having a mental illness (although I hate admitting that because I am also an advocate for mental health). Yet in the last year I have been determined to practice being vulnerable despite how damaged I feel. And I’ve found endless opportunities to do so.

The obvious question then is if you see an opportunity to be vulnerable, how do you do it? Although I admitted to not being an expert, I will share what I’ve learned and what has worked for me since taking those opportunities. I hope these tips will help you too.

 

Love all of you
I am very open to sharing my personal journey of dealing with bipolar disorder to strangers, friends, and family, although I sometimes find myself attempting to hide that part of my life to someone I like or want to date. Inevitably, though, it is a part of who I am and until I was diagnosed, educated myself about bipolar disorder, and started attending support groups, I didn’t understand why I acted the way I did. I couldn’t help but be angry and irritable a lot of the time. I spent more time depressed and crying than I did being happy. There were moments when I was reckless and did things that were destructive to my life.

It was difficult to accept my illness at first and I drowned myself in denial, guilt, and shame, but when I resolved to sharing my story it helped me realize I was not alone – that many people had similar experiences and what I felt wasn’t abnormal.

After publishing my stories, many people reached out to me sharing their own. They talked about how sharing mine inspired them to be open about their own struggles. They realized they too could be a vehicle for change, fighting the stigma associated with having a mental illness.

Despite how absolutely terrifying it was to be brutally honest about my breakdown and the time I spent in a psychiatric ward, I am stronger because of it. Seeing these strangers and my family and friends love me unconditionally and offer up compassion allowed me to begin creating a space where I accepted that part of me. I am actually grateful to have gone through such tumultuous and traumatizing events leading up to my diagnosis because those experiences finally revealed my true self. And I love my true self.

By creating space for self-love in my life it meant there was less space for fear. When we stand in that space of love we reach self-acceptance. This is where the true power of vulnerability lies because when we accept ourselves – faults and all – we pave a path to finding true happiness.

 

Be willing to try, even if you fail
Those suits of armor we wear are hard to take off. While there is no magical pill for the hurt and pain we – or others – may feel or have felt, we inevitably survive it. Our lives do go on. By practicing vulnerability, we open ourselves up to finding the right sort of person (even if you come across rabid dogs along the way).

Although we may ultimately fail in our attempt at being vulnerable we can recognize where we were successful and where we made mistakes. We can carry those lessons with us into future relationships and ultimately become better versions of ourselves. Really, the only important thing is that you try because that in and of itself is the very definition of being vulnerable. Maybe you didn’t shred your suit of armor to pieces but I bet that just trying resulted in a helmet or glove coming off. Baby steps, my friends.

 

Vulnerability isn’t just about you
When we suffer we turn to those we care about seeking comfort and understanding. We expect them to be there for us. But ask yourself this: are you willing to be with someone who is suffering? Are you willing to be compassionate and kind and understanding towards them despite how uncomfortable it may make you feel? When someone exposes their vulnerabilities to you, you can practice being vulnerable just by sharing their emotional space. You can listen to them, feel their emotions without judgement, and offer up compassion whether you can relate to the situation or not. By doing all that you help them create their own space for love and self-acceptance. It is humbling and inspiring to witness that kind of transformation.

 

Say what you really feel
In my last relationship I learned quickly not to share any of my feelings because what came afterwards was blame, yelling, and the threat of “well maybe we shouldn’t be together.” I became afraid of speaking my mind because I was afraid I would say the wrong thing. I valued how he felt and what his needs were so much that I stopped considering my own.

I imagine many of us have, at some point in our lives, fallen into this trap and that we’ve let it impact how we communicate in the relationships that followed. When hiding what you really feel becomes a habit it can be difficult to break. But being vulnerable means being truthful. It means honoring what you feel, what the other person feels, and being brave enough to address those circumstances together. If you’re scared, say so. If you’re hurt or angry because you felt they were inconsiderate, say so. Don’t hide your emotions. You have every right to feel what you are feeling.

I myself have struggled with doing this and I’ve ruined some relationships along the way, which I deeply regret. But I’ve made significant strides and now I’m so much more open about how I feel that people probably want me to stop sharing. Don’t stop sharing.

Vulnerability has so much to offer and although it opens us up to rejection and pain and hurt it will be worth it (maybe not right away, but eventually) because without vulnerability we cannot distinguish the wrong person from the right person, just like we would never know good until we’ve known bad.

I don’t believe there is any right way to be vulnerable and what works for me may not work for you. But I do have faith you will succeed in however you approach your journey and I wish you all the joy and happiness that comes with taking such a giant leap of faith because you definitely deserve it.

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Filed under advice, Ambiance Matchmaking, authenticity, bipolar II, compassion, fear, lessons learned, love, relationships, self-love, vulnerability

6 ways to support a friend or family member with a mental illness

Friends and family play an important role in my recovery. For the most part, people want to help but may find that starting a conversation with me about my mental illness is hard to do. They may feel uncomfortable or unsure of what to do or say, which is normal. Over the last couple of months I’ve had a lot of interactions with friends and family related to my mental health and what I’ve learned is that it’s often the small things you do or say that make the biggest difference. Based on my own experiences, I’ve compiled six ways you can help a friend or family member with a mental illness (including me!):

Reach out and take the lead. Include them in everyday plans like going to the movies, dinner, or on a hike. If they resist ask again or offer to pick them up. When suffering from depression, I am more likely to isolate and alienate myself from friends. I end up spending more time alone than I do around other people. However, being around people and engaged in activities is important to recovery. Sometimes we just need a little push to get out the door.

Don’t just talk about their illness. Mental health is only one part of their life. Don’t define them by their illness by only talking about this one subject. Talk to them like you’ve always talked to them. While I need to talk about my mental health I also need to talk about everyday things like work, school, a funny story I heard, or the boy I like.

Educate yourself. If you feel awkward or uncomfortable or have no idea what to say, the best thing you can do is read about the mental illness. Not just medical information but books and articles by people who live with that mental illness. Doing so will provide understanding and insight and perhaps make you feel more comfortable talking about it to them. Two books that have helped me are The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon and Crazy by Amy Reed.

Don’t avoid the issue. If they come to talk to you about their mental health, don’t change the subject. If you ask someone how they are feeling the response may not always be “Good” or “Fine”. Sometimes it may be deeply depressing to listen to but doing just that, listening, can make them feel better. This is particularly true if they are in self-harm or crisis mode. In moments where I’ve been overwhelmed and tempted to self-harm again I’ve called or texted my friend Jesse to distract me. I know I can be honest with him and that he won’t avoid the issue, which helps me be open in the first place.

Be mindful about the comments you make as they can come off as insensitive,  particularly if they are in a vulnerable state of mind. A few comments that have hurt me are: “We all go through times like these,” and “You were depressing to be around; it brought me down,” and “I wish you would have told me so I didn’t feel alone,” and “My situation is more dire and important than yours.” It would have been more helpful to hear, “I may not fully understand how you’re feeling but I am here for you and I want to help,” or “I’m glad you’re getting the treatment you need,” or “You’re important to me. I love you. I’m here for you.” Some people may be in a more dire situation than others but everyone’s difficulties are relevant. Be careful not to belittle their situation.

Show support but don’t be intrusive. Ask what you can do to help them right now. This could be cooking meals, doing an activity together, or just letting them know you’re there to talk. Be patient if they don’t respond right away. If they want to talk they will. Sending a card or email to let them know you are thinking about them every once in a while is a gentle reminder you are there for them if they ever need you. Sometimes just knowing is enough.

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Filed under advice, bipolar II, mental health, mental illness, mindfulness, recovery

Coming out of the bipolar closet

Absent from the blogging world for several months, I’ve wrestled with being open, honest, and vulnerable about my recent diagnosis of bipolar II disorder. When it comes to the mind, people are anxious, nervous, and not quite sure how to react when you tell them you have a mental illness, which makes giving voice to my story one of the most difficult things to do.

Living with bipolar II has certainly presented its own set of challenges, from battling the stigma, guilt and denial that comes with a mental illness diagnosis to practicing self-awareness and self-care during the recovery process. Recovery is not simple or quick but I see my family and close friends standing in my corner and they remind me there is meaning and hope. Most days I am fighting to be better for them. Only recently have I fought to be better for myself.

Here are five ways I’ve been able to embrace my mental illness:

  1. Acknowledging its presence in my life. I think bipolar II was a secret I kept from myself for years. It seemed to always sit there quietly in my unsettled mind, occasionally making an appearance just to remind me it was still there. I always willed it to go away but denying its existence only brought more pain to my life. In the depths of my most recent major depressive episode, I resorted to self-harm and began cutting my wrists. I wanted the parts of me visible to the outside world to match how I felt on the inside, which left me with four scars on my left wrist for the rest of my life. I ultimately reached a point where I could no longer hide my struggle from family and friends and as a result I spent a week in the psychiatric unit at a local hospital. Sharing this struggle and my subsequent diagnosis with close friends and family was the best thing I ever did for myself. People came out of the woodwork to be there for me; to offer their support, love, and a shoulder to lean on if I needed it. I didn’t realize how much I needed all of them until they appeared. By finally admitting I needed help, I recognized that I was no longer alone in my journey. I realize now the crucial role family and friends play in my recovery and I’ve found that by acknowledging my mental illness I’ve laid the groundwork for a dependable support network.
  2. Making friends with fear. When I was first diagnosed with bipolar II I was plagued with fear. Fear that people might judge me or think I was different and weird. Fear that the free-spirited, adventurous qualities my friends and family loved about me were just the byproduct of being hypomanic. Fear of the sudden realization that I would live with bipolar for the rest of my life, which in turn left me wondering what ‘the rest of my life’ actually looked like. However, admitting I was afraid and voicing my fears brought an enormous amount of relief. I started to view my diagnosis as a blessing because I finally knew what I was dealing with. Armed with that knowledge I’ve been able to use my fear to understand and learn what I needed to do to manage my illness and continue living a healthy, stable life.
  3. Acknowledging my current state of health. In my most severe depressive episode, I stopped taking care of myself. I didn’t shower. I didn’t cook. I didn’t clean. The thought of doing any of these things nearly debilitated me and as a result I stunk, didn’t eat, and slept in dirty sheets for months at a time. It was only at the hospital that I finally became mindful of how much I wasn’t functioning in the everyday world and that I needed help doing all the simple things that seemed so overwhelming to me. I needed medication to stabilize my mood. I needed someone to help me clean and cook and do the laundry. The only thing I seemed to be able to manage in the initial weeks after my hospital stay was to take a shower. I was too exhausted to do anything else. Even though it was a small task it was something. Understanding my abilities and my limitations at the present moment is important to my recovery process. I can’t think about where I want to be or how I ultimately want to function. Instead, I continuously have to ask myself where I’m at today and cut myself some slack. I realize I may need some help getting through rough patches and I’ve found that there are people in my support network who are willing to help even if in a small but significant way.
  4. Participating in the recovery process in a meaningful way. When I decided to take an active role in my recovery I began educating myself about my mental illness, joined several support groups, and found a creative outlet through writing. Doing all of these things has helped me cope with and manage my mental illness in a way that helps me function and continue living. I think the biggest blessing in my recovery is what I give and receive at support groups. I cling to them like a totem pole. They are my brothers and sisters; my comrades. They are the few people I know who truly understand what it’s like inside the mind of someone living with bipolar. Writing has also been helpful as it’s given voice to my worries and fears and helped me process and grieve my diagnosis. Taking an active role in my recovery process has empowered me to seek help and find purpose and meaning in a post-diagnosis world.
  5. Not letting it define me. As soon as the psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar II I thought others would stop seeing me as the free-spirited, adventurous sometimes sad and lonely writer and instead start seeing me as that crazy girl. The pervasive stigma that exists regarding mental illness is a battle I will constantly fight. Some people will embrace me while others will shy away but I can’t let how others perceive me define the kind of existence I want to live. Yes, I am different, unpredictable, impulsive, at times reckless and at other times seriously depressing, but I am also many other things. Most importantly, I am a strong person with a giant heart. I am a loving daughter and caring friend. My mental illness is a part of who I am but it is not me. For that reason I decided to use my mental illness as a vehicle for change; to break down the walls other people put up.

If you live with a mental illness please know you are not alone in your journey.

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Filed under advice, bipolar II, depression, mental illness