Thursday, December 28, 2017

Second Thoughts


A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a room with a dozen or so people. I was at a table with three women. It was the last day of a 4 day long work-related training and we were on lunch break. We were all feeling comfortable with each other and at some point, the conversation turned to the son of one of the women. She shared some of the struggles he was having and explained that a lot of it stemmed from his depression. As I listened I found myself wanting to share that I have bipolar, but I was holding back; I was worried about what they might think.

Before long I realized I was playing into the stigma of mental illness. So, I shared that I have bipolar disorder. At first there was a bit of a silence as they processed what I just shared. I felt like I was on a mini-trial for a few seconds. These people had known me for about 4 days, heard my professional background, seen me make presentations, interacted with me, and knew what I was capable of. Accepting that I have bipolar flew in the face of the stigma associated with it. By all stereotyped accounts, I should have been incapable of all the things I had been doing that week.

After a moment or two there were a few questions to confirm what I just told them, and then the conversation went on. The woman who was speaking about her son opened up and talked more. In fact, the whole table had a more open and sharing attitude. It was great. I shared a little about my mental illness and, as a result, there was a better dialogue about depression. The conversation even turned to other mental health issues.

I know I didn’t start a world changing movement that is going to eradicate the stigma and prejudices associated with mental health, but I know I impacted those three women in a positive way.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Special care and feeding? Not really.

Bipolar is a illness that affects the most complex part of our body – the brain. It’s so complex that science is just starting to understand it. It is so complex that we don’t even know how to treat it. So, what are the special things I do to make sure I live a healthy life with my bipolar? Here’s a list.

  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise at least 40 minutes 3 times a week
  • Get good sleep
  • See a doctor for regular checkups
  • Take any medications I have been prescribed
  • Listen to what my body is telling me
That’s it. Funny, huh? I bet this list doesn’t look much different than your list. The only difference might be that I’m more sensitive to changes in these things than you. And because I know this I act accordingly.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

My List about Me

In the past I have written lists like “The Ten Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Bipolar.” The problem is, there is a HUGE spectrum of Bipolar and it does not all apply to me. So, I have a new list.

Things I wish everyone knew about MY bipolar.

First and most important, no matter how much reading you do about Bipolar (including this blog) you will never get to know me. If you want to know what I am like you have to spend time with me. Bipolar is something I have, not something I am. Just like someone with diabetes. You can read a lot about eating habits, medications, and statistics, but you will never know that person until you spend time with them.

Second, bipolar is not a scary, mysterious thing. What if I told you I had depression? Which, incidentally, is called unipolar depression. Would that be a scary thing for you? No. Why? Because depression is portrayed as sad and lonely while bipolar is portrayed as out of control. Bipolar does not mean difficult, scary, obstinate, argumentative, etc. This leads to my third point.

Third, there is a huge spectrum of bipolar. It ranges from people who can’t get out of bed or can’t hold a job, to those who think they can fly and send money with no consequences.  These things don’t describe me. They are extreme. Despite battling this illness for over 25 years without knowing what it was, I earned a master degree in mechanical engineering, a master degree in business administration, I hold down a good paying job in a stressful environment and I have never had a problem living within my means.

Fourth, while living with undiagnosed bipolar for 25 years I was a good person. I’m an even better person now. Why? Because I was diagnoses 4 years ago I have medications, I have a doctor, I have a plan, and, most importantly, I have knowledge.

Fifth, bipolar is just a limit I work with. Guess what, I am also only 5’ 7” and I have to remember I can’t reach the top shelf in the kitchen either. Limits are only scary if you don’t know what they are. The important thing is, I recognize my limits and I act accordingly.

Look, if I could sum things up it would be this. Bipolar is not scary. It’s just something I have learned to live with. I didn’t say put up with. I said live with. This is an important distinction. I don’t drudge through life in depression, elation, agony or pain. I live a pretty normal life just like all of you.  And I am very blessed.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Arguing... err, ah, I mean Discussing

Recently I was asked what it would be like to argue with a me. The question was posed by a new friend who had just found out I have Bipolar. I wasn’t really prepared for the question, so I gave a weak answer. However, I have thought about it over the last few days and I now have the answer. So, what is it like to argue with me? The answer is:
  • The same as it is to argue with anyone else.

Groundbreaking, I know! But in all seriousness, Bipolar means I approach an argument knowing I need to be conscience of certain things about me. But don’t we all? Doesn’t everyone need to think about the other person? Doesn’t everyone need to be aware of how they are feeling? Doesn’t everyone need to treat others fairly? We base these checks and balances on our life’s experiences. Mine just happen to include Bipolar.

So rather than describe what I do that is different from what others might do, I will simply tell you what I do. If you do things similarly, perhaps you will conclude that Bipolar isn’t as mysterious as you may think.

I have four simple rules for arguing (or discussing if that word makes you feel more comfortable).
  1. No name calling. Absolutely no name calling. None. I won’t go there. The argument is about whatever momentary conflict is occurring, not about someone’s personal character.
  2. No yelling. This covers many things but mostly insures that emotions are kept in check. 
  3. All arguments need to be resolved at some point. Conflict should not be left indefinitely.
  4. Communicate your intentions. If you need more time, ask for it. If you can’t resolve it now and you need an hour to think about it, say you need an hour. If an hour comes and goes and you need more time, ask for it. Don’t just walk away. There are too many ways to interpret that action.

That’s it. There is no special care or feeding required because I have Bipolar. The funny thing is, when I was asked the question, that is where my mind immediately jumped to. I asked myself, “What special things do I need to do because I have Bipolar?"

How we handle life is based on what we have learned from past experiences. In some ways I feel blessed because there are whole books written and lectures given about a part of my life – Bipolar. It is almost like having a manual. ;-)

Today

For a long time now I have been a happy person. I like who I am, and I look forward to the future. Some recent events and conversations in my life have made me realize what I am about to say is long overdue.

Before today, I wrote 153 posts. Almost all of them were written in 2014. So, where did they go? They have been removed. I am sure some internet sleuth could find them somewhere if they tried, and I would be flattered if someone looked that hard, but that is O.K. I am not embarrassed by them, but they were written when I was in a very bad place.
  • I was not healthy.
  • I was desperate to save my failing marriage.
  • And, oh yeah, I was not healthy and desperate to save my marriage (which was over 3 years ago now).
Snippets from those posts will pop up from time to time, but today marks a different goal for his blog. The objective is no longer to explain my past. It is now to provide insights from the perspective of a person who has Bipolar. And maybe to offer some advice along the way.

I left the first post I ever wrote. After all, it is the reason I decided to start this blog.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Diagnosis

Yesterday was a hard day.  Since receiving my diagnosis a few weeks ago I have felt at my best while reading and learning about my illness.  I have accepted my illness as real – it’s as real as diabetes, neuropathy, Tourette syndrome, or autism.  I am taking responsibility for my illness by doing everything I can to get healthy.  I currently take three different prescriptions (a total of 4 pills each day), I eat small meals 6 times a day to help my blood sugar stay level, and I am practicing good sleep habits.

I think I have read and bookmarked just about every article and scientific study about Bipolar disorder on the web.  I recently finished reading a wonderful book that made me not feel so alone called “An Unquiet Mind” by Kay Redfield Jamison.  Yesterday I had an appointment with my psychiatrist shortly after work.  Since I was out of reading material I decided to stop at Barnes and Nobel and buy a few books about Bipolar disorder.

Upon arriving at the book store I asked where the psychology books were located.  After finding the shelf I started removing each book about Bipolar Disorder and stacking them on the floor.  I found books like “Bipolar Disorder for Dummies,” “Bipolar 101,” and “Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder.”  I suddenly felt overwhelming sad.  I started to cry. I was grateful that no one was around.  After a few minutes I pulled myself together and started thumbing through the books.

I had a pile of about 10 books so I sat down cross-legged on the floor.  Looking at the price tags instantly reminded me of why I usually buy books from Amazon.  I decided to buy two books.  As I leafed through the pages of the black and white texts something yellow caught my eye.  I flipped back to find the glint of color and found the following Post-It Note stuck to the cover page of a book.

I started crying again.  This time it was a joyful cry.  I didn't feel so alone.  Someone’s kind act of sharing their feelings and experience with Bipolar Disorder in this simple 5 word note gave me hope.

Since being diagnosed with Bipolar 1 Disorder I have wanted to share my story with the world.  If my story can help even one person get help sooner than I did it would be worth it.  But I was scared of what others might think.  After reading this note and recognizing the hope it gave to me I have started this blog.

The blog is currently anonymous but that might change at some point in the future.  Right now, the anonymity allows me to protect others who might be impacted by my story.  I hope to post my thoughts, feelings, and experiences every few days.  I pray that my writings will help others and help me.
Until then, please know that you are not alone.
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