bipolar parent

How to Stop Shoulding on Yourself

Photo by Thomas Bormans on Unsplash

This post was featured on the International Bipolar Foundation website, here.

When you’re depressed, forget about thriving – you’re in survival mode.

Which means you need to be especially gentle with yourself.

If you’re telling yourself that you should get everything done on your impossibly long to-do list today, a trap that a lot of us in capitalistic societies fall into, you’re shoulding on yourself.

Shoulding on yourself is a terrible habit. Saying “I should do this,” or “I should do that,” is just piling guilt on yourself and zapping the motivation to do anything. Believe me, when I’m drowning under a wave of self-imposed shoulds, especially when I’m depressed, I go back to bed.

If you’re shoulding on yourself when you’re depressed, you’re being unkind to yourself when you’re in survival mode. You don’t have the “spoons” to do most of the tasks you think you should and you definitely don’t have the spoons to fret about it.

The Spoon Theory, a concept popularized in a personal essay by the same name by Christine Miserandino, explains the idea of energy in short supply due to chronic illness using “spoons” as units of energy.

If you’re low on spoons, an easy state to be in when you’re depressed and don’t start with many, shoulding on yourself is the last thing you need. Worry about what you should do will just exhaust you.

Don’t think, “I should do this and after that I should do this.”

Think, “I have one task to do. What would be the most effective use of my spoons? How crucial is this spoon usage? Will I be forced to do it later when I may have even fewer spoons?”

If you answer “I can do x because it will be effective,” or “this is very crucial,” and “yes,” then do the task.

The ONE task.

One task at a time. Don’t even worry about the others until that one task is done.

If you’re worried about all the tasks you have to do after the first–take a shower, prepare that quarterly report, clean out the storage unit–you’ll never finish even the first task. You’ll end up paralyzing yourself by how much you should get done.

Instead, prioritize. Think, “What is my most effective/crucial task?”

Many tasks aren’t as crucial as we believe they are. Crucial tasks are things like “feed the five-year-old.” Strip your to-do list down to its very basics, things you need for survival or for your dependents’ survival.

It’s time to choose your most effective/crucial task. And only one. When you’re in survival mode, you only have the spoons to do one or two, and especially one at a time.

You can only do one task at a time well, so choose the one that will get you the most bang for your buck. What is pressing on you the most? What do you want to do the least later?

You can conquer that task. You are smart and capable and able to conquer anything on your to-do list, one at a time.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related Posts:

bipolar parent

25 Inspirational Mental Health Quotes to Give Your Mood a Boost

Photo by Alex Azabache on Unsplash

Are you feeling down in the dumps about your mental health?

It’s a catch-22 of depression: sometimes we feel depressed, and then we feel awful about feeling depressed.

But don’t feel bad. Sometimes we feel down, and that’s okay.

People around the world have words of wisdom to share about mental health. Here are 25 mental health quotes to give your mood a boost.

25 of the Best Mental Health Quotes

1. “The advice I’d give to somebody that’s silently struggling is: You don’t have to live that way. You don’t have to struggle in silence. You can be un-silent. You can live well with a mental health condition, as long as you open up to somebody about it, because it’s really important you share your experience with people so that you can get the help that you need.” — Demi Lovoto

2. “There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.”— John Green

3. “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” — Albus Dumbledore

4. “It’s up to you today to start making healthy choices. Not choices that are just healthy for your body, but healthy for your mind.” — Steve Maraboli

5. “Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade.” — Rudyard Kipling

6. “This feeling will pass. The fear is real but the danger is not.” — Cammie McGovern

7. “Nobody can save you but yourself, and you’re worth saving. It’s a war not easily won, but if anything is worth winning then this is it.” — Charles Bukowski

8. “Sometimes the people around you won’t understand your journey. They don’t need to; it’s not for them.”  — Joubert Botha

9. “One small crack does not mean that you are broken, it means that you were put to the test and you didn’t fall apart.”  — Linda Poindexter

10. “She is beautiful piece of broken pottery, put back together by her own hands. And a critical world judges her cracks while missing the beauty of how she made herself whole again.” — J.M. Storm

11. “Your illness is not your identity. Your chemistry is not your character.” — Rick Warren

12. “Mental health problems don’t define who you are. They are something you experience. You walk in the rain and you feel the rain, but, importantly, YOU ARE NOT THE RAIN.” — Matt Haig

13. “If you are broken, you do not have to stay broken.” — Selena Gomez

14. The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” — Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

15.  “Be confused, it’s where you begin to learn new things. Be broken, it’s where you begin to heal. Be frustrated, it’s where you start to make more authentic decisions. Be sad, because if we are brave enough we can hear our heart’s wisdom through it. Be whatever you are right now. No more hiding. You are worthy, always.” — S.C. Lourie

16. “Often it’s the deepest pain which empowers you to grow into your highest self.” — Karen Salmansohn

17. “You are valuable just because you exist. Not because of what you do or what you have done, but simply because you are.” — Max Lucado

18. “One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.” — Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking

19.  “What does your anxiety do? It does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, but it empties today of its strength. It does not make you escape the evil; it makes you unfit to cope with it if it comes.” — Raymond L. Cramer

20. “Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” — Nido Qubein

21. “Everybody knows there is no such thing as normal. There is no black-and-white definition of normal. Normal is subjective. There’s only a messy, inconsistent, silly, hopeful version of how we feel most at home in our lives.” — Tori Spelling

22. “You are the one thing in this world, above all other things, that you must never give up on. When I was in middle school, I was struggling with severe anxiety and depression and the help and support I received from my family and a therapist saved my life. Asking for help is the first step. You are more precious to this world than you’ll ever know.” — Lili Rhinehart

23. “My dark days made me strong. Or maybe I already was strong, and they made me prove it.” — Emery Lord

24. “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.” — Abraham Lincoln

25. “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” — Aristotle

Which quote was your favorite?

I hope these quotes helped you feel a little bit better, a little bit stronger, a little bit more at ease. Mental health is a journey, one which we don’t have to take alone.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, talk to someone today.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related Posts:

bipolar parent

Mother’s Day: 5 Things I Wish People–Including New Mothers–Knew About Postpartum Depression

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Trigger Warning: This post contains discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please:

  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255
  • Text TALK to 741741
  • Or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

For a post with a list of domestic crisis lines, click here. For a post with a list of international crisis lines, click here.

Like many mothers who have just given birth (up to 20%, in fact), I suffered postpartum depression.

Most mothers get the baby blues, a period of sadness after birth that lasts anywhere from 4-6 weeks, but postpartum depression (PPD) is so much more severe than that.

On this Mother’s Day, where we honor the parent who gave us life, I think it’s perfect time to let you know what PPD is really like. Or, at least, how my own experience with the illness was and what it can teach you.

5 Things I Wish People–Including New Mothers–Knew About Postpartum Depression

1. Take PPD Seriously

Postpartum depression is no joke.

My experience was slightly different than most moms out there: I suffered an episode of postpartum psychosis that hamstrung me.

But the following three years of postpartum depression kept me from functioning and destroyed my confidence that I would ever be a whole person again.

Indeed, 13 years later, I’m still feeling the effects of my bout with PPD. I used to be a strong, independent young woman who’d just earned two bachelor’s degrees, paying for college by myself by working two jobs. Now I’m nervous, insecure, and almost entirely dependent upon my husband not only financially, but also for things like taxes, buying airline tickets, changing a tire, driving in snow, and picking out phones.

My dependance on my husband is shameful to me. I don’t know how to do those practical things, and I’ve been afraid I’m too stupid to learn. Me, the woman who was smart enough and bold enough to earn two bachelor’s degrees!

I was never this bad off before my struggles with PPD.

And the PPD itself was a living hell. When my baby cried, I cried. I was terrified of putting him down just in case something bad would happen to him—either I’d step on him and crush his chest, or I’d forget about him, and he’d starve to death. I had nightmares of me throwing him down the stairs or boiling him alive.

For the first three years of my son’s life, my home was completely trashed. Moldy dishes piled up in the sink and on tables, unwashed clothes littered the floor, and a figurative ocean of dirty diapers coalesced on the living room floor.

I could not function. When I say that, I don’t mean that I was lazy. I mean that my brain could not parse out “pick up the dirty diapers on the floor one at a time, and you’ll be able to clean the living room floor.” I looked at the whole picture of the mess I had caused and felt completely overwhelmed.

Isolating myself and my infant, we rarely went outside or to mother-baby activities. I did have a Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS) group of mothers and their infants that was set up by the hospital, but after I broke down sobbing at one of the meetings, screaming, “I have PPD and it sucks!” the other mothers alienated me.

I spent all day sobbing. I lost several friends, and found no pleasure in anything, not even my infant, and then felt terribly guilty for not bonding with him in the way I “should” have.

Trying to establish himself in his new, high-stress job, my husband worked 12-hour days and sometimes slept at the office. I was alone most of the day, left to my brain fog and inability to do anything more than breastfeed my baby when he cried, at which point I was also crying.

Postpartum depression is not the baby blues. It’s severe, and if you or a loved one has been experiencing any of the following symptoms, please call a doctor right now:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Crying
  • Reduced concentration
  • Appetite problems
  • Trouble sleeping

2. PPD can be Dangerous to Mothers and Their Babies

There came a point in my PPD two and a half years after my son’s birth that I began dreaming of ways to die. Watching my son toddle around all day and unable to answer his constant questions of why, why, why, I would craft suicide letters in my head.

Suicide is a real risk for mothers who suffer PPD. Over the past decade, suicide attempts during and after pregnancy have nearly tripled. And it’s a silent suffering. No mother wants to alarm their loved ones by spilling their secret thoughts to harm themselves.

Which leads into my next point.

3. Pressure on Mothers is Immense

The pressure on mothers, especially mothers of tiny babies, is immense.

I speak of mothers specifically because dads tend to be praised for their efforts in “babysitting” their babies, which is a whole different problem. Both caregivers are under a lot of pressure, but new mothers, assumed to be the primary caregiver, bear the brunt of the social pressure.

Breastfeeding is touted as what’s best for the baby, and I agree that nutritionally, it is, but breastfeeding in public is met with either derision and ogling, or both at once.

I have been drooled at before. I have breastfed on a toilet seat. I have been scoffed at, glared at, and put on display for both mockers and people who would stare at my breasts and lick their lips lasciviously. All I was trying to do was feed my baby in the “best” way possible.

There’s nothing worse on an airplane than a crying baby. Why won’t that mother shut that baby up? Sure, the baby is tired and hungry like everyone else, but seriously, that mother is terrible, or so the thinking goes.

And as a new mother, you’re expected to bond with your baby. New babyhood is glorified as this magical journey where everyone handmakes favors for their child’s first birthday bash (which are “supposed to be” huge) and posts them on Instagram.

The pressure to post your “perfect” life on Snapchat is never more intense than on new mothers. Everyone wants to see the baby’s involuntary smiles that are usually from gas bubbles, but no one wants to see the same baby spitting up or with a blowout diaper.

Especially not on an airplane, which has happened to both me and my husband while traveling alone with our infants.

The pressure on mothers is ridiculous. I beg you, if there’s a crying baby in your vicinity, please, please give the mother a little grace. If she has PPD, I can assure you that society’s judgement is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

4. You Can Conquer PPD

All of this sounds like doom and gloom, right?

But don’t worry. Postpartum depression doesn’t last forever.

If you’re suffering from PPD, you can survive this, and yes, even thrive one day. It will take time, and patience, and maybe medication and definitely therapy.

But I promise you: You can conquer PPD. It’s dangerous, it’s terrible, it’s soul-destroying, but you will live again, and reach your full potential.

Call your doctor today. They want to help you.

If you can’t call your doctor, if your brain fog or your shame about not bonding with your baby prevents you from doing so, get someone close to you to do it. Tap that social support network you’ve so carefully built up.

And if you have no one and are truly on your own, go to the nearest urgent care center. Your life may be at stake.

And you deserve the dignity of a stable, happy life. I should know – I am thriving. My psychiatrist gave me lithium (I have bipolar disorder, so this drug worked for me) and it was like the clouds opened up and I could breathe again.

I no longer suffocated in PPD’s grip. I was able to pick up those dirty diapers and move on with my life, eventually bonding with my baby. I am now going to school for my graduate degree in clinical mental health counseling.

I am happy now. You want that, right?

Call your doctor today.

5. You May Not have PPD with Your Next Baby

After my bout with PPD, I was scared off of having babies for many years. I thought I was done with having children, that my son alone would be enough.

But then, one Christmas, I woke up one day wanting another baby. I talked it over with my husband, who always left our reproductive choices up to me, and he agreed to try for another one.

After a year of trying, I fell pregnant, and insisted that I be safely medicated for the pregnancy.

My daughter was born healthy and happy, and I suffered no ill effects that I was dreading. I had my treatment team (my psychiatrist and therapist) on standby, but I was stunned that I didn’t need them.

By grace of God, I did not have a second round of PPD. But if I did, I would have sought treatment immediately. Never again will I face a pit of depression without getting help, and never again will I allow myself to sink to such horrific depths.

Let’s Recap

This is a strongly worded post, I know. But my experience with PPD was so intense, it almost killed me.

The 5 things I wish people knew about PPD are easy to remember:

  • Take PPD seriously.
  • PPD is dangerous to mothers and their babies.
  • The societal pressure on mothers is immense.
  • You can conquer PPD.
  • And you may not even have PPD with your next baby.

If you or a loved one are suffering from PPD, don’t be like me. Don’t let the dirty diapers pile up on the floor.

There’s an ending to this. And you deserve better.

I wish you well on your journey.

Related Posts:

bipolar parent

3 Things My Kids have Taught Me about Mental Health

Photo by Alvin Mahmudov on Unsplash

Sometimes my kids drive me crazy.

That’s a bit tongue-in-cheek — I have bipolar disorder, and having suffered a postpartum psychotic break, the hormones from giving birth have contributed to a literal going nuts.

My break was absolutely not my child’s fault. Not in the slightest.

But giving birth to and parenting two unique, fascinating individuals while managing my own mental health challenges has giving me a new perspective that I would have not had were I not a parent.

Here are 3 things my kids have taught me about mental health.

1. Oxygen Masks are Crucial

If you’ve ever flown — or raised a child — you’ve heard this axiom before:

Put your own oxygen mask on before assisting other passengers.

Figuratively, it means to make sure you take time to recharge your batteries before diving into help manage other people’s needs, even and especially your children.

This is true. This is so true.

When I do not get enough sleep, I end up spiraling into a manic episode, which is almost always followed by a depressive one.

During the baby days, I needed sleep more than anything else. So I slept with my child, breastfeeding him in the bed in a half-awake state, so I could get back to sleep right away after nighttime feedings.

And I’ve found the same to be true about self-care. If I don’t spend some time each week by myself on my hobbies, I end up crabby, jittery, and much more likely to spiral out with anxiety.

So now, with a 13-year-old and a 5-year-old who both have wildly different needs, I find I must keep myself well-fed, well-hydrated, medicated, sometimes entertained, and sleeping well in order to be the present, compassionate parent they need.

I must put on my own oxygen mask before I help them with theirs.

2. Communication is Also Crucial

I am extremely open to my kids about my moods.

Not all parents can be like that, but I try to tell them, “I’m feeling anxious today,” or “I’m feeling down,” or “I’m extremely stressed.”

I try to emphasize that my feelings (usually) have nothing to do with them and they are absolutely not responsible for my moods nor making me feel better. I’m not the best at that, but I do try.

I wear my heart on my sleeve. If I’m feeling bad, everyone knows it. I have no poker face. So I try to tell my kids what I’m feeling and encourage them to open up about what they’re feeling and why.

If I bottle my feelings, they come out in other ways. My emotions tend to build up in my brain and my thoughts circle around them until I explode.

I snap at the people around me, my loved ones, who do not deserve my bad temper.

So what parenthood has taught me about my mental health is that healthy communication is crucial.

This is true regardless of whom I need to communicate with. Whether it’s my spouse, my treatment team, or an employer, I must tell the people around me when I’m not at my best.

3. Try to Enjoy the Good Days

Parenthood is a blend of ups and downs.

Some days are filled with drudgery, where I drag my feet and end up stressed beyond belief. My kids push my limits and know just what to say to set me off (which is where healthy communication comes into play).

But most days, my kids are hilarious, compassionate, friendly human beings who are a joy to be around.

My children have taught me to enjoy the good days.

When suffering a depressive episode, the good days–and even the good moments–are few and far in between. If I ever want to recover from my mood episodes–which I always do!–then I must treasure the good moments and learn to break the cycle of sadness.

What I’ve learned from my kids is that the bad days won’t last forever.

Into each life some rain must fall, yes, but there’s always some way to turn bad moments into good ones if I’m present.

Let’s Recap

My kids have taught me all sorts of things about my mental health, but these three are the primary lessons:

  1. Oxygen masks are crucial. I must take care of my own needs before I attend to other people’s.
  2. Communication is also crucial. I must communicate when I’m not at my best to the people around me, or I’ll get worse.
  3. Try to enjoy the good days. If I’m present in the moment, I can treasure my days and break the cycle of sadness.

I hope these three lessons will help you as well. If you take a few moments to think about what the people around you have taught you about your own mental health, I’m sure you can come up with many more.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related Posts:

bipolar parent

How I Eliminate Stress in My Life to Better Manage My Mental Health

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

Stress.

Everyone has it, and everyone has suffered from bad stress.

Good stress, called eustress, helps you and me meet deadlines, make dinners, and take care of the day-to-day tasks of daily functioning. But bad stress hitches up our shoulders and torpedoes our mental health.

Indeed, bad stress is terrible for people with bipolar disorder, frequently triggering depression, according to a 2002 review by the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.

So how do you eliminate bad stress in your life to better manage your mental health?

Here’s how I do it.

1. Delegate

You do not have to do every task yourself.

Being responsible for everything at work or at home is the fastest way to break a person with stress, especially someone who is predisposed to mental illness.

My answer to feeling responsible for everything is to delegate, delegate, delegate.

Talk to your higher-ups at work to see if you can get some help with major projects. Not everything can be delegated, obviously, but you can ask your co-workers to help you brainstorm solutions to problems or even possibly take on some tasks they would be able to do better than you when you’re overburdened.

According to an article on Indeed.com, asking for help at work involves considering whom to ask, thinking about your timing, and creating a list of potential solutions you’ve already tried.

With these steps, you can potentially lessen your workload.

Similarly, asking for help at home from your spouse, children, or roommates takes a similar approach.

Sometimes, especially parents, we’re reluctant to teach other people–including our children–to do chores because it’s easier to do the chore ourselves. But this is a trap that quickly leads to burnout.

You might find this parenting article by WebMD describing how to teach a rebellious teen how to clean helpful. Even if you’re not dealing with teenagers, but roommates or small children, the tips are sound.

Here are some of them:

  • Clean up your act first to be a good example.
  • Don’t micromanage.
  • Keep your cool.
  • Be absolutely clear about your expectations.
  • Have sensible consequences.

While dealing with adults who are reluctant to do chores, you don’t want to treat them like children. But the same principles apply; being consistent and clear about your expectations and coming to an agreement about consequences is key.

Good luck delegating!

2. Focus on Survival Tasks

When you lack spoons, a representation of energy and mental ability to tackle tasks in the moment, easy things to lack when you’re stressed and distressed, focus on survival tasks.

What I mean by survival tasks are those that contribute to the day-to-day functioning of daily life, as well as a bit of self-care.

“Feed the five-year-old” is a survival task. So is “clean the litterbox.” So is “work enough to keep my job.”

Some people, including myself, believe that showering is a survival task. I certainly believe that some sort of daily self-care is crucial, even if it’s just brushing your teeth.

(If you’re stuck on what self-care to do, click here for a fun, interactive, choose-your-own-adventure self-care quest.)

Until you’re in a position to delegate, pare that to-do list down to the very basics. Once you have conquered that depressive episode or lessened your burden by delegating, you’ll be free to pursue that creative hobby or clean out that storage unit.

3. Forgive Yourself for What You Don’t Get Done

There was a point in my life where I was struck down by postpartum depression.

Too busy sobbing my brains out and taking care of my tiny, helpless infant–and having never been taught how–I had no energy or ability to clean.

My little family–my baby, my husband, and me–lived in squalor. Dirty diapers littered the living room floor, moldy dishes flooded the sink, and the bathrooms were filthy.

Trying to establish himself in his new, stressful job, my husband worked 12-hour days and sometimes slept at the office, so he, too, was too exhausted to help.

We were miserable.

Two years later, my psychiatrist encouraged me to wean my son so I could take lithium. Once I was properly medicated, the clouds opened up, and I was able to start picking up the shattered pieces of my life.

Eleven years after I was prescribed lithium–and after finding a medication cocktail that worked to fully lift my depression and stabilize my manic/mixed episodes–I am stable and happy.

My advice to forgive yourself for what you don’t get done is hypocritical because I still struggle with doing so.

I still haven’t forgiven myself for the time when my brain was sick and I simply could not clean. I still hold myself accountable for that time.

But when I look at my bright, healthy, compassionate preteen son, I recognize that I did do something right in that time: I kept my child alive, and I took care of myself as best I could, which allowed him to thrive.

I have value beyond a clean house, and so do you. You can forgive yourself for the tasks you don’t get done, just like I know I can forgive myself for my inability to clean over the years.

It’s time to move on from past mistakes. If you’re holding past tasks over your head, forgive yourself.

You’ve earned it.

Final Thoughts

You can reduce stress in your life.

By delegating, focusing on survival tasks, and forgiving yourself for what you haven’t gotten done, you can reduce the burden in your life to better manage your mental health.

I wish you well in your journey.

bipolar parent

Disclosing Your Mental Illness Masterpost: How, When, and to Whom

Photo by Matthew Ball on Unsplash

Disclosing your mental illness to other people is a huge decision. You have to consider not only whether your friends/employers will support you after you disclose, but also how and when to do so.

I tend to disclose within the first or second meeting, before I’m even attached to a friend. I am open about my bipolar disorder to almost everyone I meet.

Bipolar disorder is just a label; it’s a part of my life but it isn’t everything, and it explains why I’m sometimes unpredictable. And I have a strong support system, so I have little to lose by disclosing.

For further reading on how I became more comfortable sharing my bipolar diagnosis, click here.

I live in a liberal area of the U.S. and have had various reactions to my admitting that I have bipolar disorder, most of which were positive but some of which were disheartening. There are often three ways that friends and family react:

  1. They are comfortable with your disclosure, nothing changes for the worse, and sometimes they’re better at supporting you.
  2. They are incredibly uncomfortable and take steps to end the relationship with you.
  3. They say that they are comfortable with you telling them this and then proceed to fade slowly from your life.

Obviously the first outcome is the best and most hoped for. While ending relationships are a concern, it’s entirely possible that they wouldn’t have been able to support you anyway, so it’s probably best that they disappear from your life.

When to Disclose Your Mental Illness

Telling someone about your mental illness takes a lot of courage. And you don’t have to tell anyone right away–or at all. Not everyone can live as openly as I do.

If you want to tell someone about your mental illness, tell them when:

  • You are well. You don’t want to wait until a mental health crisis hits to disclose to your friends that you have a mental illness. Disclosing when you’ve got your illness under control will give the people you disclose to time to adjust to the fact that you suffer from a disorder.
  • When you need people to understand. Sometimes, people who suffer from mental illnesses need special accommodations at work or school. Letting friends know the reason behind why you don’t want to hang out with them during a depressive spiral can prevent them from thinking you’ve grown distant. Telling people you have a mental illness is better when it serves a purpose.
  • When you’re ready. Disclosing your mental illness to friends, family, or even an employer is an intensely personal decision. Write down exactly what you want to say, and practice your words, either in front of the mirror or with a licensed professional. Talking to a therapist about your concerns may help put your mind at ease.

Although the “perfect” time to disclose depends on your relationship to the person and whether you’re well, honesty is almost always the best policy.

People don’t “need” to know that you’re mentally ill. Disclosing is your decision alone. But it may help explain some of your more erratic behaviors to the people you impact with them, which may help them give you grace when you suffer mood episodes.

When you choose to disclose is up to you. I’ve personally found that letting people know upfront that I have challenges they (usually) don’t is beneficial to both of us.

And if you’re dating someone, it’s always best to disclose that you have mood episodes sooner rather than later. For a more specific post on when to disclose your mental illness to your dates, click here.

Now that you know when to disclose, how do you do it?

4 General Tips on How to Disclose Your Mental Illness

You may have been curious to know how to disclose your mental illness to the people around you. Here are some tips to do just that.

1. Bring Your Disorder up in Casual Conversation

When I disclose my mental illness, I tend to bring it up in casual, low-stakes conversation.

If a potential parent friend asks about my children, I tell them a few facts about them (I have two, these are their names and ages, blah blah blah). Then I sometimes mention that the baby years were especially difficult because the sleep deprivation tended to make me manic, because I have bipolar disorder.

Despite its massive effect on my life, treating the illness as just something I have to deal with on a regular basis helps me.

I try not to trivialize the disorder–which is why I also sometimes bring up my postpartum psychotic break and how serious and painful it was–but I also tend to talk about my disorder as just a part of me.

This strategy normalizes the mental illness and allows you to determine the terms of how others perceive your bipolar disorder. If you treat the illness seriously but with grace, then other people may as well.

2. Describe the Steps You’re Taking to Manage Your Condition

Bipolar disorder is only as shocking as you allow it to be.

If you describe your bipolar disorder as this awful, paralyzing albatross, then both you and the person you’re talking to will form an opinion of you as being ravaged by your disorder and out of control.

Don’t let bipolar disorder rule your life even in the way you talk about it.

Try to describe the steps you’re taking to manage your bipolar disorder. Try to say things like, “I have bipolar disorder, which means I have to take medication and be vigilant about how much sleep I get.”

This lets people know you’re actively working towards stability, a heartening sign. Being friends with someone who’s unmanageable may scare some people away, as they might not be ready for a commitment like being constantly impacted by your wild moods.

Remember, managing bipolar disorder successfully is work no matter how you slice it, so be proud of that work!

3. Demonstrate How Your Bipolar Disorder Gives You Empathy

Even when getting to know my close friends, I would say things like, “Oh, yes, I understand a lack of focus–I have bipolar disorder and that makes focusing difficult.”

Mental health challenges are growing more and more common. A huge percentage of people struggle daily with problems like inability to focus, insomnia, or even mild, high-functioning depression.

Because your bipolar disorder is a series of mental health challenges itself, it has likely given you empathy for people who currently struggle with them. Don’t be afraid to show that empathy and let people know you understand their issues.

This shows them that you will not patronize them for their struggles, which may endear you to them.

4. If You Need it, Ask for Help

If you have a close relationship with someone, don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially from your employer (more on that below). If you believe they will be receptive, suggest ways your audience can support you.

This can involve asking for more breaks or other accommodations at work or school, or simply asking a friend to understand why you can’t hang out as long, especially at night, when you need more sleep.

You can also ask your loved ones to help you find a doctor and follow through with an appointment, if you feel that your friend or family member will understand and be helpful.

Set boundaries here, too: you know yourself best, and you need to explain whether you need advice or just need your audience to listen.

I have often “vented” to my close friends about how my mania makes me feel, especially when I’m in a manic state. I am upfront with my friends and family about whether I’m entering a mood episode, especially mania, and I describe the steps I’m taking to stabilize again.

4. Keep in Mind Your Boundaries on What to Share

You definitely don’t need to share everything. Plan ahead as to what you feel comfortable sharing about your experience. It’s perfectly reasonable to explain that you don’t feel like talking about something in particular.

If you do feel there are good parts to your illness, like things you’ve learned, try to share those. Remember, how others perceive your bipolar disorder is often about how you frame it, and what details you are comfortable sharing will shape how others feel about you.

I rarely have reservations when talking about my bipolar disorder, but there are friends for whom I wouldn’t go into detail about my postpartum psychotic break.

When I asked friends to read my book about the experience in the past, they frequently couldn’t read past the first paragraph because it was too painful for them to think of how much agony I experienced.

Some people can’t handle the nitty gritty of my illness and that’s okay. I still refer to my breakdown in general terms, but I don’t tell certain friends everything about it unless they express interest in reading my book (at which I warn them about how intense it is).

When sharing details about your mental illness, consider not only your comfort levels, but also your friends’, and what opinions you want them to have of you.

Disclosing your mental illness can be a deep and intense process, but it doesn’t have to be. Try bringing up your bipolar disorder in casual conversation, describe the steps you’re taking to manage your condition, demonstrate the empathy the illness has given you, and keep in mind your boundaries and your friends’ comfort levels.

If you’re disclosing to an employer, however, that’s a completely different ballgame. Here’s how to do that:

How to Disclose Your Mental Illness to an Employer

You know how and when to disclose your mental illness, and even if to disclose to family and friends. But what about your employer? Read on to learn how to protect yourself.

When choosing to disclose a mental illness at work, there are several factors to consider. You might face stigma from your coworkers–or worse, your bosses. Those you work with might not understand, or even want to understand, your daily struggle.

However, with disclosure might come special accommodations–like extra breaks–which are part of your civil rights. There are certain protections available to you.

You absolutely deserve those protections. If you’re in the US, don’t be afraid to disclose your condition to your employer so they can treat you fairly under the law.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a protection that you should be familiar with. The ADA is just like it sounds like: a federal law that protects Americans with disabilities at private employers with more than fifteen employees, as well as state and government employers. There are two conditions you must meet for the act to apply:

  1. Your disability impairs your life, essentially making working difficult. This condition applies to difficulties with regulating emotion, concentrating, and other ways your mental illness interferes with your ability to work.
  2. That, while your illness makes working difficult, you can get the work done.

Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act)

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, or Rehab Act, is a federal law very similar to the ADA that applies to schools. Any agency that receives government funding is covered under the Rehab Act.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a useful law that helps people keep their jobs while taking an extended leave of absence. The FMLA only applies to companies with over fifty employees, and after you have worked for the company for a year minimum. The FMLA lets you take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick family member or recover from an illness yourself.

States also have their own protections for Americans with disabilities.

What Accommodations Can I Receive? How?

Under these laws, you can receive special accommodations: working from home, flexible start times, written directions, feedback from your bosses and coworkers, more breaks, and quiet places to take those breaks. These changes to the workplace are intended to be an aid for you so that you can complete your tasks.

But how do you apply for these accommodations? The process isn’t difficult, but the onus is on you to ask. Once you do, your employer is mandated to talk with you.

  • First, contact the human resources (HR) department and ask them what channels you need to go through to apply.
  • Write down your request. Be very specific as to what accommodations you need, and explain to HR how these will help you in the workplace.
  • Talk with your treatment team–therapists and psychiatrists–to see if they can offer any proof that you suffer from a mental illness.
  • Take notes at every conversation you have with your boss. Do not delete any emails that apply to the request.
  • Be reasonable and flexible. Your strongest advocate is you, so be prepared to negotiate.

 Discrimination

What if you’ve been discriminated against because you suffer from a mental illness? There are legal protections available for you:

  • If the employer is a private one covered by the ADA, then you have to reach out to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). File a complaint at the EEOC’s website, www.eeoc.gov.
  • If, however, the employer is a federal agency, like a school or governmental employer, then you must reach out to the Equal Employment Opportunity Office (EEO). File a complaint at the EEOC’s website, federal division.
  • States have protections as well. If you’ve been discriminated against despite these laws, look up your state’s Fair Employment Practice Agency (FEPA).
  • The Department of Labor manages the FMLA. If you’ve been denied your legal right to twelve weeks of unpaid leave, then contact them.

There are several protections available to you should you choose to disclose your mental illness to your employer. Whether or not you should is completely up to you. As we said, you might face stigma from your coworkers or bosses, but if you’ve been discriminated against, you can file complaints. You have a right to accommodations. All you have to do is take that step forward.

Final Thoughts

How and when to disclose your mental illness can be intense, deeply personal decisions. But they don’t have to consume you. Here’s an overview of the masterpost:

When to Disclose:

  • Whenever you’re well.
  • When you need people to understand.
  • When you’re ready.

How to Disclose to Friends:

  • Bring your bipolar disorder up in casual conversation.
  • Describe the steps you’re taking to manage your condition
  • Demonstrate the empathy the illness has given you.
  • Keep in mind your boundaries and your friends’ comfort levels.

How to Disclose to Your Employer to get the Accommodations you Deserve:

  • Contact HR
  • Write down your specific request.
  • Get proof of your mental illness from your treatment team.
  • Take notes at every conversation you have with your boss. Do not delete any emails that apply to the request.
  • Be reasonable and flexible in advocating for yourself.

Only you can decide when, how, and to whom to disclose your mental illness. You may face stigma and discrimination for it. But those true friends who do stick around–and those accommodations you’ll earn from your employer–are worth it, in my opinion.

Best of luck disclosing your mental illness.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related Posts:

bipolar parent

What is Bipolar Disorder? A Crash Course by the Bipolar Parent

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Trigger Warning: This post contains discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please:

  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255
  • Text TALK to 741741
  • Or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources. 

For a post with a list of domestic crisis lines, click here

For a post with a list of international crisis lines, click here.

Bipolar disorder.

With 45 million people worldwide living with this illness and abundant, harmful stereotypes presented in the media, you may have heard of or experienced this illness in your own life.

But what is bipolar disorder, really? What do “mania” and “depression” really mean?

First, we must clinically define bipolar disorder. bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mood disorder characterized by swings between depression, grandiose moods called mania, and precious periods of stability.

Over five million people worldwide live with the illness, which often runs in families. The mood disorder affects men and women equally and often appears in early adulthood, though children may also develop the mental illness.

But what does all that gobbledygook mean? How does this affect you, the diagnosed person or the person with a loved one who has a diagnosis?

Here’s a crash course in what bipolar disorder is and what it means from The Bipolar Parent.

What is Mania?

The bipolar sufferer is a creature of extremes, and nowhere is that made more clear than during manic episodes. Often depicted as the default bipolar state in popular culture, mania is a psychiatric state defined by symptoms of:

  • grandiosity
  • euphoric mood
  • insomnia or sleep disturbances
  • massively increased energy
  • irritability
  • rapid and/or pressured speech
  • a flood of ideas
  • delusions
  • an inability to think things through or control impulses
  • increased risk-taking, including extreme spending and dangerous sex.

When I’m manic, I can flip from overjoyed and impervious in one second to angry and snappish in the next. I cannot control my impulses and am totally distractable.

I often speak too quickly and become frustrated with everyone around me, whom I perceive as moving too slow. My friends and family, however, cannot understand me.

Inability to concentrate due to the flood of ideas in my mind means I start projects and then drop them before they’re even half-done (eg: I have document after document of unfinished fanfictions). And I spend loads of money on craft materials, and the purchases are rarely thought through.

I also have an inflated sense of their own mortality; most of the time, it feels good to be a god, so I am easily convinced by my own ego that I don’t need medication or sleep.

It’s difficult to recognize that I’m manic when I’m in the middle of it, because I feel great. I usually have to be told by a concerned friend or family member that I’m spinning out into a mood episode, if the uber-productivity doesn’t tip me off.

A diagnosis of mania is also the primary difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II: the former requires an extreme manic episode lasting at least one week, possibly with psychotic features such as hallucinations or delusions of godhood. Sufferers of Bipolar II deal with depression and hypomania, a lower form of mania, only.

What is Hypomania?

In Latin, “hypo” means below, so the definition of hypomanic as, “appears less intense than manic” follows logically.

People in a hypomanic episode usually have feelings of euphoria, irritability, increased sexuality, and competitiveness–but less than someone with full-blown mania.

Whereas inability to focus permeates mania, my experience with hypomania has been completely different. Increased focus and feelings of contentment means that I am incredibly productive while hypomanic, and I don’t doubt that this drive and ability applies to other people in such a state as well.

Hypomania is a very pleasurable episode to be in; I have often felt as if I am coasting along in my day, accomplishing anything I set out to do with my super-human energy.

This is part of the reason bipolar people (including me) often grieve for the hypomanic episode while depressed or normal. Similarly, taking my meds is difficult while in this state of ecstasy, because I think I can do whatever I want.

Unfortunately for me and everyone else who has enjoyed a hypomanic episode, any manic episode, no matter how intense, is typically followed by a crash.

What is Depression?

Even the neurotypical layperson, who may have never experienced mental illness, knows what depression is–at least on an intellectual level.

Depression is often described as being miserable, down in the dumps, or–my favorite–trapped in a black, sucking hole of apathy.

According to the Kübler-Ross model, also known as the five stages of grief, depression is one of the normal responses to a traumatic life event.

Clinical or bipolar depression, however, rears its ugly head due to chemical imbalances in the brain, medication, or genes–meaning that it can strike at any time not connected to stress or winter blues.

So what are depression’s signs and symptoms, and how are they treated?

When I’m depressed, I often feel most or all of these:

  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory loss
  • Lack of energy
  • Isolating self
  • Inability to sleep
  • Missed showers, meals
  • Suicidal tendencies

When I want to remember the times I was deep in the midst of a depression episode, all I have to do is look over my old blog entries.

This one in particular hit home:

Over the past year I’ve isolated myself and my five-year-old, confining us both to the house due to both anxiety and depression.

I’ve only just begun to emerge from the fugue, armed with new medications and new coping strategies, as well as an attempt to shuck off old habits.

Due to the advice of a dear friend, I found that doing things makes me want to do more things.

It’s counter-intuitive, but making sure that I do the dishes and pick up the living room every day has worked as the best anti-depressant I’ve ever had.

Staying in bed until I have to pick up my kid from kindergarten is a sure-fire way of destroying the rest of the day.

Getting up and getting dressed is that first, difficult step, but I am better off when it’s done.

– Cassandra Stout

I suffered massive depressive episode for years and years, crippling me emotionally and causing me to miss out on “normal” things for me and my son, like planning birthday parties or making new friends after a move.

For eight years, I lacked a solid community. I rarely took my child out on playdates and as a consequence, he finds making friends difficult.

I did very little around the home, including cleaning the house and showering myself.

Thankfully, I’ve found a combination of medication that worked, attended therapy, and worked on my own self-care. I now have a community of friends that support me, and I am helping to undo the damage that was done to my son.

What is a Mixed Episode?

To make bipolar disorder even worse, what happens if you felt symptoms of depression and symptoms of mania at the same time?

This awful set of feelings is colloquially called a mixed episode or a mixed mood state, and they are common in people with bipolar disorder. Half or more of people with bipolar disorder deal with mixed episodes, and I am one of them.

Mixed episodes are terrible. People suffering a mixed mood state have a high chance to die by suicide because they have the awful, soul-destroying symptoms of depression with the ability to carry out plans.

Medications typically used to treat depression or mania usually don’t work well on mixed episodes.

Bipolar I vs. Bipolar II: What’s the Difference?

To be diagnosed with bipolar I, which I have, requires an intense manic episode with symptoms lasting longer than seven days or severe enough to require immediate hospitalization. Depressive episodes often last two weeks or more.

Both states prevent normal function, and require treatment in order for the individual to fully live their life. It is extremely difficult to reason with the bipolar I sufferer when they’re in the midst of a mood episode.

Four times more common than Bipolar I, bipolar II is characterized by both depression and hypomanic (“below mania”) episodes, but not full-blown mania.  Often productive, persons with Bipolar II are rarely hospitalized.

What Makes Bipolar I so Dangerous?

Bipolar I disorder sufferers experience the most intense manic episodes.

Immediately after giving birth to my first child, I suffered a postpartum psychotic break and an intense manic episode, committing myself to a local mental hospital. I earned a diagnosis of bipolar I.

During my committal, I was literally crazy. I suffered all the symptoms listed above as well as delusions and a hallucination. I was deemed dangerous to my infant and myself.

After stabilizing the manic episode with medication, I suffered a debilitating depressive episode for the next four years. I clawed my way back to stability through pursuing medication that worked and regularly taking it, faithfully attending therapy, and focusing on self-care.

That manic episode changed my entire life. Bipolar I disorder is dangerous because the manic episodes are so powerful, the person behind the mental illness ceases to recognize their own limits.

What is Cyclothymia?

Cyclothymia is a tricky diagnosis with manic symptoms less severe than bipolar I and depressive symptoms less severe than bipolar II.

Impact on productivity varies; some individuals may be hyper-productive with little impairment, whereas others are manic or severely depressed for most of their lives.

Cyclothymic people may have periods of stability, but those last less than eight weeks.

Risk Factors of Bipolar Disorder

There are several risk factors under consideration.

Genetics may play a part, though studies of identical twins have found that one twin may develop the disorder while the other twin does not.

Brain scans show that the structure of the brains of sufferers of bipolar disorder have differently sized portions of the brain compared to healthy people.

Family history seems to contribute as well, as those who have a family history of the disorder tend to develop it more often than those who do not.

Childhood trauma is also a huge factor; one 2016 review in the International Journal of Bipolar Disorder showed that multiple traumas are more frequent in patients with BD than in controls (63 versus 33 %).

Whatever the reasons behind the development of the disorder, over five million people worldwide live with it, and a great deal of people remain untreated.

What about Treatments?

Treatment for bipolar disorder requires a range of psychotherapy and mood stabilizing drugs like lithium and Depakote. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is also used, with mixed results.

Several illnesses are comorbid with bipolar disorder, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or anxiety-related illnesses. These related conditions make it difficult to treat the underlying bipolar disorder, as stimulants used to treat ADHD can sometimes trigger a manic episode.

Drugs are not without their side effects. I gained 45 pounds on mine, and topped out over 200. I’ve also tried medications that knocked me out for weeks. But I persisted until I found a cocktail that worked for me.

Attending therapy also helps the person with bipolar disorder live a fulfilling life. Therapy has no side effects.

Performing self-care is also crucial for anyone to be happy, but doubly so for people with mental illnesses.

With treatment, people with bipolar disorder can lead productive, healthy lives, managing their illness as it comes.

Final Thoughts

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that can devastate families, but it’s also one of the most treatable disorders.

With treatment, I have stabilized after suffering terrible mood episodes, and you can, too. Mania, depression, and mixed episodes can be survived.

What a bipolar diagnosis really means is different for everyone. But what it means to me is that I have an extra layer of work on top of my normal affairs to manage my moods.

I have to make sure I take my meds on time twice a day, monitor my moods so that I’m sure that the meds are working, monitor my actions to make sure they’re not wildly off base and within the range of societal norms, get enough sleep (this is especially important to avoid manic episodes), monitor my spending, avoid alcohol, and so on and so forth.

It sounds like a lot, and it is, but it’s just part and parcel with living with a mental illness. If I don’t put the work in, I become miserable and a danger to myself and others. Thankfully, the work gets easier as you get used to it.

Bipolar disorder doesn’t have to control your life. Whether you have bipolar I, bipolar II, or cyclothymia, you can live stably.

I wish you well on your journey.

Related Posts:

bipolar parent

My Experiences with Mixed Mood States and How I Handle Them

This post appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation’s (IBPF) website, here. Graphics from the International Bipolar Foundation.

[Id: A blue graphic with two men in blue shirts high fiving over a woman in a blue shirt. The graphic says “3 Ways to Manage Mixed Mood States.”]

If you have bipolar disorder, it’s likely you’ve experienced some symptoms of mania while you’ve suffered depression, or vice versa, and believe me: it’s miserable.

This awful set of feelings is colloquially called a mixed episode or a mixed mood state, and they are common in people with bipolar disorder. Half or more of people with bipolar disorder deal with mixed episodes, and I am one of them.

Just because I suffer mixed episodes, however, doesn’t mean I don’t have “pure” episodes of depression or mania–I have those, too, and they are also detrimental to my mental, physical, and emotional health.

But there’s something about a mixed episode that’s just doubly bad.

Six days after the birth of my first child at 22, I suffered an intense mixed episode with psychotic features and committed myself to a mental hospital, where I earned a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder I.

I was constantly on the move, hadn’t slept in a week, and ate very little food or drink other than chocolate milk. I made to-do lists of over 100 items each and filled up brand new journal in a few days. I spoke so rapidly that no one could understand me, and flitted from topic to topic like a hummingbird, frustrated and irritable.

These are all symptoms of–and in the case of the lack of sleep, precursors to–mania. But I also suffered symptoms of depression: I cried constantly, felt an overwhelming dread that awful things were happening to my newborn, and vacillated between absolute euphoria and crushing despair.

Any setback destroyed me. Something as simple as not being able to eat my condiment of choice on my meal was a cause for sobbing dejection. And I fixated on my feelings of guilt, anxiety, and low self-worth.

My mixed mood state nearly got the best of me. When I wasn’t bursting with energy, I was exhausted. Angry outbursts from me were common, and my mind raced so much, I couldn’t get to sleep easily.

Fortunately, I was given proper medication in the hospital that stabilized me. Since then, I’ve faithfully taken my meds at morning and night, and I haven’t yet experienced a mood episode that terrible again.

I have, however, suffered less intense mixed episodes since my stay in the hospital. The symptoms–irritability, inability to focus, vacillation between euphoria and despair–are similar.

But I don’t allow them to control me anymore.

3 Ways I Handle Mixed Mood States

I handle mixed mood states in the same way I handle “pure” manic episodes: once I realize what’s going on, I ensure I’m taking steps to get out of the mood state.

Here are three ways I do that:

[Id: A graphic of a man lying down with words that say, “I prioritize sleep. With mania, I frequently don’t need sleep–or, at least, that’s the lie that my brain tells my body. When I’m in a manic or mixed mood episode, I need sleep even more so than when I’m not, so I practice good sleep hygiene and force myself to lie down with my eyes closed until I’m out. Taking a hot bath right before bed also helps. Sometimes medication is involved in my sleep, which brings me to my next point…”]
[Id: A woman in a blue hijab speaking with a man and another woman with the words, “I inform my treatment team about my current struggles. My treatment team–my therapist, psychiatrist, and yes, even my husband–needs to know I’m experiencing a mood episode before they can help me. First, I tell my husband, as he’s the closest to me and is most likely to be adversely affected by my mood episode. Next, if the mood episode is truly terrible and I need to adjust my medication, I phone my psychiatrist and take his advice. After that, I make an appointment with my therapist to process the issues that cropped up during the episode.”]
[Id: A man and a woman standing next to a woman seated at a desk with a computer monitor with the words, “I pare down my to-do list. One of my manifestations of mania is to be insanely productive. But the more I accomplish, the more wound up I get, and therefore I accomplish even more, getting more wound up… It’s a vicious cycle. So when I recognize that I’m manic, rather than riding the high and getting a ton done, I scale back on my to-do list. I force myself to slow down and only get done what is absolutely vital. Slowing my brain down and deliberately paying attention to detail helps me conquer a manic or mixed mood episode.”]

Final Thoughts

My experience with mixed mood states has been awful. They’re like a manic episode turned up to eleven with all the worst parts of depression bogging me down.

When I’m suffering a mixed mood episode, I’m irritable, euphoric, and despairing. I can’t focus and I can’t sleep easily.

But the way I handle those states is similar to the way I handle manic episodes: I prioritize sleep, let my treatment team know and take their advice, and pare down my to-do list.

If you find yourself in a mixed state, prioritize sleep. Force yourself to lie down and close your eyes; try to slow your brain down as much as you can so your thoughts don’t run away with you. And don’t forget to take your medication!

You can survive a mixed mood state and even thrive afterwards. I wish you well in your journey.

Related Posts:

bipolar parent

World Bipolar Day – Time to Take Charge of Your Mental Health

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Bipolar disorder.

To those newly diagnosed or with a loved one who has been recently diagnosed, those two words may sound like a prison sentence. You mean I’ll be ravaged by out-of-control moods for the rest of my life?

I am Cassandra Stout, and I have managed my bipolar I disorder, the most intense type, for 13 years–and managed it well. And I am here to say you absolutely do not have to live in chaos.

This World Bipolar Day (WBD), traditionally observed on March 30, take charge of your mental health. There are steps you can embark on to reign the illness in and make it manageable.

As I told my newly diagnosed relative, what a bipolar diagnosis really means is work. It’s an extra layer of work that a person living a mental illness must face and embrace in order to tame the chaos of the mood disorder.

But have no fear. The work becomes easier and easier to handle. For example, I am so in the habit of taking my meds in the morning that I don’t even give my pills a second thought.

I treat my evening dose the same way–every night at 6pm, I down my pills with a glass of water.

Done. Easy. Habitual. And you can get to this point, too.

Here’s what to do to take charge of your mental health this WBD.

Take Your Medications

No one likes admitting they need help, especially in the form of mind-altering drugs.

But if you have medications, you must have realized at one point that your brain chemistry needs them to be stable.

I certainly do. I thank God for my pills; without my antidepressant, I would be a disheveled mess in the throes of depression. Without my antipsychotic med, I would be completely out of control during a psychotic manic episode, which I’ve suffered before, endangering myself and my family.

I need my meds. I cannot function without them. And it took me a few years being ravaged by postpartum depression and bipolar I disorder to realize just what kind of effect my medications would have on my life.

Thirteen years after my breakdown, I am stable and happy. I haven’t suffered a debilitating mood episode in years. I am going back to school for my counseling degree and making a difference in the world as a good parent.

I don’t owe everything to my current medication cocktail, but it is a large part of why I am so high-functioning today.

Bipolar disorder is one of the most treatable and and therefore controllable disorders. Even if your illness is medication-resistant, there are electroconvulsive therapies available.

If you’re taking your pills regularly and they don’t work, don’t give up. Go back to your psychiatrist and ask for an adjustment. For a post on how to get a psychiatric evaluation, click here.

Figuring out the right cocktail of antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety meds–as well as electroconvulsive therapy–requires a lot of patience, as the testing process takes time and a toll on your body.

The first step in taking charge of your mental illness this WBD is taking the medication you’ve been given on a regular basis. Set an alarm for each dose and don’t ignore this. Taking your meds is crucial to managing your brain’s non-typical brain chemistry.

You deserve stability. You deserve a happy life.

Take your meds.

Attend Therapy

Some people are reluctant to see a therapist even when they’re drowning in unstable feelings like anger, sadness, guilt, and other painful emotions.

I’ve been attending therapy for 14 years, and my therapists have changed my life for the better. With their help, I’ve been able to identify my mood episodes, develop coping strategies for them, and bounce back from crippling depressions.

As she was the one who encouraged me to commit myself to the mental hospital during my postpartum psychotic breakdown, I owe my therapist my life.

I would have been unable to recover so well from my horrendous postpartum depression without (at the time) weekly therapy sessions in which my newborn was allowed to attend.

Talk therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, is one of the best ways to learn how to manage the challenges of daily life. An unbiased, sympathetic therapist can help you understand patterns of your behaviors and help you correct said patterns.

Attending therapy is essential for daily functioning when you have bipolar disorder.

If you’ve been putting off the search for a therapist, please consider starting anew now. I know how much work it is to find one, especially given that many therapists are overburdened by new patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but a good therapist is worth the effort.

You may end up waiting for a while, especially when insurance is involved, but don’t give up your search. A worthwhile therapist can make a world of difference.

For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

Practice Self-care

Self-care is not limited to bubble baths and painting your nails. It’s taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being.

The basics of self-care is just as it sounds on the tin: taking care of yourself. Self-care involves:

Practicing these tenants of self-care on a day-to-day basis is crucial for you to feel better. Even if you can’t do all five everyday, try to eat, sleep, and drink enough water. Your energy levels and mood may improve immensely.

When I don’t perform self-care, I feel the lack in my life, and I feel it fast and hard. I’m usually clued in by my lapse in self-care by my tense shoulders, a huge amount of anxiety, and finding myself snapping at my kids.

Realizing I haven’t performed self-care in a few hours is just the first step. The next step I do is always check on my hunger levels; as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), I am easily hangered.

Once I’ve had a snack, I drink at least 24oz of water. Then I check whether I’m needed for something from my kids or other duties, or whether I can do something relaxing, like take a hot bath or work on my writing.

The entire self-care process of snacking, drinking water, and checking takes all of five minutes for me (I eat fast), and often improves my mood by leaps and bounds. If I can relax, I generally relax for about thirty minutes at a time, and I have free time scheduled into my routine every evening.

For a post on how to make time for self-care as a parent stuck inside during the COVID-19 pandemic, click here,

Final Thoughts

World Bipolar Day, celebrated every year on March 30th, is a great time to take stock of the strategies you’ve used to cope with your mental illness. If you have bipolar, taking your medication, attending therapy, and practicing self-care will go a long way towards improving your ability to handle your condition.

There is no shame in having bipolar disorder. It just means your brain functions differently and you have an extra layer of work that neurotypical people just don’t have.

But you can control your illness. You can stabilize.

Take charge of your mental health on World Bipolar Day.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related:

bipolar parent

Why Hyperfocus Can be a Form of Self-Harm

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

Brains function in weird ways sometimes.

Because bipolar disorder runs along similar pathways to ADHD, people with either mental health challenge tend to have difficulties with focusing on tasks in front of them.

When faced with a task our brains deem “boring,” we get distracted and do anything else to avoid the task.

However, sometimes, when enraptured with a project that engages our brains in just the right way, we can enter a zen state of hyperfocus, or “flow.”

In a flow state, everything but the task fades away. I myself have taken advantage of flow states many, many times, having written fanfiction in a blitz of 2200 words per hour or cross-stitched massive projects for hours on end without noticing my hands getting sore.

The neurochemistry of a flow state is super interesting. During a flow state, your brain is flooded with endorphins–nature’s heroin–and all tension in your body disappears, only to be replaced with pleasure.

I usually listen to music with noise-canceling headphones when I’m trying to concentrate a task. One way I can tell I’ve entered a flow state–aside from the massive amount of productivity–is that I completely tune out my music.

You don’t have to have a mental disorder to take advantage of a flow state, though they are common in people with bipolar disorder and ADHD, especially during times of bipolar hypomania and mania.

And trust me, flow states feel good. I love knocking my tasks off my to-do list and producing hundreds of words per hour. I love the endorphin rush I get from conquering my tasks. And I love how I feel afterwards, loose and relaxed and accomplished.

But how can this be a bad thing?

March is Self-Harm Awareness Month, celebrated in the US, Canada, and most of Western Europe. During the awareness month, mental health organizations around the world concentrate on informing the general public about non-suicidal self-harm, especially in youth.

Which why it’s a good time to explain how a hyperfocused, uber-productive state can be a form of self-harm.

Self-harm? Really?

But hyperfocus can be a good thing! You might be thinking. How can such a productive state be a form of self-harm?

It’s true that hyperfocus can be an excellent state to be in for productivity reasons. But hyperfocus can absolutely end up doing more harm than good.

Let me explain. When I’m laser-focused on a desirable activity, I narrow my attention down to what I’m doing in the moment to the exclusion of all else. I neglect to eat, drink, or even use the bathroom. I can’t recognize the flow of time, so it passes without my recognition.

And I get wired from the creativity and endorphin rush, making sleep difficult, which is dangerous for a person with bipolar disorder. Especially bipolar I, where manic episodes are more intense. If I don’t sleep, I quickly trip into mania, which helps me hyperfocus, which makes me manic… It’s a cycle.

When I’m hyperfocused, I not only neglect my own physical and mental needs, I also neglect the needs of my children. I get so wrapped up in projects, I forget to feed my kids until they not-so-gently remind me to do so.

I also hate people interrupting my flow states. When I’m jerked out of a groove, I get irritable and snappish. I have trouble pulling away. Changing gears to do things like “feed the five-year-old” is extremely difficult for me.

So flow states, though they feel great, are often sources of dysfunction for me–precisely because they feel so wonderful.

How to Manage Flow State Dysfunction

Even though I acknowledge these serious consequences from my dysfunctional patterns, I am reluctant to give up my flow states. They are addictive and a lot of my self-worth is wrapped up in my productivity, something I’m working on.

So while I’m keeping the flow states (when I can enter them), I’m setting limits on how long I produce in one.

Someone else watches my daughter from 1pm to 3pm on weekdays so I can study. This means I have a hard deadline to stop. I must stop working at 3pm.

And I am practicing patience by reordering my priorities. My children are more important than the studying, blogging, painting, sewing, or writing fanfiction–the sources of work or pleasure that sometimes trigger a flow state for me.

So I keep my children’s needs at the forefront of my mind and pull away from my screens thirty minutes before set meal times (8am, 12pm, and 5:30pm), so I can properly feed my kids.

We aim to eat at the same times each day. This regular schedule of cooking and eating meals means I have prescribed times to work on other things and maybe enter a flow state.

And I try not to work on fun, creative things–where I’m more likely to enter a flow state–until all my work is done first. I hold myself accountable and keep myself honest about what I accomplish on a daily basis, which helps with self-worth.

Limiting myself works for me. It may work for you, too. Try setting up a regular schedule of work, pleasure, and attending to your physical needs and the needs of others you’re responsible for. And set alarms if you need them–several if you’re in the habit of ignoring them.

Final Thoughts

Flow states–or hyperfocused states–feel wonderful.

They’re an endorphin rush for sure. While everyone can get into a groove, flow states are especially tempting for people with bipolar disorder and ADHD, who usually have trouble concentrating on and motivating themselves to perform day-to-day activities.

People with mental disorders need to be careful that flow states don’t become dysfunctional, which is more common than you might think. What’s more, if you find yourself entering flow states more and more often lately, track your other symptoms, as you may be entering a manic episode.

But you don’t have to give up flow states entirely. Just limit yourself.

Set alarms. Work on a regular schedule with hard stops. Hold yourself accountable for finishing work first before embarking on fun activities that are more likely to trigger a flow state.

I know it’s hard. If you’re anything like me, you’d prefer to be in a hyperfocused state all the time. I get it.

But you deserve better than your own neglect. And if you have kids, they do, too.

You can do this.

Related Posts: