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.

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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.

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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.

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bipolar parent

A Letter to Myself to Read When I’m Feeling Low or Suicidal

Photo by Debby Hudson 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.

Dear Cass,

I know you don’t believe me when I say this, but you’re going to be okay.

You’ve been here before, remember? You’ve lived through the depths of depression and suicidal thoughts, and you’ve even thrived afterwards.

I know you suffered them over that awful period of two-and-a-half years after your kiddo’s birth, and I know you wrote goodbye letters. I know very well that you don’t want to be here again.

But you will be okay. I promise.

Don’t give up. You have so much to live for. You’re going to go back to school to become a therapist and help people manage their own mental illnesses. You’ve got a great family who loves you. You have a close relationship with God, and you don’t want to hurt Him by hurting yourself.

Let’s go back to your family. Your kids need you to survive and thrive, and so does your husband.

Your children are so young. So very naïve. And they need you to protect them from the world and raise them into wise, compassionate, capable adults. Leaving your husband to parent them alone would be unfair to him.

There’d be a Cass-shaped hole in their lives that they’d never be able to fill. A new wife or a new mom wouldn’t be the same. Your kids and husband would be reminded of you, painfully, every day.

And you love all three of them. Despite the times they frustrate you, you’d give up everything for them–and for many years, you did just that.

But you have other reasons to live than just your family. You haven’t fulfilled your dream of going back to school to become the best therapist you can be yet–and if you have, you’ll have other dreams and goals, I’m sure. You’re a go-getter.

You can set and fulfill dreams and goals when you’re stable. Don’t worry about working towards them now; now is a time for triage. Now is a time to stop the bleeding, and if you’re reading this, you’re undoubtedly bleeding out.

It’s time to take care of you. You’re important to those around you, God, and yourself.

Put aside your to-do list. Practice some self-care. Go take a shower, eat a snack, and drink some water. Call your treatment team and let your husband know you’re suffering if you haven’t.

Do these things right now, and then come back to this letter.

Cass, I want to let you know that you are precious. You are irreplaceable. You are a smart, capable, lovely young woman with a lot of conquered challenges under her belt. And you can conquer this one, too.

It’s just another hurdle. Just one more thing you can handle. Managing a mental illness is work, but it’s well worth it. What’s the alternative to not putting the work in?

You being miserable.

And what happens if you put the work in?

You’ll thrive. You deserve to survive this and thrive again.

And I know you don’t believe it right now, but there are people in your life who love you and want to help you.

Call them. Text them. Email them. Just let them know.

And if you happen to have alienated everyone in your life, visit a crisis center or call a crisis line. Right now. Don’t even finish this letter–get up and get going.

You’ll be okay.

I promise.

Love,

Past Cass

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Top Tips for Keeping Friends Even with a Mental Illness

Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

In my last post, “How to Make Friends During a Pandemic Even with a Mental Illness,” I gave you a few tips on how to do just that.

Briefly summarized, the post encourages you to develop connections online, talk to your neighbors, join a support group, and/or reconnect with old friends. Using these tips, you can make friends even while stuck at home during a pandemic.

But once you’ve made those friends, how do you keep them?

Ah, there’s the rub. Keeping friends after making them is a difficult proposition for anyone, but that’s especially hard for those of us with mental illnesses.

Here are 3 tips to keep the friendships you just made alive.

1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

When trying to nurture your friendships, communication is key.

I have personally lost both new and long-standing friendships because I didn’t communicate properly with them.

In the case of the new friendships, usually playdates made at the parks I attended with my young daughter, I’ve neglected to text the parents after boldly asking for their numbers and establishing an initial “here’s my number” text.

My mother always said, “If you want a letter, write a letter,” implying that I should reach out first to establish the relationship. Her advice is solid; I have rarely kept a parent friend without my texting them to set up playdates often.

Neglecting to communicate is the easiest way to lose a friend. And it’s especially important for those of us with mental illnesses, as we need to let them know when we’re suffering a down day or are self-isolating.

Regarding my long-standing friendship, she frequently invited me to parties at her apartment, but because I didn’t want to drive in the downtown section of a massive city, where she lived, I refused invite after invite without telling her the truth.

This was before GPS on phones (I owned a flip phone at the time), and I was terrified of getting lost, like I’d done frequently when going to her apartment, or God forbid, driving the wrong way on a one-way street again.

I made up excuse after excuse without telling her the truth, and eventually, the emailed invites stopped coming. I lost touch with that friend and everyone in our social circle (she was the hub of all our mutual friends), leaving me virtually friendless for a few years.

Communication is key. Don’t do what I did–don’t neglect to tell your friends when you have an issue.

Here’s a rule-of-thumb: for close friends whose friendships you want to maintain, you should text them at least once a week. For casual acquaintances, call them on their birthdays at the very least.

Frequent communication will help you maintain the friendship.

2. Avoid Self-Isolation like the Plague it Is

When we’re depressed, we tend to withdraw from all sorts of social obligations. We’re exhausted and sad, and we think that socializing with friends is too much effort.

Don’t think like this. It’s a trap, one that starts off a vicious cycle and may even worsen your depression.

Just like in tip #1, if you’re open about your mental illness, communicate with your friends that you’re going through a depressive episode and ask for their grace. If you’re currently cloistered, don’t tell them details but let them know you’re struggling with something that makes socializing difficult.

And then actually socialize as much as you can handle. Sometimes that means lunches with friends are shorter, or you limit yourself to talking to your online friends, but don’t neglect to nurture your friendships.

Let your friends know you’re thinking of them via a text, phone call, or whichever way you communicate best. If you isolate yourself, your friends will think you’ve dropped off the face of the earth, and will choose not to “bother” you.

Tell your friends you need them and socialize as much as you can. Social connections are important and can help improve depressive episodes, and if you leave your friends alone, they will leave you alone, as in the example of my long-standing friendship.

3. Resolve Conflicts as Soon as You Can

Even best friends fight, but a conflict can suck the joy out of a friendship faster than air escaping a balloon.

The problem in your relationships are never all one person’s fault. If you’re facing a conflict with your friend, it’s likely you played a part in the problem.

Don’t let your friendships die because you can’t be the bigger person. Apologize for your part in it first, even if you think you were wronged more seriously than they were.

Most of us shy away from conflict. Highly Sensitive People (HSPs), especially those of is with mental illnesses, tend to be sensitive to yelling and criticism, and break down quickly when presented with problems in the friendship.

Don’t avoid conflict. Avoiding the problem only makes it worse. Swallow your reservations and, like in tip #1, communicate with your friends.

And if you can’t figure out what your part in the conflict is, spend some time in self-reflection. Being honest with yourself and your friend will help you keep them.

If you’re managing conflict in your friend group, listen to each side without judging. Getting everyone’s perspective before declaring who’s at fault (usually everyone) is tremendously important.

When conflict breeds most of the time, the participants just want to be heard and believe very strongly that the other people involved aren’t listening to them.

Listen to your friends. Be an impartial judge and resolve conflict quickly. Doing so will not only help you keep your friendship intact, it’ll also teach you skills for maintaining that friendship and other ones in the future.

Final Thoughts

I hope you’ve enjoyed this primer on how to keep friends even with a mental illness.

I’ve lost countless friends because I didn’t follow these steps. Once I realized the problem was me, I chose to nurture my friendships–two of which are extremely rewarding to me.

I’ve communicated effectively, refused to self-isolate, and resolved conflict as soon as I could. With these tools in my arsenal, I’ve made several friendships that I hope will last a lifetime.

I wish you well in your journey.

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How to Make Friends During a Pandemic Even with Your Mental Illness

Photo by Jed Villejo on Unsplash

Friendships can be one of the toughest relationships to start, especially with mental illness gumming up the works. And the COVID-19 pandemic has created another level of difficulty for this.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can make friends during the pandemic even with your mental illness. Here’s how.

Join a Discord Server

In order to make friends, you need to go where the people are, and the people are online.

During the pandemic, meeting online has become crucial to our success, and online relationships have lost some of their stigma–which I believe is a good thing.

If you’re seeking an online relationship, you can try joining a Discord server.

Discord.com, a chatting service originally intended for gamers, has a variety of “servers”–or groups of people surrounding a theme with defined “channels” to speak in–of all types of interests.

There are over 300 million people around the world on Discord chatting about everything under the sun. If you have an internet connection, you can browse their server guides to find whatever topic interests you. There’s even an app for your phone!

The best part of Discord in my opinion is that relationships happen on your terms. You can choose to engage people or not as frequently as you wish, and you can chat with them on servers to get a bead on them before coming into their DMs, or direct messages.

This is especially helpful for people with social anxiety. I myself very much enjoy being able to think through my messages before I hit the “Enter” key to send them in the chat.

Once you enjoy talking to people on a server, you can make group DMs, too, with up to 10 specific people. If you have more friends than that that you want to chat with all at once, setting up a server of your own is easy.

I love Miraculous Fanworks, a Discord server of over 2300 people focused on producing fanart and fanfiction for the show Miraculous Ladybug. I loved the server so much, I even served as a moderator for almost two years.

And through it I met one of my best friends, whose wedding reception I’ll soon be flying across the country for along with several of our mutual friends that we also met on the server.

As a United States resident on an international Discord server, I’ve met people from:

  • Spain
  • Bulgaria
  • India
  • France
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • England
  • Germany
  • Canada
  • Poland
  • and the Philippines.

The server members speak hundreds of different languages and have taught me something new everyday about their various cultures.

A server is only as good as its people, though, and that goes double for moderators. If the server is disorganized, poorly-run, and/or the moderation team lets toxic behavior go unchecked, leave as soon as you can.

You can always take the friends you’ve made there and make group DMs or servers for yourselves before you leave. Chances are, one of your new friends will have a server made already.

So if you’re ready to make new friends during the pandemic, consider making a Discord account and joining a server based on a show you watch, a sport you like, an activity you enjoy, a mental illness you have, or even a school you attend.

Talk to Your Neighbors

One of the most interesting parts of the pandemic for me has been that my family has been more friendly with our neighbors, and our neighbors have embraced us.

Because of the pandemic, our neighbors spent more time at home outside doing yard work or walking their dogs, and we were able to connect. Going on walks around the neighborhood and opening conversations while standing six feet apart (with smiles!) has paid great dividends.

This past Thanksgiving, on the very hour I had raw bacon straws–puff pastry stripes with cheese wrapped in bacon and coated in thyme and brown sugar–sitting on their cookie sheets on my counters, ready to go, my oven broke.

Because I had an hour and a half until I was supposed to bring the bacon straws to my sister’s house, I ran over to a neighbor, whom I’d only had a casual relationship with, and begged to use his oven to bake my appetizers.

He readily agreed, and graciously and happily spent the next hour entertaining my young daughter with his granddaughter’s toys. I am deeply in his debt, and I hope that he’ll call on me with a favor next time he needs one and I can provide!

So try to overcome your social anxiety if you have it and say hello to your neighbors once in a while. There’s a large chance you can make a friend with the people who live around you, which will help if you ever need to borrow a cup of sugar–or even an oven.

Reconnect with Old Friends

Sometimes, friendships fade.

This is especially true for people who suffer from depression and other self-isolating mental illnesses. We often withdraw from all social contact when we’re feeling rotten, which is the opposite of what we should do.

If you have old friends that you have let fall by the wayside, send one of them a text today. Check up on them and see how they’re doing.

If they want to rekindle the friendship, they’ll let you know by their enthusiastic responses. If they don’t, they’ll likely be awkward and possibly ghost you. Try not to take that personally; like I said, sometimes friendships fade.

Reconnecting with old friends is a great way to reinvigorate a friendship, and though this isn’t making a new friend, not exactly, it can be a shot in the arm for you and hopefully for them, too.

Join a Support Group

This mostly applies to those of us who suffer from mental illnesses, but support groups are a fantastic resource to use when looking for new friends.

Common troubles breed closeness, and inherent in support groups is support. You could find people going through some of the same struggles you are, or people who have conquered those struggles and can help you do the same.

For some tips and resources for online support groups, click here.

Final Thoughts

Making friends during a pandemic may seem daunting, but if you put yourself out there, you will find people to call your own.

If you’re looking for friends during the pandemic, consider joining a Discord server, reaching out to your neighbors, reconnecting with old friends, and joining an online support group.

Making friends isn’t as difficult as it seems, even with a mental illness. In the future, I will post how to keep those friends, which may be of value to you.

Best of luck making new friends!

I wish you well on your journey.

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Choose Your Own Adventure: The Self-Care Quest

Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

Welcome, adventurer!

I see you’ve finished your most recent quest. A most excellent job gathering those resources.

But what’s this? I see you’re out of quests for the day unless you do a very special quest: the self-care quest.

The self-care quest is extremely important. It’s one you simply cannot neglect. Self-care is how you recharge yourself so you can take on the rest of your day. And it’s important that you do self-care because otherwise you’ll never have enough strength to slay dragons.

And the quest is easier than you might think. Just enjoy the Google slides presentation, proceed through the self-care prompts, and conquer your tasks!

All of the tasks are less than 20 minutes and most only take 5-10. You can take as long or as short a time as you wish and you can stop anytime.

Please share this quest with as many in your parties as you wish; all heroes can use self-care ideas from time to time.

Enjoy, Adventurer!

-Innkeeper Cass

bipolar parent

Tips to Manage Romantic Relationships with Bipolar Disorder

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

This post appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation website, here.

If you suffer from bipolar disorder, then you may already know how difficult managing romantic relationships can be. Even being a partner with a bipolar disorder sufferer is difficult.

The manic and hypomanic phases of the disease can include lapses in judgment, promiscuity, overspending, risky behaviors like alcohol or drug abuse, and other problems which can wreak havoc on any relationship, especially a romantic one.

Depressive episodes can be frustrating for everyone involved because a person suffering from depression may withdraw from the world. If you’re partnered with a person going through a depressive episode, you may not be able to draw them out of their shell.

So how do you manage a romantic relationship if you have bipolar disorder? Here are some tips to do just that.

Tip #1: Communicate Honestly

Everyone involved in a romantic relationship needs to communicate honestly with their partners, but this is especially true when bipolar disorder is involved.

If you have bipolar disorder, be honest about your everyday feelings, and let your partner know when you’re tripping into mania or slipping into depression. Bipolar episodes can be disorienting to anyone, not just the sufferer, and especially when people are unprepared for them. Your partner needs to know if you’re becoming manic or depressed.

Financial concerns are also something to be honest about. If you don’t tell your partner that you overspent during a manic episode, he or she might be counting on money in the budget that you don’t have. Similarly, you need to be honest if you’ve cheated on your partner when you’ve been manic because you need to maintain trust in the relationship.

If you are partnered with someone with bipolar disorder, be honest about whether you’re overwhelmed by the disease. You can’t always be a rock, and your partner needs to know when you feel overwhelmed. Do your best to separate the illness from your partner and try not to judge him or her for suffering from bipolar disorder. But be honest with your partner about how the mental illness affects you.

Tip #2: Stick With Your Treatment Plan

Adequately treating your bipolar disorder with talk therapy and/or medication is crucial for managing romantic relationships. If you don’t have your disease under control and aren’t handling your mood episodes properly, then you run the risk of destroying everything you’ve worked for when it comes to your partner.

If you are dating or married to a person suffering from bipolar disorder, regularly ask your partner how they’re feeling and if their meds are working for them. Managing mental illnesses is much easier with an appropriate level of support. Oftentimes, the partner is the one who spots the manic or depressive episode.

But try to avoid nagging. Set up rules about communicating ahead of time, such as “I can only bring up meds three times, and then I need to let it go.”

Tip #3: Practice Self-care

Self-care isn’t limited to bubble baths and painting your nails. Self-care is taking responsibility for your well-being. If you can’t take care of yourself, your romantic relationships will suffer. People suffering depressive episodes especially need to commit to a self-care routine, as they tend to neglect themselves.

So, whether you have bipolar disorder or are partnered with someone with bipolar, practice daily self-care.

If you do these “big six” self-care steps daily, as outlined by a post about self-care at WellandWealthy.org then you will see improvements in your physical and mental health. These improvements will help you be a better spouse.

Every day, try to:

A special note for the partners of people with bipolar disorder: one way to practice self-care is to not be your partner’s only support. Make sure that he or she has a therapist and/or a psychiatrist to talk to, as well as supportive friends and possibly family. The more you can spread the support around, the better.

You can’t be everything to your partner. Setting up a codependent relationship will only harm you and him or her in the long run.

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

Final Thoughts

Managing romance when you suffer from bipolar disorder is not impossible. It just takes a little extra work and self-awareness from both people in the partnership. If you can communicate honestly, stick to your treatment plans, and practice the “big six” daily self-care tenants, then you will be able to better handle your romantic relationships.

I wish you well in your journey.

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A Thank You Letter to My Husband for Helping me Manage my Bipolar Disorder

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Dear Greeneyes,

Thank you for being patient.

Thank you for being patient with me as my moods ravaged me and stressed our relationship. Thank you for being patient with me as I suffered that postpartum breakdown and scared you. Thank you for being patient with me as I learned how to survive and even thrive afterwards.

I’m sorry I’m not the person you expected to marry. I wish I were her, and I’m trying to get back to that person again. Thank you for being patient with me while I relearn who I was and try to capture her essence.

I appreciate so much the fact that you stuck by my all this time through my various trials and tribulations, challenges that made you suffer as well as me. I am so grateful to you for being my first and most stalwart supporter.

Thank you for supporting me financially for so many years and allowing me to afford and use the mental health professionals and medications I needed to stabilize. That’s such a great boon to me; I know many people who are desperate to find a therapist but cannot afford one. Your working for over a decade at a job you don’t like helped me more than I can even conceptualize.

Thank you for encouraging me to follow my dreams of getting my counseling degree and becoming a therapist to help people manage their mental illnesses. I want to support you in your dreams, so thank you for letting me follow mine first so I can do that.

Thank you for listening to me gush about subjects that you have no interest in. You’re a fantastic listener, and I’ve often made your eyes glaze over by discussing my psychology courses or various friendship dramas. I will learn how to reign myself in for your sake.

Thank you for being a solid parent to our children. As you know, I often lose my temper and you are the patient one who steps in and smooths things over. Your presence as a father to our kids is so important in their lives, modeling to them appropriate behavior for every area of their lives, especially how to treat other people.

Thank you for teaching me so much. I’ve learned a range of subjects including computer science, math, baking, video games, things of a spiritual nature, how to be reliable, how to be patient, and how to love.

Finally, thank you for loving me. Thank you for always acting in my best interest even when it pained you or made you uncomfortable. Thank you for teaching me what love really means. Thank you for protecting me from the evils of the world and enabling me to blossom.

I love you. You are my rock, my love, and I would not be as happy as I am without you.

Cass

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