bipolar parent

How to Make a Dopamenu to Give Your Brain the Stimulation it Desperately Needs

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

Have you ever found yourself doom scrolling the internet, desperately seeking stimulation for your depressed brain but being too tired to think of a healthy way to do that?

When we’re depressed, our brains have trouble focusing on “boring” tasks. We just can’t do them, and our brains seek stimulation.

But we often look for that easy dopamine (the “happy” chemical) hit, like scrolling social media, which ends up not feeling great when we do so for hours.

So what’s one way to stimulate the chronically understimulated depressed brain?

Make a Dopamenu.

This YouTube video by How to ADHD called “How to Give Your Brain the Stimulation it Needs” walks you through the process of making a Dopamenu, which can be done in the following four steps:

  • Design your menu.
  • Omit anything unrealistic.
  • Prep your ingredients.
  • Advertise

I’ll walk you through these in more detail below.

1. Design your Menu

The first step is designing your menu. Eric Tivers, an ADHD expert who has ADHD himself, recommends figuring out both what excites you and what makes you feel rotten after indulging in them for too long.

The video recommends breaking the menu down into the following sections:

  • Entrées – Activities that you can do every day that make you feel alive. My entrées involve taking a bath, planning a fanfiction with friends, eating a meal with my family, taking a brisk walk, or cross-stitching.
  • Desserts – Your “go-to”s when you’re bored and seeking a fast dopamine hit that doesn’t really satisfy you. Mine include eating Cheetos or drinking a Mountain Dew, staying in bed in the morning, and doom scrolling the internet.
  • Appetizers – Things that give you a “quick burst” of happiness. Mine include eating some cheese and bell peppers, sitting in the sun, and drinking a cup of tea.
  • Sides – Things you add to the other items on the menu to help you enjoy them more. Mine include listening to music and warm socks/comfortable clothing.
  • Specials – These are the big dopamine hits – expensive or inconvenient things that are not meant to be frequent. Mine include a trip to the local arcade to play the Dance Dance Revolution machine, baking a cake, and buying a new video game.

The video author goes on to say that desserts are not completely off-limits; you can still partake in desserts, but they shouldn’t be your main source of “nutrition” re: dopamine hits.

2. Omit anything unrealistic

The video author’s next step is to omit anything unrealistic from the entire list.

This is half a dreams list and half a goals list. I’d recommend listing things you can actually do; going on a vacation in a pandemic as a special may be out of the realm of comfort for some people, as well as too expensive.

So fluff up your list as much as possible and then cut, cut, cut.

3. Prep your ingredients

The author says to prepare to do items on your Dopamenu ahead of time as much as possible to make the processx smooth.

For example, I prepped a cross-stitch kit–fabric, needles, thread, an embroidery hoop, and scissors kept in a gallon-size Ziploc bag–and placed it in the backpack I take everywhere so I can cross-stitch at a moment’s notice. Any time I’m sitting down unoccupied and in need of precious relaxation, out comes the cross-stitch kit.

The author also says to create barriers to your go-tos so you don’t use them as often. When I need to unplug from the internet, I uninstall Discord, a chatting application, on my phone, and during my day-to-day life, I tell myself I can’t check Discord until I’ve done something productive.

Increasing the number of steps to my go-tos and decreasing the number of steps to more satisfying things on the menu has certainly helped me, and it can help you too.

4. Advertise

The next step is to make your menu pleasing to use. Advertise!

You can add descriptions to the items, design a pretty background, and/or make it humorous and therefore fun to read. When you create something beautiful to look at, it’s exciting to use!

After you prettify your Dopamenu, then place it in places where you’ll see it every day. I keep mine on my phone, but I’m planning to print a copy and post it on the door to my bedroom. That way, every time I go to lie down in my bed for the purpose of doom scrolling on my phone, I can find a better activity to engage my brain.

Final Thoughts

Making a Dopamenu is a simple way to take a look at your daily habits and start doing better ones. If your brain is continually unsatisfied, you may end up depressed, where seeking stimulation becomes even harder.

It takes energy to think of things that give you energy. Cut out the planning.

Make a Dopamenu today.

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bipolar parent

5 Ways to Get Motivated when You’re Suffering from Depression

hoto by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Editor’s Note: Remember how I said I’ll be updating twice a month? Please drop that to once a month, the final Friday. Thank you!

Depression is the pits.

As anyone who’s suffered from a depressive episode knows, motivation for basic activities is a struggle. People living through the worst depressions struggle to get out of bed, to eat, to shower, to get dressed, and any other number of day-to-day requirements.

As I’m currently suffering from a depressive episode, I’d like to outline some ways for you and me to get motivated when you’re dealing with the same. Here are 5 ways to conquer those depression blahs.

1. Challenge the Lies Your Brain Tells You

The biggest lie my brain tells me is, “You can’t handle this.”

And I often find myself taking what my brain says at face value without recognizing that my brain is a liar or challenging the thought.

Once I recognize that my brain is lying and these intrusive thoughts aren’t true, I can go back and recognize what I’ve done in the past that disproves the lie.

And I can challenge my brain, putting it to the test.

Sometimes I really can’t handle my life, but 95% of the time, I can and I have. And if I have handled situations like the ones my brain lies to me about before, I know I can.

When encountering intrusive thoughts, I’ve found the best way to manage them is to let the thought happen, and then acknowledge them with the statement, “Well, that’s a thought.”

Reframing my intrusive thoughts and the lies my brain tells me helps motivate me to manage my expectations and take on the rest of the day.

You’re not worthless. You’re not lazy. You’re struggling. There’s a difference.

And your depressive brain is a liar.

But there’s another good way to challenge your brain, which leads into tip #2.

2. Use Positive Self-Talk

Following tip #1, the best way to challenge those lies is to use positive self-talk.

Talking to yourself is normal, and if you encourage yourself, it can even be healthy.

However, if you lambast yourself, that’s unhealthy. I know how hard it is to tell myself I’m doing great when you’re not, and when I’m depressed, I think I’m not even when I am.

I often get down on myself, telling myself things like, “You’re lazy. No one loves you. You’ll never get through this.”

And those negative affirmations? While not only being patently untrue, they also serve no purpose except to make me feel worse.

So to psych myself up when I’m depressed, I tell myself, “You can do it! You can handle anything–or at least these small things during the day! You’ve conquered depression before!”

This positive self-talk helps motivate me to handle whatever challenge life throws at me, especially depression.

If that doesn’t work, I use tip #3.

3. Reach out to a Friend

My online friends are a huge part of my support system. I am blessed to have them and I recognize how fortunate I am to have people who have suffered depression before and know what it’s like.

So when I need to challenge my brain, the liar, or ask for help, I turn to my online friends for reassurance, which helps motivate me to continue working.

One of those friends helps me with tip #4.

4. Make an Accomplishments List

Another lie my brain tells me, someone who is focused on productivity and unhealthily uses it as a measure of my worth (something I’m working on), is that I haven’t gotten much done.

The problem with my brain is that when facing down a long to-do list, it doesn’t matter how much I accomplish on a daily basis; my brain thinks I made no progress at all and screams at me to get to work, so I can never relax and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

And when I’m depressed, my brain screams louder, telling me I’m lazy and worthless because I can’t get anything done.

This is untrue. I get things done, just not as much as I’d get done without my depression bogging me down.

So like in tip #3, I turn to a specific online friend I have and make a list for her, titling it various things like “Cass’s Accomplishments List” or “What I Got Done Today.”

I outline various activities and accomplishments I’ve done throughout the day, no matter how small, with bullet points. Then my encouraging friend celebrates the little victories with me.

Listing out everything I’ve gotten done over the day helps motivate me to make her proud, and when I look at all I’ve done despite being depressed, even the small things, it makes me proud, too.

Here’s a sample of one of my lists:

What Cass Accomplished Today While Feeling Rotten

  • Brushed my teeth
  • Took morning meds on time
  • Made breakfast for my daughter and me and ate it
  • Got my daughter dressed
  • Made my daughter brush her teeth
  • Brought down my laundry basket
  • Drove to the mall to let my daughter play at the indoor park

And that’s just the morning. Even if you think you’ve spent all your time in bed, there are likely a lot of little things you’ve gotten done throughout the day.

Taking your meds counts as self-care. So does brushing your teeth and taking down your laundry basket.

Try making a list today. It might help motivatwe you.

And if that doesn’t work, try tip #5.

5. Get Dressed

Maybe I should have started with this tip because it’s so foundational. But getting dressed is crucial to my success.

Getting out of bed in the mornings is next to impossible because I need to get dressed to face the day. That’s an obstacle that seems insurmountable at times.

I resist getting dressed because it means my day has started, usually before I’m ready for it. I often lie in bed wide awake for 20-40 minutes after my alarm rings because I don’t want to get dressed. Staying in bed is easier than getting dressed.

But once I do, my brain turns onto work mode. I can’t go back to bed because I’m wearing jeans and shoes.

Getting dressed, especially putting my shoes on, starts off a chain reaction of putting deodorant on, brushing teeth, and taking my meds. They’re habits I’ve formed that putting my shoes on trigger.

My brain orients around donning my clothes because it means my day has started and I’m ready for it, a powerful motivator.

I like to use tip #2 and tell myself, “Get dressed, Cass. You can handle your day.” And once I force myself through the motions of putting on my clothes, even if I’m not feeling it, everything that follows is on autopilot.

If I can conquer getting dressed, the first task of the day, I can handle anything.

And so can you. Try getting dressed today. I wouldn’t be surprised if it signals something in your brain, too.

Let’s Recap

By challenging the lies my brain tells me, using positive self-talk, reaching out to my friends, making accomplishment lists, and getting dressed, I can motivate myself to get things done despite my depression dragging me down by the ankles.

I am not worthless or lazy, I’m just feeling rotten right now, and this, too, shall pass. I can handle my day.

And so can you. You can cope with anything life throws at you.

Try to find some way to motivate yourself. If these tips help you, great! But if they don’t, do some thinking about what will get you up and moving.

If you can’t think of anything, it might be time to let your treatment team know how you’re feeling, or call a warm line, where you can talk with someone who’s been there.

I wish you well in your journey.

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bipolar parent

How to Ensure You Never Run out of Meds Again

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Blogger’s Note: I will be updating my blog every two weeks from now on! Thanks for reading!

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

Running out of meds is the worst. 

If you’re regularly taking medication and you run out of pills and stop suddenly, this is terrible for your body and your mind. 

If you’re bipolar, you may end up tripping into a mood episode that can devastate you and your family.

But how do you ensure you never run out of meds?

This is the process that works for me, and it might help you, too. I live in the US, take medications that work that I can afford, and have a regular psychiatrist on call that I can also afford. 

If these facts aren’t all true for you, then the basics of the process may work but the entire process may not. 

I’ll discuss some tips on how to afford your meds later, as well as providing a National Institutes of Mental Health link describing several ways to afford a psychiatrist in the US.

How to Prevent Yourself from Running out of Meds

As I’m sure you’re aware, keeping your supply of meds stocked is important for day-to-day functioning.

But how do you ensure you’ll never run out of meds again?

Here’s what I do.

I have an am/pm pillbox that I fill every week on Sunday morning, right after my morning dose. I recommend designating a particular time to fill your pillbox, so you are always aware of what medications you possess at any given time.

I also highly recommend taking your meds at the same times every day. I take mine as soon as I wake up and after dinner at around 6pm but no later than 6:30pm because my antipsychotic helps me sleep, and if I take it too late, I’m wired until midnight.

Now that I’ve been taking my meds at the same times every day for almost a year, the habit is ingrained in me, and I rarely miss my meds. And on the rare occasion that I do miss a morning dose, for example, my pillbox lets me know because the pills are still in the am slot.

Once I have two weeks left of pills, I call my pharmacy and have them order pills for me from my psychiatrist.

My psych doc knows these pills work for me in these doses (and if they ever stop working, I call him to make an adjustment), so he prescribes them in doses of 90 days.

If you can talk to your psychiatrist and ask them to prescribe in three-month levels (assuming you have meds that work), you can have your psychiatrist fax your meds to the pharmacy of your choice and pick them up every three months.

I have my preferred pharmacy’s–at my local grocery store–number saved in my phone. When I call them to order medications, the pharmacy has an automated phone menu that I enter my prescription bottle number (so save that bottle!) in to ask for a refill.

After entering the prescription number in the phone and confirming my own phone number when asked, the menu narrator then tells me when my medications will be ready (usually in a couple of days).

So when I see I have a two-week supply left of my medications from filling my pillbox on Sunday morning, I call my pharmacy. They order a 90-day supply from my psychiatrist, and I have my husband pick the medication up on the next shopping day, typically Mondays.

So my process is almost entirely automated. I would be surprised if your local grocery store didn’t also have an automated phone menu for their pharmacy, so you wouldn’t even have to talk to a pharmacist if you didn’t want to!

But don’t be afraid to talk to your pharmacist. They’re there to help you. They want you to have your meds, not only because that’s good for you, but also that’s how they get paid.

Get to know your local pharmacist if you can. They can help you get the life-saving medications you need on a regular basis.

Back before I got used to this process and I frequently ran out of pills, I was able to call my pharmacist and ask them to expedite my meds so I could pick them up in the same day.

Before I had a three-month supply, I also called my pharmacist to order me a three-week supply when I was going on an out-of-state trip.

I’ve also run out of meds while on a month-long trip and called my psych doc and pharmacy to transfer the “emergency” prescription to a pharmacy across the country, where I was staying.

So learning to rely on your pharmacist, who again, is there to help you, is crucial for your success!

But What if You Can’t Afford Them?

If you can’t afford your medications, ask your doctor. They may have access to free samples of the pills you need or be able to prescribe you a cheaper generic drug.

If you’re an American citizen and you’re uninsured, find out if the pharmaceutical company that manufactures your drug has a patient-assistance program. You may qualify for these programs if your income is 100% of the poverty line, but it’s unlikely that you will if you receive Medicaid benefits.

Ask your pharmacy if they have a discount program if you pay in cash. If you’re over fifty and have a membership with the AARP, you can receive discounts on pills.

As promised, here’s the link to the NAMI’s article of resources if you can’t afford a psychiatrist. This is US-centric, but you can extrapolate the process if you live in another country.

Final Thoughts

This process has taken me a long time and a lot of trial and error to perfect, but the three-month supply works very well for me. After years of never running out of meds, I have found that the process is almost automatic.

If you can automate and make routines for yourself, you will find the management of your condition a lot easier.

I wish you well in your journey.

Editor’s Note – Some states have laws that prevents you from getting prescriptions for psych meds directly from the pharmacy, so you may have to go through your doctor. IBPF is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment, so if you have any questions, please speak to your medical professionals.

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bipolar parent

The Bipolar Parent’s Master Link List

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Updated: June 3rd, 2022.

Why, hello, there! Welcome to my blog!

My name is Cassandra Stout.

I have lived with and managed my bipolar I disorder for almost a decade and a half, having suffered a postpartum psychotic break and crippling postpartum depression.

Recovery was a long and winding road, but I can happily say that I have been stable for several years.

On this blog, I offer advice based on personal experiences, hoping to share to better your life by encouraging you to manage your mental health.

I have advice for you on topics ranging from how to identify and manage manic and depressive episodes to how to shield your children from the effects of your bipolar disorder to how to accomplish your to-do list during a depressive episode–and a lot more.

I hope you like your stay here. Here is the Master Link list to almost all of my posts. Enjoy the site, and thanks for stopping by!

  1. Disclosing Your Mental Illness Masterpost: How, When, and to Whom
  2. What is Bipolar Disorder? A Crash Course by the Bipolar Parent
  3. My Experiences with Mixed Mood States and How I Handle Them
  4. World Bipolar Day – Time to Take Charge of Your Mental Health
  5. Why Hyperfocus Can be a Form of Self-Harm
  6. A Letter to Myself to Read When I’m Feeling Low or Suicidal
  7. Top Tips for Keeping Friends Even with a Mental Illness
  8. How to Make Friends During a Pandemic Even with Your Mental Illness
  9. Choose Your Own Adventure: The Self-Care Quest
  10. Tips to Manage Romantic Relationships with Bipolar Disorder
  11. A Thank You Letter to My Husband for Helping me Manage my Bipolar Disorder
  12. 10 More Frugal, Easy Self-care Ideas to Treat Depression from The Bipolar Parent
  13. New Year, New Me, New Ways to Manage My Bipolar Disorder
  14. Bipolar Mania and My Need to Craft
  15. My Advice to a Relative Facing a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis — And What This Diagnosis Really Means
  16. How and Why to Create a Routine with Bipolar Disorder
  17. 5 Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder and Bipolar Disorder
  18. 5 Tips to Make (and Keep!) New Year’s Resolutions with a Mental Illness
  19. How and Why to Learn Impulse Control
  20. Top Tips for Surviving the Holidays with Bipolar Disorder
  21. 5 Things I Wish Someone had Told Me When I was Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder
  22. The Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Highly Sensitive People (HSPs)
  23. 6 Easy, Frugal Self-Care Strategies for Busy Parents
  24. How to Handle This Thanksgiving with Bipolar Disorder by Setting Healthy Boundaries
  25. How to Plan a Holiday Party with Bipolar Disorder
  26. My Top 8 Personal Needs During a Bipolar Depressive Episode
  27. 12 Frugal, Easy Self-care Ideas to Treat Depression from The Bipolar Parent
  28. When and Why to Seek Out Professional Help
  29. 4 Times You Should Call Your Doctor to Save Yourself from a Bipolar Depressive Episode
  30. National Recovery Month – A Guide to Depression Recovery Through Self-Care, part 2
  31. National Recovery Month – A Guide to Depression Recovery Through Self-Care, part 1
  32. 10 Self-Care Ideas for People Suffering from Bipolar Disorder
  33. What My Experience Being Suicidal Taught Me — and What It Can Teach You, Too
  34. Tips For Managing Romantic Relationships if You have Bipolar Disorder
  35. How to Support Someone Who Has Experienced the Death of a Loved One by Suicide
  36. How to Make a Mental Health Crisis Plan
  37. 10 Frugal Gifts for People Who Suffer from Anxiety
  38. The Bipolar Parent’s International Crisis Hotline Numbers Master Post
  39. How Alcohol Complicates Bipolar Disorder
  40. October 21st: National Check Your Meds Day
  41. Child Abuse Prevention: 4 Crucial Tips for Parenting With Depression
  42. What is the Link Between Stress and Bipolar Disorder?
  43. How Mental Illness Affects Police Shooting Fatalities
  44. #BipolarBrave: How I Became Comfortable Sharing my Bipolar Diagnosis
  45. 100 Doable Self-care Ideas for When You’re Suffering from Depression
  46. 7 Types of Self-Care for Mental Health
  47. National PTSD Awareness Day: What is PTSD?
  48. Father’s Day: Why the Mental Health of New Fathers Matters
  49. Men’s Health Week: Bipolar Disorder in Men
  50. How to Find Motivation to Clean During a Bipolar Depressive Episode
  51. Self-Discovery Month: Looking Back on My Diagnosis with Bipolar Disorder
  52. National Maternal Depression Month: 9 Tips for Coping with Postpartum Depression
  53. 8 Easy, Frugal Self-Care Tips for a Bad Mental Health Day
  54. What Does Mother’s Day Mean for Your Mental Health?
  55. National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day: 5 Ways to Support Your Child with Bipolar Disorder
  56. 7 Frugal, Proven Ways to Destress While Stuck at Home Due to Coronavirus
  57. Self-Care Ideas for Parents Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic
  58. How to Make Time for Self-Care as a Parent During the Coronavirus Pandemic
  59. How to Manage Being Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder
  60. Celebrate World Bipolar Day by Taking Control of Your Mental Illness
  61. COVID-19: 7 Ways to Combat Anxiety about the Coronavirus
  62. How to Address Behaviors of a Friend or Loved One with Bipolar Disorder
  63. Self-harm Awareness Month: How to Spot Self-Injury in Your Teen
  64. 6 Steps to Become Your Own Mental Health Advocate
  65. The Truth About Eating Disorders and Bipolar Disorder
  66. When to Disclose Your Mental Illness to Your Dates
  67. 5 Ways to Celebrate National Random Act of Kindness Day
  68. How Depression Interferes with Getting Things Done (GTD)
  69. 3 Easy Steps to Declutter Your House with Depression
  70. How to Break Tasks Down into Bite-Sized Pieces when You Have Depression
  71. Mental Wellness Month: How to Look After Yourself in the New Year
  72. Ring in the New Year By Writing Yourself a Mental Health Vision Statement
  73. 9 Things I Learned in the Mental Hospital
  74. Last-Minute, Frugal Gift Guide for People Suffering from Depression
  75. Have Bipolar? You Can Still Thrive This Holiday Season
  76. How to Manage the Winter Blues/Seasonal Affective Disorder
  77. The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: How Are You?
  78. 11 Lessons I Learned From 11 Years of Managing Bipolar Disorder
  79. How to Support a Friend or Loved One Staying in a Psychiatric Hospital
  80. Dear Younger Me: You’re Bipolar, and That’s Okay
  81. Crisis Hotline Numbers and Resources Master Post
  82. What is a Warmline, and How Do You Use Them?
  83. Tips and Resources for Online Support Groups
  84. Getting Support During a Bipolar Depression Episode
  85. How to Communicate with Family During the Holidays When You Have a Mental Illness
  86. 10 Signs That You Are a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
  87. Book Review: Balancing Act: Writing Through a Bipolar Life, by Kitt O’Malley
  88. Can a Whole-Foods, Plant-Based Diet Improve Depression?
  89. How to Start Seeing a Therapist
  90. Easing Anxiety About the End of the World: 4 Steps to Combat Climate Change
  91. How to Shield Your Children From the Effects of Your Bipolar Disorder
  92. Bipolar Disorder and Insomnia–And What to do About Sleep Disturbances
  93. Common Pitfalls When Communicating With Your Kids About Your Bipolar Disorder, part II
  94. Common Pitfalls When Communicating With Your Kids About Your Bipolar Disorder, part I
  95. Does Inflammation Cause Bipolar Disorder?
  96. National Depression Awareness Month: My Experience and How to Get Support
  97. National Prevention Week: How I Prevent Oncoming Bipolar Mood Episodes
  98. Book Review: Breakdown: A Clinician’s Experience in a Broken System of Emergency Psychiatry
  99. Shot Through the Heart, and Bipolar Disorder’s to Blame: You Have a Higher Risk of Cardiovascular Disease if You’re Bipolar
  100. How Does Spoon Theory Relate to Mental Illness?
  101. Are You White? You Have a Better Chance of Being Properly Treated for Bipolar Disorder
  102. KonMari Revisited: A Review of the KonMari Method in Tackling the Clutter Demon With Bipolar Disorder
  103. How to Manage Common Bipolar Triggers
  104. How to Survive a Stint in the Mental Hospital
  105. How to Talk to Someone Experiencing a Bipolar Mood Episode
  106. How to Spot Bipolar Disorder in Teens and What to do About it
  107. What Are the Differences Between Bipolar in Children and Bipolar in Adults?
  108. How to Spot Depression in Children, Even Preschoolers
  109. How Sugar May Harm Your Mental Health
  110. America has Highest Rate of Bipolar Disorder Diagnoses in 11-Nation Study
  111. A Quarter of People with Fibromyalgia Show Bipolar Symptoms
  112. Bipolar Disorder Medication and Weight Gain
  113. How to Treat Common Side Effects of Bipolar Medication
  114. How to Clean Your House with Bipolar Disorder and a Toddler, part II
  115. How to Clean Your House with Bipolar Disorder and a Toddler, part I
  116. How to Follow a Mediterranean Diet to Help Manage Bipolar Depression
  117. What is Hypergraphia, and How Does It Relate to Bipolar Disorder?
  118. My Manifestations of Bipolar Mania: Crafting and Frugality
  119. Tackling the Clutter Demon with Bipolar Disorder
  120. Book Review: Dyane Harwood’s Birth of a New Brain
  121. Good, Good, Good Nutrition, Part II: Foods to Avoid When Managing Bipolar Disorder
  122. Good, Good, Good Nutrition, part I: Foods to Eat to Help Manage Bipolar Disorder
  123. Bipolar Disorder Manifests Differently in People Who Binge Eat
  124. Family Study Emphasizes Distinct Origins for Bipolar Disorder Subtypes
  125. Interview With My Parents: On Raising a Bipolar Child
  126. People With Bipolar Disorder More Likely to Die From Age-Related Diseases
  127. Bipolar Disorder Diagnosable By a 15-minute Electrocardiogram, Study Finds
  128. Book Review: Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life
  129. 22 Easy Meals to Make While Depressed
  130. Dealing With Mental Illness Privilege Guilt
  131. Left-handed People Require Different Mental Health Treatments, Study Finds
  132. Gene Breakthrough on Lithium Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
  133. Light Therapy Helps Bipolar Disorder Patients Function
  134. Brain Protein Targeted to Develop New Bipolar Disorder Therapies
  135. Pot Smoking in Teens Linked to Bipolar Symptoms
  136. Children with Bipolar Disorder May Be Diagnosed with Vitamin D Blood Test In the Future
  137. Bipolar Patients Treated with Lithium Rehospitalized Less
  138. Scientists Conclude After 12-year Study That Bipolar Disorder Has Seven Causes
  139. Treatable Condition Could be Mistaken for Bipolar Disorder
  140. People with a Family History of Bipolar Disorder Have Reduced Planning Ability
  141. People At-Risk for Bipolar Disorder May Age Faster
  142. Men and Women Differ When it Comes to Bipolar Biomarkers
  143. Researchers Create Global Map of How Bipolar Disorder Affects the Brain
  144. AI Used for Blowing Pilots Out of the Sky Helps Bipolar Patients
  145. Bipolar? Your Brain is Wired to Make Poor Decisions
  146. Six-Year Delay Between Onset of Bipolar Disorder and Diagnosis, Study Finds
  147. Molecular Mechanism Behind Lithium’s Effectiveness Identified
  148. Children at High Risk for Bipolar Disorder Genetically Vulnerable to Stress
  149. Hippocampus Volume Decreases Linked to Bipolar Disorder
  150. Depression Changes Our Language
  151. Bipolar Genes Linked to Autism
  152. Genes Linked to Creativity Could Increase Risk of Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia
  153. Bipolar Disorder Increases Risk of Early Death From Natural Causes
  154. How to Handle Intrusive Thoughts
  155. What Does High Functioning Depression Look Like?
  156. Which Mental Health Professional Should You Use?
  157. The History of the Treatment of Mental Illness
  158. Can Bipolar Disorder Symptoms Contribute to Hoarding?
  159. Bipolar? You Can Survive This Holiday Season, part II
  160. Bipolar? You Can Survive This Holiday Season, part I
  161. New Research Pinpoints Bipolar Disorder Gene
  162. What Types of Therapies Are Right For You?
  163. How to Get a Psychiatric Evaluation
  164. Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part IV: Your Employer
  165. Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part III: Friends and Family
  166. Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part II: How
  167. Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part I: When
  168. Bipolar Patients More Than Twice As Likely to Have Suffered Childhood Adversity
  169. Scientists Predict Who Will Respond to Lithium
  170. What to do if Your Child has Bipolar Disorder
  171. Bipolar Disorder in Children
  172. How to Apply for Disability Benefits for Mental Disorders
  173. Antibiotics Linked to Manic Episodes
  174. Why Should You Chart Your Moods if You Have Bipolar Disorder?
  175. Bipolar Disorder is Toxic–Literally
  176. Antibodies That Cause Encephalitis Linked to Psychosis
  177. Can Blueberry Extract Help Prevent Postpartum Blues?
  178. Substance Abuse and Bipolar Disorder
  179. Bipolar Disorder in Women
  180. App to Detect Onset of Mania In Development by Sane Australia
  181. What to do if You Run Out of Medication
  182. 4 Ways to Educate Someone About Mental Illness
  183. The History of Bipolar Disorder
  184. Mental Illness in the Media–An Incomplete Picture
  185. 5 Ways to Cope with a Diagnosis of Mental Illness
  186. 8 Myths About Mental Illness
  187. Learned Behaviors: Passing on Coping Mechanisms
  188. Nature vs. Nurture: The Causes of Bipolar Disorder
  189. What is Bipolar Disorder?
  190. 6 Strategies for Parenting with a Mental Illness
  191. How to Talk To Your Kids About Mental Illness
  192. The Price of Mental Health
  193. What is Postpartum Psychosis?
  194. How Mental Health Affects Personal Hygiene
  195. The Prevalence of “Nuts”
  196. “How Do You Define Mentally Ill?”
  197. Pregnant While Bipolar
  198. Executive Function and Bipolar Disorder
  199. Safe Medications to Take While Breastfeeding
  200. Stabilizing Medications: Risperidone and Wellbutrin
  201. What is Bipolar Depression?
  202. Bipolar and Suicidal? You’re Not Alone
  203. The Gold Standards of Bipolar Medication, part II
  204. The Gold Standards of Bipolar Medication, part I
  205. Are You “Covering” For Your Illnesses?
  206. How to Clean When Your Brain is a Mess, part III
  207. How to Clean When Your Brain is a Mess, part II
  208. How to Clean Your House When Your Brain is a Mess, part I
  209. How Privilege Affects Mental Healthcare
  210. How to Get Your Much-Needed Forty Winks
  211. How to Work Out with a 40-pound Parasite Clinging to Your Leg
  212. Bipolar? Exercise Will Change Your Life
  213. Good, Good, Good, Good Nutrition!
  214. Why Medicinal Weight Gain is Devastating to the Mentally Ill
  215. What is Cyclothymia?
  216. The Importance of Team You, Part V
  217. The Importance of Team You, Part IV
  218. The Importance of Team You, Part III
  219. The Importance of Team You, Part II
  220. The Importance of Team You, part I
  221. A Breath of Fresh Air: Deep Breathing Techniques
  222. A Beautiful Mind
  223. Hypomania: A Closer Look
  224. What is Hypomania?
  225. What is Mania?
bipolar parent

How I (Mis)managed my Bipolar Disorder During my Pregnancies

Photo by Anna Hecker on Unsplash

Trigger Warning: This post contains a 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.

This post appeared on The International Bipolar Foundation’s website, here.

Pregnancy.

It’s a time of joy for some, a time of horror for others, and a time of anxiety for most.

Becoming pregnant, regardless of the outcome, changes your life forever. And if you have a mismanaged mental illness that’s affected by maternal hormones like bipolar disorder, irrevocable damage can be done.

May is National Maternal Depression month in the U.S., a time to reflect and raise awareness for mothers who face challenges such as postpartum depression.

According to WebMD, “Pregnant women or new mothers with bipolar disorder have seven times the risk of hospital admissions compared to pregnant women who do not have bipolar disorder.” 

And I was one of them.

Here are my completely different experiences with my two pregnancies and how I managed and mismanaged my bipolar disorder–and what a difference that made.

During my first pregnancy, warning signs of an undiagnosed, worsening bipolar disorder were missed or ignored by my obstetrician. As I wasn’t aware that I had a mental illness, my anxiety, depression, and mania–a mixed mood episode–quickly grew out of control and ravaged my mind and body.

Because of lingering issues centered around going hungry as a child, my manic fear that my new family would go hungry forced me to build a balcony garden with recycled tin cans and bulk soil purchased for pennies. I was terrified that my husband and I would run out of money despite his stable, high-paying job.

The garden never took off, and due to my burgeoning depression, I quickly became suicidal. I became obsessed with a show I saw once a week on television, Avatar: The Last Airbender, living only for new episodes. I forced my husband to watch the show, saying I identified with the sociopathic character who has a psychotic break in the end because I was so numb and messed up.

Faced with decorating a nursery on what I perceived to be a shoe-string budget, I dove in our apartment’s huge dumpster for mismatched, broken lamps, bassinets, and other baby items. I crammed our guest room/nursery so full of filthy items, we couldn’t even walk through the room.

I could not bond with my baby, instead concentrating on how awful I felt. I was jittery, depressed, irritable, lonely, and physically sick–I suffered from a condition called hyperemesis, which means I threw up several times a day for nine months straight.

Rather than gaining weight like I was supposed to, I lost thirty pounds and only gained back ten, and was placed on bedrest four months in. I lost even more weight after the baby was born. I started out the pregnancy at 148 pounds and ended it at approximately 100–not exactly a healthy weight for a 5’7” woman.

Throughout the pregnancy, I faced challenges such as social isolation (my husband and I had just moved 1500 miles away from friends and family for his job), limited mobility (I sprained my ankle and couldn’t drive), and completely wild hormones. It’s no wonder that I suffered a psychotic break after giving birth!

Fortunately, I committed myself to a mental hospital with the help of my therapist, whom I’d started seeing at the beginning of the pregnancy. The doctors there gave me an official diagnosis–bipolar I–as well as medication that saved my life.

Following the pregnancy, I suffered from a crippling postpartum depression that rewired me completely. I went from a bold, confident, intelligent young woman to someone fearful and constantly seeking validation from others.

It took me three long years and several medication changes to recover–and even now, 13 years later, I’m not quite 100% back to my former self.

However, three years after recovering from postpartum depression, when my first child was six, I was ready to try for another baby. My husband had always encouraged me to be in control of our reproductive choices, so he willingly agreed to a second pregnancy.

For the second pregnancy, I insisted on taking medication. I didn’t want to go back into the depths of suicidal depression. And I faithfully attended therapy once a week, discussing coping strategies I could use.

During the second pregnancy, I once again suffered from hyperemesis. I threw up 6-8 times per day from the moment I conceived until the day I gave birth.

Despite that, I my spirits were high and I didn’t suffer a massive depressive or manic episode. I was no longer depending on a television show to emotionally sustain me.

My routine of medication, therapy, and self-care kept the awful mood episodes at bay. I was sane, stable, and dare I say, happy. I was able to bond with my baby and suffered no ill effects after giving birth.

All things considered, except for the hyperemesis and bedrest, the second pregnancy was much closer to “normal” and expected for a healthy pregnancy. I certainly didn’t suffer as much emotional pain!

My bipolar disorder diagnosis–and appropriate approaches to treatment–made such a difference in my two pregnancies. After the first one, I was terrified to have more children; after the second, I considered having a third.

If you have bipolar disorder or even think you do, carefully consider the risks of getting pregnant before you embark on that journey. It may take you somewhere you don’t wish to be.

But there are steps you can take to sustain a safe and healthy pregnancy. Low-risk psychotropic medications are available to you. Talk therapy poses no risk to the baby. And a self-care routine prioritizing sleep can do nothing but good for you.

I wish you well on your journey.

Related posts:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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