bipolar parent

3 Things My Kids have Taught Me about Mental Health

Photo by Alvin Mahmudov on Unsplash

Sometimes my kids drive me crazy.

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

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

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

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

1. Oxygen Masks are Crucial

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

Put your own oxygen mask on before assisting other passengers.

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

This is true. This is so true.

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

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

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

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

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

2. Communication is Also Crucial

I am extremely open to my kids about my moods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Try to Enjoy the Good Days

Parenthood is a blend of ups and downs.

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

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

My children have taught me to enjoy the good days.

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

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

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

Let’s Recap

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

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

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

I wish you well in your journey.

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bipolar parent

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

Photo by Matthew Ball on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to Disclose Your Mental Illness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 General Tips on How to Disclose Your Mental Illness

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

1. Bring Your Disorder up in Casual Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Demonstrate How Your Bipolar Disorder Gives You Empathy

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

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

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

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

4. If You Need it, Ask for Help

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

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

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

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

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

4. Keep in Mind Your Boundaries on What to Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Disclose Your Mental Illness to an Employer

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

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

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

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

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

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

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

Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act)

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

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

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

States also have their own protections for Americans with disabilities.

What Accommodations Can I Receive? How?

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

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

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

 Discrimination

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

When to Disclose:

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

How to Disclose to Friends:

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

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

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

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

Best of luck disclosing your mental illness.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related Posts:

bipolar parent

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

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

Bipolar disorder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Mania?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Hypomania?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Depression?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This one in particular hit home:

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Cassandra Stout

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

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

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

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

What is a Mixed Episode?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes Bipolar I so Dangerous?

Bipolar I disorder sufferers experience the most intense manic episodes.

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

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

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

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

What is Cyclothymia?

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

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

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

Risk Factors of Bipolar Disorder

There are several risk factors under consideration.

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

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

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

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

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

What about Treatments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish you well on your journey.

Related Posts:

bipolar parent

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

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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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10 More Frugal, Easy Self-care Ideas to Treat Depression from The Bipolar Parent

Photo by Content Pixie on Unsplash

A lot of people think self-care is limited to bubble baths and nail-painting. But that’s just not the case.

Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental wellbeing. That’s it. Through treating myself to some self-care on a daily basis (as well as engaging in therapy and taking my medication), I’ve been able to manage my bipolar disorder for the past several years. I am a stable–and happy!–woman with mental illness, so I am more than willing to share my favorite self-care strategies with you.

I shared 12 frugal, easy self-care strategies in a previous post, which can be found here. But here are 10 more frugal, easy self-care ideas to help you treat your depression. Feel free to try as few or as many ideas on the list as you’re comfortable with.

Rub lotion all over your hands, feet, legs, and arms.

Rubbing lotion all over your body, especially right after a hot shower or bath, can help you relax. Nourish your skin.

This is one of my very favorite self-care strategies. When I’m feeling rotten, I often take a shower and then rub lotion all over my arms and legs. My legs are itchy sometimes, so the lotion helps me calm down from an agitated state.

Take a walk outside.

If the weather permits, get outside and take a brief walk. Like deep breathing, walking can center you. And research has proved that sunshine is beneficial to you in a plethora of ways, most notably producing the feel-good chemical serotonin.

When I haven’t been out to the park with my 4-year-old in a while, I feel it. Bathing in sunlight is a fantastic way to raise my mood and her mood, too. The fresh air and exercise helps me to relax and reorganize my brain.

Drink 8 ounces of water.

Drinking enough water is so crucial for your physical and mental health. Not drinking enough contributes to feelings of lethargy, which can encourage depression to manifest. Fill up a large jar with water and drink it over the course of a show to feel better.

I drink a ridiculous amount of water. I have a yellow 32oz cup from Dickey’s BBQ that I constantly drain and refill. The writing on the side of the cup has almost completely faded from the amount of washing that cup has gone through.

If I don’t drink enough water, I feel terrible. I’m tired, lightheaded, and my mouth and throat are frequently dry. So I’m always drinking more water. I highly recommend finding one or two cups, jars, or water bottles of that size and carrying it with you throughout the day.

Give yourself permission to say, “no.”

One of the quickest ways to overwork yourself is not knowing how to say no to other people’s demands. Knowing how to say, “no,” is one of the best skills you can practice. If you want a calmer, more balanced life, say no to some things on your busy schedule.

Learning how to say no and stand up for myself was easily one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever struggled to absorb. I used to overwork myself, committing to too many things, never able to stomach the thought of not pleasing other people.

But once I said no to one thing, saying no to subsequent things grew easier and easier, and I am a much happier and more well-rounded person because of the boundaries I’ve set.

Teach yourself something that you’ve been wanting to learn.

Whatever you’ve been wanting to learn, there’s a YouTube tutorial for it. Try watching a tutorial video or, if you want to learn a language, signing up for Duolingo or another language-learning app.

One of the skills I always wanted to learn was sewing. So I picked up a needle and thread and made up a pattern for plushie pigs. I highly recommend trying to find a creative hobby with which to express yourself.

Create an I-don’t-do list.

Rather than a to-do list, create a list of non-negotiable boundaries that you want to establish. Making this list will help you figure out what you stand for.

My hobby of writing fanfiction is not a secret. I often write fics for other people based on prompts they give me, and it wasn’t until I wrote a “won’t-write-this” list that I found myself happy writing fanfics for others. Try a “I-don’t-do” list and see if that works for you. You can always change your list.

Give yourself permission to change your mind.

Like I hinted at in the previous strategy, if you need to change your mind about your “I-don’t-do” list, you can certainly do that. If you have made a decision which bothers you, give yourself permission to change your mind. This will free you to act in a manner that is more in line with your values.

I used to think that if I’d made a decision, I had to stick with it no matter how miserable it made me. After all, I’ve already put a lot of time/energy/money into decision A, so I should stick with that, right?

Wrong. This is called the sunk-cost fallacy, which means that just because I’ve put resources into something doesn’t mean I should continue throwing time and energy at it. A dear friend once told me that her mother’s philosophy was that nothing is wasted. Any resources you’ve put into something aren’t wasted because you learned something.

Nothing is wasted, my friend said, which comforted me a lot when I was faced with a tough decision where I changed my mind to my own benefit.

Have a pajama day at home.

Sometimes, staying at home is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. Stay at home and don’t be beholden to anyone or anything.

Like a lot of things on this list, this one includes you taking time to treat yourself with self-respect. On the Tuesday after Labor Day this year, my husband had a day off, which meant that he had a long weekend. I asked him to watch the kids that day so I could have a day off, so he’d have Monday and I had Tuesday. He agreed, and I spent the day treating myself, which refreshed me.

I highly recommend trying to get a day where you do nothing except what you want to. It’s very freeing.

Call or text a friend.

If you have a friend whom you can call or text, get in touch with him or her. Touching base with a friend can help lift your mood.

I am fortunate enough to have international friends online that I can chat with at all hours of the day. If one friend isn’t online, the other friends usually are. I rely on my friends as sounding boards and encouragers, and I listen to and encourage them in return.

Eat some dark chocolate.

Chocolate is a known mood-booster. If you have some dark chocolate around, feel free to nosh on a couple of squares.

I absolutely adore dark chocolate. For the last couple of years, I’ve been on the keto diet, and have found a replacement bar of chocolate in Lily’s, which are delicious. I highly recommend finding a snack that you like and can eat when you need one.

Conclusion

So those are The Bipolar Parent’s easy, frugal, must-try self-care ideas for depression!

Self-care is not an indulgence. It’s caring for yourself in a way that puts your health front and center. And if you engage in self-care on a weekly or even daily basis, you’ll start to build up a reservoir of good feelings.

Feel free to try as many of these strategies as you feel like trying. There’s no pressure here.

I wish you well in your journey.

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My Advice to a Relative Facing a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis — And What This Diagnosis Really Means

Photo by Patricia Prudente on Unsplash

Trigger Warning: Mentions of intrusive thoughts that tell me to self-harm.

A dear relative came to me via Facebook messenger, telling me they’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and asking for my advice. They told me that they were scared of their diagnosis and they hoped I’d be able to understand.

Here is what I said to them, over an hours-long text conversation:

Oh, [name], I totally understand being scared of a diagnosis, especially one for a lifelong condition that can be dangerous under some circumstances. The best thing you can do to reduce your fear is to educate yourself on what this diagnosis really means.

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.

I also used to think a bipolar diagnosis made me fragile. And to a certain extent, that’s true. There’s certain things I can’t do that other people can, like live without medication and drink and stay up all night.

But fragile is the wrong impression; if you go through life thinking you’re fragile, you’ll damage your confidence and make yourself believe you’re made of glass.

So while fragile is the wrong word, try delicate instead. With bipolar disorder, you have a delicate constitutional makeup. You need to be careful with yourself and treat yourself right. If you don’t, you won’t thrive or even survive well, and that’s no way to live a life.

I highly recommend educating yourself on what you have to do to treat yourself right. That’s the first step, and will help resolve your fears. Once you’re armed with knowledge about what the diagnosis really means to you and what you need to do to manage it, then you’ll be able to tackle it head on.

Do you have meds? Do they work? I would highly recommend finding a therapist that you feel comfortable with who can work with you through your diagnosis. A psychiatrist doesn’t have to be warm and friendly to know their stuff, but a therapist should be someone you feel you can talk to and basically share your struggles, challenges, and triumphs.

If you’re not on meds yet, go back to the psychiatrist and ask for some, especially a mood stabilizer to avoid endangering  yourself or others with manic episodes.

Finding a med cocktail that actually works will take some time and a lot of wading through side effects, so don’t give up! You can find something that works for you, and even if your specific diagnosis is medication resistant, there are other things you can try like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), but that’s mostly good for depressive episodes.

Still, there are therapies out there and you can treat this disease with a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and self-care. 

But you do have to respect that this is a disease. It’s a brain disease, sure, but it’s a real and valid threat to your happiness and the happiness of those around you.

Give the disorder the respect it deserves and don’t underestimate how quickly things can fall apart. It’s a balancing act, but the more scaffolding you have in place, the less difficult it will be to balance your life.

What I mean by scaffolding is medication, a treatment team, therapy, and good habits like getting enough sleep every night. Once you have these things in place, you will find it easier to keep your mood on an even keel.

As someone who has been managing my bipolar disorder for years, I’ve realized that my brain lies to me. It does not have my best interests at heart.

I have intrusive thoughts that tell me to hurt myself, and I have to acknowledge that I had the thought and let it go. I often say to myself, “well, that was a thought! How interesting!”

And in this way I can look at those sorts of thoughts with a neutral mindset, as if I’m some sort of outside observer just looking at my brain and all its idiosyncrasies. 

I know it’s hard to believe right now, but trust me: you are a human being with inherent value. Do you think your friends deserve pain? Treat yourself as a friend. That’s what you deserve, not this brain that lies to you.

You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. But I am confident you can manage this illness and I’ll be here for you, too.


Like most people facing a bipolar diagnosis, my relative was scared and stressed. They didn’t know where to turn to start educating themselves about their diagnosis.

But there are resources out there. My blog, The Bipolar Parent, for one, as well as the National Institutes of Mental Health website. WebMD is good for an overview of the disorder, and your doctors are excellent touchstones for you who can provide even more resources.

If you can find someone in your life who has successfully managed their bipolar disorder for years, like I have, even better.

If you’re facing a bipolar disorder diagnosis, there is hope for you to have a successful, well-adjusted life. Make no mistake, it’ll take work, and sometimes there will be situations outside your control, but that work gets easier with time.

My relative asked me to check in on them periodically and offer them advice, which I plan to do. I’ve already set a repeating event in my calendar with a notification on my phone to remind me to do so.

Like I said, I’ll be here for them–and I’m here for you, too.

I wish you well in your journey.

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