Chronic Illness · Mental Health · Personal · Recovery

30 Things About Living with Bipolar Disorder, Type II

This piece was originally written in honor of Invisible Illness Week 2015. For World Bipolar Day 2017 (March 30), I republished the piece on Sweatpants and Coffee in the hope that it could be of encouragement to others on their journeys, and now I share it here.

    1. The illness I live with is: bipolar disorder, type II (otherwise known as bipolar 2 disorder.) So, what’s a mood disorder?

The only edit I have to make to this graphic is that bipolar disorder, type I – what most people think of when they hear the words “bipolar disorder” – doesn’t require depressive episodes for a diagnosis. If you have one manic episode in your lifetime, you have bipolar disorder. The vast majority of people with bipolar DO have depressive episodes as well, but they’re not required for diagnosis. Here is some more information about the different types of bipolar disorder.

    1. I was diagnosed with it in the year: 2014.
    2. But I had symptoms since: 2006.
    3. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is: making sure never to get too high or low in my mood. Understanding that I need to fend off depression is easy; understanding that I need to avoid intense situations and longer feelings of exhilaration (hypomania) has been more difficult.
    4. Most people assume: that folks with mental illness – especially severe and persistent mental illness like bipolar disorder – are inherently violent. That is false! When receiving proper treatment, people with mental illness are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crime. I’ve given speeches about the dangers of stigmatizing mental illness. Because I wrote it in mid-2011, some of the information is likely not the most recent available, but the principles remain the same, and the problem has somewhat stagnated over time. Stigma for certain mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, have decreased over time as more people speak up about their lived experiences, but certain diseases – such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – still strike fear in many hearts.
    5. The hardest part about my mornings is: dealing with the feelings of anxiety that I may have about my day and whatever lies ahead of me.
    6. My favorite medical TV show is: Mystery Diagnosis.
    7. A gadget I couldn’t live without is: my computer, to do research about how to improve my health, to communicate with friends when I’m struggling, and to build a community of others facing similar issues.
    8. The hardest part about my nights is: shutting my mind down and stopping my thoughts enough to sleep deeply.
    9. Each day I take: 14 pills, including medications and vitamins.
    10. Regarding alternative treatments, I: believe in many non-pharmaceutical therapy techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), because I’ve seen them work for many people (including me)! They have quite literally changed my life and the way I process situations; both in the moment, and when I reflect on them later. The decision to see a talented, trained counselor is an incredible one, and something that can be done with little money, and even no insurance. (And if you’re uncomfortable seeing someone in either individual or group therapy, here are some self-care master posts of online resources for mental illness: 1, 2, 3.)
    11. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or a visible one, I would choose: invisible, simply because the stigma is high. I like being able to choose whether or not to tell someone, and when, and not to have them automatically know.
    12. Regarding working and my career: my mental illness has given me great compassion and empathy for suffering. Because of all of the physical and mental health problems I’ve experienced, and all of the beauty that has managed to emerge from my life regardless, I’m training to become a hospital chaplain in order to help people who haven’t had the kind of support that I have.
    13. People might be surprised to know: that I can always find my own stability, regardless of what I’m going through, if someone else needs me to be their rock for a bit. My friends know that I’m a good person to talk to about their problems, and I hope that my readers know that, too!
    14. The hardest thing to accept about my new reality has been: that I really shouldn’t drink alcohol, because it has a large tendency to affect my mood. That seems like a minor thing, but in social situations, it can be a little annoying/difficult to explain subtly.
    15. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was: survive multiple periods of suicidal ideation. God is really good. He has blessed me immensely in terms of interpersonal and medical support! And now, I bear a semicolon tattoo on my ribcage and an arrow tattoo on my hipbone to remind me of all of the times that I thought it was over, but really? My story was just continuing.
    16. The commercials about my illness: are nonexistent, to my knowledge.
    17. Something I really miss doing since i was diagnosed is: being able to be flexible about my sleep schedule. One of the telltale signs of an oncoming depressive episode or a hypomanic episode is the need to sleep more or less than usual, so one of the best things I can do to fight symptoms is to have a consistent 8-9 hour sleep schedule.
    18. It was really hard to give up: being carefree about my mental health. Being constantly vigilant about it is a second job.
    19. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is: journaling and writing! I write poetry to help me process all of the lessons I learn each day.
    20. If I could have one day of feeling normal again, I would: probably live pretty similarly to the way I do now! I love my life.
    21. My illness has taught me: how to live as balanced a life as possible. It’s kind of a necessity for me. To breathe, to think instead of act impulsively, to forgive when I get hurt.
    22. Some things people say that get under my skin are: “You’re too sensitive!” It’s the way I was built, and to be honest, it’s more of a strength than a weakness. “You’re unpredictable in your mood!” Yeah, I swing from highs to lows more often and with a farther range than a person without bipolar disorders. It’s because our brains are actually structured differently. There are neurotypical people, and I’m not one of them, but neither is about 1 in 4 Americans“The weather is so bipolar today!” Please don’t use a mental illness as an adjective. This goes for schizophrenia, OCD, anorexic, and any other all-too-often-used word which becomes ableist when used incorrectly. Please use a synonym!
    23. But I love it when people: tell me that I’m courageous for sharing my story, and that I inspire them with my openness and desire to reduce the stigma of mental health treatment. I love it when people hang out with me when I’m not feeling well, and keep me closer to the ground when I’m in the clouds. I love when people encourage me when I’m down. I love when people see me as a person rather than a disorder.
    24. My favorite motto, scripture, or quote that helps get me through tough times is: My life motto is “do no harm, but take no shit.” I am a firm believer in balancing kindness towards others with self-care (kindness towards myself.) In terms of quotes, I love quotes so much that I have an entire page of my favorites, but here’s one I especially love: “Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” – Brene Brown. In terms of a scripture, I like “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10.) I have a Google document of my favorite scriptures and spiritual quotes that I love to share with others, because it always encourages me.
    25. When someone is diagnosed, I like to tell them: aren’t you relieved to have a word for the stress you’ve been under? Welcome to the better life of knowing what you can do to help with your highs and lows. I’m proud of you, and I know it’s so hard, but you can and will live a good life, as long as you get treatment and become courageous enough to live your new truth. Read Brene Brown’s “I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t.)” Cry. Laugh. Cry some more. Confide in loved ones who have earned the right to hear your story. Ask for support and accountability as you change your lifestyle to maximize your stability. Learn to meditate and practice self-care whenever you need to slow down. Know, above all, that you are not alone.
    26. Something which has surprised me about living with mental illness is: how much of a community you can build for yourself of people who live with similar issues. I love the friends that I’ve made and the conversations of deep understanding we’ve shared.
    27. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn’t feeling well was: to make me write a letter promising that, no matter how hard it got, to stay alive at all costs. I inscribed that letter inside my semicolon tattoo, and I smile whenever I look at it.
    28. I’m involved with Invisible Illness Week because: we are the 96%! And because I can make a powerful impact by speaking up and being authentic and vulnerable about something that affects my entire being. I have a great enough life that I show off my crinkly-nosed smile often.

  1. The fact that you read this list makes me feel: honored and hopeful. Thank you.

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