Book Review: Madness: A Bipolar Life

“An astonishing dispatch from inside the belly of bipolar disorder, reflecting major new insights

When Marya Hornbacher published her first book, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, she did not yet have the piece of shattering knowledge that would finally make sense of the chaos of her life. At age twenty-four, Hornbacher was diagnosed with Type I rapid-cycle bipolar, the most severe form of bipolar disorder.

In Madness, in her trademark wry and utterly self-revealing voice, Hornbacher tells her new story. Through scenes of astonishing visceral and emotional power, she takes us inside her own desperate attempts to counteract violently careening mood swings by self-starvation, substance abuse, numbing sex, and self-mutilation. How Hornbacher fights her way up from a madness that all but destroys her, and what it is like to live in a difficult and sometimes beautiful life and marriage — where bipolar always beckons — is at the center of this brave and heart-stopping memoir.

Madness delivers the revelation that Hornbacher is not alone: millions of people in America today are struggling with a variety of disorders that may disguise their bipolar disease. And Hornbacher’s fiercely self-aware portrait of her own bipolar as early as age four will powerfully change, too, the current debate on whether bipolar in children actually exists.

Ten years after Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind, this storm of a memoir will revolutionize our understanding of bipolar disorder.”

-Goodreads

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A little note:

This blog has taken a back seat. 2020 has been a bad year for a lot of people, my family included, and while I’m not going to go into everything that’s gone on in our lives this year I will say there has been a strong increase in our stress levels. And it’s made it hard to write.

It’s not that I haven’t had things to say, in fact, I have a ton of things to say and I think I’ll have a back stock of topics to dive into. Mental health is more important now than ever, and through struggle I’ve learned as I always do.

This small little post is going to be followed by a normal post today. I just wanted to write a little note to say this: If 2020 has been hard for you, you’re not alone and it’s completely okay if this year has been based on survival instead of building.

It’s okay, and you’re doing a good job.

Make small changes, take big steps.

Do you know that people with dogs tend to be healthier than people without? Simply because most people walk their dogs, and that additional exercise a day boosts their physical health.

It makes you realize how big those little changes are. That twenty minute walk a day can change your health. So can changing one meal a day. You can change your mental health by spending more time in the sun or simply seeing a friend once a week. By setting a timer and cleaning for only 30 minutes a day, you can change the constant state of your house.

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The plus side of being open about your mental illness:

You probably have gathered that I really don’t care who knows I’m bipolar, seeing that I run a blog that is mostly on mental health. I’m not just open online though, I talk about it in person too. While I’m a firm believer that your mental illness isn’t the most interesting thing about you and you should never frame your identity around it, I also believe that it’s important to be able to talk about your illness.

Here’s why:

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Lurking: The addiction to online subcultures

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Hello, you might remember over the past two years I blocked all politics from my social media only to add them back in moderation a year and a half later, I added them back in slowly and with a lot of cation. I only allowed certain people back into my space, and that’s because before hand, I became completely consumed in the Twitter subculture surrounding my political party.

And yikes, did it rewire my brain.

I don’t think we talk enough about what the sub-cultures can do, and not just the political ones but the intense niche interests ones as well. Fans become toxic online, which is why I’ve always warned against becoming a “stan”. These cultures are completely addictive. We like to say that we are just addicted to the site. “Oh, I’m addicted to Twitter” sounds a lot better than “I’ve addicted to a small community with extreme views on sexual kinks”. I’ve never fallen into one of those communities, but I know they’re there and have force online.

They’re all over the place, extreme little groups that have very strong opinions on everything from religious extremists to complete anarchists. They are all there, and they are all trying to take root in your brain.

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Be your obnoxious mental health advocate:

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When you’re going through a hard time mental health wise, it seems impossible to get up and do something to help it. It’s hard, everything takes 10xs the energy, you don’t have any motivation and you certainly don’t have any dedication. Its where mental illness gets a bad name, that people write it off as a laziness problem. It isn’t a laziness problem, but tackling one thing on your list can help you break through the chemical fog that’s taken over your brain.

Depression, severe anxiety, they are all consuming. I’m not suggesting you can “fix” it easily or with a few simple steps. I know you can’t, but as I’ve written about time and time before there are ways you can help yourself slowly move towards a better mental state.

But what is going to force you to do it? To dance to an upbeat song, to sit outside in the sun for a little bit, to get out of bed and get dressed nice, to clean the kitchen, to do the laundry, to call the doctor, to reach out to a friend, to wash your hair.

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Practicing your habits and creating pathways.

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I’ve been working the last three weeks on minimizing my screen time. I’m not doing great at it if I’m being honest, I’m still on social media a lot. I work online and I spend a chunk of my down time online. I like feeling informed and I work in marketing, of course I like consuming media!

But in this process, though I haven’t gotten rid of a ton of screen time, I have been spending more time on my hobbies. I’ve been seeing the horse more for longer stretches of time. I might get online afterwards, but the extra farm time counts for something when it comes to my goals and it counts as a lot when it comes to my mental health.

Even slight improvements turn into bigger strides. I’ve read a number of books on forming habits, and I can’t remember which one it came from, but a book introduced me to a new way of thinking about habits. You have to practice them like you do your skills. Even small steps are setting up links in your brain, creating pathways so next time you take another step you can build out even more. Practicing your habits. It’s not that novel of a concept, but as someone who always thought about habits as complete reforms it gave me an insight to how I could realistically improve.

Small steps, always moving forward. I can do that.

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