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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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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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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Don’t be so quick with your mental health medications warning:

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I once wrote a blog post about not googling all your medications side effects, especially mental health medications. I said it does nothing but add stress and anxiety and it can make you imagine side effects that aren’t real.

I stand by that post, but I also want to expand on it.

I recently joined a few bipolar support groups on Facebook. I haven’t done this before because my disorder is fairly regulated and I haven’t been having problems with my medication, but I thought it was a good idea to have a sense of community.

One thing that I notice a lot of is people saying their doctor is putting them on a new medication and asking what it’s done for people. I get the concept, if it’s done good things for people it’ll make you worry about it less, but the fact is the reverse is also true.

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On COVID-19 and Mental Health:

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Hi, it’s me, a sometimes mental health blogger who realized that I might have picked the worst time for society to stop talking about taking care of your mental health.

But the truth is, I was taking a break because I needed one. Things are weird right now, and though I’m handling it pretty well, I think I speak for everyone when I say even those who are handling it well still feel the dread and uncertainty that comes with a worldwide pandemic.

Even if you somehow were not worried about the illness itself, isolation can get to you, and so can the uncertainty when it comes to our economy and jobs. It’s great if you’re handling it well but it’s also 110% okay if you’re not. It’s okay if your spending most of your time stress eating and hiding under the covers. It’s hard times and you’re allowed to feel them. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

I feel like I’ve seen two viewpoints, the utter panic one and the “grind” while off the clock one, and honestly I don’t think either one of them are very healthy. Panic is bad for you, forcing yourself to stay up to date on the stats and the latest news can plumet your mental health. So can trying to hard to be productive in a time when stress has infiltrated everyone’s lives.

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Trying to delete depression as it forms:

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Oh boy, another post about mental health, after a few months without them I’m back! Mental health is so important and with all that has been going on in my life lately, mine got a little rattled. As I said to my husband “I’m in a funk”, only, I knew what that funk felt like. It felt like the beginnings of something much worse, something that I needed to act on as soon as possible. My warning signs were clear. It was time to shape up my mental health, here’s how I’m approaching that:

Talking about it: Whether you do it with a therapist or with a trusted friend or family member, talking about your mental health is important. It not only makes you feel less alone but it also helps you untwist your feelings. The same way journaling is good for discovering what is really the root cause, talking helps you get to the bottom of your feelings. As I spoke about “my funk” I figured out some of the key things that were causing me to sink. It was important information!

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Your inner voice is telling you more about your mental health than you know.

I’ve been stressed lately. We’ve had a queue of bad events coursing through my family lately, everything from ill health to work problems. December and January¬† were busy, but we’re starting to see the light (maybe, hopefully?).

I knew that the stress was bothering me, like it would anyone, but I thought it ended there. I was keeping up with everything, handling what needed to be handled. It was going as well as it could.

Then that little voice in the back of my head started nagging me again, and I mean that in the rudest of ways. When I’m over-stressed, run down, anxious, or depressed my mind doesn’t stop with the negativity and it starts directing it at me.

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