Positive things my bipolar disorder has gifted me with:

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I wrote a post a long while ago about how it’s okay for people to call mental illness a gift. It’s one of my favorite posts. I can’t decide if it’s the bipolar jokes or the fact that it’s about Van Gogh, but regardless, it still stands. It’s is okay for people to call their mental illness a gift the same way it’s okay for them to call it a curse. Both can be true.

I spend a lot of time writing about ways to function with mental illness and to overcome some of it’s trickier parts, but I wanted to make a post about the good things my mental illness has given me. So here’s a list of positives that have come from my bipolar disorder:

  • Creativity: Bipolar and creativity have long been linked. For most the creative streaks come during the manic phases, for me it seems like my creativity hardly sleeps. I’ve been creative for as long as I can remember, which is fitting because I got diagnosed at age six. Over half of my hobbies are creative ones and I fully thrive in the environment they create. I love my hobbies and I love this skill set. There is nothing I would trade for it.
  • Healthy coping mechanisms: A lot of people have unhealthy coping mechanisms, in fact, I don’t feel like it would be a stretch to say that most people do. It’s hard to function with a mental illness without learning coping mechanisms, and unhealthy ones just don’t make the cut, they end up making us feel worse. So to function, I’ve learned healthy coping mechanisms, ones that work and can aid my medication to the point where I can handle most everything thrown at me. It took a lot of work to get them, but I’m so happy I have them and am able to fall back on them whenever I need them, whether those needs are triggered by bipolar disorder or just everyday life.

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Your mental illness is not the most interesting thing about you.

20181018_110356.jpgYour mental illness is not the most interesting thing about you, and it shouldn’t be. If you find yourself reaching for your disorders name when trying to define yourself you might want to take a hard look at why you’re doing that. I’ve talked about labels before, and one of my bullet points was about mental illness, but I don’t think that covered the topic fully enough.

You are a complete person, full of dreams, hopes, fears, interests, and memories. A lot of them may be tied into your mental illness. That’s fair, especially if you’re currently fighting it with everything you have. Your mental illness is a part of you, and at times it may be a really big part of you, but it’s still not the most interesting thing about you.

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Reflection: What makes a person’s personality consistent or spontaneous?

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If you know me now, you’ve known me since 11th grade. I wrote that I was thankful for our ability to edit and change ourselves in my thanksgiving post. I meant it, I know a lot of people who have changed for the better, I’ve changed for the better, but when I look at myself now compared to then, I realize that it wasn’t really change that happened, but more of a consistent polishing.

I’m a consistent person, a remarkable feat given that I’m bipolar, but I guess with enough time that becomes a constant as well. I remember talking to someone and telling them that I felt like I only knew one version of them, and that was all I could know, because they had changed so drastically over the years. Then I looked at myself and realized that there were only three versions of me. My outgoing crazy energetic and social childhood. My self loathing almost bullied to extinction middle years. And the adult version of myself, that surfaced a little early due to all that happened in the stage before. I say adult version lightly, because you can only be so much of an adult in high school, but if you knew me then you would see me now. There is a lot of similarities and though they’ve been edited, my dreams and wishes haven’t changed a ton.

Honestly, I wonder if it makes me a little boring. But I think I’m like this because I figured out some tough questions early on. It was easy for me to pin-point what mattered in my life, and I didn’t have to have violent revelations of self discovery. I fell into a pattern of picking up traits and interests that made sense, if you had been following along you’d see them and go “of course Anna liked and added that!”. Simple. Easy to define.

Again, maybe boring? But I don’t know if people would describe me as boring either, because I’ve got a lot going on, it’s just the type of things in my whirlwind of character are typical for me.

It makes me wonder what makes a person this consistent.

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Don’t feed your mental illness: Depression thrives on isolation

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If there is one thing mental illness feeds on it’s the feeling of being completely alone in the world. It thrives when you think that no one could possibly understand, it’s festers when you think that nobody would even care if you were gone.

There’s a lot of ways to help relieve mental illnesses, I’ve talked about some of them before, taking medication, taking care of yourself in basic ways, but the most important thing is not to let yourself grow isolated. Don’t let yourself or your loved ones get cut off from the world. That’s when mental illness is its most dangerous.

I would know, I’ve been there. I was bullied, which forced me to cut ties, after a while I stopped reaching out to the people who still loved me. I let myself sink deep into a toxic kind isolation. I thought that the world would be better without me, because it felt like I was already starting to¬†disappear while I was still breathing. I thought it would be a good thing if I went a step further…

I was deeply wrong, and luckily one day I scared myself enough that I reached out. Telling someone I was suicidal saved my life. Not being alone in my depression was a game changer, and the thing is, it always changes the game.

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Mental health medications aren’t supposed to be a prescription for shame

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I want to talk about the shame that comes with being on medication for mental illness. It’s why so many people avoid talking to doctors and getting the help they need. It’s a common phenomenon, but that doesn’t make it less harmful and dangerous.

Before I start this post I need to say that I got diagnosed at six and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t taking pills. You might wonder if I’m really the right person to talk about this subject, but I think that it adds another layer of understanding. I know it added another layer of protection. I got to learn my valuable lessons in safety while I was still being actively cared for.

I remember in grade school telling my mom that I wanted to be normal and that I wasn’t going to take my pills anymore. Since she was with me 24/7 she decided not to fight it and let me stop them. It only took two weeks for me to come to her with the bin of pill bottles and ask what I was supposed to take. I needed those pills not to be miserable, I understood that then.

It wasn’t a particularly long lesson, but since I was pretty dang bipolar it didn’t need to be. It kept me from questioning the need for medication again and it was a blessing that it happened as a small child, not when I was suicidal in middle school or swinging in and out of depression my senior year of college. I had a safety net, which isn’t something most people have as they sit in the doctors office unwilling to share their needs because they’re depressed, ashamed, and scared. So they go home, untreated, and things don’t get better.

That’s when it gets dangerous. That’s when it gets harmful.

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A letter to those struggling with their Bipolar Disorder:

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In a lot of cases depression can be cured, and I mean cured, marked done, filed away for good. Depression isn’t always chronic, sometimes it’s short lived. That’s pretty magical, but bipolar disorder is nothing like that.

It’s a disorder, a disease of the mind, if you will. It can be treated, but it can’t be cured. It is everlasting.

I don’t find that as scary as I once did.

At first it’s a terrifying thought. I have to live with these swings forever. There will never be a time when I’m not taking medication. This is something that will affect my life till I die.

Oh yeah, it sounds terrible when you focus on those aspects. It sounds a lot less frightening however when you talk about the different stages of living with a mental illness like bipolar disorder.

You start to realize that you will get better even if you are not cured. You’ll find your perfect cocktail of medications that keep you balanced and you’ll only have to go to the doctor every year or so. The upcoming days won’t be met with vicious swings, but little ones that warn you that you need to change something. You’ll learn what helps you outside of medication and you won’t rely on it as heavily as you did. You’ll move on with your life and bipolar will become a side note when you define yourself, because the characteristics will no longer define you.

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The most helpful thing you can do for a loved one with bipolar:

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I was talking to a friend the other day about how lucky I was that my boyfriend is just as good as my parents at doing the one thing most important to my mental health: Keeping me in check.

There are lists upon lists out there about things you can do for a loved one suffering from Bipolar disorder. Most of them are really good tips, but the most important one for me normally doesn’t show up on those lists, because it’s not always pleasant, and newly diagnosed people sometimes don’t react to it well and therefore it doesn’t always seem productive.

You see, I’m aware of my big mood swings when they happen. It’s hard not to notice when you nose dive or are suddenly ten times more active than you normally are. It’s those small ones that get me, the ones that I think are triggered by daily events because I can’t see it as clearly as someone watching from the outside. I don’t always consider all the facts, because the change felt natural from the inside, and after all, I still got everything done that I needed to do.

Those smaller mood swings are important though, if your swinging that much it needs to be addressed and your medications need to be adjusted. They might not feel like a big deal on the inside, but they can be long term, and they can also be a big deal for those around you. And those around you are normally the ones who notice them first.

I used the words “keeping me in check” at the top of this post, but that sounds harsher than it really is. It’s a gentle nudge, a firm yet kind acknowledgement by your loved ones that something is off.

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