On a Rollercoaster

Sometimes I am up. Sometimes I am down. I think all women who have a hormonal cycle can relate to what that feels like. With bipolar 1 disorder, the ups and downs are just more extreme.

I hate roller coasters. I don’t enjoy them or like how I feel when I’m riding them. I’m not scared of them, I just don’t like the feeling of my stomach dropping when you go down and being jerked around. You have no control over what is happening. I can’t say, “Stop! Slow down! I want off of this thing!” You may think that’s weird or I’m just a wimp or I can’t relax and just enjoy the ride. Who doesn’t like roller coasters?! Most people think they are fun! It’s just my personal preference. I avoid roller coasters!

It’s ironic that I have bipolar 1 disorder. I get to ride an emotional rollercoaster that is not in my control. I don’t get to choose when to get on or when to get off. I can’t stop it when it starts. I just have to hold on tight and pray that there aren’t too big of drops. I feel like screaming! (And sometimes I do, into my pillow! It helps!).

I feel powerless to control my moods. Having a mood disorder is hard!! I’m not complaining or being dramatic, I’m just being real. There is only so much I can do!

A little “pick me up” is not enough to pull me out of a depression. Pills don’t always take away the anxiety or stop the mania. Mania means I can’t shut off my brain. It is sped up and on hyper-drive. I can’t put on the brakes! It’s hard to sleep. My brain is full and I need an outlet. Exercise would help, but I can barely walk up the stairs. It wears me out. I’m so physically and emotionally drained right now. That is why I write!

How would you like to ride this rollercoaster?? Some of you are riding it with me! I’m closing my eyes and holding on tight, trying to feel secure through all the sharp turns and ups and downs. It’s a new one each time and I don’t know what to expect. I’m screaming my head off on the inside but trying to stay calm on the outside so I don’t freak people out! Is it over yet?? Can I get off of this thing?! How much longer?!

You may think, ‘Just relax and have fun!’ or, “Just rest and you’ll get better!’ If one more person says, “hey, you’ve got this!” or gives me a pep talk, I think I’ll scream!

This is not just a bad day. It is a living hell! This is not fun. I hate feeling like this! Mania makes me feel happy, but it also means I can’t sleep. Depression is debilitating and discouraging. I am emotionally and physically drained. I feel like I did when I was in labor, with the intensity and frequency increasing, but there is no epidural. There is no relief in sight. I don’t know how much longer I can ride this thing. I hope it slows down and evens out soon. I’m almost at my breaking point.

Last night, my husband held me tight as my anxiety sky-rocketed and I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. My thoughts and emotions were confusing and scary and overpowering. Help!! I know he feels frustrated and powerless. I do too! I am sure he wishes he could fix this and make it stop. He wants his wife back. My kids want their mom back. I am trying to get through this! I want to get better! I am trying to be patient. It is hard when you are suffering.

I hope you don’t think I’m weak or strange to admit and share these things. I’m tired of holding it all in. Some of you get it. You have experienced something hard and you can relate. Mental illness is REAL and affects you physically and emotionally! It either makes you a fighter or it overcomes you.

As women, we feel things. I have found that in general, women are more in tune with their feelings and better able to express them. That’s not always the case, but I find that for me, I can connect and communicate easier with women than with men. They get me!

I also have men in my family who have learned how to connect emotionally. They know how to talk to and relate to women. They know how to listen, to emphasize, and to validate feelings. I am grateful to have brothers and a father who have that gift or who have learned that skill. (I think growing up with sisters and being married to a woman helps!). I don’t think this quality makes them less masculine. It makes them better men and more able to relate to others. Empathy is a true gift!

Some of us are born with the ability to empathize and relate to other’s feelings. Some of us learn empathy through our own suffering. Sometimes we learn it by watching others struggle and supporting them in it. Our world needs more empathy, kindness, and love!!

Do you know someone who is struggling right now? They may not know how to ask for what they need. It might be a hug. It might be a friend. It might be a listening ear. It might be a fun diversion. It might be a relaxing massage (I’m getting one tomorrow!!). It might just be loving and accepting them as they are right now, even with their weaknesses showing. Love them anyway and remind them of their strengths!! We all have gifts to share. Everyone is needed. We all have our own struggles. We can all be there for each other. We can create a loving, safe community where we can show our true colors and be who we were designed to be. No judgment–just love!

Thanks for loving me when I am weak and such a mess!! Thanks for listening to the rantings of a manic Becky. Thanks for reaching out and trying to lift burdens. Thank you for trying to understand. You are helping me get to get through this! I could never do this alone!!

The Ups & Downs of Bipolar I Disorder

It’s hard being a goal-oriented person and living with a mood disorder! Depression can show up at any time and disrupt all of my well-laid plans. Mania can send me into an upward spiral that feels good at first, but can quickly get out of control. Sometimes I feel like I’m riding a roller-coaster… while trying to slowly sip hot tea and write out my autobiography by hand. Yeah, good luck!

I was first diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder three years ago, after giving birth to my third baby. It was the first time in my life that I had ever experienced what is called a “manic episode”. (That’s just a medical term for an extremely “up” or elevated mood–think the opposite of depression.) People with bipolar 1 disorder (yes, there is more than one type!) experience both extreme highs (mania) and extreme lows (depression). During a manic episode, my mind feels sped up. I feel super energetic, I have a mind full of creative ideas, I talk faster, I can’t sit still, I can’t sleep, I feel ecstatically happy, and I feel like I am invincible. Sounds nice, right? I’ll admit, I love the part of mania that makes me feel excited, energetic, and happy! It’s fun for a day or two, but getting no sleep days on end can turn things scary fast. My over-active mind made me constantly distracted, on-edge, and obsessive. It soon turned from extreme happiness to extreme anxiety, fear, and paranoia. I even started experiencing delusions, which are strongly held irrational beliefs. I lived for 3 or 4 months in escalating mania (not knowing what it was), and let me tell you, it was no picnic! I ended up in the hospital where I finally got much-needed medical help and an official diagnosis.

For me, receiving a diagnosis was a relief (I finally knew what was wrong!), but it also came with feelings of shame, stigma, isolation, and fear of what others might think. No one wants to be labeled with a mental illness. Why it is viewed so differently than other physical illnesses, I simply don’t understand. Last I checked, the brain is part of the physical body too! When the brain (your command center) isn’t functioning correctly, it affects every part of you–your thinking and ability to reason, your moods and emotions, your energy levels, your appetite, your ability to sleep, etc!

With time, I am learning to accept my diagnosis. I feel a strong desire and need to talk about it and share my story, but it’s still hard, especially when I don’t know what people’s reactions will be. Initially I felt pretty vulnerable and it was hard to share, but I have reached a point now where I just don’t care about what others think. (At least not enough to stop me from writing and sharing and speaking out!). I care more about the people who are struggling and who feel alone and misunderstood.

I have found many things that help me manage my mood. I’m not either “depressed” or “manic” all of the time–most of the time I am just in-between. But things can always change, and most of the time those changes are unpredictable. I don’t need “fixing” and I don’t need constant help, I just need love and support. Those are the best two things you can offer to someone who deals with mental illness!

One of the first things I did when I got home from the hospital three years ago was to start researching and learning all I could about bipolar 1 disorder. I learned a lot and it helped me to feel better, especially reading the experiences of others. Bipolar disorder may be a life-long diagnosis, but personally I don’t think of myself as “bipolar”. It is not “who I am” and it is not how I would choose to introduce myself. It is not an adjective to describe me or a core part of my personality. It is simply a mental and physical condition–something that often gets in the way of me feeling and acting like myself!

Let’s stop adding to the stigma! Please don’t use the term “bipolar” to describe someone who is acting “moody”! The best way to help a friend or family member with bipolar disorder (or with any mental illness) is to take the time to listen, to ask questions, to withhold judgment and preconceived ideas, and to take the time to learn about their disorder. You may just learn something new!