5 Ways I Keep My Fall Hypomania in Check

I’ve always wondered if I have reverse seasonal affective disorder. Although spring and summer bring more light with longer days, I don’t struggle with the same hypomania many people with bipolar disorder experience during those seasons. I usually find myself less motivated to go out and socialize in the warmer months. Maybe it’s because I live in the south. I’ve always hated the heat and humidity that accompany summertime here. I just want to stay inside in the air conditioning until it’s over.

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Girl Talk Time! Menopause & Bipolar Disorder


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I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2002. I’ve had plenty of time to figure out my medications and my moods. Now, that’s not to say I don’t experience mood swings and I haven’t had episodes since my diagnosis, but I’ve worked very hard over the last 17 years to get my moods stable.

I went into early menopause. Early, like at age 42. And there’s nothing like a big hormone change to throw everything out-of-whack. And the imbalance that comes with menopause has really thrown a monkey wrench in my otherwise stable lifestyle. Even doctors agree, menopause can actually exacerbate bipolar disorder. Lovely. Isn’t it fun to be a woman sometimes? Ugh.

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Traveling with Bipolar Disorder

It’s summertime! This is usually the time of year everyone goes on vacation. I love to travel. The reason I work and earn money at all is so I can go new places and experience different cultures and vistas. Unfortunately, because I have bipolar disorder, I have to be careful when I go on vacation, because travel can trigger my mania.

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The Danger of Glamorizing Suicide

I recently read an alarming article about how the new Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” has been linked to a recent rise in the teen suicide rate. While I tend to take sweeping generalizations like this with a grain of salt (like when video games are blamed for violence and heavy metal music is blamed for satanism) I was astounded to see that a doctor with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) authored the study. The study says that NIMH as an organization is not responsible for the findings of this one doctor, but nevertheless, they still urge caution in regards to exposing teens to this hugely popular TV series.

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month!

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states that 1 in 5 people will be affected by mental illness in their lifetime. Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

And yet so many of us are afraid to talk about it, and we’re afraid to ask for help.

This is the ideal time to educate yourself and your loved ones about mental illness. Let’s raise awareness to fight the stigma those of us with mood disorders face.  Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. If we’re silent, it will remain in the shadows.

I’m a movie buff. It’s both my career and my hobby. So, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’ve compiled a list of films that educate and enlighten those who live with bipolar disorder, and those who care about us. Sit down with someone you love, microwave some popcorn, and watch one (or all!) of these movies together.

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How Yoga Helps Me Stay in Recovery

Being depressed feels like being trapped under a heavy wool blanket. I can’t breathe, I can’t see, I can’t move. The immense weight of the world around me is almost unbearably oppressive. I get lost in my own mind as fearful, anxious thoughts overtake my brain. My muscles and bones ache, and I feel stiff and immobilized. I just can’t seem to move my body enough to get myself off the sofa or out of the house.

When I’m manic, blindingly bright electrical impulses fire rapidly through my head. Things that normally feel good are intensified tenfold. Food tastes incredible, music sounds melodious and meaningful, and colors appear more vivid. Like the rush of dopamine that comes with the high of a powerful drug, it’s pretty amazing. Sounds great, right? The problem is, ideas dart around in my mind so rapidly that even in the middle of a pleasurable experience, I can’t simply enjoy it, because I’m focused on chasing the next one.

In both scenarios, my body gets lost in the whirlwind created by my bipolar mind.

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Turning 45

I just turned 45!

I have mixed emotions about it. On the one hand, I’m happy that I’m healthy (both physically and mentally), stable (bipolar disorder-wise), and I have a wonderful life. I have a fantastic, sensitive, caring boyfriend who I just celebrated my 5-year anniversary with in December. My mom is alive, healthy, and lives nearby (we’re even getting coffee tomorrow). I have amazing friends who are supportive. And I not only have a career I love, but I’m also writing a memoir that I think I’ll be very proud of once it gets published (or even if it doesn’t, because just writing it is meaningful to me).

But of course, 45 is also a scary sounding age to me. I’m getting older.

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It’s Important to Unplug: 6 Ways Technology Can Fuel Mania and Depression

I love technology. I can keep in touch with friends all over the world through social media. With the click of a button I can order groceries, shoes and furniture. I can even use apps on my phone to change the temperature in my house or turn my living room lights purple. Having easy access to so many things can be wonderful, but it can also be dangerous, especially for someone with bipolar disorder. I’ve discovered six ways technology can fuel bipolar symptoms like mania and depression, and I’ve found solutions that work for me. They may work for you, too.

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Changing My Name Back

My dad, Jack Cantwell, had bipolar disorder and died by suicide in 1998. When I was born, my mom gave me the name Carrie Ann Cantwell. I was born with my dad’s last name.

I had a strained relationship (if you can call it that) with my dad. His bipolar disorder made him moody, unpredictable and scary to me. He was either lost in another world in his head (he was there, but not there) or irritable and snappy. When he was in a good mood, I always approached him with caution because I knew it wouldn’t last. I got my feelings hurt many times, getting my hopes up when my dad would pay attention to me, and then having them dashed when his depression would always inevitably return. I felt rejected and unloved. My relationship with my dad and his bipolar disorder, combined with my own bipolar diagnosis after he died, affected me so much that I’m writing a book about it called Daddy Issues: A Memoir.

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10 Aspects of the Right Career for Me (and My Bipolar Disorder)

I have bipolar disorder. I’m lucky that I’ve found the right cocktail of antidepressants and mood stabilizers that work for me. Of course, like everyone with this illness, I struggle, and I’m not immune to having episodes. But because I take my meds every day, and I practice self-care by getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising and avoiding triggers when possible, I’m generally stable and high-functioning.

I need to pay bills, and I require health insurance to cover medications and doctor visits. I’m not on disability, so I have to work. Like many people with bipolar disorder, I experience challenges in many aspects of my life, including my career. I have to pay close attention to my day-to-day routine, so it’s imperative that I work in a job that fits my needs.

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5 Realistic New Year’s Resolutions I Can Keep

It’s that time again, and with the beginning of a new year, it’s easy to get swept up in the idea of a fresh start. Lots of people make new year’s resolutions, but not everyone sticks to them. With bipolar disorder, it can be even harder to keep those promises to yourself, even when you have the best intentions. Things like unexpected mood swings, reactions to surprise triggers, and just life in general can get in the way, making it near impossible to live up to the grandiose pledges we make to ourselves after the holidays are over.

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5 Holiday Hypo/mania Triggers and How I Avoid Them

We’re smack dab in the middle of the holiday season right now, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt a little too jolly during this time of year. I’m jubilant, extra outgoing, and full of buzzing excited energy. I adore the spicy smells of mulled cider, glittering string lights and cozy inviting fireplaces. People are friendlier and more generous with sincere sentiment as they wish you a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukah. The world comes alive with a positive energy that’s infectious. ‘Tis the season, so they say. Everything is brighter and shinier during the holidays, and this overstimulation can be a dangerous thing for someone with bipolar disorder.

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Making Sense of Suicide Statistics

I just read some disturbing news the other day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the suicide rate in the United States is at a 50-year high. If that weren’t concerning enough, I’m also seeing multiple news outlets reporting that more than half of the people who died by suicide in 2016 had no known mental health problems. The trend in reporting is attributing the dramatic rise in the suicide rate mainly to opioid addiction and overdose.

Let me preface this by saying I’m not a health care professional, so I’m not an expert. Nevertheless, as someone who struggles with mental illness, I keep asking myself the same questions. Why are so many people getting hooked on opioids? Why are so many of the people dying by suicide not known to have mental health problems? Why is the discussion around substance abuse disconnected from the discussion around mental health? Are we missing some key information here? It’s possible many of these people who died by suicide just had never been diagnosed with mental illness.

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5 Reasons I’m Thankful For My Bipolar Diagnosis

I grew up with a bipolar dad who committed suicide when I was 24. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder four years after he died, when my delayed reaction to his suicide triggered my first depressive episode. Before my diagnosis, I struggled with unexplained racing thoughts, impulsive behaviors, and conflicted relationships. I always knew there was something wrong with me, but I didn’t know what it was. It wasn’t until I had a psychological evaluation, underwent therapy and found the right mood-stabilizing medication that I was able to finally find peace within myself. I’m thankful to finally have an answer as to why I made so many bad decisions. Here are five reasons I’m grateful for the insight my bipolar diagnosis has given me.

  1. I can explain my behavior.
    From sleeping with strangers to getting arrested for shoplifting, I struggled with impulsive, destructive behaviors for years. I’m not saying my bipolar disorder was an excuse, but it’s given me an explanation as to why I compulsively made so many mistakes that hurt myself and those around me.
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Dual Recovery: Bipolar and Eating Disorders

My eating disorder started in high school, but it really got into full swing after I split from my fiancé of four years in 2009. It was a rough breakup and I was devastated. I withdrew from people around me, ignored phone calls and cried constantly. I lost the spark that makes me who I am. My body felt like a balloon with the air let out, lying limp and sad on the ground. I was in a depressive episode. Everything tasted metallic and bland at the same time. I’d sit down to eat, take a few bites and lose my appetite. “Why bother eating?” I’d think to myself, “What’s the point? I just want to die.” Yep, that’s depression alright. So of course, I lost a lot of weight. My clothes got baggier, and it seemed like every other day I was buckling my belt one notch tighter.

And something strange happened. People around me began saying things like “You’re so skinny, you look different. You look so pretty!” Friends I hadn’t seen in years were asking me what my secret was, how I lost so much weight. I’ve never been overweight, but when I went from a size 8 to a size 2 I got attention like I never had. Men were flirting with me (something I’m not used to) and women were showering me with flattery.

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How I Pump the Brakes When I’m Getting Hypomanic

I have bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed in 2002. It wasn’t easy, but I learned to accept my diagnosis so I can stay healthy. I take my medicine every day. I get enough sleep, I exercise, and I do my best to avoid triggers.

I also try to pay attention to what’s going on in my head. You’ll notice I said “try to” there. That’s because with bipolar disorder often comes a stunning lack of insight. Sometimes I can barely hear my own thoughts, especially when I’m getting hypomanic. Ideas whiz around in my head so fast I can’t catch them. So I’ve learned to look for other cues. There are things I and others see on the outside that can indicate what’s going on inside my head.

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God Knows Where I Am

I watched the documentary God Knows Where I Am on Netflix last night. For those of you who haven’t seen it [spoiler alert] here’s the description from Rotten Tomatoes:

“Linda Bishop was a loving mother, a well-educated and happy woman. Then her body was found in an abandoned New Hampshire farmhouse, marked by cold and starvation. What was once Linda Bishop had quickly become a mystery, accompanied by her diary that documents a journey of starvation and the loss of sanity. For nearly four months, Bishop, a prisoner of her own mind, survived on apples and rainwater during one of the coldest winters on record. Waiting for God to save her. As her story unfolds from different perspectives, including her own, we learn the heartbreaking reality about a systemic failure to protect those who cannot protect themselves.”

I’m so saddened and moved by this film. Much of the movie is someone narrating her diaries, and I really felt what it must be like to be inside her head. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar, bipolar with psychosis. Whatever it was, her words resonated with me. I felt what it must be like to lose one’s mind.

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A Bipolar Diagnosis is Not a Death Sentence

I can’t believe I ever wanted to die. But then again, things right now are really good. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what it felt like to be so hopeless I was willing to end my own life. But that’s why the saying “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” makes so much sense. Just because one day, one week, even one year or more of your life is rough, that doesn’t mean things will be that way forever. Death is forever. And you can’t take it back.

I have bipolar disorder, which means I’m vulnerable to emotional stresses that can trigger a manic or depressive episode. My dad—who also had bipolar disorder—committed suicide in 1998. I was numb until four years after his death, when I crashed, suffering my first major depressive episode. I felt like I was encased in a black slimy ooze that slowed my mind and body. I cried constantly. Completely unable to function, I went on disability from work. My mom (who is a therapist) sent me for a psychological evaluation and after six hours of testing, I was given a nine-page document. Laid out in black and white, there it was: I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. I was horrified to learn I had the same disease that killed my dad. Would I end up committing suicide too? At that moment, a bipolar diagnosis seemed like a death sentence. I started seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist. I tried antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, antidepressants and mood stabilizers. The struggle for chemical equilibrium in my brain was grueling, but I finally found a cocktail of medications that helped even out the intensity of my moods.

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Happy, Sad or Bipolar?

Be yourself. That’s a pretty universal piece of advice. Whether you’re applying for a job or going on a first date, it’s something we’ve all heard at one time or another. When everyone can see the real you, the relationships you build are authentic. But because I have bipolar disorder, I have a hard time even knowing who “the real me” is. Am I the bubbly, energetic go-getter who’s the life of the party? Am I the sensitive, introspective person who sometimes cries too often? Or are those behaviors expressions of my bipolar disorder?

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been outgoing. I was the kid who made friends with everyone. By the time I was 11 years old, my parents and teachers noticed my seemingly endless energy and my inability to sit still. I could be disruptive to class and exhausting to my parents. In my twenties, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. So was I just an energetic kid? Or was I hypomanic?

For those of us who have bipolar disorder, second-guessing your true nature comes with the territory. I don’t always recognize the person staring back at me when I look in the mirror. I was 22 the first time I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator. I came out on the extreme end of ENFJ, with an emphasis on the “E” for extrovert. Does the big “E” mean I’m really an extrovert, or is that my hypomania? Hypomania can be subtle. It can look to everyone (and sometimes even me) that I’m just someone with a lot of friends who loves to participate in social activities. But that’s also what an extrovert is. Sometimes it’s difficult to detangle my authentic self from all these labels.

Someone once asked me if I could get rid of my bipolar disorder, would I? My answer was no. No matter what I’ve been through, or how I’ve gotten to where I am now—whether it’s my bipolar disorder or my personality—I’m happy with who I am. Does that mean I ignore my illness and don’t take care of myself? Of course not. I recognize that I have a lifelong illness that needs lifelong care, just like diabetes or high blood pressure. I take my medication; visit the doctor regularly; get enough sleep, food and exercise; and try to keep things in perspective. I surround myself with a strong support network of friends and family who can tell me if they see me start to go off the rails.

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Meds

meds

 

I’m really lucky the meds I started in 2009 are still working like little champions to curb my mania and depression. Not everyone finds a drug cocktail that works. Wellburtin and Trileptal have been my saviors.

I’ve tried so many antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and antipsychotics it’s been hard to keep count.

 

So let me see if I can remember all the meds I’ve taken and what they did for me:

Neurontin (when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder).
Effects: Nothing.
Result: I stopped taking it because I didn’t notice a difference.

Concerta (my doctor thought I may have ADD – I was diagnosed ADD when I was a kid).
Effects: I was cracked out, like I had taken speed.
Result: Since my doctor only gave me 1 pill as a test to see if I had ADD, and I reacted the way I did, he deduced that I didn’t have ADD, so I only took that one pill, once.
INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: I’ve heard from both doctors and people who suffer from bipolar that bipolar kids are often misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD.

Depakote
Effects: None.
Result: Stopped taking it under my doctor’s supervision because it did literally nothing.

Zyprexa
Effects: It just made me really sedated and sleepy, and I gained fifteen pounds. I can’t put up with weight gain. I get so upset that I’ve gained weight (hello lifelong eating disorder) that I just refuse to take the meds. It helped my mania a teeny tiny bit but not enough to make me OK with gaining fifteen pounds.
Result: Stopped taking it under my doctor’s supervision.

Paxil
Effects: I was suuuuuuuppppppeerrrr slow and sedated on it and I gained weight. So nope.
Result: Only took it for 2 weeks and then stopped on my own.

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My Thoughts On Kate Spade

Photo by Thomas Iannaccone/Penske Media/REX/Shutterstock (6908974a)
Designer Kate Spade with a handbag of her own design on March 13, 1998 in New York

It’s such a terrible tragedy that we’ve lost Kate Spade. I was driving with NPR on and the moment I heard she’d committed suicide, my first thought was (and I even said aloud) “I’ll bet she had bipolar disorder.” I do that a lot, and too often, I’m right. Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, and far too many more that you and I don’t hear about on the news because they’re not mega-famous. As someone who struggles with bipolar, I was deeply affected by Kate Spade’s death.

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This Hypomanic Moment

This is an old diary entry of mine from 2009, and it really captures what’s going on in my mind when I’m hypomanic:

I went out to a club last night where a friend was DJing. I had a blast but forgot to take my anti-mania meds. I also had a flask full of vodka that I poured into the $3 cokes – 3 of them.

I did have a great time and lucky for me, only drank that vodka and it was good quality. So last night was a nice, clean drunk with no blackouts and no hangover today.

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Do People Only Love Me When I’m Hypomanic?

Sometimes I feel like people only love me when I’m hypomanic.

And it’s hard for them to love me when i’m depressed.

When I’m hypomanic, I’m:

An incredible extrovert
Witty
Funny
Creative
Passionate
Driven
Confident

But when I’m depressed, all of the above is either terribly muffled, or else completely gone.

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My Manias

When I’m manic, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve yelled at people in public. The “rude” (according to me) receptionist at my doctor’s office who’s already lost my records twice and doesn’t care that I’ve been waiting for 45 minutes. The “asshole” at the business tax department who wasted 4 hours of my life because she couldn’t fill out forms properly, even the “sour-faced c-word” who acted like I ruined her day by asking her what aisle the dish drainers are on.

And I can’t even count on my fingers the number of times I’ve thrown my cell phone across the room while being hung up on for the 5th time after asking to speak to the Sheila, the phone operator’s supervisor and asking Sheila what her last name and ID number is. Thanks USPS, Comcast, Sony, 1and1, Zingotel, Vonage, AT&T, CapitalOne, and on and on and on.

Some of the symptoms of mania are: anger, rage, irritability and highly vocal arguments. Yep, that sounds like me.

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Another Manic Moment

I came across another old diary entry from 2009. I keep talking about how I’m not manic, I’m hypomanic. Going back and reading it, I was manic as hell.

Everyone, I give you the manic me:

A week ago my friend did his music video night. The plan beforehand was to go on a bunch of art galleries with a good friend.

I knew I was going to drink but I’d planned to not have too much. I can’t resist red wine (especially free) at art galleries. People just get looser with their money when buzzed, so it sells art. I know my wallet falls open wider with a couple drinks, but I don’t have the money to buy artwork.

My fiancé signed us up to participate in the yard sale they were having in our neighborhood in which all participants had to arrive no later than 7 AM Saturday morning to reserve a space. He told me I could sleep in, but I didn’t want him to be stuck there by himself all day if he had to get water or pee. Plus I wanted to spend time with him and be a part of it.

I knew I’d be out late on Friday but I didn’t want to miss the club night. It’s torture for me to miss social events. Being an extreme extrovert. I almost knocked my stunned psychologist out of her chair when I tipped the scale on that part of Myers-Briggs. ENFJ with the E in bold. Is being a manic extrovert doubly bad? Are manic people just extroverts anyway? So, I thought, if I got 2 hours of sleep, fuck it.

I ended up getting an hour and a half.

Before even getting curling my lashes Friday night I had to weigh my options in my head for my mood stabilizer: do I take the pills before I go out, knowing I may get drunker having just taken them, and my hangover, should I have one, could be amplified the next morning? Or should I wait until I get home, no matter what time it was, and pop the 3 pills at whatever time in the middle of the night? UGH. This happens every time I go out. If I’m at an art gallery, I want those plastic cups filled with cheap Cabernet because it’s there and it’s free. I’m not supposed to because I’m on these mood stabilizers. But I want that wine so I have it anyway.

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Having Bipolar, Not Being Bipolar

Something I learned in DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) I’ve found reassuring:

Never say “I AM bipolar”

Always say “I HAVE bipolar disorder”

Bipolar disorder doesn’t define who you ARE even though it may be a part of who you are.

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Hello From 2009!

Yes you read that right. I’m typing this in 2018, 9 years after 2009, but I actually started this blog in 2009.

In 2009, 7 years after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and 9 years after my bipolar dad committed suicide, I decided I should write a memoir. So I started working on it. And with it, came a little blog called Darkness and Light.

And so much happened. I wrote hundreds of pages of the book. I wrote dozens of blog posts. I submitted query letters to agents and went to writing workshops and writing conferences. I contacted publishers and wrote more blog entries.

And somewhere in there I got married, divorced, started a new career, moved around a few times, lost my 2 beloved kitties, adopted 2 new ones, attempted suicide, survived, was hospitalized, and came out on the other end a much stronger person.

And I didn’t get agent representation. I didn’t get published. So what did I do? I gave up.

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