I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and hopeless in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. My life has changed so dramatically, it’s been hard to see a way out. Are we ever going to get back to the way things used to be? If so, when? Will things change forever? If so, what will this new world look like? Will it be better or worse than before? Sometimes, the idea that society could ever get back to normal seems like a pipe dream.
I have bipolar disorder. Even before the coronavirus, I struggled with negative, intrusive thoughts and all-or-nothing thinking. I’ve been a victim of my own black and white view of the world. The words “always” and “never” have been firmly cemented in my vocabulary for a long time.
Zippers are my enemies. I know that may sound strange but hear me out. I have bipolar disorder, and I tend to be impatient.
Picture this: you’re heading outside on a chilly winter evening, throwing on your coat as you grab your keys. You’re meeting up with friends, but you’re running late. Your coat has a zipper running all the way up the front of it. You’re in a hurry and you don’t have time to waste. Now, try to slow down and zip up your coat slowly and carefully. Something as simple and mundane as bundling up in a warm jacket before entering the frigid air outside should be easy. It should be quick. But it’s not. Zippers—of all things—actually require some patience. The place at the bottom where the two sides connect (actually called the retainer box, if you’re interested) has to fit together just right. Perfectly, in fact. And if your coat has any folds in it, the zipper can easily get stuck. If your coat is old, it can run right off the track. If you’re not careful, slow and above all, patient, it’s actually pretty easy to break a zipper. This has happened to me more than once. And not just with outerwear. I’ve broken purse zippers trying to hurry myself out of line after buying something at a store. I’ve botched up gym bags at the end of a workout because I couldn’t wait to get home and shower. Zipping something up isn’t rocket science, but because I often rush through things, it feels like it is.
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I’m one of those creative people with bipolar disorder. Some experts believe bipolar disorder is often accompanied by an artistic temperament. From actors to musicians, painters to poets, there’s no shortage of artists who live with this mental illness.
I’m a graphic artist by trade. I primarily design graphics on my computer, and I also work with typography, both of which can be very rigid, methodical processes. For me, graphic design is a way to relax and calm my mind. It’s akin to enjoying a coloring book or cleaning for some people. But I don’t often use my visual as a way to express my thoughts or feelings. Although art can be calming and satisfying, you probably won’t see me in a manic state slamming swashes of intense color onto a canvas.
I’m also a writer. Taking pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is the key to unlocking my internal world and understanding my surroundings. Writing helps me get in touch with my thoughts, calms the chaos in my head, and enables me to live mindfully. While my visual art isn’t really informed by my mental state, my writing very much is. I’d even say the entire reason I write is to express my feelings and make sense of them. I write to help untangle the chaos in my head. Writing helps me stay in touch with my inner thoughts.
If you like the image above, thank you! I designed it!
You can check out my online store on Redbubble.
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.
From the soaring stock price of Beyond Meat, to celebrity endorsements, to fast food chains like Burger King and Del Taco adding plant-based menu items, veganism is definitely having a moment. As a vegan, I hope it’s more than just a moment. I want it to be the beginning of a worldwide movement.
And I’m not just an ethical vegan. I also have bipolar disorder.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.