Last week, something frightening happened to me. I was talking to a friend about Downton Abbey—a TV show we both love—when I couldn’t remember one of the main character’s names. I pictured him clearly, and I could describe everything about his experiences on the show. He’s my favorite character, but I just couldn’t recall his name to save my life. I racked my brain, but I was stuck. The harder I tried to focus, the blanker my mind became. Before you say to yourself “Oh, I’ve done that, it’s not so scary,” consider this: I usually have a perfect memory for things like movie titles, and actor and character names. This was way out of the ordinary for me. I don’t know about you, but because I live with bipolar disorder, any potential disruption in my thought patterns worries me. It could be an indication of an impending episode, and that’s not something I take lightly.
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.
I wrote an article several months ago about stopping hypomania by recognizing my thoughts and actions, one of which was excessive online shopping. It’s one of my biggest weaknesses, and probably the hardest one for me to keep in check. It’s a constant battle. I’m constantly bombarded with online ads, emails (no matter how many I unsubscribe to), and coupons luring me to “Buy! Buy! Buy!”
Online shopping can be dangerous for someone with bipolar disorder like myself. Why? Because by nature, my illness causes me to constantly seek stimulation and emotional highs. Because I have bipolar disorder, my brain is more vulnerable to dopamine rushes than people who don’t live with this illness. I’m lucky in a way, lots of people who live with bipolar disorder also struggle with drug, gambling or alcohol addiction as a means to achieving a highly sought after high. I don’t have any of these addictions, but I really feel empathy for those who do. I get it. I chase highs too, but mine are mostly achieved by purchasing stuff.
Check out my online store on Redbubble.
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.
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.
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.