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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.