Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tapped Out

This week I went to not one, but two family reunions back to back (with a total of 12 hours spent in the car between the two days). At this point I will take the fact that I didn’t have any major meltdowns as a huge sign of success, I used the crap out of my DBT skills to remain on a fairly even keel the whole time.

Had I gone to only one event I think the aftermath would have been less jarring, but since I, an erratic and sensitive introvert, essentially spent two FULL days around large groups of people I felt quite a lot like I had been hit by a truck on Monday and could do little more than lay around in a grouchy state of exaustion. Moods have been touchy since then, I have definitely been crying more than usual, but I’m doing my best to manage while things even back out.

So I’m getting better at this, but as I’ve been saying the past six months taking it slow is still a big priority for me with these things. Unfortunately when sick grandparents come into play, taking things slow tends to get put on the back burner.

To some extent I feel like I am in a place where I can plan for social situations so I am having less issues with them, but at the same time there is a natural sort of suction that happens around people where my life force appears to be depleted simply by being in the same room. I’ve always just chalked that up to being an introvert, but it would be nice if there were some kind of anti-soul-suction suit I could purchase for these outings (like a diving suit?)  to keep me in the social waters longer without being completely tapped out.

At any rate, I’m still working toward un-exhaustion so this week’s post is short. I just wanted to mention some good news in that the T3 (thyroid hormone) medication Cytomel I’ve been trying for my treatment resistant symptoms of bipolar disorder & depression has officially been tolerated by my system for an entire week! Considering the fact that my body doesn’t want to tolerate medications at all most of the time (not even nasal spray) I’m feeling really encouraged. Whether it will work or not is a different story, but having gotten past this first week’s hurdle of not having any mind-blowingly horrific side effects is huge considering how few medications make it this far for me!



Dumbledore and the Mixed Episode

For the past two weeks I’ve been having the most substantial and intense episode I’ve had since October 2014 (that’s 20 months ago and my last hospitalization).

While I’ve had symptoms of bipolar disorder and anxiety since then pretty consistently I’ve generally found ways to cope with living with negative thoughts and urges without falling into the trap of believing them or acting on them (or, at least, not for very long). Sometimes the rapidity in which my mood swings happen help bring even just a few moments of clarity to me when I find myself slipping into a dangerous place, but when long, somewhat seamless episodes happen for me (and they do, almost always requiring hospitalization) I can easily sidestep from coping with my negative thoughts and urges to believing or acting on them -typically without even realizing I’m doing it.

I’ve written a little the last two or three months about how my depression has been getting worse and I told my boyfriend several times I was concerned that it’s persistance was signaling a long episode for me that might require hospitalization. Imagine my surprise to find that something (though I don’t know what) switched my increasing depression into a mixed episode two weeks ago.

Actually I didn’t exactly notice right away, and that’s where the downfall really started. I was having so much energy and euphoria suddenly thrown in with my depressive symptoms that I felt great at times, leading me to believe I was getting better. It wasn’t until the dreaded agitation and hostility that are usually a trademark of mixed episodes for me showed up in a big way that I felt relieved to see my psychiatrist last week.

That is how one of the most misunderstood aspects of bipolar disorder was dropped in my lap. Yep, I am definitely sick -to the point of wanting to destroy every element in my life. Even though my symptoms are treatment resistant and I am able to take very few medications in the long term I have an antipsychotic (risperidone) I typically take when psychosis or mania show up. The trouble is (and one of the reasons I don’t take it continuously) is that it is notorious for wiping out the mania and psychosis and leaving me with the remainder of the mixed episode, a sedated and faint-worthy depression. I don’t like to take it, who would like disparaging and laying on the couch all day crying and watching Charlotte’s Web?

At the same time, even though wanting to destroy my life doesn’t feel helpful and offending all of my friends isn’t a plus either, that euphoria and energy feels like such a liberation from the straight-up depression I felt before that and I find myself actively not wanting to feel “better”. At least, not when “feeling better” means having to feel worse first. After all, I have found zero treatment options to help with my depression, so having any episode switch into depression can be the potential for weeks, if not months of ongoing depression.

I am fully aware that this “logic” isn’t helpful to me or my life in the grand scheme of things, and I think that is why it is hard for people who haven’t experienced this kind of situation to understand that there is even a question of what someone like me in a position like this one should do. I know that when I feel well I like to believe that I will choose the best option for myself every time, even when I am sick. Unfortunately it doesn’t always turn out that way.

Ultimately I’ve been taking the rispiridone, but the first few times it was too low a dosage to achieve anything helpful. I tried it at a higher dosage and found myself resisting how emotionally pulverized I felt the next day.

I am really lucky that my boyfriend is so intelligent and empathetic. He kindly explained why I need to be taking this medicine anyway, which showed some extreme patience given the fact that my mixed hostility and agitation have often given way to labeling him the ultimate villain in my life, producing constant and obsessive thoughts about how I need to get away from him as quickly as possible (another reoccuring theme for me, the same issue that inspired my hospitalization in 2014).

Somehow I have become Dumbledore and while rational I have told Harry to make me drink whatever foul liquid is in that crystal podium even if I resist until we can get that damn horcrux in our efforts of defeating Voldemort. Now that I’ve drank half I’m kicking and screaming but he’s doing his best to make me drink it anyway.

Even though I dislike the situation, I have to say I find my boyfriend’s efforts quite admirable, and in those brief slivers of moments where I remember that he is kind and sweet I’m doing everything I can to remind myself that I asked him to do this for me in the first place.

Mixed episodes like this one are the worst sort of episodes I come up against. Combining the hopelessness and futility and lack of self worth of depression with the energy, euphoria, and rage of mania offers a dangerous situation where I constantly feel compelled to do whatever I want without any fear of the consequences (because they’re pointless, remember? And with mania I don’t feel anxiety or fear.). Meanwhile it doesn’t feel like I’m really doing any harm (because I feel great!) as I shuffle around and stomp on everyone else’s lego castles.

So far the rispiridone hasn’t made any dent in my symptoms (or perhaps it has and they just keep coming back with a vengeance). I pouted and told my boyfriend I didn’t want to go to the hospital (because I really don’t) but he wisely told me that the hospital “is just another kind of treatment that I might need right now, nothing more.” While I hope to make it through the week as a free woman, the instant I make a beeline to more lego-castles with the intention to stomp I’m going to have to check myself in. After all, if I don’t the cool kids might kick me out of their lego club, even if that only matters to the version of me who is stable.



Recognizing Positive Forces: Barbara Ballard

The last couple months I’ve been thinking about my high school English teacher Barbara Ballard’s retirement this week. I went to a small public high school in the town of Coupeville on Whidbey Island and she has been a fixture there for quite some time now.

I’ve always been the sort of person to have a brain like a dry sponge. It is often ready and willing to soak in anything and everything given to it which really was difficult to deal with in high school. Most of the teachers didn’t know what to do with me because I tended to be ahead of the curve in terms of their curriculum. I mostly hung out and made art, soaking up whatever new bits of new information I could get my hands on.

That changed my junior and senior year of high school when I began taking Ms. Ballard’s English classes. They were the first classes where I truly felt challenged (apart from never quite being able to get a positive score on the V-sit in P.E.), and even though I didn’t give much mind at the time to any writing skill I may have had it felt wonderful to have something other than sports I could pour my competitive spirit into (even if I was only competing with myself).

Though I didn’t recognize how honing my writing by continuously running the gauntlet in her class might help me in the future I’ve had the last few years to contemplate it. After all, finding myself in a position where living with treatment resistant bipolar disorder has kept me from being able to work a traditional 9-5 job I’ve had a lot of time at home to try to figure out an alternative that would allow for feeling even a sliver of purpose or fulfilment, and it seems I’ve found that again through the writing Ms. Ballard helped me build a foundation in.

In a way this realization has not been unlike when Dorothy finds she had the power to get home all along in the Wizard of Oz. After all, the first time my bipolar symptoms reared their ugly head was in my junior year of high school. Amidst the paranoia and psychosis, the intense mixed episode where I’d find myself feeling both amped up and tragically devastated at the same time I was enrolled in Ms. Ballard’s English class. When it came to the point where I needed to be hospitalized in order for me to get the treatment I required my mother told me that she spoke with my teachers about it to get my assignments worked out.

At 17 the idea that my teachers were aware of such an intense experience I was having, one that I desperately wanted to hide at first, was terrifying. Especially when it came to those teachers (well, there was only one really) who were demanding great work: Ms. Ballard.

I was too young and inexperienced with mental illness at the time to be able to recognize how well Ms. Ballard handled the information and how seamlessly she accommodated my situation in class. Once or twice she allowed me alternative reading from the rest of the class when she thought the content might not mesh well with my situation, and if she eased up on her critiques at all it didn’t keep me from trying as hard as I had before. She never made me beg or try to explain myself and she never acted condescendingly toward me (something many other adults were doing at the time). She simply allowed an unspoken understanding to sit between us and in doing so I felt comfortable enough to go on to complete a University of Washington English course in her class for college credit my senior year.

Like I said, I had little expectations for what writing could do for me at the time, but the treatment I received from Ms. Ballard at a very delicate time in my life left me with an enormous respect for her.

It has only been in the last few years that I’ve merged the skill of writing I’d gained with my experiences with mental illness to create a platform to help other people understand what it is like to live with mental illness and why it is important to be fluid and supportive in how we handle situations with other people. In my mind we could all take a lesson from Barbara Ballard because it seems she’s at the head of the class.

Thanks for providing an atmosphere where I could succeed and congratulations on your retirement!





My Bipolar vs. Mainstream Life at 30

Since it is halfway through May you’ve probably heard that it is Mental Health awareness month. Living mindfully with bipolar disorder usually means that I am excruciatingly aware of the state of my own mental health, but there have been times in my life where my own awareness of the route my life has taken shines at me like a garish neon sign, complete with several arrangements of plastic plants that have gone too long without being dusted.

Last week was one of those times. I found the experience of having the differences of my life compared to what’s typical for a person my age lined up like a bad buffet a little ironic considering the fact that it is Mental Health Awareness month because no matter how aware I think I am at any given time there is always something more to discover.

Going to happy hour with friends is often an obvious reminder that the people I associate with all have jobs, careers even, and I do not.

Sitting at a friend’s wedding is usually a pretty stark reminder that despite being 30 and having seen the vast majority of my friends get married (and then even about 50% of them get divorced), I haven’t encountered either of those experiences.

Being 30 has seemed to put me in a position where I can feel even more estranged from my peers because many of them are now having children, something so far removed from my own radar that the prospect seems entirely alien to me.

In my mid-twenties it really bothered me that as I moved forward in life I seemed to have less and less in common with the people around me. Queue the “quarter life crisis”.

What was I doing with my life? Why was I different from my friends? Should I change direction to try to fit into the majority? Would it make me feel… better?

Admittedly, it was many of my friends who worked to remind me that I’ve never really done what was expected and that that was one of the things they admired about me. I found myself trying to get a better understanding of my own values and where they came from, but ultimately I couldn’t ignore the elephant in the room.

I live with treatment resistant bipolar disorder.

And while I knew this contributed to being different somehow, my understanding of why has changed a lot over the years.

Through my teens and early twenties I seemed to believe that having bipolar disorder meant I was broken in some way. Like I was a warped piece in life’s puzzle that no longer fit and would eventually be discarded. My depression often made quick work of stripping my self-esteem until I believed I was worthless, and the people I surrounded myself with didn’t always do much to counteract that idea.

Through my teens and early twenties I ALSO believed at times (hello bipolar disorder) that I might actually be a creative genius, or a god of some kind, or that I could ride bipolar disorder like a rocket to leave the planet entirely and find the one I was meant to live on. I thought perhaps harnessing the intense energy it gave me would produce amazing things, and at times it did, but never for very long.

In my mid-ish twenties I made my biggest effort to “fit in” since elementary school. I got myself a degree and a career and a stable long-term relationship. I saw bipolar disorder as a hurdle, something I could certainly overcome with a little help. It was only a matter of finding the right way to dodge it in order to be able to swim in the same pool as everyone else and climb life’s ladder to get promoted, to get married, and to live like anyone might without it.

In my late twenties it became clear that my symptoms were not responding to drugs, and as my psychosis and cycling grew in speed and magnitude the life I imagined would not work as a place for me to reside while I spent most of my waking hours arm-wrestling my symptoms. Bipolar disorder became something constant that I saw evidence of every day, and had to work every day to keep from self destructing.

That evolution that led me from trying to follow the beaten path to realizing that my illness was something I needed to grapple with every day has made a huge difference in how I have created my life’s goals. Of course, this wasn’t something I realized until last week.

I was at a party last week when that neon sign came on, the one suggesting how different I am from the majority of my peers. The moment came when I realized I was having a hard time relating to the conversation because I hadn’t had many of the experiences being discussed. I haven’t been married, I’ve never traveled through Europe, I don’t have a career, and I don’t have children either. I felt ashamed for a moment as I hovered around a 21 year old and discussed art because I couldn’t relate to any discussions being had by anyone my own age.

I left feeling awfully… well, confused. There really wasn’t much room for sadness, as I said this has been a theme that I have been growing accustomed to over the last ten years. I felt no jealousy for not having any of the experiences I listed, just an odd sense of displacement for not being able to relate to them. I wondered what the next ten years would be like if things kept up this way and if I would have to keep continuously searching out people like me to have something in common to talk about. Would I find myself 40 and milling around 21 year olds?

Thankfully it wasn’t twenty four hours before I had a revelation that put my mind at ease. The feeling of not belonging, of not fitting in became much less important (as it usually does when these things happen) once I put my finger on it because the idea that I have accomplished very little in my 30 years was stamped out. After all, that was what was bothering me most. These other women had met huge milestones in their lives and I had hit none, what had I been doing with all my time??

It was just as I mentioned before, having treatment resistant bipolar disorder has had a big impact on my life and the decisions I have made, but the past ten years the biggest difference has been in how it has informed the creation of my goals. Before containing and managing my symptoms were where my work week went, my goals were just like anyone elses.

Work at a job that I enjoyed and get promoted.
Earn money that I could save to travel.
Get married and maintain a healthy relationship with another person.
…yeah, sorry, not the kids thing though. That was never on the list.
Buy a house and land I could call my own.
Live happily.

I am not here to say that having bipolar disorder has derailed those plans entirely, but when I found that my symptoms couldn’t be controlled with medication I had to take a detour. I needed to create goals to help me understand how to live with my illness without the aid of psychiatric drugs because they weren’t working. That means in the last 5-10 years I have been busy working to find the answers to the following questions instead (among others):

How can I have a healthy relationship with another person when I can be volatile?
How can I be accommodating to other people without feeling used?
How can I create balance in my life?
How can I figure out what I am truly good at?
How can I take care of myself in a healthy way?
What can I do to find peace in the fact that my life is different from the lives of others?
If I can’t change it, how do I accept the hand that has been dealt to me?
Are there any ways it is helping, rather than harming me?

Most of my goals have been internal, things to understand and figure to make my life better -and better the lives of my friends and family around me in the process. It has seemed imperative to understand these things before following most external goals. After all, it has seemed clear to me that setting up a stable foundation and understanding of myself and my symptoms can help me build a more stable life that will be less likely to collapse at the first sign of trouble. I’m learning to crawl before I am learning to walk, after all:

If I can’t control myself, what good is earning and saving a bunch of money if I only spend it during a manic episode?

Knowing how difficult it can be to live with or communicate with me because of my symptoms, how can I justify making a life-long commitment to someone when I can hardly keep a friendship or relationship for a few years?

If I can’t effectively take care of myself in a healthy way, how in the world could I possibly take care of someone else?

This reflection definitely helped me feel more at ease with the last few years and how I have spent my time. At first glance I may appear to have little to show for it; a sporadic blog, a failed attempt at applying for Social Security, significantly more days spent in my apartment than anywhere else…

but ultimately the knowledge I’ve gained about myself, how to live with what I have been given, how to interact with other people, and how to be open about the things I am dealing with makes me optimistic that I’ll have a more solid foundation for getting (and keeping) the things that I want. As I said, I may not have a lot to show for it right now, no career or marriage or kids, but I am hopeful that taking the time to figure myself out will put me in a much better position if those things ever pop into my life. It might not be this year, it might not be next year, but I’ve got a lifetime to figure it out.

Raising Funds & Awareness for the 2016 NAMI Walk

Hello folks!

In just about two weeks I am hoping to attend the 2016 NAMI Walk here in Seattle where I will be walking in support of increasing understanding and decreasing the stigma associated with mental illness!

Why walk?

Well it is important to me to show my support for the mental health community both to those who are in it and to those who aren’t. I think creating an atmosphere of community around those of us living with mental illness is paramount to providing support to those who need it and participating in the walk is also a way for me to follow through with my goal of living openly with mental illness.

Living with treatment resistant bipolar disorder has had its share of challenges and I want to show up in mind, body, and spirit where I can say, “guess what, we’re not alone!” I did the walk a couple years ago and found that I was overwhelmed by the number of participants and felt a sort of awe at how many people were willing to be present for the sake of improving our mental health as a community, as a nation, and on a global scale.

NAMI (or the National Alliance on Mental Illness) is an organization that I have had quite a bit of experience with. They conduct free support groups as well as a number of programs (like peer-to-peer groups led by people with mental illness as well as groups to help friends and family learn how to cope, support, and adjust, among others) that I believe are invaluable. Finding support early on after diagnosis can be really challenging, especially for those with little financial support. NAMI does a great job at offering their services to those in need, which is why I am working to raise funds for them through the 2016 NAMI Walk.

Anyone able to spare a couple dollars for the cause can donate to my fundraising page here. Donations, big or small, are greatly appreciated but I hope that even if you do not have the means to donate or you choose not to for whatever reason you take the time in the next few weeks to consider how you can pay forward the support you’ve seen from the mental health community. That might mean lending a non-judgmental open ear to someone in need of one, or even sharing your story with someone feeling isolated and alone. I don’t like asking for money because I know how stressful it can be living with very little, that’s why I wanted to suggest that donating an act of kindness or support or openness to someone else is equally as important and could provide something equally as life changing to someone who needs it.

If you find yourself open to donating an act of kindness or support and want to let everyone know in the comments, have at it! It would be great to hear an act of support being pledged by any of you readers! If you want to do it in secret there’s no shame, trust me -the end result will be just as powerful!

NAMI is a national organization and you can find out more about them (or their work in your area) here. They are hosting walks through the country throurout the year.

Live in the greater Seattle area and have an interest in doing the NAMI Walk for Seattle on Saturday June 4th in Kirkland? Check out the website here!

Finally, once and again you can check out my fundraising page here.

Thanks for your support!




Spreadsheet Mania. After finally receiving access to a full version of excel yesterday I got a glimpse of the past and one of the contributing factors to my inability to work long term.

I’ll say it again; Spreadsheet Mania.

I don’t know why a program like excel gets my heart racing like I’m in a prize fight and I can’t eat or rest until each of my little boxes has the proper border, shading, and numerical format.

Within 30 minutes I could feel it growing. The inner hum, the excruciatingly glorious sense of urgency that made each box wildly compelling, and all else melted away. No hunger, no pain, just spreadsheets.

The past few weeks I have progressively been sliding into alternating bouts of depression and mixed periods and I have upped my time with my therapist and psychiatrist because my lows have been getting increasingly lower.

The depression has not dipped into a state of constancy yet (which I am grateful for) but they are still taking up about half of the day.

I feel fine one minute, and the next I feel a bit odd, like all of the wind has spilled out of my sails. Then the fatigue sets in and the irritability follows, where I become certain I don’t care one bit about anything. After that, the crushing weight of intense anxiety that makes it hard to breathe and a sense of futility that blurs the edges of my awareness enough to convince me it is going to be endless. After that, all I can feel is a restless panic that something must be done to change the way I am feeling, with no grasp on how or what.

It must be the way I am cycling right now I guess, because I stay in that gray space a while (sometimes doing less than stellar things like force feeding myself a ‘family size’ bag of potato chips, convinced it might help me when actually it makes things quite worse) and then, without warning, my depressive symptoms will begin to lift in reverse order until they vanish.

Lately the whole process has been taking about 6-8 hours with the trough part in the middle of that time, typically in the afternoon. Onset, horror, reversal, with bookended feelings of mild normalcy on each end.

But… that excel was really like throwing gasoline on the fire. By the time I was high enough to be shaking and confused and standing in the shower with my mind elsewhere chanting, “water water water water water water,” There was no slow reversal into normalcy. Instead the change was more like someone popping a balloon, and instead of my depressive symptoms coming on over several hours I slid into them within 45 minutes.

I know I have said it before, but there is something about engaging with depression from a relatively normal state that isn’t fun, but it is at least tolerable enough to slide out the other side.

Engaging that same depression from a manic high though is a totally different story. Having to make the jump between elation and depression and in reverse is quite jarring.

Going on to spend the rest of the day alternating each hour between mania and depression wasn’t what I was hoping for, but since it has been a while since I’ve felt any true mania my apartment is looking better for it. There are areas that are definitely more clean than they have been in a year.

For a little perspective, this type of cycling isn’t unusual for me. In fact it is a little slow compared to other episodes I’ve had the last few years. Imagine the same shift occurring every ten minutes without any normalcy for a glimpse into how terrifying it has been in the past. Having said that, I feel pretty optimistic that I can handle myself, but taking on the extra time with my therapist and psychiatrist has been a precaution that seems like the obvious thing to do.

Spring is tricky, and while I am certain that spectacularly sunny weather may be partially to blame for this sudden onset of supper revved up cycling (a moodquake, really) I will be wary the next time I want to create a spreadsheet about recipes or anything else, really.

Finding Friends That Fit

One of the biggest hurdles I faced as a young person with mental illness was finding my people; connecting with others who would make it possible for me to live openly and safely with bipolar disorder.

Growing up with depression and anxiety made it a bit difficult for me to make friends, and the psychotic break I had in high school probably didn’t help. Though I don’t know for sure what effect rumors of my psychiatric hospitalization had on my street cred in school, the simple fact of going through something emotionally profound and having to ask myself questions most high school student’s don’t typically ask (like “what is the difference between what I experience during hallucinations and reality?”) made it difficult for me to find a connection with others my own age. It didn’t take long for me to notice how uncomfortable people around me got when I talked about it and when people couldn’t relate to what I was going through it seemed fruitless to try to explain it, especially since I was having a hard time understanding it myself.

Even though I felt the need to hide what I was going through and there didn’t seem to be anyone else around that could relate to having bipolar disorder, that didn’t mean there weren’t people around that couldn’t relate to living with fear, or confusion, or feeling helpless. In high school I made friends with many people who had difficult home lives, had undergone personal tragedies, or who felt compelled to keep their sexuality a secret. Like me, many of them had experiences that they were having trouble describing or relating to others or were afraid of how people would react if they did. Even though the details were different, this idea was enough to spark friendships even in the most unlikely of places.

After graduation I moved to Boulder Colorado to attend the University of Colorado. While I was able to build friendships with people like the ones I had in high school (most notably with the LGBTQ community at the university) it became obvious within a few months that the school was not a good fit for me. The college had more students than the population of my entire home town, and living in a new place with the added stress of learning in enormous class sizes led to another psychotic break and hospitalization.

It feels like my story would be a little phony if I skimmed over the part where I just sort of gave up. I moved back home, spent a lot of time with my grandmother, and generally didn’t leave the house. It seemed like a hopeless situation honestly, but when I was given the opportunity to go to The Art Institute of Seattle I grabbed hold of it immediately. I hoped that surrounding myself with creatively-minded people would create an atmosphere where I felt more comfortable being myself.

As it turned out, the sort of small class-size, hands-on learning style did create an environment where I could thrive, and though I didn’t make friends right away (actually I made enemies within the first week instead, whoops!) within a year I found myself in a social circle that I felt comfortable with.

But… that isn’t the end of the story. In fact, we’re still really only in the beginning. While I could connect to these people at school because of our mutual love for Killswitch Engage and The Big Lebowski and Jean Paul Gaultier, it didn’t mean that I was sharing much about my past or my mood swings. In fact there were several times I had manic situations that otherwise frightened friends, and even though art school had a much higher incidence of people my age who were familiar with the concept of mental illness, most of us were still either trying to figure it out, or had set the topic on a backburner for some later contemplation. The typical point of view amongst us (not surprising given it is pretty typical for most Americans) was that if it wasn’t causing a problem right now, it wasn’t something we needed to deal with.

 When graduation came, most disbursed back to where they came from and I found myself in a situation where the closest people to me, those who were left, were actually having a negative impact on my mental health. Either making me feel guilty for wanting to take care of myself, or manipulating me, or exacerbating their own mental health issues without being able or willing to recognize them.

Knowing that I had been able to make friends in the past really helped during this time, because I found myself in the difficult position of having to distance myself from people who were acting very cavalier about good mental health or respecting what I needed to remain relatively sane. I felt really motivated to seek out more positive people and do a better job of taking care of my mental health partially because of the desire I had to establish a good career in the fashion industry (which I began to struggle with when I became quite depressed), and because I also started a relationship within the first couple years after college that was really meaningful to me.

Again, I feel like this is a situation where I was probably ahead of the curve. My experience (now two hospitalizations) lent me to have a bit more of an idea about how to handle myself in regard to mental health than my average peer, and it became increasingly detrimental for me to ignore that information. The more I hid my symptoms from my friends and co-workers or tried to match their habits (not eating or sleeping, drinking a lot), the more intense the mood swings and emotional reactions were becoming, and the more overwhelmed I became trying to address them without any help.

By my mid twenties I was making friends through work, but it was difficult trying to balance taking care of myself and doing the things they wanted to do. I felt really anxious about letting anyone I worked with know about my mental health situation and every time I had to call out sick I was certain I’d be fired. I worked hard in an attempt to get ahead of the depressive nosedive I was in and got set up with a good psychiatrist, therapist, and GP, but ended up in the hospital again anyway.

At the time I was trying to squeeze all talk about my bipolar symptoms into a 15 minute, once a month session with my psychiatrist and two one-hour sessions a month with my therapist and it wasn’t working. Trying to withhold all conversation about what I was going though from my friends, family, and co-workers felt more and more like a burden. I began to feel like I was living a lie, which only made my depression worse.

One of the most helpful things I did for myself was to look up a local bipolar peer-run support group. Even though most of the people on my first visit were at least 20 years older than me it didn’t take long before people my own age started showing up just like me, looking for a refuge and answers. It was my first experience sitting in a group and talking about my bipolar symptoms and experiences as if they were commonplace (which they are for me!), as everyone around me knew what I was talking about and I didn’t have to try to explain anything.

I made a few friends at these groups, and soon the time I spent in the group being able to be open and talk casually about my situation became something I could do with a friend anytime. We could talk about it over a donut, or in the park, or driving down the street. As soon as I got a taste of what it felt like to be open about having a mental illness and not be judged, to be authentic all the time, I knew I couldn’t go back to hiding things as I had before.

With that in mind, I started telling people close to me about my experiences with bipolar disorder. I started with really close friends and worked my way up to talking with family members about it, and before long I felt comfortable even talking about it to groups at parties or my boss, something I really never expected!

Apart from telling people that I live with bipolar disorder it has also been helpful to explain situations that might make our friendships confusing. Things like:

If I am depressed, it would be good for me to get out of the house (even if I don’t talk much while we’re out).

If I am manic or in a mixed episode, you may not hear from me for a couple weeks but it isn’t personal, just me trying to get my episode under control before talking again.

If I cancel getting together it isn’t about anything you’ve done wrong. I still like you! I just don’t feel well and I hope we can see each other another time.

To my surprise, being open about what I need and my experiences has actually made having friendships much easier! Even better is that living openly has made the “search” for friends relatively useless because leaving that bit of my puzzle piece out for everyone to see makes it more likely that others will come and attach to it, not the other way around.

After years of searching for people who I could relate to and keep a relationship with it turns out that being myself was really all it took.

Why be a recruiter when you can be a lighthouse?