By: Danielle Workman
To the Beautiful, Bold, Bipolar;
The culture of today is fast paced, moving at a breakneck speed. With the technological savviness of social media sitting in the forefront of most of our minds, our culture has come to not only know but expect perfection. Anything less than perfection is deemed unworthy; a curse.
Photos are edited repeatedly until the faces captured in the film are no longer recognizable. Music is tuned and auto tuned in studios, creating unrealistic expectations of music when we hear it live. We as citizens of this era are expected to obtain perfection or fail publicly. All of this likely sat as heavy in your mind as it did mine as you painstakingly sat in your doctor's office waiting for a diagnosis.
Sitting on an eggplant colored couch, the seams and cushions worn and the edges beginning to tatter, I sat as far back as the couch itself would let me. My doctor sat across from me, her thin, dainty fingers tapping the keyboard frantically and her eyes repeatedly glancing over to me. The glances were glances of concern, as if she was to look away from me for too long that I would become broken, or more broken than I was.
The anxiety from several continuous days of doctor's appointments, hot tears staining my cheeks and ruining my mascara and the simple fear of the unknown had created a pit in my stomach. It was as if I had eaten a rock and it was sitting just below my belly button. It weighed as heavy as my mind as I listened to the tapping of the keyboard and the clicking of the old clock on the wall.
There was nothing more that I wanted than for her to give me an easy diagnosis, anxiety that I just wasn’t dealing with, or even better, a diagnosis of nothing at all. A heave of defeat left my lips as the doctor faced me, her knees nearly touching mine. “This sounds way too much like Bipolar Disorder to ignore your symptoms. We’re going to have to try some meds, but I cannot in good faith not diagnose you as Bipolar.”
The words hung heavy on my mind as I silently drove home in the darkness of the cold January evening. My emotions were torn. The entirety of my adult life I suspected something was wrong with me, but the official diagnosis hurt more than I expected. All of the times I had been called ‘crazy’ or ‘psycho’ suddenly didn’t feel like an insult, but an identifier of myself. It was within that car ride on the way home that I came to the understanding that Bipolar Disorder wasn’t a part of a diagnosis that could go away with time, it was who I was.
I was Bipolar. I am Bipolar.
Whether you have been diagnosed for five years or five days, I want you to know that I understand you, Beautiful Bipolar.
What followed was nothing less than a roller coaster, but it allowed me to understand so much about myself, about my life. And now that this is hindsight and something I can finally live with, this allows me to understand you.
There were long nights, where sleep was unobtainable. Usually, following those were long days with tear filled eyes and questions about my own life and my survival until sundown. There was an asininely long trial and error process with my medications, allergies to most of them, and trips to the emergency room with the others. Euphoric mania made me question the severity of my diagnosis at all, and the long impossible lows made me question my own life's value. Mood swings happened at any time and without cause or warning.
I didn’t understand it then, but I surely do now. I have been there, and I am still there. Beautiful Bipolar, I understand you and that is why I am writing this for you.
You may be feeling overwhelmed by your diagnosis, and that is perfectly fine. This is an overwhelming diagnosis. It is an enormous stress to be sitting in a doctor’s office and be told that your brain has what the world knows as an ‘invisible illness.’ Your stomach churns as you are handed multiple orange pill bottles with those damn safety locking white cap lids. Your brain feels as if it's been replaced by a brick as you are handed stacks of paperwork about your appointments, and pamphlets crammed full of education about your illness.
I recall the immense stress from beginning the process of treatment; feeling so stressed and anxious that I had simply become numb. Many hours during the process of treatment have been spent in such a place of overwhelming anxiety that I have sat silently, staring blankly at white, empty walls and allowing my brain to run wild while I absorb all the information my brain was sending out. Often, it felt as if a hummingbird was in my brain, the buzz of its tiny wings creating chaos inside of my mind and draining all of my energy as I did the only thing I could do, sit silently.
It is difficult to be sitting in a therapist's office and be expected to talk about every aspect of your life with a total stranger. It feels almost insulting to share an office with professionals who seem to have their shit together all too well, while you sit across from them, a blubbering and grotesque mess sits and confesses all of their broken flaws.
This diagnosis is nothing less than overpowering. But please do not fear, Beautiful Bipolar. Because it can and will get better. You, just like every other hero, have a large quest ahead of you.
You may be feeling broken, feeling as if the diagnosis you have is keeping you low and trapped under a dark and rumbling thunderous cloud that is your mind. Hot tears will feel as familiar as the warm drops of summer rain, and your mood will feel like dark clouds, hanging low in the morning following a treacherous storm. The humid fog of your medications will leave you feeling anything but yourself until it is the right medications, and the real rain will do nothing to help your mood. You may be feeling that this may never be fixed and that this storm inside your brain is more of a hurricane that will leave nothing safe and sound.
You are not broken. For centuries, humans have been taking the broken and creating mosaics and other breathtaking works of art. Give yourself time to be broken, and then allow yourself to evolve into the mosaic of your mind and become an even more beautiful work of art than you were originally slated to become.
You likely are feeling physically ill. Every cycle actually does make most Bipolar patients I know ill, and with good medical reason. You cannot go for days without sleep, with insanely high levels of energy without the crash to follow. Your immune system and your mood wears down and you become more prone to illnesses. When you’re depressed your body reacts to that as well, my body choosing to be so full of pain and exhaustion from my mania that I can barely function. Fatigue takes over my ability to leave my bed, headaches and migraines sitting heavy on my forehead and blinding me and abdominal issues that follow a manic bout tend to prevent me from doing much of anything. Tending to my body is necessary and important, but keeps my moods low and depressive. It is such a frustrating experience, but it is all a part of the diagnosis. Beautiful Bipolar, please take care of your body. Sleep as you need it, eat as well as you can and rest whenever your body calls for it.
Embrace your Bipolar Disorder. Own it. However you choose to cope with it, cope with pride and with strength. Your brain is strong and beautiful and unique. Beautiful Bipolar, I’d like to offer you some advice; after ten years of trials and errors I feel as if I can share anything to help you through this, I’d like to.
The first step I’d suggest in beginning your journey to wellness is to let those close to you know about your diagnosis. This is one of the scariest steps you can take. Some families will understand and embrace you, filling your soul with love and support. Other families will react as mine did, informing me that mental illness doesn’t exist and living in denial of the diagnosis at all. It is difficult, but trust me when I say this, they need to know.
Invite your family and friends to be a part of your treatment. If you feel comfortable enough to do so, invite them to your therapy sessions or to come to medication evaluations. Allow them to ask you and your care providers questions. Inform your family when you have changes in your medications, tell them what medications you are on, and be open when you tell them how you are doing.
In my own experiences, I had found that many times I thought I was doing well it was the opposite. Through the help of my family and friends and them being a part of my treatment, I was able to get back on the right track.
By allowing those in your life in on your secret is not only advocating for yourself, but you are bravely advocating for the nearly six million other Americans that suffer from this. I’m sure this diagnosis makes you feel so alone, yet you are in a sea of survivors and thrivers also living with this. Be the person that stands up bravely, fighting for your own life and for the lives of others. There is safety in numbers. I firmly believe we can all save each other's lives if we can just stand up and speak up.
The biggest benefit to allowing those in your life to know what you are going through is the simple ability for them to understand. For years, my family and friends could not understand me or my behaviors. Honestly, I was a mystery to them.
They could not understand why I’d say yes to a midnight road trip across the state, but the next week I could not leave my bed for days. My family could not understand why I was spring cleaning my home at two in the morning, yet I could not make it to bridal showers or other events a few days later. My co workers could not figure out why I was such a hard worker most days, but other days I could barely keep my eyes open. Questions about my behaviors were met with tears, or even hostility and rage. No one knew, and no one could possibly have understood. Once I allowed them to know what I was going through I was finally met with what I needed; understanding, compassion and the ability to actually care for myself.
Beautiful Bipolar, you are going to need to find a healthy method for coping with all of this. There are many options and methods I have seen. Some people are quite solemn and serious, giving the facts and figures and allowing the world to see the severity of the situation. I’ve even met a Bipolar or two that deflect their disorder and channel their mania and their depression into other things, like their children or a hobby. While this can be incredibly healthy, I’ve seen this become incredibly dangerous as well. As for me, I choose to chase the humor in this otherwise humorless situation. There is something that feels so special to me about being able to make jokes about myself and my diagnosis; allowing others to know that I am not only aware of it, but that I am able to own my shit. I do everything in my power to control the situation and the silliness and absurdity of it all.
I’m going to reiterate my original piece of advice. Please, take care of yourself first and foremost. It is not heroic to sacrifice yourself for others. Instead, put yourself first so you can be there more often and in a more positive light.
If you need help with getting yourself in order with work, consider applying for the Federal Medical Leave of Absence Act (FMLA). By applying for this and using it myself I was able to take sick days due to medication reactions and while I got myself in order. Days where I was crashing from a manic high to a depressive low changed. Before, I would push through a work day while resenting myself and my coworkers, nothing got done for any of us and the hostility was palpable. Now I am able to tell them the truth, and when I need a day to better myself and take my meds, I take it. Work has become a pleasant place again and I am able to do more for myself and my co workers.
If you have children and need help, do not hesitate to ask your significant other or other family members for help, even if it's for a few hours. I was hesitant to do this at first, wondering how it would damage the relationship with my son. However, instead of our relationship being damaged, my husband and son now have a wonderful relationship with each other. While mom is down for the day or the afternoon and needs to focus on herself, dad is able to take him to baseball games, or movies, or even in the backyard to play soccer. Instead of mom crying uncontrollably or yelling at a little boy who doesn’t deserve it, I am able to take my medications and when I am able to join them, I do happily.
Beautiful Bipolar, there is so much you can do once you figure out how to live with this diagnosis. Many Bipolar patients have found ways to channel their thoughts, emotions and feelings into beautiful creations.
Artists like Van Gogh have been able to use the paintbrush to project the workings of his mind, while Actors like Catherine Zeta-Jones has been able to use her skills on the silver screen to project those overwhelming emotions we face. Jean-Claude Van Damme used kickboxing as an outlet to his mania, meanwhile Demi Lovato chooses music as her outlet of choice. All of these people have created beautiful things, and all while being ‘sick’ with Bipolar Disorder.
Find what drives you, Beautiful Bipolar. Find what eases the pain that your soul feels. Delve deep into dirty soil, getting the grit of the earth underneath your fingernails. Allow your favorite jeans to be stained by the splatter of acrylic paint. Allow your fingertips to become calloused from the nylon strings of a guitar. Travel aimlessly throughout your hometown and find the perfect places to capture photos or film videos. Feed your brain and that beautiful bipolar soul; you’re going to create beautiful work that will speak to the world.
This book is written for you. This is the book that my own soul craved through every moment of my diagnosis, my treatment and now through my survival. While this seems by this essay that this is a self-help book, it is not. I am not here to tell you how to survive, I am here to tell you that I understand what you are going through. I am here to share my stories and how I tried to thrive, but many times failed and barely survived.
As you read these pages, I want you to know that you are not alone. You will survive the storm that is raging inside your mind. Beautiful Bipolar, this isn’t a curse, this is the gift of enhanced creativity and intelligence.
There is no cure for Bipolar disorder, but there are some treatments that may work. So revel in your highs and treat your lows. Be as beautiful as your brain is.
To purchase Beautiful Bipolar, follow this link.