A Love Letter to those Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder

This morning – I visited Quora, which is a crowd-source forum for asking and answering questions of ALL kind. And this was the question anonymous asked me, as well as a few other individuals to answer –

I have been recently diagnosed as bipolar after an intense manic episode. Do things get better? Is there such a thing as going back to normal?

       This question tore at my heart. And I started writing and writing, because I have had over 16 years of experience answering this question for myself over and over.  And the words kept flowing from my fingertips till it got to the point that the length of my post crashed the editing software of Quora …and it evolved into the following blog.

Spoiler Alert – I don’t Agree with the Consensus –

Let me say something ENTIRELY controversial that is written from –

  1. 41 years of experiencing symptoms and 15 years of being diagnosed as bi-polar
  2. A Heartfelt place – unlike the Doctors, Family, Friends, or anyone else NOT experiencing Bi-polar symptoms, I know where you are coming from – and it is a dark and desperate place
  3. The knowledge that I will probably get more grief than grace from writing this – hence I have very little to gain from the time and effort I took to write this.  The best worst-case scenario, is that no-one will pay attention to the “mad” lady in the corner, that being me.  I say Mad, but I have MADE it work for me : )

If you do not believe in Practical miracles then move on to reading elsewhere – this isn’t for you.  No sense frustrating yourself. 

       I am 51 now, and have been living a good life off of meds since 35.  Meds were NEVER the answer to my Bi-polar.  Am I 1 or 2?  Well, I was diagnosed with Bi-polar 1 at age 35.  I was on a short stint of meds, and things got WORSE, and I was only taking Lamictal.  In fact that was the first and last medication I ever took.  And the few months I was on it were what led me to my first manic-breakdown. Because it was so alien to my previous experience, I believe was a drug-induced breakdown.  So was I upgraded to Bi-polar 2?  I didn’t hang out in the psychiatrist’s office long enough to find out.  I did NOT take the proffered cocktail of lithium, etc.

       First assumption that may come to your mind is – Well, of COURSE, you must have been misdiagnosed.  Possibly, but since age 10 to my 40’s I had depressive spells, interspersed with hypo-mania steadily throughout my life. I had the same sort of experience that other rapid-cycling Bi-polar folks have when they were on the depressive side of the spectrum, and my psychiatrist agreed.  In addition to my experience, my father also had extreme mood swings, and his life was for the most part, was out of control. The difference between him and myself, and as it turns out, many other Bi-polar folks, is that I have never really took to drinking or drugs.  It isn’t from a moral standpoint that I have had this perspective, but rather from the awareness that I thought to myself –

 “HOLY MOLY my system is erratic, adding uncontrolled substances, including prescription meds, is like adding a bull to a china shop in an earthquake. “

       So I made the challenging choice to find ways to manage my symptoms, whether they were truly Bi-polar or not.  You can read my story of coming to this decision here:
Sharing my Experience – Refusing the Victim Paradigm in Mental Health
But since making that decision – to stay off meds, and accept that I would have to take responsibility for managing my mood-shifts, no matter what:   I have never, for a moment, regretted my decision.  

       HOW did I do this? Well, it wasn’t easy, but it was well worth it.  Because today, I can say that I am probably happier (and no, not from manic Euphoria) but truly happier/content/at peace than most people, whether they are considered “normal” or not.  I will let you in on an observable in the world secret, you know those SUPER-PRODUCTIVE, CREATIVE people you see all over the internet, the way they approach life is uniquely passionate and intense.  And whether they have been diagnosed with bi-polar or not, their productivity, passion, intensity – is extreme. And it is difficult to imagine that all of that creative energy doesn’t come with extreme mood swings … or as I like to neutrally call it energy swings.

       Like Jason da Silva, for instance —    Existential Bummer  He is a great thinker/creator/performer that has a manic sort of intensity to the way he approaches life.  And he has mentioned in interviews, a tendency to get depressed as well.  When I see these passionate individuals in the world living their lives successfully – I have to wonder –

 What if there are thousands of other people out there who have the same mood/energy extremes but have found a way to manage them successfully so that they never had to set foot in a psychiatrist’s office?  Or at the very least, don’t rely on medication to navigate through their lives successfully.

I know I am one of those people who has found a multitude of ways of managing my energy, but I didn’t escape from being diagnosed as bi-polar .  The first 5 years following my decision to never rely on prescription medication EVER AGAIN, I had to figure out how to manage my depressive spells.  And this wasn’t a walk in the park.  Trying to convince a desperately depressed brain NOT to kill itself, along with the rest of my body was not a fun-filled task, but it WAS a compelling one.  And I succeeded many times to tell the tale.  I went head-first into the school of hardknocks.  But, knowing what I know now, I could have shortened the time dramatically to possibly a year or less.

       These last couple of years the challenge has been more of how to reign myself from reeling toward the manic edge of the spectrum.  And I will tell you, that I THANK GOD, I have never been one to drink or drug.  Because if I am ever feeling particularly – high energy, to the point of wanting to zing around mindlessly in the world –  the absolute LAST thing I should do is take any sort of substance that gives me more physical, emotional, or mental energy.  I am not saying I have never “done” anything, or “do” anything.  This is not the case.  What I am saying is that “doing” things has not, nor ever will be a big-time feature in my life. I prefer to have a certain amount of control over my being, and there is so much random excitement that I can take in a lifetime. I even get a big high, just from caffeine, for instance, so I have to be wary of all types of stimulants.

       After dealing with decades of extreme UPS and DOWNS, I understand the subtleties of my energetic experience.  I recognize now, that since I am feeling particularly buzzy due to writing about a subject that is a part of my passionate existence. I can literally feel the energy buzzing in my arms.  Now, if I keep writing at this pace, for more than a few hours, the energy will probably dissipate.  But if I am feeling uncomfortably buzzy I will use one of my basic strategies for calming down that energy:

Recipe for Grounding High Energy
  1. Prepare a grounding meal of oatmeal/nuts/seeds on the stove or in the microwave and eat with dairy milk, nutmilk, or juice.
  2. Eat slowly, concentrating on the tastes and textures.  Chew each bite thoroughly.
  3. Listen to calming music if this helpful.
  4. Clean bowl and spoon, and any mess you might have made preparing food.
  5. Read from an inspirational source or meditate.
  6. Do a short yoga flow. I have developed one that can take as little as 15 minutes.
  7. If I didn’t meditate prior to yoga – I do 12 minutes of meditation while listening to soothing music.
  8. All of this probably taking an hour.  This will bring me to a strong but calm state.  But while I am writing, I am taking full advantage of this high energy, it is serving me well in this particular activity : )
       Over the years, I have developed all sorts of strategies for dealing with extreme energetic states, as well as deftly shifting into calmer states.  If you have ever cared for young children, this is a skill something that many mothers/caregivers do naturally and instinctively.  Look at kids, they are all over the map emotionally.  One moment they are screaming that they can’t have a particular toy, and the next they have calmed down and drinking something in their sippy cup.  And the next moment they may be bouncing around uncontrollably with joy.  There is no doubt, children act like miniturized text-book cases of bipolar. And some in the medical establishment seem to agree and have come to the tragic conclusion of diagnosing children as young as three with bipolar.  ARGH!!!!

       What if Bi-polar adults are the people who never learned how to handle their extreme emotions while growing up?  ‘
What if somehow their childhoods/lives were so chaotic; or their diets were so unhealthy; or their thinking patterns became so destructive – that they didn’t have a moment of peace  in order  calm down enough to figure out strategies for balancing their emotions?  The reality is, most children are little dramatic divas, prone to crazy mood swings. But at some point, most kids chill out naturally.  So, how did this happen?  This is the kind of question that the medical establishment would be asking, if they actually believed in a CURE for bi-polar.  But instead, the medical establishment is content to believe that Bipolar is either incurable or unmanageable ….. outside of people signing up for a lifetime of expensive prescription medications and costly therapy.  Hmmm ….

       I am capable of experiencing extreme ups and downs – but I decided years ago, that it is my job to figure out how to manage my experience.  It isn’t up to a doctor or a therapist or my family or my friends how to live my life. It is up to me!  I have learned that dealing with my energetic experience is something that can be an adventure rather than a chore or a tragedy.  At first, it is like having your own built-in amusement park – full of roller-coasters and fun-houses and haunted houses – but you can expand that experience to include bucolic parks that go for miles and miles … however long you want.  And once your experience is under NEW MANAGEMENT, you can start tearing down those horror houses, and those death-defying thrill rides.

       If you really want to manage your experience without medication, you need to make a solid commitment to yourself – to make your life a quality life worth living, that ANYBODY would be proud of.  And then start figuring out what is out of balance.  And start from there.
  1. Typically for depressives – their energy is stagnant and they need to exercise and eat healthier.
  2. For people with manic issues – be mindful about your use of substances. They are NOT a way to manage your moods responsibly. Notice when you get over-stimulated.  Start to implement practices that can ground you and calm your body – yoga, tai-chi, martial arts, hiking … are good for this.
  3. In both cases meditation, cognitive therapy, NLP, etc – are good for addressing unhealthy thinking patterns, that can push energy states into a depressive or manic state.
  4. There are tons of natural supplements that help to either energize or calm your system … get to googling!
  5. Self-calming techniques such as deep-breathing practices, praying, quiet time in nature, swimming, taking a bath/shower, petting your pets … are all good strategies for crisis moments.
  6. And you know what, between the internet and the library ALL of this information is available to the majority of you that take time to read this – for free!
       Maybe this seems like woo-woo, fantastical, BS to you.  And if it does, you aren’t ready for this type of wellness approach.  Stick with your meds and doctors.  But if you ARE wanting to live a life of self-empowerment free of medication and a lifetime of being a victim of your energetic extremes … then open your eyes to what things are unbalanced in your self and your environment.  Remember YOU are the one living your life! Not your doctors, parents, family, friends, or anyone else.  Listen to the truth that resonates in your heart!

       But be aware that by not going down the path of consensus means taking up the challenge of discovering how to live a quality life from inside-out.  And it also means giving yourself the permission to take care of yourself by increasing your awareness of your triggers, your states of energy balance and imbalance; and learning how to manage these energies.  Lastly it means learning to be strong enough to go against the tide of the “well-meaning” folks who are not, and never will be living your life.  This may include: doctors, family members, friends, other bi-polar folks, general opinion.

       Join the rest of the human race! Figuring out how to be “happy” in a world that can make us all extremely unhappy  is what everyone is doing these days – not just the “mentally ill.”

4 thoughts on “A Love Letter to those Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder

  1. Your post is inspiring. My mom had a mental illness and I often thought how her life would have been different if we saw the good that came from it. She was medicated for over 50 years and it left her a little numb and sometimes not very responsive. Bravo to you for doing what’s best for you. The recipe for grounding energy seems like a really good idea.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, as well.
      The term illness, as associated with mental, has come to mean a life sentence. Certainly this is what your Mother’s doctors must have told her. Otherwise, why else would she have faithfully taken medication for 50 years? Could she have lived a better life without it? Who knows? But I don’t think she was given another option. So she did the best she could with the information she had at the time.

  2. I love this, Liza! I’m so grateful to you for sharing your experience and the practical things you use to make this work. I agree with you about passionately creative people having the same energy swings. I have often wondered how much our world has missed out on by medicating these traits instead of helping people use and manage them well. What art or inventions or other creative goodness have we lost. Thanks for being a witness to another way!

    1. Thanks Kenetha your words are worth a lot!!! I think most of my life, I have gone undercover concerning my experience, because I hate being judged. Like I am special in this ; / But when I see that other people are having similar struggles that I have had – I had to push past years of fears — and start speaking up. And since I made the decision to share my experience – I have been blessed by kind words … really more than anything else. Thanks for being in my corner : )

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