Bipolar Disorder: Myths vs. Facts Pt. 2

I have bipolar disorder.

I was diagnosed in the spring of 2016 after a severe manic episode. And boy, has it been a long and enduring and wild journey since then.

Last week, I introduced a new series on myths vs. facts of bipolar disorder out of the hope to normalize discussing mental health and illness, sufferings that come along with bipolar, and the reality of someone who lives with it every day.

Today’s post focuses on communicating about mental health and wellness, and how we can create healthy, helpful conversations surrounding bipolar disorder (and other illnesses).

Myth: Talking about mental health is not necessary and just makes people feel uncomfortable.

Fact: Talking about mental health is extremely necessary. While it may make some uncomfortable, for others it can be beneficial, helpful, and life-giving.

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar, I felt this utter paradox of wanting to voice my struggles while simultaneously feeling shame and fear around it. I wanted to scream for help, but also crawl into a hole and hide forever.

At first, it seemed like no one was talking about it–not only my manic episode, but also mental health in general. It seemed like no one cared or felt confident enough to discuss my sufferings. Talking about mental health seemed like such a stigma, a conversation to avoid at all costs.

Thankfully, it does seem like society has improved some since then. Thanks to celebrities, mental health professionals, and Instagram (haha!), it seems like more people are discussing their hurt and healing. More people are being vulnerable, authentic, and transparent about their mental health struggles, and it’s an inspiring, incredible thing.

In America, one out of five adults struggle with a mental health disorder. It may be anxiety, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, borderline personality, or another disorder. The odds of you interacting with someone who has mental health struggles on a daily basis is high.

It’s important to talk about mental health because you never know what someone is going through, you never know who needs to feel hope. It’s important to talk about mental health for those who suffer so they can voice their hurt and journey. It’s equally important for someone who does not suffer to talk about so they can listen, sympathize, and perhaps gain more understanding of that individual’s sufferings.

If you feel uncomfortable talking about mental health, it may be because it’s a foreign subject to you. I encourage you to read and research ways to talk about it, ways people suffer, and ways you can help.

Myth: People who have mental health struggles are too sensitive and I don’t need to be careful with my words when speaking to them about their illness.

Fact: People who have mental health struggles can feel deeply about their hurt, and it’s important to be careful when creating a conversation surround their illness.

The other night I was driving from Austin to Dallas with my sweet friends. My dear friend Ashlynn, who is on her way to becoming an amazing counselor, asked me delicately, “Is it OK if I ask you about bipolar?”

I happily obliged, and we had a very healthy discussion surrounding my mental health journey, my ups and downs, my moods, ways I hold myself accountable to healing, and more. I thanked her for listening and I thanked her for talking about it with me.

Asking for permission to discussing someone’s mental health is extremely important and considerate of others. Not everyone wants to or is ready to discuss, so asking to hold that conversation is incredibly kind and thoughtful.

When someone who suffers wants to or is ready to discuss, sometimes they will tell you, but sometimes you have to ask. Sometimes it’s a matter of creating that mutual trust and understanding, and that individual will voluntarily participate in the conversation.

We shouldn’t push people into talking about mental health. We shouldn’t be harsh or impatient, but should be grace-giving and understanding. It’s a difficult topic because it may be triggering or hurtful, but ultimately those who suffer may come around and need a listening ear.

In summation, our words matter. Our conversations matter.

Everyone recognizes when someone speaks kindly, thoughtfully to them. Likewise, those who suffer with mental illness recognize when someone speaks kindly, thoughtfully to them.

When we are careful and considerate with our words, when we create healthy conversations around mental health, it is seen, heard, respected, and cherished.

If you love someone with a mental disorder, I encourage you to ask if it’s OK to talk about their struggles, and I encourage you to listen with an open heart and mind.

Bipolar Disorder: Myths vs. Facts Pt. 1

I have bipolar disorder.

I was diagnosed in the spring of 2016 after a severe manic episode. And boy, has it been a long and enduring and wild journey since then.

Today, I’m introducing a new series on myths vs. facts of bipolar disorder out of the hope to normalize discussing mental health and illness, sufferings that come along with bipolar, and the reality of someone who lives with it every day.

Today’s post focuses on defining bipolar disorder, what it means and looks like, and the reality of suffering from this disorder.

Myth: Bipolar disorder is just being moody. All people with bipolar disorder are rude and short-tempered.

Fact: Bipolar disorder is defined as a mental condition marked by alternating periods of elation and depression. There is no one-size-fits-all for bipolar disorder.

Sometimes when I tell people I have bipolar — especially strangers — they are shocked. “But you don’t act like you have bipolar. You are so nice and happy!”

And while some may consider this a compliment, really it’s a microaggression.* This statement is aggressive because it alludes that all people with bipolar are the opposite: mean and temperamental. It hints that all people with bipolar are moody and short-tempered and difficult.

In reality, the people I know with bipolar are some of the kindest, most patient, most giving friends I have. In reality, out of the several friends I have with bipolar disorder, zero of them have the exact same struggles or mental health journey. Zero of them have the exact same personality, experiences, and sufferings.

After living with bipolar for half a decade, I realize the deep truth of this quick Google search definition: I’m elated or depressed. I’m mostly elated or mostly depressed. I’m semi-elated and semi-depressed. I’m a bit of nothing and everything in-between.

Since my manic episode and diagnosis, I’ve experienced mania and psychosis, hypomania (a slightly less elevated form of mania), stability, depression, and severe depression. I’ve been all across the spectrum, sometimes changing within a matter of hours or days, sometimes alternating phases and moods over a span of months.

Bipolar disorder is cruel and brutal and unforgiving. Experiencing bipolar elation is thrilling and unreal and wild. Experiencing bipolar depression is hard and debilitating and extreme.

Next time you speak or interact with someone who struggles with bipolar, please be patient and considerate of their struggles. Please watch your mouth (more to come on that) and be forgiving. And as always, remember it’s OK to not be OK and we should all treat others who face suffering with kindness.

*A microaggression is a subtle, off-handed remark discriminating against members of a people group

Healing: The Journey, Not The Final Destination

Healing is a process.

If there is anything bipolar has taught me, it is that healing is a process and a journey. There is no specific destination, no specific time and date that we are fully healed–not in my experience, at least.

When I look back five years ago to my diagnosis, I was devastated and confused and hurt. I did not understand what was happening and I faced severe depression and anxiety.

When I look back at the past couple of years, I feel encouraged and excited and whole. These years have been full of bliss and peace, they have been practically depression-free.

But I would not consider myself fully healed.

Even though I have come a long way from 2016, I still experience down days and anxious moments. I still feel over-exhausted and run myself thin. I still have to regularly assess my needs and habits and adjust them as needed.

My gut response is frustration and confusion, “Why don’t I ultimately and forever feel better? When will I be fully healed?” But when I think about my mental health journey, I realize it’s been just that: a journey. And with journeys, although sometimes there are final destinations, many times they are just an ongoing process of learning and discovering.

Honestly, I don’t want it any other way.

This journey mindset reminds me to learn and discover and work toward healing. It gives me hope and joy and pushes me forward. If there was a final destination, I would be wondering why I haven’t arrived by now. I’d be wondering when my emotional and mental fulfillment would finally come.

So if you have been hurting or lost or upset for a while now, if you feel like you’re running thing or scrambling for hope, I would like to offer you this bit of wisdom: healing is a process, a journey. You are doing a great job as you chug along and do your best. I’m proud of you and I’m rooting you on!

Five Years Of Bipolar: On More To Come

Five years ago, on March 18, 2016, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

This diagnosis came after a very serious manic episode that resulted in a hospitalization. It came after a week of insomnia and scattered thoughts and concerning ramblings.

Every year when March 18 rolls around, I pause and reflect. I stop and think about how my life has changed. Before my diagnosis, I was living in Nashville, a new city that I was growing to call home. Before my diagnosis, I was on the path to work in the nonprofit field. Before my diagnosis, I struggled with pride and ego and thought I had my entire life together.

For the longest time after I was diagnosed, especially during the thick of devastating depression, I could not help but always be aware of my diagnosis. My mood, plans, and friendships changed. My life changed. I could not help but mourn and grieve the life I used to know and fear what was to come.

When I built new friendships, I feared coming out as bipolar and wondering how they would respond. When I started to think about law school, I feared how bipolar would affect my studying. When I considered dating, I feared no one would want to be with someone who struggled so deeply.

But these days, my diagnosis is not at the forefront of my mind.

My mind is much more occupied with other things. When I build new friendships, I want to know how to invest and love that person deeply. When I look back at law school, I am thankful for what it was when it was, and how my mental illness did not affect my studying. When I consider dating someone, I am prayerful about opening up about my illness, and no longer live in fear.

Getting to where I am today–embracing my illness and sharing my journey–did not come easy. It took time and energy and tears and therapy. It took medication and emotional support and prayer. But here I am today, thankful for where I am and how I’m built, thankful for how I got here and eagerly looking forward to where I will be.

My disorder has taught me there is always more to come.

When I was first diagnosed, I feared my life was over: that I would lose all of my friends, that I’d never fall in love, and I would not be able to fully function again.

But that was hardly the case. The first couple of years were tough and excruciating and painful. The first couple of years were filled with devastating depression and hopeless thoughts and extreme anxiety.

But there was more to come. The past couple of years have been lovely and life-giving and liberating. They have been encouraging and beautiful and wonderful.

I never thought I would have a job. I never thought I would be able to handle it. I never thought I would get into law school. I never thought I would mentally be able to manage the workload. I never thought I’d fall in love, make new friends, enjoy living in Dallas.

But I did! And I’m glad!

I’m glad that Jesus Man loves me. I’m glad that he provides a path for me. I’m glad he hasn’t left me despite my changing moods and fickle heart.

I’m glad that law school happened, even though I didn’t finish. I’m glad to work at Summit and cultivate community there. I’m glad to make new friends and keep the old.

Dear Reader & Friend,

Whatever you are going through now, whether you are at the highest of highs or lowest of lows, I hope you know there is always more to come. There is always goodness and hope and joy around the corner.

My mental health journey proves this to be true. If you are well, be glad in it. If you are struggling, know there is hope.

I’m rooting for you!

A Heart Full Of Thanks: My 10 Top Blessings Of 2020

Thanksgiving is here!

My favorite food, my favorite people, my favorite holiday all wrapped up into one day and given to me in a pretty little bow! This Thanksgiving will look drastically different, smaller, and quieter than years’ past, but that doesn’t mean it will be a bad one–just different.

This has been a hard year for everyone, but I know we can still give thanks. We can count our blessings, we can remember the good things, we can share the highs and lows and in-betweens. We can be glad for what we have, sad for what we don’t, and still feel blessed.

I’m full of thanks this year.

Here is my list of my top 10 things I am thankful for:

  1. A well mind– I haven’t struggled with depression in over two years, and I cannot express just how huge of a blessing this is. It is a gift to pursue dreams, be happy, and laugh genuinely.
  2. A healthy body– A body that can stretch and dance and move and bounce and CLIMB.
  3. My climbing community– Truly the most welcome and inspiring community, I am thankful for strangers who turn into friends so quickly. They are kind and inclusive and just plain fun!
  4. My church community– The ones who keep me rooted in Christ and point me to what matters, the ones who love me deeply and fiercely and wonderfully.
  5. My family– My new roommates! They have welcomed me into their home, given me reason to laugh, and supported me every step of the way of my law school journey.
  6. Taylor Swift’s Folklore album– It’s a bop! The end.
  7. My pup Jack– The light of my life, the center of my world: he is small and cute and fluffy and scruffy and scrappy and the best thing that happened to me in 2020.
  8. Coffee– The fuel that gives me life!
  9. My job– I get paid to welcome people into the climbing community! I get paid to love people! I get paid to climb! (Ok, not really, but kind of).
  10. My education– Perhaps the most concrete evidence of God’s faithfulness in 2020, I am so thankful that I was able to return to school this year to pursue a law degree. Virtual learning has not been easy (and neither is law school in general), but it has been such a gift.

I encourage you to consider what you are thankful for this year.

Maybe you can’t come up with ten or even five things, but I bet you could find at least a few: maybe it is your health, your family, maybe it is your community, or favorite hobby.

And come Thanksgiving day, you can share what you are thankful for with whomever you may be celebrating the holiday with. You can sit around the table, eat, drink, and be merry, and remember the good things, remember the blessings.

The Best Is Yet To Come: On Hard Things & Dreams

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When I was 21, I thought my life was over.

After a  severe manic episode, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder halfway through Year 21. It was obvious something was wrong due to my erratic behavior, but the diagnosis still came as a shock to me.

What? Me? Mentally disordered? No way, no how. Surely the doctor had it wrong.

But he did not.

And in the days, weeks, and months it took to sink in this diagnosis was for real, discouragement from depression and down days sunk in, too. The first year of my disorder, I often had to pry myself out of bed. I wanted to sleep the pain, the apathy, the depression away. I wanted to stay in bed and not shower and not acknowledge or discuss my pain. I wanted hop in a time machine and relive the glory days when I didn’t need medication or therapy.

Now at 26, I realize my life was just beginning.

21 years of age is so young!! (And heck, so is the 26 I am at today). With or without my disorder, my life was just beginning. I just graduated from college, moved to Nashville, started a job at a rad nonprofit. I was making new friends and experiencing a new town and building a life for myself.

When I moved back to Dallas because of my disorder, I thought all of that had to end. But now, in hindsight (which is always 20/20), my move back to Dallas was just as life-altering. I had to make new friends and experience a familiar town in a new light at a new age, and build a life for myself.

In the last five and a half years, I found and cultivated a community for myself, made up of climbers, bloggers, baristas, friends, and family. I worked as a public relations intern, legal assistant, legal specialist, nanny, and assistant manager at a climbing gym. I made new friends and kept the old. I went on dates and began (and ended) a relationship. I found a new, lifelong passion in climbing. And my heart for mental and emotional wellness planted roots and grew.

The best is yet to come!!

Whether you are two, twenty, or two hundred years, I firmly believe the best is yet to come. If my lifetime, especially the past five years, has taught me anything, it is that good things always lie ahead. Surprises await at every corner of life, every milestone. Happy and sappy and wonderful things!

Yes, my diagnosis was technically a surprise. It was not a happy, sappy, or wonderful thing. In fact, it was an extremely hard, actually depressing, completely devastating thing. But this life change only brought about many wonderful opportunities and people and growth that I never would have experienced without it.

The hard things, the bad things, the depressing things will come and go and come again. They will wreck you and change you and transform you. Even if you don’t believe it now, I bet you will one day, that good things lie ahead.

I hope my story is an encouragement to you.

I hope you realize that you will overcome whatever tough situation you may be facing in this moment. I hope you know you are loved by The Creator and loved by me! That you have support, you have dreams and there will be wonderful things that come true. It did for me, and it will for you!

Dear Reader,

Thank you for listening to my soul and my story. Thank you for coming alongside me in this experience of living with a mood disorder and triumphing over the trials that come with it. Thank you for your ears, your eyes, and your heart. I so appreciate your time, your attention, your affection.

If you are facing a tough time now or later, please do not hesitate to reach out. Don’t hesitate to feel your hurt and your pain and acknowledge it is real and hard and disheartening. You are not alone! Never, ever, ever. I am here for you and Jesus Man is too. I love you!