Bipolar Disorder Described in a Word: Addicting

For me, bipolar disorder is addicting as hell!  I’m not just talking about alcohol, drugs, gambling, buying 50 pairs of shoes (a week) or whatever other destructive habits you can think of; I’m talking about becoming addicted to virtually anything I’ve ever cared to do in my life.  I don’t know how to half-ass anything.  I either whole-ass it, or zero-ass it; no partial-assing for me!

I’ve also been told this once or twice, but I’ll save the assholiness for another post.

Really, this is just an extension of another post I wrote about bipolar disorder being engrossing, but it’s definitely worth expanding on.  Also, I’m currently addicted to Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, and if I stop writing this article I’m literally going to eat my face off (OK, figuratively eat my face off; whatever, I know).

Why is Bipolar Disorder addicting?

Imagine you’re white water rafting.  Everything around you is tumultuous, and you’re doing everything you can just to get down the river, and stay in the boat.  Maybe that’s holding on as tight as you can.  Maybe it’s paddling like hell.  Or maybe it’s something else entirely because I don’t know the first thing about white water rafting and this is just the first metaphor that popped into my head.

This is sort of what mania feels like.  You’re on this precarious little boat and your thoughts are racing around you like a raging river.  So you work like hell to stay in the boat.  Often this involves throwing yourself into something completely to keep your mind busy;  maybe you’re brewing beer, writing a blog, buying 5,000 pairs of shoes, or my personal favorite, becoming an (almost) YouTube star.  Whatever it is, you become addicted to it – at least for a time.

Conversely, maybe you’re depressed, and life is starting to feel a little overwhelming.  So you check out for a while – you start drinking, smoke some weed, eat 4 lbs of Reese’s peanut butter cups; really, just pick your poison!

They sell these fucking everywhere.  I shipped a package the other day and the UPS store had them.  So of course I bought one, goddammit!

I guess chocolate-peanut buttery goodness isn’t as bad as the war I’ve been waging on my liver for the past 10 years with booze, but still, it’s a little destructive.  I was hoping the first time I was on TV wouldn’t be on My 600lb Life.  My minimum goal is making the news getting perp-walked for something cool; like stealing a truck filled with Reese’s Cups.

It Ain’t All Bad

Addiction definitely has a negative connotation.  It should, since usually when you’re talking about addiction you’re talking about it in the medical sense – as in “Matt drinks so much he jumped into the resevoir, then came home and ate an extra large chicken bacon ranch pizza; he did that 3 separate times last week.  I think that meets section 12 of the DSM critera for Alcohol Use Disorder – do you do stupid shit at least once weekly?”.

But really, it can be a good thing if you channel it into something productive.

Here are some examples of the good and the bad in my own life:

The good: Got addicted to exercise and dieting and lost 40lbs (which is good since I was about 40lbs overweight).

The bad: Gained 40 lbs in two months after becoming addicted to Reese’s Cups.

The good: Created a successful YouTube channel after becoming addicted to Minecraft and video editing.

The bad: Became addicted to Minecraft and video editing and stopped hanging out with friends.

The good: Became addicted to work, got promoted several times.

The bad: Got addicted to work, got promoted into role that I hate.

The good: Got addicted to brewing beer, and had fun learning about one of my favorite things!

The bad: Got addicted to brewing beer, a habit which complimented my alcoholism nicely, and temporarily turned me into the most vanilla version of Walter White you’ve ever seen (I even have a chemistry degree).

The good: Got addicted to writing, and created a blog.

The bad: Got addicted to writing, and inflicted several made up ass-related words like “assholiness” and “partial-assing” to the general public.

Bonus Bad: Got addicted to diet Mountain Dew in an ill-advised attempt at a beer replacement and now my pee glows in the dark.

Weeeeeeeeee!

There’s many more examples, but it’s been 10 minutes since I last shoved Reese’s cups and Mountain Dew into my face so I’m going to have to wrap this post up.

Check out my other posts from my Bipolar Disorder Described in a Word series:

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Running Away From God – And Stumbling Back Again

Despite a church-every-Sunday upbringing in an Irish-Catholic household, I am an atheist.

I’m not proud to be an atheist.  In fact, I can probably count how many times I’ve used the phrase “I’m an atheist” on one hand; it’s not something I’m remotely comfortable talking about – not that I’m remotely comfortable talking about anything.

I was born in Buffalo, NY, and lived there until moving to Indianapolis just shy of two years ago.  If you were born in Buffalo, there’s a good chance that your ancestors were either Irish, or Polish; and it’s almost guaranteed that you’re a Catholic.  I was reminded of that fact last year while trick-or-treating with my daughter in an Indianapolis suburb with a Buffalo Bills hat on; we came across two separate native Buffalonians who, recognizing my allegiance to the Bills, each asked us (in this order) – “How ’bout ‘dem Bills?” and then “Have you found the Catholic church yet?”

Also Buffalo:

A drinking town with a sports problem… I’ve never done this…

Table smashing aside, the Catholic faith is a big part of what makes Buffalo, Buffalo – and my lack of faith is just one more thing that makes me different – immoral even; and thus it is cause for shame.

tried to be a good catholic.  I went to church every Sunday (Ok, my parents made me, but still).  I prayed.  I read the bible.  I went to CCD (Catholic Sunday-school).  I was confirmed; all the things a good Catholic should do.  But then I rejected it.

I wrote in the first post of my series, No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery that I rejected God at the age of 16 after a particularly rough patch of depression.  That’s sort of true, but it’s a bit messier than that.  I didn’t stop believing in God completely at first.  I still believed in Him – it’s just that I started hating Him.

God had always been silent in my darkest moments.  In fact, God had always been silent period – despite my prayers, and my generally being a good person and a good Catholic.  What kind of relationship is it when one side is completely silent?  No relationship at all!  If your significant other never communicated you’d be pretty upset too – especially if you were suffering!

Then there’s the whole everything happens according to His design bullshit.  What the hell kind of plan has to include my depression?  What kind of monster would make such a plan?  And what kind of God would refuse to intervene to help me when He supposedly has infinite power to do so, and infinite compassion to motivate Him to do so?  I certainly don’t have infinite compassion, but I at least would intervene on a friend’s behalf and help if they were suffering and there was something I could do about it.

Help helps.

That was also around the age I started to pay attention to what was going on in the world; I realized that whatever shit I thought I was going through was nothing compared to what other people were going through in the “real” world.  If God was real, and this was all part of a plan, then fuck that plan and fuck whoever made it.  

I also started noticing all the zealots out there offering thoughts and prayers, and whatever other pathetic, useless comforts they had to those who were suffering.  “It’s all part of His plan” I’d hear them say.  What the hell comfort is “this is all part of God’s plan” to someone whose child was just murdered?  What comfort is “this is meant to be” to someone who just lost their job?  Ever notice that the people who are saying that usually have pretty decent lives?  It’s convenient to think some all powerful being is controlling everything when everything happens to be pretty good for you.

I began to hate the zealots as much as I hated God.  Hypocrites who have never faced real adversity I thought.  Damn them!

If this was all part of a plan, then fuck that plan and fuck whoever made it.

My hatred for God simmered for years until I finally realized the simple truth – the reason all these terrible things happen to people, and the reason I’m depressed is because of people; and God doesn’t intervene for one very simple reason – there is no God.  

I was 18 when I made that revelation, and my life took off in the decade afterwards.  I took things into my own hands and started doing better in school.  I met my future wife at college.  I graduated and got a good job.  We bought a home, got married, and had children.  My career took off… hell, the Bills even made the playoffs for the first time in 17 years (I guess I didn’t have anything to do with that last one but whatever).

My life got better after I forsook Catholicism.  But as the circumstances of my life improved, my mental state always seemed stuck in the same pattern of waxing and waning moods which I would eventually come to learn was bipolar disorder.  A nagging dissatisfaction with it all has also lingered – a void which I’ve spent the past ten years trying to fill with alcohol.

Sometimes I wonder had I reached a different conclusion with my faith where things would have turned up.  Would I have done as well as I have?  Would I have turned to alcohol?  If I hadn’t turned to alcohol, would I have even met my wife and eventually had my two daughters?

I was recently reminded by the incomparable Beauty Beyond Bones (BBB) of a different path.  In a must read post for anyone in recovery (whether from alcohol, drugs, mental illness, or as in the case of BBB – anorexia), BBB details her experience in an intensive inpatient care facility for anorexia.  She made it through the experience only through her faith in Jesus.

“[Inpatient care] awakened in me the need for Jesus in my life…” – Beauty Beyond Bones, How I Survived Inpatient Treatment For Anorexia

It’s fascinating that two people can hit bottom and come to two completely different conclusions about something so important.  BBB almost died as a result of her anorexia, and was saved through her faith in Jesus.  I was at the low point of a crippling depression and was saved, at least in part, by renouncing Jesus.

Had I read BBB’s post 2 months ago, I honestly would have rolled my eyes, and probably stopped reading as soon as I saw the word Jesus.  Today, with the help of a newly sober mind I’ve rediscovered a respect for the devoutly religious.  It takes guts to place all your faith in God; and… is it actually right?

Today I am sitting here as a 29-year-old man, and looking back at the past 13 years – from when a 16-year-old boy started hating God, to now.  I can’t help but wonder, was this all part of the plan?

Maybe the past 13 years have been part of some divine lesson.  Had God answered the prayers of a 16-year-old boy in the way he imagined those prayers would been answered… well, I suppose my bipolar depression would have just gone away… and I probably would have gotten a teenage-dream girlfriend too as a cherry on top.

But of course that didn’t happen.  Instead I had to learn to accept that bipolar disorder is a part of my life.  I had to learn that depression is a fact of my existence, but that it too shall pass.  I became strong as a result, and that strength turned into success.

Maybe turning to alcohol to cope was in the plan.  Alcoholism did push me to the party where I met my wife in college, and it gave me the courage to say something to her.  Eventually that relationship would turn into a marriage and two children – and being with my daughters is certainly the closest I’ve ever felt to God.

Maybe God is real.  I wasn’t given a fish when I was 16; instead I was taught how to fish over the past 13 years.  Maybe.

Completely reclaiming my faith remains illusive.  It’s difficult to just go back to believing in something you’ve vehemently denied for over a decade.  I’m not sure what it will take to believe… maybe another 13 years of wandering?  Maybe the Bills winning the Superbowl?

At least for now, trying to find Jesus just feels a bit like this:

 

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As always, thanks for reading!  Take care!

5 Tips to Stay Productive With Bipolar Disorder

Do you have bipolar disorder and struggle to consistently maintain a high level of productivity?  This is a common problem for people like you and I who suffer from bipolar disorder.

While manic or hypomanic, your mind is racing, and you struggle to focus on just one damn thing!  Or you can focus on one thing, but you can only focus on the one thing; you become obsessed with YouTube stardom, or baking cakes, or brewing beer… whatever!  But this obsession comes at the expense of everything else.

Then depression returns and kills whatever drive you had to do anything.  It’s hard enough just getting out of bed, you want me to go to work too?

Thankfully, over the past 15 years or so, I’ve discovered a few tricks to keep my productivity up while experiencing the waxing and waning moods of bipolar disorder.

1) Plan the Work.  Work the Plan.

This is about as simple as it gets.  Take a minute and evaluate what really needs to be done that day.  Don’t spend more than a couple minutes doing this.  Try to limit yourself to a few items that you can reasonably get done that will have the most value-added contribution to your day; Then focus on those things!

Making a list might not seem like the world’s biggest breakthrough in productivity, but I’ve found this is critical when experiencing a hypomanic episode.  Too often I set out to complete some task and then before I know it I’ve got 15 internet tabs open and I’m trying to write 5 emails simultaneously.  Next thing I know I’ve completely forgotten what the hell I was trying to do in the first place!

 

Why can’t I get anything done?!

I write a list for what I want to accomplish the next day before I leave work.  Then when I come in, I see the list and I start hitting those items.  Yes, life is crazy, and the circumstances of your job often make you have to change the list or throw it out entirely, but at least it’s a place to start.

The list helps you keep it simple, and boil things down to what really needs to get done that day.  It’s a good tool for holding yourself accountable too.  I need to get these things done before I can go home today.  You’ll also feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment as you cross things off.

2) Depressed? Slow Down but Don’t Stop.

Depression can make even the simplest things difficult.  It’s hard to be successful at work when you can’t even make yourself a sandwich.

If you can, it’s OK to slow down while you work through your depression symptoms; but don’t stop completely!  You’ll regret stopping.

One of my favorite non-work related projects I’ve ever done is make a YouTube channel.  I had fun doing it, I learned a lot of great things, and I even made a little bit of money.  Then my depression returned and I let it die.  I deeply regret that now.

I could have made 1 or 2 videos a week instead of 3 or 4.  Or even just made a video every other week.  Anything would have been better than letting it die completely.  Eventually the depression will pass, and you can kick it back into high gear.

Here’s another example: say you’re on a diet.  You go to a birthday party and allow yourself to eat a piece of cake.  You think, well I already blew it, so who cares if I eat a little bit more.  Then you eat the whole cake.  Then you eat like crap again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day.  Next thing you know you’ve gained 20 lbs and you’re filled with regret; eating cake is fine, slowing down is fine – just don’t quit!  Put the cake away tomorrow!

3) Keep Learning.

I’ve said before that mania or hypomania can be a kind of superpower.  Take your increased energy and invest in yourself.  Learn something!

It’s the 21st century.  You have YouTube.  You have sites like Lynda.com and Wikipedia.  You can learn anything.  Challenge yourself to take 1 hour every day and teach yourself something you’re interested in.  It might not be immediately clear that it could be useful, but you never know.

I taught myself how to do basic computer programming in a couple languages; years later I distinguished myself by making a simple software solution that’s been implemented throughout the company I work for.  I taught myself about business management principles, and rose into a management position well before I “should” have.  By teaching myself at least an hour a day I’ve essentially given myself the experience of someone at least 10 years my senior.

This also has the benefit of making your work and life more interesting.  Hypomania or mania has the tendency to make people feel bored with just doing the status quo.  So learn something and switch things up a bit!

4) Set Meaningful Goals for Yourself.

If tip 1 on this list is about making a list to accomplish things short-term, than this tip is about making a list to accomplish things long-term.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of how to set meaningful goals since many other people have already done it better than I could.  I personally like this article.  Instead I want to talk about the specifics of how setting meaningful goals is important to people with bipolar disorder.

It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when you have bipolar disorder.  Your priorities change drastically when moving from manic or hypomanic states to depression and then back again.

Goals while manic.
Goals while depressed.

If you want to maintain some stability and forward momentum in your life, it’s critical to define what’s important to you, define where you want to go, and then set goals to get you there.  This will help keep your life on the rails and moving in the right direction when your mood fluctuates.

Oh, and about that list from tip 1: You should have at least one item on that list that helps you get to your goal(s).  “Becoming a computer programmer” is a big goal, and it can seem impossible to ever get there.  Break it down; put “Take one online course on programming – watch for one hour today” on your list and get it done today.  Complete goals like that 100 times and you’ll be shocked to discover that you’re on your way to becoming a programmer!  Big transformations are hard but they happen through that 1 hour you spend today, and tomorrow, and the next day hitting that list that supports your goal.

Lebron James does not have be the best basketball player alive on his to-do list.  He has “Wake up at 3am, go to the gym, eat, practice, eat, practice, go to the gym, eat, play game, workout, sleep” on his list.  Do that enough times and you might become the world’s best basket player.

Start young and practice on your brother.
Had to shoehorn in this classic; if you can name this movie you’re awesome.

5) Forgive Yourself. 

Lastly, know that sometimes you will fail.  Sometimes the depression is too much.  Sometimes the list, the slowing down, the goal making… sometimes it’s just not enough.  You will fail, but when you do, I hope you will forgive yourself.

I hated myself for letting the YouTube channel go.  It contributed to my alcoholism at the time.  It made the depression worse, it made everything worse.  My productivity went straight to hell.  I didn’t fail with grace.

It’s OK to fail.  Your life is difficult – it’s harder than most if you suffer from bipolar disorder.  But you know what?  You’re a badass!  You’re going to battle with your own mind each and every day.  I think you’re awesome and I hope you do too!  Take it easy on yourself, dust yourself off, tomorrow’s another day.

I hope these tips help you.  Let me know if you’d like to see more posts like this!

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I Once Was (Almost) A YouTube Star

Bipolar disorder giveth, and bipolar disorder taketh away.  Case in point:

Fueled by mania, I almost became a YouTube star – then depression returned and my dream of YouTube stardom died like so many projects before, and so many projects since.

Right after I graduated college I became obsessed with Minecraft like a lot of other people around that time.  I also became interested in video editing because mania makes you interested in totally random crap – so why not?  Then I married the two and voila!  A Minecraft gaming YouTube channel was born!

pn
Good old Pugnation!  And no, this is not a shameless plug for my YouTube channel.  I promise you, there’s no reason to go there unless you really want to hear my faux-excited / nails on a chalkboard announcer voice.

OK, maybe 5,000 subscribers doesn’t make me a YouTube “star” but at the peak of the channel the growth was incredible.  I was gaining subscribers by the dozen every day, and like a snowball rolling down hill, it was picking up momentum at an incredible rate.  I started getting big views like this:

big vids
These actually paid for the computer I’m writing this on.

Stardom was still far away, but it seemed inevitable.  Fantasies of quitting my job ran through my head.  I became obsessed with making the absolute highest quality content possible.  It took hours to shoot a 20 minute episode, and then that was followed by many more hours in the editing room (And by editing room I mean the unused bedroom of our two bedroom basement apartment).

Everything had to be perfect – the footage, the edit, even the video thumbnail.  It seems strange now that I had that much time to do anything, but that was before children.

Just kidding.

I remember this obsession was a source of stress in my still new-ish relationship with my then girlfriend and now wife.  She always supported my little (or big) projects and still does; but this one was truly consuming.  This was years before my bipolar diagnosis so I didn’t fully understand all the reasons for the obsession myself; but really, it makes sense.  Bipolar mania hooked me at the beginning, and it slowly became an addiction.

At first, you’re sustained by your interest in the topic alone.  You spend hours working on a video, you release it, and nobody watches it (just like writing a blog!).  Then you do it again, and again, and again.  Eventually you get a trickle of views and some comments, and you’re thrilled!  It feels amazing seeing people interact with your work; it’s a high!  As you build an audience the positive feelings grow and grow.  And just like that, you’re addicted.

“Hit like, comment, and subscribe!  I need your views to validate my self-worth because I have crippling self-esteem issues that fuel an incredibly destructive alcohol habit that’s threatening everything I hold dear…”

But like alcoholism, it requires more and more work to keep getting the same high.  The pressure to release more videos grew and grew.  Eventually it’s all I wanted to do, and anything that interrupted my video making was extremely frustrating.

Ultimately, the channel collapsed.  The stress of continuing to release high quality content as quickly as possible began chipping away at it.  The strain it put on my personal life began to take a toll as well.  Eventually the depression returned and finished it off; one day I simply lost interest and stopped making videos.  The channel has since faded into obscurity, but still exists as a living monument to my bipolar disorder.

This all seems pretty negative, but there are some lingering positives that came from the whole attempt at YouTube stardom.  I already mentioned that it paid for my computer, but I also gained a ton of knowledge about video editing, image editing, and internet advertising; not too shabby!

Additionally, I gained some other valuable insights:

  1. You’ve got 5 seconds to hook people: YouTube lets you see exactly when people stop watching your video, and it’s very frequently in the first 5 seconds.  That’s how long you have to convince people to watch your stuff.  I can’t tell when you stop reading these articles, but I imagine the same principle applies to this blog.
  2. If you’re not passionate about your topic, nobody will watch: My voice might be annoying-as-hell in those videos, but at least it’s enthusiastic.  People hate it when you sound bored in videos.  They’ll be bored too.  Again, the same thing applies to writing.

In closing, I wanted to point out that Loudest Minds actually does have a YouTube channel.  Granted, it’s not exactly something I recommend you visit since there isn’t a single video there yet.

But hey, I can fix that!  Why don’t I just apply what I learned while making Minecraft videos and make a Loudest Minds video?  As I recall, the recipe for a successful YouTube video looks something like this:

  1. Get people’s attention FAST: Blow something up in the first 5 seconds.  Whatever you have to do to wake people up.
  2. Be enthusiastic: Drink 5 cups of black coffee.  Channel your favorite annoying sports announcer.  Hit record and let whatever happens happen.
  3. Give people a reason to watch: People have approximately 400,000 TV channels, 3 quadrillion webpages, instant access to free porn, 2 trillion apps, and Words With Friends all at their fingertips.  They have a lot of other stuff they could be doing other than watching your video.  Remember this and work tirelessly to give them a reason to watch. 
  4. Keep it short: Ever load a video and see that it’s 20 minutes long and think, No. effing. Way?  Me too.  Remember, brevity is the soul of wit.  Keep it as short as possible.  I made a successful tutorial series that promised you’d learn the concept in “3 minutes or less.”  People loved it.
  5. Cut Mercilessly: Record 3 hours and keep 10 minutes.  95% of what you recorded sucks.
  6. Include shameless self-promotion: Hit like, comment, and subscribe for more!  I need your views to validate my self-worth because I have crippling self-esteem issues that fuel an incredibly destructive alcohol habit that’s threatening everything I hold dear…

So with all that in mind, here’s the very first, very awesome video from Loudest Minds!

Hit like, comment and subscribe for more!  See you again soon.  (Side experiment: If you made it this far in the article, leave a comment that says “Rosebud” and confuse the 95% of people who stopped reading in the first 5 seconds).

Bipolar Disorder Described in a Word: Frustrating

I wrote a post on The Bipolar Writer Blog wherein I described Bipolar Disorder as engrossing.  I encourage you all to read that post, but the short version is this: One effect of hypomania or mania experienced by many people suffering from bipolar disorder is an intense desire and focus to do one thing – in short, they become completely engrossed in that one thing, sometimes to the point of having no desire or ability to do anything else.

Basically, this.

Engrossing isn’t always a terrible thing – you can get a lot done in a short amount of time if you have the time to work on that thing.  In fact, I think this is one of the best parts of bipolar disorder.  I’ve learned a lot by becoming engrossed in different things throughout my life.  The problem is that things like work, children, and… you know… eating, sleeping, and having actual relationships sort of get in the way.

And this leads us to frustration.  Ah, frustration – that thing you feel when you’re unable to achieve something you want… or what you experience when trying to open one of these:

clamshell.png
Fort Knox.

To me, frustration is one of the defining emotions of bipolar disorder.  I get so wrapped up in one single thing, and it becomes all I want to do; but life keeps getting in the way!  I still have a family.  I still have a job.  And my 4 month old doesn’t care that I have to finish this blog post or I’ll lose my mind!

This leads to anger, and the occasional shameful parenting moment; and over time it can lead to resentment.  Unfortunately these emotions are usually directed (unfairly) at the so-called “obstacles” to fulfilling the object of your manic engrossment.  This leads to some very odd, very unhealthy thoughts like: man, can’t my 3 year old just walk to preschool so I can work on this masterpiece tongue depressor bridge model that I have to finish. (side note here: It turns out tongue depressor bridge building is a thing because of course it is.  While googling it to find an image for this post I found a rich online community dedicated to it.  I love the internet…)

Frustration is a normal part of parenting, and life in general.  But it can be elevated to irrational levels for someone suffering from bipolar disorder.  Denying access to the object of a manic or hypomanic person’s engrossment is like denying an alcoholic their precious whiskey… something I also know nothing about.

In turn, the person or people who are seen as denying access can come to be seen as “enemies” – which to me is one of the most difficult and tragic parts of bipolar disorder.  Anything that has the ability to make you view your family as an “enemy” – even temporarily – is truly terrible.

And finally, bipolar disorder is frustrating when the depression returns and robs you of your will to continue pursuing your engrossment.  It’s like when you have to sneeze, and at the last moment you can’t.  Except the sneeze is your entire life’s work, and the sneeze going away is soul-crushing depression returning.

Here’s another helpful image:

Science’s best depiction of bipolar disorder.

It’s around the time the depression returns that you begin to realize you’ve probably been neglecting a lot of things you shouldn’t have – and maybe you’ve been a bit of a jerk too.  These realizations make the depression even worse, and feed into self-loathing… but that’s a topic for another post.

So that’s how I find bipolar disorder to be frustrating.  This is the second part of a series I am writing that explores various aspects of bipolar disorder, and how I experience them as someone suffering from type 2 bipolar disorder.

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5 Things Your Loved One With Mental Illness Wants You To Know

You just learned that your friend, spouse, boyfriend, or whoever, is suffering from a mental illness like depression or bipolar disorder.  Now what?

Maybe you don’t know how to talk to them – so you don’t.  Or you do… but it’s really awkward.  You have no idea how to address it; do you address it?  Will you hurt their feelings if you do?   Will you hurt their feelings if you don’t?

This article hopes to give you some advice on how to proceed by sharing with you the things I, as a person with a mental illness, would like my friends and loved ones to know.  If you’re suffering from mental illness and you like what I have to say here, share this.

Now please note, I am not a mental health professional.  I am a person who suffers from Bipolar II Disorder.  My insight comes from someone experiencing an illness, and my own personal interactions with that illness.  Everybody is different.  Every illness is different.  In short, your mileage may vary depending on the individual person and the circumstances of their individual illness.  Use judgement.

With that caveat aside, here are 5 things I want people to know about me after learning I have a mental illness:

#1 – I Have Boundaries

Believe it or not, not everybody is cool with talking about themselves.  Some people have a really hard time with it actually.

Mental illness is still very taboo.  Mental health stigma is a very real thing.  Many people are not comfortable admitting they even have a mental illness.  Hell, most people probably aren’t comfortable admitting it.

Please respect the fact that people may not want to talk about it.  Take me for instance; I don’t really want to talk about it right now – at least not in person.  I’ve spent a long time building a pretty serious wall to talking about my problems and it’s going to take some time to dismantle.  So if you try to surprise me with a heart to heart about my mental illness… well… it feels sort of like this:

Nope.

I’m just going to run as fast as I possibly can away from you.  And then I won’t want to talk to you at all.  Because I’m afraid you’re going to eat me.  See?  That hasn’t really accomplished anything, has it?

Now some people will want to talk about it.  And that’s great!  People should feel like they can talk about mental illness.  If I just told you that I was diagnosed with depression, then I’ve sort of opened the door to talk about it.  But if you just heard that I have depression, and you bring that up, I’m going to feel attacked, and I’m going to put my shields up.

Now you don’t necessarily want to totally ignore it either.  This might lead someone to believe you don’t care.  So what do you do then?

Try this:

“Hi so-and-so.  I love you, and I want you to know I’m here for you if you ever want to talk about things.”  Boom!  That was great.  You obviously care, but you also respect boundaries.  Good for you!

Now there is one very important caveat to all of this.  If you think someone is about to hurt themselves or others, or is otherwise in crisis – then you should talk to that person, or hell, call the police if you think something bad is going to happen imminently.  But it has to be pretty extreme.

And lastly, for God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t go telling a bunch of people you heard so-and-so has a mental illness behind their back.  Whatever your intention is, it’s likely to be perceived by the person actually suffering as malicious and cruel, and you’re probably going to jeopardize the very existence of a relationship with that person.  This can be very traumatizing for the person suffering from mental illness, and can be detrimental to their treatment and recovery.

#2 – I’m Still Me

Ask me to describe myself and “Bipolar” does not make the top 10 list of adjectives.  I am not my mental illness.

This one is a little tricky, since you’ll often hear someone say I am depressed, or I am bipolar.  The language usage suggests that that person is that mental illness.  But really, they’re not.

And really, this is laughable on the face of it.  Think about it:

Someone has cancer.  Are they cancer?

You have the flu.  Are you the flu?

You have a rash.  Are you a rash?

No.  That all sounds ridiculous.  So yes, you’ll see me write things like I am bipolar but really, that’s just lazy English.

The point is, I’m still the same me I was before you knew I had a mental illness.  You just know a little bit more about me now.  But don’t worry, I’m still here!

Confused?  Don’t over think it.  Just look at this definitely-not-altered GIF, smile, and move on.

Feel better?

#3 – I’m Still Capable

A big reason why the mental health stigma is so real is that people fear that they’ll be perceived as less competent if it’s known they have a mental illness.  But if you’ve known someone to be competent and capable of sound decision making, then the knowledge that they have a mental illness shouldn’t change that.

I have bipolar 2 disorder.  I make decisions every day.  I have a family that I care for.  I take myself to work every day; in other words, I am completely capable of taking care of myself and living a normal life.

Do you want to know the biggest reason I don’t share my mental illness with people in my personal life?  I’m afraid I’ll lose my job – and if I don’t lose my job I’m afraid I’ll never be considered for another promotion again.  I’m afraid some jerk will think I have a defect that compromises my ability to make sound decisions.  This isn’t true, but I know a lot of people think that way.

Now I am not trying to trivialize mental illness in any way.  Many people do struggle with very real mental health issues that diminish their functionality in different ways, and these people do require help.

But if you’ve known so-and-so forever, they’ve always been highly capable, and they confide in you that they have major depressive disorder, I hope your opinion of that person does not diminish.  They’re still as intelligent as they were before.  Actually, there’s some evidence to suggest intelligent people are more at risk for mental illness.

My opinion of you wouldn’t be diminished if I learned you have cancer.  I’d want to help you in any way I could, and I hope that’s your reaction upon hearing a friend or loved one is suffering from a mental illness.

#4 – Help Helps

You may have just learned that someone you love has a mental illness.  You may be filled with an overwhelming desire to help, and that’s good!  But what do you do?  Do you smother them with kindness?  Or do you stay aloof and distant?  You’re just doing what the nice guy on the internet told you to, and respecting boundaries.

How about you listen to them, and ask what you can do to help?  If the answer is nothing, then do nothing.  If the answer is listen to them complain about their day, then do that.  If the answer is get a supersized order of fries from McDonald’s then…

The ketchup is dispensed from a fire hose.

Now sometimes you shouldn’t just wait around and wait for someone to ask for help.  Unfortunately, people who are suffering with depression often can’t see what will help them… even if it’s really obvious.  And sometimes someone will say they don’t need anything when really it’s obvious that they do.  This requires some judgement on your part, and has to be supported by your knowledge of, and relationship with that particular person.

So if there’s something really obvious that would help, like stepping on the gas when you’re being chased by a gigantic dinosaur, then go ahead and do that thing:

You don’t have to wait for an invite to hit the gas.

Just remember that a little bit of kindness can go a really long way with someone suffering from depression or bipolar disorder.

#5 – I Want You To Take Care of Yourself

So I’ve been talking about all the things you can do to help that person in your life who is suffering from a mental illness, but please don’t forget to take care of yourself too.

The person suffering wants you to be well too.  They don’t want to see you suffer, or even develop a mental illness of your own due to the stress of care giving.

Make time for yourself as well.  Make sure you set your own boundaries.  Don’t forget to help yourself too.  Don’t be a hero.

You’re no use to anybody if you get eaten.

So that’s all for now.  That should be enough to get you started at least.  There’s a lot more than just that which I’ll share in later articles, but my mania-brain has lost interest in writing, and suddenly I have an uncontrollable urge to watch Jurassic Park.

Follow for more!

Betrayal – Outed as Bipolar, Outed as an Addict

You have probably noticed by now that I post under my first name only. You see, I wish to maintain a certain degree of anonymity in order to feel safe talking about deeply personal issues.  Let me explain:

I am a very proud person. I have never been able to talk about my problems.  Hell, I’ve never been able to talk about myself at all. For over a decade I’ve hid the fact that there’s anything wrong with me.  In my personal life I maintain at all times an appearance of strength, success, and stability.

My pride has served me well. Armed with a tenuous, yet powerful sense of self-confidence, I have achieved a degree of financial success and stability for my family unusual for someone my age.  But this pride inflicts upon me a terrible price.  I’ve suffered with undiagnosed, mistreated bipolar disorder my entire life.  I’ve never sought help or treatment because treatment is weakness.

Admitting I had issues was simply not an option. There were no issues I told myself.  I did what many proud people with a problem do – I drank.  And I drank.  And I drank.  For years I drank as much as I could, and when I wasn’t drinking, I was wishing that I was.

Then children came, and children have a way of making you evaluate yourself, your past, your future, and your own upbringing. I found myself to be unworthy of the unconditional love my daughters naively bestowed upon me.  It took 3 years, but this inadequacy finally persuaded me to admit I have problems, and to seek treatment.

I started this blog for a couple reasons. First and foremost, I’m scared, and I need help.  I wanted to see if there was anybody else out there who was going through similar issues, and if there were, I wanted to connect with them.  To my great relief, I found I was not alone.  I’ve come to meet many great people suffering through similar issues in the very short time I’ve written this blog.  Communicating with you has been one of the precious few sources of help, relief, and joy I’ve found since embarking on this path.

Secondly, I realized I would need a place to deal with my thoughts as I worked through this.  Alcohol had been my constant companion for suppressing my problems for so long, and I knew if I was really going to kick the habit I’d need a healthy outlet.

This blog seemed like a good way to achieve these goals; and by remaining anonymous I could strengthen myself in safety, and one day, I’d be able to share my story with friends and family from a place of success – as someone who had already walked the path, and had returned to help others still struggling along the way.

And now with all that said we can move on to the titular betrayal.

You see, this blog has a Facebook page to help connect me to you, and you to other people who are suffering. Facebook owns Instagram.  Unbeknownst to me, Instagram suggests pages to the personal friends of the owner of the page. As a result, three people from my personal life became aware of this page, and by extension my very secret, very personal problems.

I was shocked, and more than a little terrified; I felt compromised. Naked. I was not ready to talk to these people about this.  I’m still not.

But I thought, these are people I trust, it’s OK. The wife of a great friend, who I recently really met for the first time (Hi Tess!).  A friend from home who stood at our wedding (Hi Steph!).  And lastly, my cousin.

My cousin is the perpetrator of the titular betrayal, and the person to whom this post is really addressed.

She apparently saw fit to tell my aunt about this page, who quickly told my parents. My mother called my wife, apparently filled with concern for the deeply private revelations she was reading from her son.

I wonder, how did you possibly think it was OK to share this with anybody? Did you seek to embarrass me?  Was it out of some ill-conceived attempt to help?

I identify myself with members of the LGBT community who have been outed to loved ones before they were ready to share that deeply personal, stigmatized part of their identity. Coming out is rightly viewed as an extremely difficult, emotional, and important part of someone’s life.  It is something everybody has the right to do on their terms, when they are ready; and if they’re never ready it is also their right to keep that to themselves.

The internet is filled with stories of those who were outed as gay, lesbian, or otherwise non-cis to loved ones before they were ready, and against their wishes. Tragically, many of these stories end in suicide, and now I understand why.

I feel I have been outed. I feel exposed.  I feel like a child again, denied the decency of even the most basic privacy.  A child who needs to spend hours running from home on a bicycle, just to get some moments of solitude to try to process all this shit.

Alcohol was my outlet. Now that’s gone.  This blog replaced it.  And now I feel like that’s been compromised.  This is no longer a place where I feel free to speak openly.  Now where do I turn?  To you?  Why would I ever do that now?

Upon hearing the news of my outing this morning I walked off the job. I got in my car, and the child was back again, running away, trying to find shelter.  I raged, I lost my voice, I cried, I tore my shirt, I damn near drove into a ditch.  I almost drove to the bar.

Then I did what I’m best at. I buried it, composed myself, and 15 minutes and 1 shirt change later I was standing and speaking in front of a group of 50 – none any the wiser.

It’s exhausting living like this, being bipolar, being in recovery.  I honestly don’t have any more energy to give to this post.  I’ll substitute eloquence for succinctness, and simply close with this:

Fuck. You.

-Matt Orcutt

Being Miserable is Easy

Maybe you’re stuck in a terrible job.  Maybe your relationship is toxic.  Maybe you just got dumped.  Maybe you’ve suffered the loss of a loved one.

Whatever the reason(s), your life sucks. 

Yep.

So why don’t you make it better?

Well, you may be suffering from a phenomenon known as learned helplessness.  What is that?

The TLDR version is this: when things have been crappy for a long time, or you’ve been unable to improve things, you just stop trying.

This is one of the soul-crushing forces that stops you from improving your life actually a fascinating topic, and there’s some good science on the matter.  If you’re interested, I’ll let you read a bit more about it on your own; as with a lot of things, the Wikipedia article is a good place to start.  Fair warning, it revolves around a totally-not-unethical experiment involving electrocuting dogs.  Weren’t the 60’s great?

Yes. Really.

Now yes, some things you can’t change, I’ll admit.  And no, I’m not trying to trivialize your very real problems.  No, you can’t bring people you love back from the dead, and no, you’re not suddenly going to cure your mental illness.  You may be going through things that I can’t even fathom, and I hope you get the help and relief you need.

What I am talking about is the stuff that you can do something about.  A lot of the time we’ve trained ourselves that there’s nothing we can do to make our lives better, when really there is.

Take this for example: You hate your job.  You’ve spent the last 10 years climbing up a career ladder that you’d much rather kick over and light on fire.  Now you’re stuck… or are you?

Could you find another job?  Could you go back to college?  Could you start a business with the skills you’ve learned?  Can you transfer positions within your company?  There’s probably something you can do.

The problem is that these things are really hard; isn’t it easier to not do those things?

And that brings us to the title of this post, which I acknowledge may be controversial:

Being miserable is easy.

Now bear with me for a minute…

It’s easy to look at all the crap in your life and say, “you know, things suck, but there’s really nothing I can do about it.”  And now, just like that, you’re done.  You’ve just passed off the responsibility you have to yourself to make things better, and now you can go sit back in your misery chair (probably eating taco bell and drinking a fifth of whiskey… not that I know about these things…)

It’s hard improving your life.  I mean, I’m overweight.  It makes me unhappy.  I’d love to lose weight.  But you know what?  I’d have to stop eating taco bell, and I’d have to start exercising more than not-at-all, and I don’t want to do that because it’s hard!  So I’m just going to sit in this chair and complain about being a fat person on the internet instead.

I’ve got a helpful illustration for this.  Once upon a time I was a chemist, and believe it or not there’s actually a useful analogy to be found in chemistry for what I’m talking about.  I’ll try to keep this light because I don’t remember anything from college because I was drunk the whole time I don’t want to bore you.

Let’s talk a little about chemical reactions and a little concept called activation energy. 

Here’s a basic illustration:

activation energy example
This will be on the exam.

 

So this may be intimidating if you have no exposure to science, but it’s actually quite easy if you take a minute to think about it.

In plain English, this just means if you take THING A + THING B and add the energy required, you’ll get THING C and release the amount of energy indicated.  The solid orange line shows the energy of the system during the course of the reaction.

To make your life easier, you can take THING A THING B + a catalyst and add a lesser amount of energy to get the same THING C and release the amount of energy indicated (The green dotted line indicates less energy is required for this reaction to occur).

OK, so now that nobody’s confused, let’s apply this to your life:

activation energy and you
Science!

At the start, is YOU NOW.  It takes a lot of effort just to get through your day.  If you don’t change anything, it’ll keep taking a lot of effort to get through your day.

But you can change; the downside is that for a short amount of time, it will take even more effort.  Maybe you’re going back to college, or maybe you’re sobering up.  Whatever the case, this is the hill you’ve got to get over.

Maybe you have a friend, maybe you have someone who can help you make that hill just a little bit smaller.  I hope you have this help, but if not, you’re not alone!  Just look at this page!  There are more people just like you and I!

There will come a point when you’re reaching maximum effort; you may be unsure you can go on.  But stick with it and…

BAM!

The reaction completes.  The transformation happens, and your life improves.  You breathe that gigantic sigh of relief, and now it takes less effort just to get through the day.

You made your life better.

But it took energy, it took effort, it was hard.  Being miserable is easy, being happy takes work!

But it’s worth it!

2 Ways to Change Your Thinking to Get Mental Health Help

I’m a man.

For some reason that single fact alone creates a multitude of problems when it comes to improving my life, or seeking treatment for bipolar disorder… or you know, any number of other “mild” medical issues.

A mild medical issue.

I’m talking of course about toxic masculinity, and the culture that surrounds it.

The key word there is toxic.  Masculinity in and of itself is not a bad thing.  Why would it be?  I’m a man who does man things; that’s all good.

A man thing.

OK, so what do I mean by toxic masculinity?

Well, imagine you see a man sitting with his young daughter having a tea party.  He’s really engaged – hell maybe he’s wearing a tiara, or whatever else his daughter has deemed fit to bedazzle him with.  Masculinity is toxic when your first reaction to that scenario is “WOW, GAY!”  (The inherent logic of said statement being that having a fulfilling and engaging relationship with your daughter makes you enjoy sex with men… somehow?  What?  Also, do we really care about that still?)

Here’s another example: If you’re a straight man, and your reaction to seeing a beautiful woman in public is to shout a pathetic pick-up attempt out of the window of your 2005 Honda Civic that has an aftermarket spoiler that looks like it was designed by Boeing – well first of all you’re an asshole; and also, that’s what I mean by toxic masculinity.  (Again, the inherent logic here goes something like this: she’ll be so impressed by my assertiveness that she’ll start running down the road after me, perhaps stripping naked as she does so, and hopping into my sweet-sweet ride for some road-sex).

This car.  You’ve seen this car.

So, before moving on to the main point of all this, to briefly summarize:

Masculinity:

Car chase added for emphasis.

Toxic Masculinity:

See the difference?

So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about why this is a problem for getting treatment for mental health in particular.

Well, talking about your feelings is not manly.  Admitting you have an issue is even less manly.  You know what is manly?  Bottling all that emotion up for a decade and masking it with an alcohol addiction.  I mean seriously, that shit’s considered manly!  And you’re a real man, aren’t you?

Look, I hate talking about myself too (says the guy currently talking about himself on the internet)… No but really I do.  It’s hard!  Men, we’ve spent our entire lives being conditioned that talking about your feelings makes you less of a man.  But you know what really makes you less of a man?  Being emotionally distant and not present in your kid’s lives.

To quote Salt-N-Peppa:

“…spends quality time with his kids when he can – secure in his manhood
’cause he’s a real man.” – Salt-N-Peppa, Whatta Man.

You know what else isn’t manly?  Bottling all that shit up for years at a time until one day you unleash it on the drywall:

That man is really passionate about his work.  Promote that man!

That shit’s weak.  And I know, because I’ve put more holes in drywall than I’m comfortable admitting to my court mandated therapist.  Come to think of it, I’ve got enough experience patching drywall that I just got another great idea…

rage quit drywall repair

But Matt, how am I supposed to overcome the paternal inferiority complex that’s been drilled into my monkey brain for the past 3 decades?

Well, here are the two very simple things that I’m drilling into my own head to try to get over this… with some success too I might add.

#1: Stop Belittling What You’re Going Through

Depression is real.  It’s not fake.

Bipolar disorder is real, not fake.

Mania is real, not fake.

Mental illness is a real thing.  You’re not a wimp.  You have a disease.  You have a potentially terminal disease if you don’t treat it.  You’d probably treat cancer if you were diagnosed.  You’ll probably do something about that cholesterol.  Why not do something about this too?

#2: Realize You’re a Bad-ass

You wake up every day and immediately go into battle with your own brain.  That’s fucking intense stuff man!  You’re a bad-ass!  You’re a warrior!

You know who else are bad-asses?

These guys:

action-army-battle-163347 (1)

But they’re not too manly to call in the air support when they need it:

I guess in this metaphor this is… therapy?

You’re a bad-ass.  Mental illness is an entrenched enemy – entrenched in your mind and body.  Call in that airstrike!

Ladies, the two tips above apply just as much to you.  Mental health stigma isn’t just a dude thing.  Plenty of women are too proud to talk about this stuff too.

So let’s talk about it!  It’s time to get better.

Talk to this toxic male whose brain doesn’t work down below!  Follow for more.