How to take baby-steps in order to thrive with bipolar disorder.


Using this analogy…

“There was a sidewalk that had a hole in it. As I walked by it I fell into the hole. The next day as I walked by I walked around the hole. The following day I crossed the street when I saw the hole. Finally, I chose a different street. It’s small goals, one day at a time”

 

I will break down baby steps.

Step 0

 

If we can’t see or feel where we are we are and that there is a place to stand…we can’t stand, period.


If we CANNOT see that we are having an episode, an emotional roller-coaster, an emotional outburst or responding impulsively

…this is where we are.

 

0.25 If we can see where we are, but don’t have a place to stand…at least we know that standing is possible.

If we CAN see that we are having an episode, an emotional roller-coaster, an emotional outburst or responding impulsively

…this is where we are.

 

0.50 If we know standing is possible, yet we do not have the strength to stand for long…we can practice standing for a little bit at a time, then rest.

We stand here when we see that it is possible to prevent

an episode, an emotional roller-coaster, an emotional outburst or responding impulsively

but we do not know how.

 

0.75 If we can get ourselves standing we can begin to build balance and practice standing with balance.

We stand here when we see that it is possible to prevent

an episode, an emotional roller-coaster, an emotional outburst or responding impulsively

but we do not know how…but we are learning and trying to see what works for us.

Step 1

 

We stand with balance and take our first step forward by channeling our strength:

a.) we have to free up a foot so it can move…this is the same as freeing up our thoughts in order to think differently.

b.) we have to plant our other foot and leg with strength in the ground and keep balance as we use it to propel ourselves forward…this is the same as taking what has worked in the past to help us and using it in the present.

We stand here when we see that it is possible to prevent

an episode, an emotional roller-coaster, an emotional outburst or responding impulsively

AND we have figured out what works for us…we just have to develop our ability to implement it.

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BECAUSE WE ARE NEW TO WALKING…WE WILL FALL IN HOLES AND TRIP ON CRACKS.

And even when we are great walkers, there will be times when we trip and will either have to catch our balance really quickly or fall down and get back up again.

THE KEY IS TO NOT FORGET THAT WE KNOW HOW TO WALK.

This is true for episodes, emotional roller-coasters, emotional outbursts and impulsive behavior.

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Step 2

 

We have to learn to recognize what holes and cracks look like….this is the same as recognizing what triggers episodes, emotional roller-coasters and outbursts and impulsivity.

We won’t see every episode, an emotional roller-coaster, an emotional outburst or responding impulsively that are out there…we will still fall from time to time, but we will get better at recognizing them.

 

Step 3

 

We have to be able to see where our FOOT ends and where the hole or crack begins so we don’t put our foot in it…

 

This is the same as learning with time what makes who you are different from an episode, an emotional roller-coaster, an emotional outburst or an impulsive response.

DOING THIS COMES WITH TIME AND A LOT OF PRACTICE.

Step 4

Once we know that we are NOT the hole or crack…when we know that we are affected by the hole and crack…then we have power to respond to the hole and crack differently.

 

WE HAVE POWER TO RESPOND TO EPISODES, EMOTIONAL ROLLER-COASTERS, EMOTIONAL OUTBURSTS, AND IMPULSIVE RESPONSES DIFFERENTLY…when we catch that we are having them.

Step 5

NOW we have OPTIONS…

 

We can start by seeing the hole or crack and pointing at it and saying, “There’s that damn hole / crack/ episode, emotional roller-coaster etc that made me fall down. I hate it!”

 

 

 

5.25. Next we can make up our minds that, “I am going to do my best to not step on this hole / crack / episode / emotional roller-coaster / impulse etc because I am going to pay attention to where the cracks and holes are in my life.”

 

 

5.50. We can make a decision, “I will choose how I respond to this hole/ crack / EMOTION I am feeling.”

JUST BECAUSE WE HAVE AN EMOTION DOES NOT BELIEVE IT IS TRUE.

We can choose how to respond if we take time to breathe and think before we automatically respond to the emotion.

5.75. Then, I will make it harder for the hole/crack/etc to trip me and make me fall down by not even getting close to it…I will cross the street.

 

Emotionally that would be NOT responding right away to every feeling we have. It would be noticing the feeling and letting it pass.

 

Step 6

 

“I will take a different street that does not have as many holes and cracks on it.”

 

What this means is choosing HOW WE THINK AND CHOOSE TO RESPOND in ways that are supportive of who we are and making choices that reflect what we want for ourselves.


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FANTASY: How the conflict between fantasy and reality can lead to episodes of bipolar disorder and any mental illness & cause difficulty in relationships

 

When we are in our teens or younger, we pick a career path and study for it for years…then eventually, if we persist, we become that profession and take on that identity.   We commit to doing that path and being that identity for the next 30-50+ years of life.  We make this decision solely based on our fantasy for the job.

 

FANTASY in this context is defined as using our imaginations to set goals for possibilities in our lives.   Fantasy is what we believe “should” happen for our lives.

 

We often don’t spend time envisioning a good enough partner or quality of life…instead we fantasize about our IDEAL SELF (our concept of perfect) and want to find those qualities in a partner or career.

 

When we are dating, we are basically figuring out if this person we meet fits into our fantasy for ourselves and our lives.  If they fit, meaning that they have a similar fantasy for themselves, we continue dating them.  If not, we find someone else to date with the hopes that eventually we will find someone with a compatible fantasy to our own and hope that the reality of being with them fits the fantasy we both have.

 

When we get married, we commit to spend the rest of our lives with our partners based on who we fantasize they will be and who we fantasize we will be.   We create a fantasy for the family we will have.  The home we will make together…our dogs.  We fantasize about vacations and travels together.  Everything we plan with our partners is the journey of two people creating one fantasy.

 

When relationships end or we change our minds and lives in big ways…it is often because we have discovered that our fantasy and reality don’t fit each other and we either accept the reality (and stay on course in our relationship and/or field of work) OR we decide that the reality is not what we truly want for ourselves and we create a new fantasy to pursue.

 

 

 

Fantasy Causes Difficulty In Relationships

 

We often fail in commitments because relationships don’t live up to the fantasies we have for them.  When we are in love, it is so hard to see all the giant red flags waving in our faces…they look like rainbows.

 

We convince ourselves to believe that if only we love our partner enough, we can mold them into our ideal partner (which is really our ideal self that we are not even able to be).

 

If we don’t let go of this fantasy and accept our partners and our relationship for who and what it is…we will be miserable.

 

The reality will never be the fantasy AND reality will not be “good enough” until we let go of the fantasy.

 

Letting go of our own personal fantasy and creating a fantasy with our partner is how we build and sustain our relationship so that it has a future.

 

 

 

 

Why do we base our lives on FANTASY?

 

BECAUSE WE ARE HUMAN.

 

Everything in our lives beyond the present moment is UNKNOWN. How else could we handle the sheer terror of NOT KNOWING ANYTHING, if we did not keep a picture in our minds of what “should” “could” or “would” be IDEAL?

 

As human beings, we build a future based on what we fantasize today and we hope and pray that all of our efforts will give us just a small percentage of our fantasy…but when we don’t know any better, we hope for 100% of it and may not be willing to settle for less.  This is one reason why so many people are so unhappy about their lives.  As we get more life experience 50% of our fantasy is AWESOME!

 

In order to cope with NOT KNOWING ANYTHING, we create in our minds the “SHOULDs” and “SUPPOSED TOs” of life…this gives us our structure of how to make sense of the world…and so much of it is based on fantasy, the rest is based on what we know from past experience.

 

THIS IS HOW WE SURVIVE.  We inherit from our families our beliefs and values and choose our own set of beliefs as individuals that will structure our lives and we hope and pray that it works.

 

 

 

 

How Fantasy Becomes A Problem

FANTASY BECOMES A PROBLEM WHEN IT IS IN CONFLICT WITH REALITY.

This causes major STRESS.

Because we so often build the structure for our lives based on what we truly hope and believe “should” and “will” happen…when what we believe SHOULD happen is not happening, it causes tremendous CONFLICT. It causes us to question everything we believe in ways that cause incredible pain, fear, anxiety and depression.

The conflict between fantasy and reality causes us to doubt our beliefs and ourselves.  It can cause us to experience an “existential crisis” where we question why we are alive and what is our purpose in life.  We do anything we possibly can to make meaning when our fantasies don’t come true.

When we are able to make meanings for our fantasies not coming true that soothe pain, reduce anxiety and allow us to function…we are successfully coping in life.

However, when the meanings we make for our fantasy not coming true create pain, increase anxiety and depression…this can develop into mental illness.

Mania and depression can be triggered when this conflict between fantasy and reality occurs because the conflict causes STRESS in the forms of incredible fear, overwhelm, urgency, pain, loss and possibly trauma.

When we refuse to acknowledge reality and live as if the fantasy is real, this is psychosis.

How we respond to what happens…how we respond to not having our fantasy…determines our quality of life and our mental health.

 

 

The GIFT of Fantasy

FANTASY allows us to bring out the best in ourselves.

It is all about our potential as human beings. Fantasy motivates and inspires us. Fantasy gives us something to have faith in and hope for. Fantasy gets us through the toughest times in our lives.

We need our fantasy. We need our fantasy to get us through life. Without fantasy, all we would have is not knowing what will be and fear.

Without fantasy, we could not build a future.

We don’t just create fantasies for ourselves…we create fantasies for our children…we create fantasies for our friends…we create fantasies for everyone we come in contact with based on how we would like them to respond and how we want to be treated.

So much of who we are as human beings is based on the fantasies that we have been building throughout our entire lives.

As human beings we use fantasy as a primary coping skill in order to survive.

Through FANTASY

We learn

We grow

We plan our lives

We build our lives with others

We have families and raise children to be good people

We put faith in our community and trust that people will follow our societal structure

Fantasy is a key ingredient that makes up part of the foundation and our abilities for survival as human beings.

IDEAS FOR COPING WHEN FANTASY DOES NOT COME TRUE

  • FOCUS ON GRATITUDE. Notice what you do have in your life that is what you want it to be.  This is accepting reality as it is and seeing all the goodness you do have in your life.

 

  • CHANGE THE FANTASY. Change your fantasy to better fit reality by setting realistic goals for yourself.  Focus on what IS possible instead of investing so much of yourself into what you believe SHOULD be possible.

 

  • FORGIVENESS. Forgive yourself and others for life not being what you hoped it would be.  Stay away from blame, shame and guilt…they will not help you.  Know that you and others did the very best you could with the resources and abilities that you had at the time and you simply were not able to create what you hoped for yourself.
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Happiness, Excitement & Stress do NOT necessarily mean MANIA. Happiness & Bipolar Disorder.

One of the hardest challenges people living with bipolar disorder face is the fear that they cannot be happy, excited or experience stress in a normal way.

There is an assumption in our society that this is mania.

I believe it is NOT true.

The following article are simply my beliefs as a person who thrives with bipolar disorder and experiences a life full of happiness, excitement and stress.

HAPPINESS

Happiness that comes from feeling good about yourself…

self-esteem, self-worth, integrity, dignity, self-respect, what you’ve achieved, your family, how you treat people, give to people, gratitude for your life etc

….IS NOT MANIA…it is JOY.

Happiness and excitement that comes from what you plan to do in the FUTURE…

it is also JOY,

but because their is a GOAL that MAY invite the stressors of OVERWHELM or a drive of URGENCY…

the joy could lead to MANIA.

Therefore, happiness and excitement about what is current or in the past MAY be SAFE and not lead to mania at all.   It may be happiness and excitement about the future that may have the potential to welcome mania into our lives.

 

There is NOTHING WRONG with being happy and excited about the future.


We simply have to be more careful and pay attention to our sense of URGENCY and STOP when we feel URGENCY and /or OVERWHELM.

We must PAUSE…and take time to calm down and focus on one step at a time instead of the big OVERWHELMING picture.

The KEY here…is we have to be able to RECOGNIZE what URGENCY and OVERWHELM feel like in our bodies so we can respond to them RIGHT AWAY, before MANIA can kick in and we lose control.

On a different note:

Happiness or energy that feels excessive or strange to you could be mania.

The amount of happiness we feel, that is considered normal happiness, is often in proportion with the cause.

If we feel extremely happy and a burst of energy from experiencing something that is ordinary to us…

The chances are we may be experiencing mania.

 

STRESS

 

We cannot avoid STRESS in life.

There will ALWAYS be stress in our lives.

To believe that we cannot handle stress dis-empowers us.

We have to learn how to cope with STRESS and how to receive support when we are OVERWHELMED.

People living with bipolar disorder already have the tendency to hold everything in an be STRONG.

This way of being for us, holding everything in or hiding everything, IS NOT HEALTHY FOR US.

By telling us that we must maintain a stress-free life…it encourages us to hold everything in.

I believe we appear to NOT handle stress well because our whole lives we have held the pain, the suffering, the loss, the wounds and the damage INSIDE OURSELVES.

Therefore, when stress happens in our lives…coming from the outside of ourselves, it is too much, we have an episode.

Our own shame, guilt, internalized stigma, self-fear, lack of self-trust, low self-esteem and other self-destructive emotions and actions are enough stress to cause relapse without ANY external stress.

In fact, I believe that internalized stigma is more stress than any daily external stressor.

One reason why I believe I have not had a significant episode in 15 years…is because I don’t hold anything in.

I do not hide anything from anyone.

My transparency frees me from internal STRESS.

It does not mean that I don’t have stress, it means that when I have stress, I let it out.

I am not ashamed or disgraced to have bipolar disorder.


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Why I Prevent Mania. Reasons to prevent relapse of bipolar disorder episodes.

 

A common question that I am asked is, “Why would you take medication and do whatever it takes to prevent mania?”

 

The simple answer is there is no way I would have achieved any of my goals and accomplishments in my life if I had chosen mania instead.

 

I take lithium (even though I have the horrible side effects of “lithium-induced psoriasis) and do everything I can to prevent mania for the last 15 years because the peak of mania caused me to become somebody I truly fear…someone who is not me.

 

I was completely out of control in my mind and body.

I couldn’t stop emotionally hurting myself and other people.

I could not stop hurting the people I love no matter how badly I wanted to and how hard I tried.

I have never been so scared and in so much pain in my life that I never wanted to experience it again EVER.

 

And I never want to experience the full-blown depression I had after that mania.

 

In that form of depression, I did not feel alive anymore.

The great philosopher, Descartes, says you know you exist because “I think therefore I am.”

 

I could not think.

I could not feel.

I did not believe “I am” anymore.


Who I am, was destroyed and dead…yet I was still breathing.

I did just enough to survive because I was forced.

If I had stayed that way for long, and had not had help, I probably would have commit suicide as soon as I had the strength to do so.

 

I do whatever it takes to NEVER EXPERIENCE THAT AGAIN.

 

Yet, I am persistent about me being who I am.

I refuse to lose myself to medication. I do whatever it takes to prevent mania while maintaining who I am.

I don’t even let myself go a few days, let alone a few weeks with hypomania….if I were to wait that long, I’d lose control and lose myself.

 

Of course I miss hypomania.


That was the most incredible and awesome experience of my life.

I trust that nothing else in life will ever come close.

Yet, I know that if I choose mania, I will have the most incredible UP TO a few months EVER then full-blown mania will kick in because you can’t stop it…and everything else in my life that I have worked beyond so hard to achieve will be destroyed.

Even if I only had hypomania…I would still make the WORST decisions humanly possible because I would take on FAR more than I can handle EVER…and I would destroy my quality of life.

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Relapse Detection: How to detect if you may be experiencing relapse of episodes of bipolar disorder.

 

Every person living with bipolar disorder, no matter how stable, lives with the realistic concern and fear of relapse.

However, how we respond when we notice we are vulnerable or beginning to experience relapse determines the consequences and severity of an episode in our lives.

 

This article will look at relapse from the perspective of:

  1. What to notice in ourselves when we are experiencing relapse.
  2. Recognizing triggers of relapse.

 

 

Part 1: What To Notice To Detect Relapse

 

 

Our Interest

 

If you have a loss of interest in pleasurable activities, you could be relapsing into depression.

 

If you become obsessed with a goal that you cannot stop doing, you could be relapsing into mania.

 

 

Our Energy

 

If you have unusual difficulty waking up in the morning, getting out of bed and doing your daily routine, you could be experiencing depression.

 

If you have more energy than usual, more excitement, more passion, more pleasure, more exuberance and more irritability, you could be experiencing mania. Especially if there is a sense of URGENCY that goes along with it.

 

 

How we are thinking

 

If your thoughts and memories are more self-destructive than usual with the EMOTIONS of sadness, guilt, shame etc, you could be experience depression.

 

If your thoughts are racing through your mind, you are having multiple thoughts at once and/or your thoughts get jumbled…that’s mania.

 

If your thoughts are solely obsessed on a goal and you cannot stop thinking about it, that could be mania.

 

 

How we are feeling

 

Depression makes us feel bad about ourselves and the world.

 

Mania makes us feel like we can do anything, that we have special abilities or higher powers…if you are feeling unusually like omnipotent (all powerful like God)…you may be experiencing mania

 

 

Our behavior

 

Depression steals behavior from us. It robs us of our ability to function. If you are having difficulty functioning, you may be experiencing depression.

 

Depression steals our sex drive.

 

Mania gives us an abundance of energy to do an abundance of behaving. Mania empowers people to be highly productive if it is channeled in that way. However, mania can be incredibly destructive and cause people to do RISKY (YET PLEASURABLE) behaviors that they would not otherwise do…if you are experiencing these behaviors, you may be experiencing mania.

 

Mania creates an insatiable sex drive.

 

 

How we talk

 

Depression makes communication difficult. Thoughts move slowly and memory gets lost.

 

People experiencing mania cannot stop talking. They have a flight of ideas that may not even be connected because mania causes so many thoughts at once.

 

 

How we feel in our bodies

 

Depression can cause people to not feel alive.

 

Mania can cause us to feel this burning energy inside of our bodies. People with mania (once they know what it is) can recognize that they are out of control in both their mind and their body.

 

 

Part 2: Triggers of Relapse

 

 

STRESS

 

Circumstances: Loss or illness of a loved one. Loss of a job or income. Loss of your home. etc

 

Home environment: there is OVERWHELMING pressure and demands on you and no time for self-care; lack of peace; constant stress between family members;

 

Stressful marriage/relationship: you are not getting your emotional needs met or are not getting the support you need; poor communication; not enough time together.

 

Financial Stress: Not enough money to make ends meet.

 

Children are blessings, but they cause so much stress on each of these levels.  Being a parent is HARD…and extremely hard if you are a parent living with bipolar disorder.

 

 

 

OUR OLD EMOTIONAL WOUNDS

 

Each one of us since the day we are conceived (I may talk about this another time) experience things that wound us.

 

Not all wounds heal.

In fact, many we just live with…and if we are lucky we nurture them so they don’t determine our choices and determine our lives.

 

We poke each others wounds all of the time. In fact, when we feel hurt, it is rarely what happens in the moment that hurts us….often times what happens in the moment connects us with all of our past hurt and makes us feel a WHOLE LOT OF PAIN.

 

Most of our early wounds are the ones that hurt the most and get built on by life.   We seek out chances to heal those wounds by repeating hurtful things until we know better.

Those early wounds are usually happen in relationship with our parents, siblings (except in the cases of child abuse and sexual abuse that take place outside of the home) and our early peer relationships.

 

Rejection and denial of our emotional needs as human beings play a large role in the wounds that we ALL carry.

 

These wounds if torn open by an EVENT or the MEMORY OF AN EVENT can invite relapse.

 

People often don’t know their emotional wounds have been triggered until after the episode or after they have lashed out at a loved one or society.  Some people never know and can’t understand why they feel the way they do.

 

 

 

ROLE IN THE COMMUNITY

 

I believe that a lack of fulfillment (a lack of giving of yourself…a lack of having something of value to offer others) can lead to relapse, particularly depression.

 

When people believe that they have nothing to contribute and are of no value,  that may invite depression and drug use.

 

All people have something to offer others of value. If this gets ignored or goes without nurture in a person…I believe mental illness may get significantly worse.

 

 

Why It Can Be Hard To See Relapse

 

I believe depression is very sneaky.  It can creep in slowly and then just clobber people.

 

Mania, well it isn’t as sneaky, it makes you feel better than you have ever felt before and it is very hard to not want to experience it. However, the consequences of mania, may be why people choose to take medication and prevent relapse in the first place.

 

 

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An Example of “Normal” Mania. Understand what an episode of mania is for people affected by bipolar disorder

 

One of my goals is to normalize bipolar disorder by using myself as an example of what “normal” mania looks like.

Fifteen years ago, the mania I experienced fit the diagnosis of bipolar disorder perfectly to the extent that I was quoted by my psychiatrist to be used in some textbooks for higher education.

My experiences were normal for mania, not special or extraordinary at all.

Here I will share those experiences with the hope that it gives you the opportunity to feel normal and so you know that you are not alone.

 

 

Because this is educational, I will take apart and expose my experience of mania by:

 

  1. Using the diagnostic criteria of the DSM IV (the guide book used to diagnose mental illness)
  2. Type of Mania

Hypomania: mild mania that does affect functioning but one is still able to function

Full-Blown-Mania: severe mania that fully disrupts the ability to function and take care of yourself

 

 

 

My Hypomania

that grew into full-blown mania

 

Hypomania came into my life when I was fifteen years old and lasted for a few months until it peaked in full-blown mania shortly after I turned sixteen.

 

Diagnostic Criteria of Mania:

 

  • Mood that is elated, expansive, or irritable.

I was excited by EVERYTHING in life during my hypomania.  The slightest idea felt brilliant to me and could lead me to several minutes of pure joy until the next brilliant idea.

Behavior: My energy was like taking the sun into a pitch black cave.  It blinded people.  People described me as bouncing off the walls. Yet this was pretty normal for me, so no one noticed that anything was wrong.  At this time, I was not unusually irritable for a teenager.

 

 

  • Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity.

I felt truly important and special. However, I did not feel more important or more special than other people (human beings as a whole…I definitely felt more special than the people I didn’t like and those who were mean to me).  I believed that I existed for a specific purpose chosen by God and that I am a prophet.  Yet, I didn’t believe that I am any more chosen by God than anyone else, but during that time my energy and focus was on understanding God’s message.

I experienced Invincibility in the form of fearlessness.  I did not believe I could fly and breathe under water or have any super powers, yet I did believe that I was a super human who was capable of using all of my potential and brain power and that those powers were far greater than what most people are aware and capable of.

During hypomania, the rules simply did not apply to me.  It was NOT that I wanted to break the rules, I just felt so free from consequences to the point that I did not even consider the possibility of consequences in my actions.

Behavior: I was in high school…so I couldn’t do all that much with my belief that I was a prophet, I was only 15 when I had hypomania.  So I did what any normal prophet would do…I led my people.  I did not feel that my Chemistry teacher was effectively teaching his class so I led a walk-out and the entire class followed. I personally did not return to the class for two weeks until the principal and teacher met with me to discuss how he could improve as a teacher.

 

 

  • Not needing sleep.  Unable to sleep.

I stayed up all night studying and decoding the bible and other religious texts throughout the world, as well as studying quantum physics.  I believed I was uncovering messages from God on how to unite all people.  When I wasn’t studying, I drew intricate spiritual drawings.  When I was tired, I slept in school because it was so slow and boring.  Yet at the time falling asleep in class was considered relatively normal for teenagers.

  • Pressure to talk. Unable to stop talking.

Yep, that was me.  But it was not unusual for me at fifteen and sixteen.

  • Racing thoughts.

I had multiple thoughts traveling through my mind at once from an infinite number of perspectives.  At times my thoughts would get jumbled and would be difficult to express.  It was very difficult for me to focus in on one thought at a time.

Behavior: As a result, school was too slow.  The world around me could not keep up with me and I felt very bored in school.  Yet, at the same time I had more thoughts than I could express.  I spent my time in school drawing these intricate drawings that integrated ancient spiritual symbols (that I did not even know I was using) because it was the only way to feel quiet in my mind and to focus all of my thoughts.  In fact, my school work and exams were covered by this art.

  • Obsessed with a goal.  Unable to stop goal directed activity.

Yes.  I was secretly obsessed with being a prophet and put all of my energy into learning from God.

  • Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have painful consequences. This is where hypomania and full-blown mania begin to blur.

My sex drive was through the roof and I had difficulty containing it.  My values kept me from acting out my sexual impulses.  To keep myself from having sex, I took up boxing.

Because I was so sexually excited and had no income, I used my sexuality to try to get things I could not afford, like a car.

I went to a car dealership convinced that that the dealer would want to give me a car because I was “Hot!”.   It didn’t work, but I got him to drive home with me and try to convince my parents to buy me the car.

I was a brand new driver driving down surface streets at 80mph without even noticing it or without even feeling that I was going fast.

And I was just old enough to be dating.  When I met a guy, I unloaded all of my emotional baggage on him on our first date, then was very hurt when he didn’t want to date me.

If I had had money, I would have spent it ALL. And then I would have gone into incredible debt.  If the internet had existed, I would have stolen my parents credit cards and bought EVERYTHING. I was lucky that I was only 15-16 when mania came into my life.

 

 

 

Full-Blown Mania

 

I was not hospitalized because my mania peaked while my family was on vacation and there was no safe place at the time to contain me, other than jail…which was considered for my safety, but not the chosen option.  Therefore, I experienced the full experience of mania.

 

I characterize full-blown  mania by the severity of symptoms and the delusions I experienced.  During full-blown mania I went from wanting to serve God to being violently angry.  I was completely out of control both emotionally and physically.  I went from being fearless to completely paranoid and delusional.


I should have been hospitalized.  However, help did not arrive in my life until I had crashed deeply into a depression where I no longer felt alive because I could no longer think or feel anything.

 

What you are about to read is full of pain.  I share this to give hope to others who have experienced mania.  I want you to know that you are not bad or crazy.

 

Actions I took during full-blown mania:

  • I cursed at and told off the highway patrol man who gave my father a ticket for speeding.
  • From my vacation, I contacted every boy I had a phone number for in my high school (yet didn’t care about) and aggressively pursued having sex with them as soon as I returned home.  I scared them so badly that not one boy took me up on it.
  • I got in a fist fight with my friend in my vacation home.
  • I threatened to beat up a child for splashing water on my friend.
  • Every emotion I ever had came exploding out of me uncontrollably.
  • I viciously attacked my mom verbally and physically with rage and hate.  I was so angry at her.  I wanted to hurt her.  I wanted her to feel the pain that I felt.  And I wanted her to help me.

 

 

Delusions (beliefs that could not be disproven by anyone while I was manic, yet they were not real) = Psychosis:

  • I believed I was to be the mother of the messiah and needed to be impregnated by my best friend.
  • I believed I was gang-raped by the kids in my junior high who emotionally hurt me.
  • I believed my mom was trying to hurt me, so I called the police on her. (This is how the police got involved and wanted to put me in jail for my safety.)
  • I believed I was locked in a room so I found a hammer and destroyed the door. It turns out that the door was not locked.
  • I believed I was responsible for my grandmother’s death and my mother’s cancer.

 

 

This is painful to share, no matter how many times I have shared it.  Nonetheless, I share it because I am not alone in this experience.  So many people have experienced this and I want them to know that they are not bad, wrong or crazy…they lost control to mania.  This experience is normal for mania.

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An Example of “Normal” Mania

One of my goals is to normalize bipolar disorder by using myself as an example of what “normal” mania looks like.

Fifteen years ago, the mania I experienced fit the diagnosis of bipolar disorder perfectly to the extent that I was quoted by my psychiatrist to be used in some textbooks for higher education.

My experiences were normal for mania, not special or extraordinary at all.

Here I will share those experiences with the hope that it gives you the opportunity to feel normal and so you know that you are not alone.

Because this is educational, I will take apart and expose my experience of mania by:

  1. Using the diagnostic criteria of the DSM IV (the guide book used to diagnose mental illness)
  2. Type of Mania

Hypomania: mild mania that does affect functioning but one is still able to function

Full-Blown-Mania: severe mania that fully disrupts the ability to function and take care of yourself

My Hypomania

that grew into full-blown mania

Hypomania came into my life when I was fifteen years old and lasted for a few months until it peaked in full-blown mania shortly after I turned sixteen.

Diagnostic Criteria of Mania:

  • Mood that is elated, expansive, or irritable.

I was excited by EVERYTHING in life during my hypomania.  The slightest idea felt brilliant to me and could lead me to several minutes of pure joy until the next brilliant idea.

Behavior: My energy was like taking the sun into a pitch black cave.  It blinded people.  People described me as bouncing off the walls. Yet this was pretty normal for me, so no one noticed that anything was wrong.  At this time, I was not unusually irritable for a teenager.

  • Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity.

I felt truly important and special. However, I did not feel more important or more special than other people (human beings as a whole…I definitely felt more special than the people I didn’t like and those who were mean to me).  I believed that I existed for a specific purpose chosen by God and that I am a prophet.  Yet, I didn’t believe that I am any more chosen by God than anyone else, but during that time my energy and focus was on understanding God’s message.

I experienced Invincibility in the form of fearlessness.  I did not believe I could fly and breathe under water or have any super powers, yet I did believe that I was a super human who was capable of using all of my potential and brain power and that those powers were far greater than what most people are aware and capable of.

During hypomania, the rules simply did not apply to me.  It was NOT that I wanted to break the rules, I just felt so free from consequences to the point that I did not even consider the possibility of consequences in my actions.

Behavior: I was in high school…so I couldn’t do all that much with my belief that I was a prophet, I was only 15 when I had hypomania.  So I did what any normal prophet would do…I led my people.  I did not feel that my Chemistry teacher was effectively teaching his class so I led a walk-out and the entire class followed. I personally did not return to the class for two weeks until the principal and teacher met with me to discuss how he could improve as a teacher.

  • Not needing sleep.  Unable to sleep.

I stayed up all night studying and decoding the bible and other religious texts throughout the world, as well as studying quantum physics.  I believed I was uncovering messages from God on how to unite all people.  When I wasn’t studying, I drew intricate spiritual drawings.  When I was tired, I slept in school because it was so slow and boring.  Yet at the time falling asleep in class was considered relatively normal for teenagers.

  • Pressure to talk. Unable to stop talking.

Yep, that was me.  But it was not unusual for me at fifteen and sixteen.

  • Racing thoughts.

I had multiple thoughts traveling through my mind at once from an infinite number of perspectives.  At times my thoughts would get jumbled and would be difficult to express.  It was very difficult for me to focus in on one thought at a time.

Behavior: As a result, school was too slow.  The world around me could not keep up with me and I felt very bored in school.  Yet, at the same time I had more thoughts than I could express.  I spent my time in school drawing these intricate drawings that integrated ancient spiritual symbols (that I did not even know I was using) because it was the only way to feel quiet in my mind and to focus all of my thoughts.  In fact, my school work and exams were covered by this art.

  • Obsessed with a goal.  Unable to stop goal directed activity.

Yes.  I was secretly obsessed with being a prophet and put all of my energy into learning from God.

  • Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have painful consequences. This is where hypomania and full-blown mania begin to blur.

My sex drive was through the roof and I had difficulty containing it.  My values kept me from acting out my sexual impulses.  To keep myself from having sex, I took up boxing.

Because I was so sexually excited and had no income, I used my sexuality to try to get things I could not afford, like a car.

I went to a car dealership convinced that that the dealer would want to give me a car because I was “Hot!”.   It didn’t work, but I got him to drive home with me and try to convince my parents to buy me the car.

I was a brand new driver driving down surface streets at 80mph without even noticing it or without even feeling that I was going fast.

And I was just old enough to be dating.  When I met a guy, I unloaded all of my emotional baggage on him on our first date, then was very hurt when he didn’t want to date me.

If I had had money, I would have spent it ALL. And then I would have gone into incredible debt.  If the internet had existed, I would have stolen my parents credit cards and bought EVERYTHING. I was lucky that I was only 15-16 when mania came into my life.

Full-Blown Mania

I was not hospitalized because my mania peaked while my family was on vacation and there was no safe place at the time to contain me, other than jail…which was considered for my safety, but not the chosen option.  Therefore, I experienced the full experience of mania.

I characterize full-blown  mania by the severity of symptoms and the delusions I experienced.  During full-blown mania I went from wanting to serve God to being violently angry.  I was completely out of control both emotionally and physically.  I went from being fearless to completely paranoid and delusional.


I should have been hospitalized.  However, help did not arrive in my life until I had crashed deeply into a depression where I no longer felt alive because I could no longer think or feel anything.

What you are about to read is full of pain.  I share this to give hope to others who have experienced mania.  I want you to know that you are not bad or crazy.

Actions I took during full-blown mania:

  • I cursed at and told off the highway patrol man who gave my father a ticket for speeding.
  • From my vacation, I contacted every boy I had a phone number for in my high school (yet didn’t care about) and aggressively pursued having sex with them as soon as I returned home.  I scared them so badly that not one boy took me up on it.
  • I got in a fist fight with my friend in my vacation home.
  • I threatened to beat up a child for splashing water on my friend.
  • Every emotion I ever had came exploding out of me uncontrollably.
  • I viciously attacked my mom verbally and physically with rage and hate.  I was so angry at her.  I wanted to hurt her.  I wanted her to feel the pain that I felt.  And I wanted her to help me.

Delusions (beliefs that could not be disproven by anyone while I was manic, yet they were not real) = Psychosis:

  • I believed I was to be the mother of the messiah and needed to be impregnated by my best friend.
  • I believed I was gang-raped by the kids in my junior high who emotionally hurt me.
  • I believed my mom was trying to hurt me, so I called the police on her. (This is how the police got involved and wanted to put me in jail for my safety.)
  • I believed I was locked in a room so I found a hammer and destroyed the door. It turns out that the door was not locked.
  • I believed I was responsible for my grandmother’s death and my mother’s cancer.

This is painful to share, no matter how many times I have shared it.  Nonetheless, I share it because I am not alone in this experience.  So many people have experienced this and I want them to know that they are not bad, wrong or crazy…they lost control to mania.  This experience is normal for mania.

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Bipolar Disorder is a useful coping mechanism???

Over the years I’ve developed a good understanding of how my relationship with bipolar disorder works.  I’ve come to realize that bipolar disorder exists to help me cope with circumstances that I unconsciously perceive as beyond my control…times of stress, fear, uncertainty, change, excitement, pain, overwhelm or any circumstance that could potentially threaten my ego, quality of life or survival.

In this blog, we will explore some of my ideas (that are a work in progress) about how mania and depression work as useful coping mechanisms and how they may come to be an “emotional roller-coaster from hell”.

I notice that bipolar disorder responds to circumstances that are beyond control with the following responses:

  • Fight = mania
  • Flight = mania and depression together, known as a mixed episode aka emotional roller-coaster from hell
  • Freeze = depression

How mania works as a coping mechanism:

  • Mania replaces fear with euphoria, courage and intense focus (aka goal directed obsessions).
  • Mania replaces powerlessness and/or pain with rage and irritability as well as feeling invincible and taking action.
  • Mania dives in and takes action during times of uncertainty, excitement, threat and overwhelm.  It does not back down to fear.  Mania beats fear up and flies away like Superman.
  • Mania replaces self-doubt with grandiosity and exuberance.
  • Mania replaces “not knowing” with an abundance of ideas.


Mania is an awesome coping mechanism, yet many people don’t experience it that way.

A problem with mania is that it can go way too far.  It doesn’t have it’s “Coping Recipe” perfected. Mania gets a little carried away in the kitchen. Instead of a dash of exuberance and euphoria, it pours in the whole jar.  Instead of a pinch of rage, it empties it’s pockets into the pot.  Instead of “one plan of action” it throws in every possible idea you could ever have all at once.  Instead of a little self-esteem it freely pours in grandiosity and omnipotence.

Mania only knows how to do things in EXTREME. Maybe mania wants to not be afraid, overwhelmed etc…so bad that it just keeps pouring in the ingredients until there is an out of control roaring fire.

How depression works as a coping mechanism:

  • When emotion, pain or fear is too big, depression makes it so you can’t feel emotion.  Depression makes you numb.
  • When you don’t have the resources to manage your circumstances, depression waits our the storm which allows you to conserve your energy.
  • Depression does it’s best to release pain through tears.

A problem with depression is that not being able to feel can be more painful than the feelings themselves. Being numb can often cause people to not feel alive and want to be dead.  Depression often lasts longer than the circumstances that cause it.  Depression does not turn off after the storm leaves.  Crying uncontrollably often causes people to feel guilty and bad about themselves.  It is not okay in our society to openly experience depression; therefore, we have to hide it which makes it worse.

Mania and depression have been described as an “emotional roller-coaster from hell” and that is a fair description for what I described earlier as “Flight”.


How I make sense of “Flight” aka the “emotional roller-coaster from hell”:

Bipolar disorder doesn’t really know what is going on and what to do because we are going through fear, uncertainty, stress, excitement, change, threat etc…so it takes a gamble…

It throws in a little mania into the pot…a splash of euphoria with some hyperactivity, but the fear etc are still there.  It didn’t work…

So in order to cope, bipolar disorder throws in a grandiosity…but fear etc are still there, it’s still not working.

Bipolar disorder gets a little frustrated so it throws in some rage…it doesn’t work.  Fear etc  are still there.

So it gives up a little, it throws in sadness, frustration and guilt for not working…Fear etc are still there…so it adds a bottle of “numb”.

Now that  bipolar disorder is desperate, it dumps in the exuberance, the rage, the grandiosity, the impulsivity and obsessive goal-directed behavior all into the pot…there is an explosion.  But the fear etc. are still there.

Bipolar disorder keeps doing this until you take the fire away from the pot.

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Good Stress vs. Bad Stress: How stress can trigger a bipolar episode

In the news lately,  Catherine Zeta Jones has openly shared her story of being treated for bipolar disorder that may have been caused by the stress of her husband, Michael Douglas, struggling with cancer.

People are wondering about stress and its relationship with bipolar disorder.  By no means do I believe I have “the answer”.  However, I do have a perspective that comes from my own experience that may shed some light on the types of stress that trigger an episode.

Good Stress vs. Bad Stress

Good stress comes from the combination of responsibility, goals and purpose with having a plan and structure to manage it.

Good stress is external, meaning it comes from doing something in the world.

Good stress may not cause a bipolar manic or depressive episode.

An example of good stress is, “I want to be successful in life.  In order to be successful I need to develop my abilities to do something that is meaningful to me.  In order to develop my abilities I need to learn information and develop the skills to apply them.  To learn information and develop skills I need experience.  In order to get experience, I need to get educated.  In order to get educated I need to study.  In order to study I need to pay attention in to my teachers and learn. etc…”

This example is full of stress and one that we all go through.  In my opinion, the stress of having to do these things is not what causes an episode for someone living with bipolar disorder.

This is productive stress that is goal oriented and task based.  This stress is emotion contained by a plan of action.

Bad stress is caused by internal pressures in response to overwhelm, urgency and fear.

It is caused by thoughts and feelings playing on each other without a plan of action.

Bad stress welcomes and ignites episodes of bipolar disorder.

BAD STRESS can take on multiple forms that build upon themselves:

  • Overwhelm

Overwhelm is a temporary state that occurs when we simply don’t have the interpersonal resources and information to achieve a goal.

In the example of good stress, there was a plan of how to reach a goal.  With bad stress there is no plan of how to achieve a goal.  As a result, a person may experience so much overwhelm that mania or depression gets invited as a coping mechanism.  Mania takes action or depression shuts you down.

Overwhelm is simply shouting, “I don’t know what I’m doing!” “This is too much!”  “I can’t handle this right now!”

So mania kicks in and the brain says, “Yay! I can do anything!” And it’s thoughts race a million miles a minute causing a person to focus on a goal for 20 hours straight using all of their brain power, even if the result makes no sense.

Or depression kicks in and the brain says, “I think and feel nothing.  I’m not getting out of bed. Lights are out, no one is home. Go away.”

  • Overwhelm + Urgency

Urgency is a real or imagined perception that something has to be done, RIGHT NOW.

This is a recipe for disaster for someone living with bipolar disorder because the imagined perception of urgency is a part of daily living.  Therefore, when it combines with overwhelm it can easily lead to mania or depression.

Overwhelm + Urgency are simply screaming, “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I have to do it RIGHT NOW!”

Mania kicks in and gets the job done or depression does nothing and simply shuts down.  Either way it is a coping mechanism to conquer overwhelm combined with urgency.

  • Overwhelm + Urgency + Fear

This is the worst.  Not only do you not know what you’re doing and it has to be done right now, but you have to deal with all of the “could’s”.

Example: “I could fail.”  “I could be humiliated.”  “I could disappoint everyone.”  “I could lose.” “I could lose the person I love the most in the world.”

When overwhelm, urgency and fear combine, which they tend to do eventually, you have the perfect storm for mania or depression.  It is a combination that is just asking for it in a person with bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is interesting because it often causes many people to live with a sense of urgency regardless of an external source causing  urgency. 

In my own experience, I have to consciously remind myself that there is no external urgency in what I am doing.  I have to slow myself down.

The Hidden Stress

That doesn’t feel like stress at all

Excitement

When people think of excitement, they often don’t think of it as a stress response.  However, for a person living with bipolar disorder excitement is the match…or even easier a torch loaded with fuel.

People often ask me why that is…here’s what I believe.

We do not get excited about things that are familiar to us.

We do not get excited about things we know how to do well.

We do not get excited about things way off in the future.

Excitement is simply the really fun form of overwhelm and urgency.

Therefore, it is very common for people to experience excitement and have it lead to mania and possibly even depression.

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How to experience mania without it becoming a full on manic episode

This is a dangerous topic if misused that should be explored with caution and should not be attempted without the support and accessibility of psychiatric professionals.

By no means do I encourage any person living with bipolar disorder discontinue taking their medication or change their dosage in order to experience self-management (especially if you have not been medically treated and stable for several years).  To suddenly discontinue medication has the potential to be life threatening.

However, it is important that people living with bipolar disorder (and those treating it) know that contained mania can be a gift in a person’s life and permit them to continue to feel like they have not lost themselves.

There are some psychiatrists who prescribe so much medication that the experience of genuine emotion is not possible for a person. I take a stand against over-medication.

I have been stable with bipolar disorder for fifteen years and am in the process of becoming a licensed psychotherapist, what follows is how I experience mania without it becoming a manic episode.

Step 1: The Trigger

You must know your triggers.  You learn what they are by paying close attention to your episodes. Not all triggers will be able to be controlled and contained.

I have three types of triggers:

  1. Stress: that I’ve broken down to be defined as anything that I don’t have the interpersonal resources or ability to handle at the moment.  The lack of a plan of action.
  2. Excitement: Stress with a specific goal, yet I still don’t know what I’m doing, but it is so much fun figuring out how I will reach the goal and having the burst of excited energy.
  3. Urgency: When I feel the pressure to have or be something right now.

When either trigger combines with URGENCY that is a dangerous mania that I must contain as soon as possible. This form of mania could exacerbate rapidly into an out of control mania that could lead to full-blown mania if I am not paying attention.

The safest trigger for me hands down is EXCITEMENT. However, it’s a catch-22 because if I do not pay attention and respond carefully to the excitement, URGENCY will get involved and then I am in the danger zone.

My least favorite trigger is STRESS because I have no clear goal and no plan of action. I simply don’t know what I’m doing so I’m completely overwhelmed.

URGENCY is so dangerous because it causes us to ACT and those actions can change our lives permanently.  URGENCY also causes us to lose control on every level and mania takes over.

I cannot stress this enough.  The key is to pay attention. Keep an eye out for URGENCY.

Step 2: The Mania

I only allow myself to experience mania that comes from excitement.  Any form of mania that comes with URGENCY is dangerous to me and must be contained right away (see below).

My Actions of Mania:

I think about, research or work on a project or goal for several hours straight (significantly beyond 9 hours a day).  I become so obsessed on my goal that I can think about nothing else.  Key: I am unable to stop thinking about my project or goal and I cannot stop working towards my goal. I am obsessed.

How do I know when I am in trouble:

I am not able to sleep.  I stay up all night with both ruminating thoughts and new ideas.  I sneak out of bed to do research or keep working.  I do not disclose to people about what I’ve been doing all day because I don’t want them to know how obsessed I am.

How I keep URGENCY away:

Urgency is really hard to keep away.  It has taken me years of practice.  What it comes down to is throwing away the time-line for when my goal has to be achieved or the project I’m working on must be completed.  It requires the will and ability to put down and put away what ever it is that I am working on.

It was very easy to write those sentences, but very difficult to do in real life.  It takes me tremendous will power to prevent urgency.

Step 3: Containing Mania

I cannot say it enough how important learning how to pay attention is!

I allow myself usually only one day to experience mania because that is safest for me.  In the past I allowed myself a week and I really paid for it.  It took me months to recover and feel like myself again.

By giving myself only one day of mania, I notice that the recovery time only a few days and there are minimal consequences in my life.

Here is how I contain my mania:

  1. I get support.  I let everyone close to me in my life know that I am experiencing mania and ask for their support.
  2. I give myself permission to experience mania from when I wake up in the morning (which is really early since I was probably up all night being obsessed) until 5pm.
  3. I force myself to stop working on my goal in order to eat and shower.  This is not always easy to do.
  4. At 5pm, I have to completely remove myself from the situation.  I disconnect myself from whatever it is that was fueling my mania…the excitement. I do not give myself access to what excites me. If I am not able to do it, I ask for help from my support system.
  5. I eat dinner and usually with some form of prescribed sleeping aid, I take my lithium and go to sleep for about 10 hours.  Otherwise, my mind will not stop thinking.

When I wake up in the morning, often it is as though a reset button has been pushed; however, the manic energy is still somewhat present, but in a weakened form.

With the remaining mania, I do not allow myself to even get close to working on the goal that triggered the mania. Instead, I put it to work in some other productive way (like cleaning etc).

I spend the day doing self-care practices that include both exercise and repetition because it has a calming effect on me.

I continue my self-care practices until I notice that I am no longer triggered and that the fuel that fed the mania has been consumed.

I continue working on my project or goal once the excitement of it has worn off and it becomes “work” again.

This is my story for how to experience mania without it becoming a full on manic episode.  I hope this is useful to you.

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