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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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.


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


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.


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.



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.”


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.


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?




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


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.


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.


  • 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.

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 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


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.




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.


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





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.






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.






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. If this value returns they may feel more inclined to join in socially, start trying to get out of their depressive state, and if drug use was prevalent they may even opt to drug test themselves in order to keep on a straight path.


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.




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.


How To Break-Up With Depression

Have you ever had a friend who was in a relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend that did their best to try to control them or change them or tell them, “You will never be…….I am the best you will ever have”?

Have you ever had a friend who was in a relationship with someone who did not want them to be around their family and friends or do any of their interests and wanted to keep them all to themselves?

Have you ever friend who was in a relationship with someone who did not want them to be happy, period, EVER?

If you were in this relationship, would you want to break-up as soon as possible?

This description is the relationship people have with Depression.

Depression is the unhealthy relationship who wants to control you.  Depression wants to change you in ways that will serve it’s purpose. Depression tells you, “You will never be……I am all there is.”  Depression wants to isolate you from all of your friends and family.  Depression wants to steal any pleasure and interest you have in your life.

Why is it so hard to break-up with Depression?

Just like in an unhealthy relationship, Depression convinces you that the problem is “YOU”.  Depression convinces “There’s something wrong with you.” “You are bad.”  “You are worthless.” “You don’t deserve to be happy.”  “No one cares.” “You can’t be…” “You will never feel happiness again.”

By believing this it causes you to own it.  It is like marrying Depression.  When you believe the fear that Depression feeds you, you are making a commitment to it.

How to break-up with Depression

[Note: these ideas will not be effective with all forms of depression.  Severe depression requires medical help and the monitoring of psychiatric and psychotherapeutic professionals.]

Breaking-up with Depression is a lot like ending an unhealthy relationship.  HARD!

  • Recognize and Identify Depression in Your Life.

Just like in the first step of ending an unhealthy relationship, you have to recognize that you are in a relationship with Depression, that the relationship is unhealthy and that it is not what you want for yourself and who you choose to be.

In order to identify Depression in your life, you have to be able to recognize what is YOU and what is NOT YOU.  For instance, is it YOU who doesn’t care about anything and chooses to stay in bed all day or is it Depression?  Is it you that finds no pleasure in things that are normally pleasurable or is it Depression?

This is the hardest part of the break-up with Depression and an unhealthy relationship. 

People struggle the most with this because Depression has them convinced that they are the problem and has them believe that they are Depression.

Once you are able to see that Depression is not who you are, it is separate from you, you can learn how it works.

  • Understand What Depression Needs to Thrive.

Depression may be a chemical imbalance in our brains, yet it behaves just like every other living organism.

Depression needs energy to survive.  And just like every other living organism on this planet, it needs to receive energy from someone or something else that is living.

Depression gets it’s energy by consuming energy from the people it inhabits.  Depression has a lot in common with a parasite, virus or bacteria that need a living host in order to survive.

As human beings, we generate and use the most energy by being active.  We do the most activity doing things that bring us pleasure, interest or reward.  Because we are human, we also receive energy by being connected to other people.

Therefore, it makes sense that Depression would consume our energy by inhibiting people from experiencing pleasure and interest…and by keeping people isolated.

  • Interrupt and Shut Down Depression’s Control.

Like an unhealthy relationship, Depression needs to be in control.  An unhealthy relationship needs to control your self-esteem and self-worth, so does Depression.  An unhealthy relationship controls what you do and keeps you isolated, so does depression.

Take a stand!  Depression does not want you to be active, find a way to be active anyway! Even if it is as simple as taking a shower and getting dressed.  It does not matter how big or little you do.  Simply do something.

Depression wants you to be alone.  Connect with people or pets!  I know this is hard to do.  Being around people when you are experiencing depression can make you feel worse, especially if they are trying to make you feel better.  However, if you don’t want to talk, don’t talk.  Ask a loved one to just sit beside you and hold your hand.  You don’t need words to connect and you don’t need to feel better.  You simply need to connect.

Don’t expect to feel pleasure during this stage of the break up with depression.  All of the actions you do during this time are  a part of the break up process.

  • Consistently Be Active and Stay Connected

Now that you know what Depression needs and how it is getting it, stop giving it to Depression as best you can.

This is difficult to do because depression has consumed your energy and made you feeling tired, sore and/or achy.  Nonetheless, your body still works, it can do more than Depression wants you to believe it can.   It is very difficult to not let your body stop you and Depression knows this and uses this knowledge against you.

I know it is hard.  Nevertheless, breaking up with depression means that you have to go against what your own body wants.   This is very similar to when you are in love and you have to force your heart to let go.

By no means is breaking up with Depression easy.  It is hard, yet it sounds simple “do something and connect”.  Breaking up with Depression and moving on is worth your effort.


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


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.


Things we forget while waiting for antidepressants to kick in

Depression causes everyone it touches to forget that there was ever a time when depression was not in their lives.

When we, people living with bipolar disorder or depression, finally decide that it’s time for antidepressants and/or mood stabilizers, it takes at least two incredibly long weeks for them to start to work.

We really feel those 336 hours go by as though it was 336 years. We have no reason to believe that the medication is ever going to work.

Some of us already feel dead; meanwhile others of us are trying really hard not to commit suicide.  Anyone who tells us to think positive thoughts needs to be yelled at.  To the person experiencing depression, it feels permanent, any other possibility is hard to believe.

Depression causes us to forget who we are.  If we are able to remember, it causes us to think of ourselves in terms of “who we were”.  Depression gives us a new identity.

The identity depression gives us is:

  • “I hate my life.”
  • “I can’t remember ever being happy.”
  • “I don’t like doing anything.”
  • “Nothing feels good.”
  • “There is nothing good about me.”
  • “I’d rather be dead.”

If depression lets us focus, it doesn’t allow for there to be pleasure in anything. And when depression partners with anxiety (which it loves to do) all we can think about is the worst possible thing that could happen and believe that it is the only possible  thing that can happen.

Things depression wants us to forget about ourselves:

  • “There was a time when depression wasn’t even in my life.”
  • “I still am the person I was before the depression was here.”
  • “I like my life much of the time.”
  • “I appreciate my life and have a lot to be grateful for.”
  • “I like people.”
  • “I am loveable. I love someone and they love me.”
  • “People care about me and want me in their lives.”
  • “I have everything I need and a lot of what I want.”
  • “I laugh a lot. I see humor in life.”
  • “By being here I make other people’s lives a little better.”
  • “I’m a good person.”
  • “People like me.”

Things we forget about depression:

  • Often depression comes into our lives when nothing has changed OR when we feel powerless about changes taking place. It comes into our lives when we fear change or anticipate overwhelm, instability, insecurity, loss or uncertainty.  It comes into our lives during times of perceived threat.
  • Depression affects how and what we think and how and what we feel. How and what we think and feel often has nothing to do with what is actually taking place in our lives.
  • Depression, and its partner called Anxiety, get their power by focusing on what could happen and what might happen. However, their power rarely comes from what is actually happening.
  • Most of what we worry about never happens.

  • Depression limits our thinking. Our spectrum of thinking goes: LOUSY…BAD…WORSE…EVEN WORSE…HORRIBLE…HATE LIFE…RATHER BE DEAD. There is no space for other ways of thinking.
  • Depression needs fuel. When we believe that the feelings and thoughts of depression are permanent, when we believe that depression is who we are…we fuel depression. When we isolate ourselves or hide the depression from those we love by smiling and pretending to be fine, we fuel depression.

5 Coping Strategies for loving someone experiencing depression

Suffering with depression is incredibly difficult and painful. However, the second most painful and difficult position is experienced by the person trying to love their partner, child, parent or best friend experiencing depression. In a way, it could be easier for the person who is suffering from depression, as they are able to seek out different methods that can help them to feel better. They can even go as far as trying something similar to the mataro blue strain to relieve some of their symptoms, even if it’s just for a while and until they can find a more permanent solution. Meanwhile, it can be harder for the family and loved ones of the person who is going through depression as they may not know how to handle the situation.

The rejection is heart-breaking. Feeling like your presence (doing anything in your ability to help) makes your partner worse or doesn’t matter at all really hurts.

In this blog we will explore strategies that will support you during the difficult times caused by depression.

Strategy #1: Do not take it personally

Nothing that is expressed or takes place during your loved one’s depression is personal.

When they reject you, and they will, IT IS NOT PERSONAL.

Rejection has nothing to do with you. Isolation is an instinctive response to suffering and depression.

Rejection can also be seen as an act of protection. Your loved one does not want to hurt you. The only thing depression can do is hurt you. Everything that is said is a reflection of the depression – the fear, the anxiety, the panic and the pain. It’s a very heavy load, if you take it personally, the load will become yours.

When someone is experiencing depression they experience the inability to be themselves and it feels permanent. When they can’t be themselves with you (ie. be loving with you) it hurts them more and makes the depression feel worse.

People often share with me that their loved one experiencing depression is able to talk with casual friends and acquaintances and that those people are helpful and it hurts.

My response to that is that partners, parents, children and best friends are different from casual friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Partners etc get to actually see the depression.

Casual friends, colleagues and acquaintances get to see your loved one’s “representative”. They get to see your loved one pretend to not be depressed. They get to distract your loved one. If your loved one does talk with them about their feelings, they’re not dragging them through the mud the way they do with you. Instead, they give their friends the “I’m struggling, but look how well I’m handling it” story.

Casual friends don’t know that when you’re loved one gets home that they can’t get off the couch and wish they were dead. Of course your loved one feels better when they get to pretend that they are okay.

Strategy #2: Accept that you cannot make your loved one be “not depressed” or feel good

This is a really hard thing for anyone to accept. Depression hurts not only the one experiencing it, but it also hurts the people who love them the most. Here is a metaphor that I share that has helped people develop acceptance of this statement:

When we come into life we are all given two things: a shovel and a bucket of shit.

It doesn’t matter in life that we have a bucket of shit. We all have it. We always will. It never goes away and no matter what you do the shit will always be there.

What matters is what we do with our shovel.

Some will use their shovel to take their own shit and put it in other people’s buckets. They never actually can get rid of their shit, they simply make other people feel like crap.

Some will use their shovel to stick in other people’s shit and then put other people’s shit in their own bucket.

Others will first use their shovel to cover their bucket from giving others shit and receiving other people’s shit and then figure out what they can grow with the shit that they have.

If you stick your shovel in your loved one’s shit who is experiencing depression, it doesn’t make the depression go away. It just puts the depression in your own bucket and adds to your shit.

You cannot make flowers grow in a bucket of shit that is not your own.

Instead of “making it better” take the pressure off yourself to fix it by:

Simply being with the person you love.

Sitting beside them.

Holding their hand.

Rubbing their head and their feet.

Validating their feelings. What they are experiencing is horrible.

Reminding them that what they are experiencing is temporary.

This won’t make the depression go away, but it will help them get through the suffering.

Strategy #3: Perspective: Depression is in a relationship with the person you love, not the person you love

Your loved one is not depressed. Depression is NOT who they are. Your loved one is experiencing depression.

They are in a relationship with depression that has them captured or held hostage. Its a bad relationship. A relationship that isn’t easy to get out of. However, depression affects them and when they have the strength they can affect depression.

It can help your loved one to hear that you know that this is not who they are and that you love them. It is also important for your loved one to know that you love them even though they are not themselves.

Of course they won’t respond the way you want them to…with love, affection and appreciation. However, deep down beneath all of the numbness, pain, anxiety, fear etc…your loved one is still there and need to be loved.

Strategy #4: Interpreting Rejection

When your loved one is in a depression rejecting you and pushing you away as best they can. They’re not saying, “I need you and want more of you.” It would be easy to allow their rejection to cause you to dive into a depression yourself and feel heart-broken.

Here’s an alternative interpretation to their rejection:

“I need to be alone.”

Interpretation: “I need to escape this by sleeping as much as possible. I can’t escape it as easily if you’re here talking with me about it. Why don’t you go do something you need to do for yourself.”

“I’d rather be with my friends [than you].”

Interpretation: “When I’m with my friends, it distracts me from how horrible I feel. My friends don’t ask me how I’m feeling. They don’t ask me if anything is wrong. If they see something is wrong, they wait until I share. If I don’t share, they don’t ask…they just keep talking about themselves.”

“I don’t know if I want our relationship.”

Interpretation: If your relationship was in good standing when your loved when went into the depression…”I’m not myself. I don’t like who I am being. This is not who I want to be. I don’t want to treat you this way. This feels permanent. If this is how I will always treat you. I don’t want to be with you.”

“You don’t make me feel better.”

Interpretation: “You can’t make me feel better even though you really try to. When I am with you, I still feel so depressed because I don’t get to pretend to be okay when I’m with you. When I’m with you I’m stuck feeling whatever I feel and there is nothing you can do to make me feel better.”

Strategy #5: Your Own Self-Care

When your loved one is experiencing depression, it is not your responsibility to make them feel better. You can’t. It is your responsibility to take care of yourself.

It is incredibly difficult to not be sucked in by the depression of your loved one because of how much you care. It is your responsibility to not be sucked in. It is your responsibility to take care of yourself.

Think about what soothes you, brings you joy, and nurtures you.

Here are some areas of self-care to explore:

Exercise / Movement

Being in nature / Being outside

Attitude of gratitude and appreciation


Connection with others

Being Creative / Artistic

Self-Expression / Journaling


Games / Playing

Cooking / Eating healthy

Conscious breathing

Meditation / Guided meditation / Yoga

Depression is incredibly hard on everyone involved. When you are loving someone with depression it is so important that you make the time to love yourself, to nurture yourself, and receive support in a way that is fulfilling to you.



How depression knocks on your door…And how not to let it in.

Do you ever hear the doorbell, and feel the rush of anticipation feeling that it’s a friend surprising you. Then when you open the door…it’s a salesman, trying to sell you something you don’t need. That salesman is just like depression. But when it knocks, it is carrying all of your “baggage” and it will do anything it can to sell it to you and get you into bed.

Our goal today is to explore how it does this and ways to not answer the door. But if we do because depression is very sneaky, our goal is to not let it stay in bed with you long.

In order for depression to come into your life, there are things it needs to take from you.

Like mania, depression needs to either prevent you from sleeping OR cause you to sleep too much. Hence, why the first place it wants to get you is into bed…it MUST do this before it can even sell you its crap.

It does this because it knows sleep is very vulnerable. You cannot force yourself to sleep, so depression goes after sleep first. Sleep is best target because it regulates your brain and body. Without sleep you cannot function. Not being able to function is exactly what depression needs in order to come into your life and for it to survive.

To prevent depression or mania from having easy access to your sleep here are some actions to take:

  • Be consistent in your sleep pattern – go to bed and wake up daily at the same time.
  • Do not work on anything past a specific hour you set that is a few hours before bed time. (This is the hardest one especially if you are manic or having mixed episodes.)
  • Have a relaxation routine that you start an hour before bed. Ex. Turn the lights low, listen to relaxing music, take a warm bath, burn a candle. If you are tempted to try a natural approach to getting to sleep, you might even find that using a cannabis strain such as blue dream weed can help you to relax and unwind. Never smoked cannabis before? If so, you might want to consider using a mini bong. You can learn more about mini bongs here:
  • Keep a notepad by your bed so that when ideas wake you up in the middle of the night you can write them down and go back to sleep.
  • Don’t use alcohol to sleep. It will only let depression in more.
  • Talk with your doctor and request a non-addictive sleep aid.

Depression’s next easiest tool for plowing down your door is FEAR.

Fear is depression’s most highly developed and effective tool. This tool affects your life on many levels including: how you think, what you feel, what you do and how you do it – your body’s heightened stress response.

How You Think:

In order for depression to be in your life, it needs to manipulate and control your thoughts. In order to do so it will persistently tell you things like, “You will ALWAYS be (insert negative statement here)….You will NEVER (insert positive statement here)….You CAN’T…” And it plays these ugly messages to you like a tape recorder in an authoritative voice (sometimes your own, or maybe your mother and father’s etc).

This is how depression gains your trust….


When depression comes into your life after mania or hits you like a ton of bricks, it controls your thoughts differently. Because it didn’t knock on your door at all, it keeps you depressed by making you incapable of thinking and feeling PERIOD. (But this will be discussed another time.)

How You Feel:

When depression knocks on your door it needs you to feel bad. So bad that you hurt. It can’t exist unless you feel so much guilt, shame, blame, doubt, sadness, loss, pain etc…that you are willing to not resist the feelings and own them.

This is why it tells you, “Everything is your fault….” “You aren’t worthy of…” “No one will love you.” “No one wants you.” “No one will believe you.” etc.

Depression’s goal is hurt you until you go numb and can’t feel anything because it needs you to not be willing and able to do anything about it.

Depression does NOT want you to care. It needs you to not care in order for it to survive. This process often invites suicide.

What You Do:

Depression needs you to do absolutely NOTHING. In order for it to survive and make itself at home with you, it steals your energy, interests, your ability to focus, your ability to experience pleasure.

Depression needs your strength, resources and abilities in order to live.

How you do it – Your Bodies Heightened Stress Response:

The best way for depression to make you believe the thoughts and feelings that it feeds you is by making you feel it in your body.

It does this through agitation, anxiety and panic attacks.

Depression needs you to feel out of control in your body so that it can control you.

To not answer the door when depression tries to control how you think, feel, and respond in your body:

  • Acknowledge that the thoughts and feelings you are having are depression, NOT YOU.
  • See depression for what it is: Like all other living creatures it wants to survive. In order to survive it must manipulate and control you so you give it your resources. It is like a parasite.
  • Do not believe the tape recorded lies depression tells you about yourself and your life. Don’t buy what the salesman is trying to sell you. If you have to curse at him, “F*** You Depression!” It just feels good.
  • When you feel negative feelings in your body, PAUSE, breathe deeply and slowly, and ask yourself is this F.E.A.R. “False Evidence Appearing Real”.
  • When depression is stealing your interests from you, find at least one thing and keep doing it no matter what…even if its just getting out of bed.
  • Exercise – your body needs to release the stress hormones and exercise is how your body does it.
  • Focus on the “Here and Now”. You will find that when you are in the moment, depression can’t exist. Depression gets to you by focusing your attention on the past (what happened or what could have been) and the future (what might happen or “what if…”)…but never the present (what is, right now). Right now, there is no problem. The present lacks FEAR.

Doing these actions can be challenging. For help overcoming these obstacles and taking action, feel free to set up a consultation with me if you are in the Los Angeles area OR seek out a psychotherapist in your area:

I will be writing a blog on what to look for that will make a therapist a good fit.