My life with bipolar—what it's really like to live with a severe mental health disorder
Photo by DANNY G on Unsplash

I was 20 years old when I first heard the word "bipolar." I was in a sterile, white room: a room with stained walls and cold, metal chairs. There were marks on the floor. Scuffs and crumbs and wisps of unswept hair. But that didn't bother me. Not really. What bothered me was my new diagnosis.

Bipolar.

I wasn't sad or depressed, I was bipolar.

I'd be lying if I said I accepted my new label with grace. I mean, I started taking medication. Depakote. I went to therapy, as my psychiatrist suggested, and I attempted to make progress. I really, really tried. But I didn't believe I was sick, or at least not as sick as they were telling me, and after a few months, I stopped taking my meds — something which, over the last 16 years, I have done time and time again. But it didn't end well. It never ends well. And during my "withdrawal," my body began reacting.

Within days, I was exuberant, elated, and happy. I was working more and sleeping less. I was talkative. Very talkative. I text dozens of friends, friends who I hadn't spoken to in years, and I was confident. Hypomania was setting in. I also pitched hundreds of story ideas. I wrote more articles than I can count. Oh, and I dyed my hair. Over the span of a week, I sported three different shades. But I was seeing things. Hearing voices. The walls had eyes. My world was closing in. And I was drinking to manage. To deal. To cope.

I was also suicidal. When I am manic, I am always suicidal.


But why then did I stop my pills? Why did I put myself and my wellbeing at risk? Because I have a mental health disorder. Specifically, I live with bipolar disorder, and one of the symptoms of my illness is impulsivity. Mania and hypomania is marked by reckless decisions. And stopping my pills? That was brash and careless. It was negligent and thoughtless, and it was reckless. It was textbook bipolar behavior.

But mania and hypomania aren't the only manifestations of my illness. Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health disorder, one that affects 2.3 million Americans, and in order to be diagnosed with this condition, one must experience elation and sadness. Those with bipolar experience manic highs and depressive lows—and I would know.

While my most recent swing was up, I have spent many days down. My depressive episodes are frequent, dark and morose.

You see, when I am depressed, I am discouraged and despondent, helpless and hopeless, and I feel numb. I am suffocated by a curtain I cannot see. I am stuck behind a wall which does not exist, and I am tethered to a pole by an imaginary rope.

I run laps like a caged animal. I beg for someone—anyone—to throw me a bone.

When I am depressed, I miss deadlines and lack motivation: To work. To parent. To run, read, or shower.

When I am depressed, I want to be alone. I need to be alone. Seeing people being and breathing is too painful. Watching others live their life hurts. And when I am depressed I feel guilty for thinking these things. For feeling these things. Everything becomes a chore.

"Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive illness or manic depression) is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks," the National Institute of Mental Health writes. Those living with bipolar "experience periods of unusually intense emotion, changes in sleep patterns and activity levels, and uncharacteristic behaviors — often without recognizing their likely harmful or undesirable effects."

Of course, as with any illness, the symptoms of bipolar vary from person to person and patient to patient; however, those living with bipolar will experience periods of depression, mania and/or hypomania.

"Mania and hypomania are two distinct types of episodes," the Mayo Clinic explains, "but they have the same symptoms, [including but not limited to feeling] abnormally upbeat, jumpy or wired; [having] increased activity, energy or agitation [and/or an] exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence (euphoria); [experiencing a] decreased need for sleep... [and engaging in] poor decision-making."

Those with depression will experience feelings of numbness, sadness, tearfulness, hopelessness, and helplessness. They may experience weight loss or weight gain, and depression can exacerbate feelings of worthlessness and guilt. Fatigue and a general loss of motivation and energy can also occur.

The good news is most days I am stable. I am balanced. Thanks to therapy and medication, I am living somewhere "in between." Most days I wake feeling fine. I am able to parent. To work. To function. I am a good employee. A caring wife. A loving mother, and an (overly invested) friend. I can also roll with the punches. I don't cry over cold coffee or breakdown when I spill milk. I also don't drink. I am able to keep the manic demons at bay. Plus, I know how to manage my illness when I am not. I run. I rest. I speak with my therapist more frequently. If necessary, I ask my psychiatrist to adjust my meds, and I implement my crisis intervention plan, a document which includes tangible steps I can take if and when I am feeling manic or depressed.

But being well isn't easy. It takes patience and hard work. It also takes a little faith and a whole lot of luck, but it is worth it.

I am worth it.

If you or someone you know is struggling, know this: You are not alone. There is help. There is hope. For more information about bipolar disorder and/or resources about substance abuse or other mental health disorders, call the visit SAMHSA's website or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Courtesy of Macy's

Brantley and his snowman

True

"Would you like to build a snowman?" If you asked five-year-old Brantley from Texas this question, the answer would be a resounding "Yes!" While it may sound like a simple dream, since Texas doesn't usually see much snow, it seemed like a lofty one for him, even more so because Brantley has a congenital heart disease.

On Dec. 11, 2019, however, the real Macy's Santa and his two elves teamed up with Make-A-Wish to surprise Brantley and his family on his way to Colorado where there was plenty of snow for him to build his very own snowman, fulfilling his wish as part of the Macy's Believe campaign. After a joy-filled plane ride where every passenger got gift bags from Macy's, the family arrived in Breckenridge, Colorado where Santa and his elves helped Brantley build a snowman.

Brantley, Brantley's mom, and Santa marveling at their snowmanAll photos courtesy of Macy's

Brantley, who according to his mom had never actually seen snow, was blown away by the experience.

"Well, I had to build a snowman because snowmen are my favorite," Brantley said in an interview with Summit Daily. "All of it was my favorite part."

This is just one example of the more than 330,000 wishes the nonprofit Make-A-Wish have fulfilled to bring joy to children fighting critical illnesses since its founding 40 years ago. Even though many of the children that Make-A-Wish grants wishes for manage or overcome their illnesses, they often face months, if not years of doctor's visits, hospital stays and uncomfortable treatments. The nonprofit helps these children and their families replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy and anxiety with hope.

It's hardly an outlandish notion — research shows that a wish come true can help increase these children's resiliency and improve their quality of life. Brantley is a prime example.

"This couldn't have come at a better time because we see all the hardships that we went through last year," Brantley's mom Brandi told Summit Daily.

Brantley playing with snowballs

Now more than ever, kids with critical illnesses need hope. Since they're particularly vulnerable to disease, they and their families have had to isolate even more during the pandemic and avoid the people they love most and many of the activities that recharge them. That's why Make-A-Wish is doing everything it can to fulfill wishes in spite of the unprecedented obstacles.

That's where you come in. Macy's has raised over $132 million for Make-A-Wish, and helped grant more than 15,500 wishes since their partnership began in 2003, but they couldn't have done that without the support of everyday people. The crux of that support comes from Macy's Believe Campaign — the longstanding holiday fundraising effort where for every letter to Santa that's written online at Macys.com or dropped off safely at the red Believe mailbox at their stores, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. New this year, National Believe Day will be expanded to National Believe Week and will provide customers the opportunity to double their donations ($2 per letter, up to an additional $1 million) for a full week from Sunday, Nov. 29 through Saturday, Dec. 5.

There are more ways to support Make-A-Wish besides letter-writing too. If you purchase a $4 Believe bracelet, $2 of each bracelet will be donated to Make-A-Wish through Dec. 31. And for families who are all about the holiday PJs, on Giving Tuesday (Dec. 1), 20 percent of the purchase price of select family pajamas will benefit Make-A-Wish.

Elizabeth living out her wish of being a fashion designer

Additionally, this year's campaign features 6-year-old Elizabeth, a Make-A-Wish child diagnosed with leukemia, whose wish to design a dress recently came true. Thanks to the style experts at Macy's Fashion Office and I.N.C. International Concepts, only at Macy's, Elizabeth had the opportunity to design a colorful floral maxi dress. Elizabeth's exclusive design is now available online at Macys.com and in select Macy's stores. In the spirit of giving back this holiday season, 20 percent of the purchase price of Elizabeth's dress (through Dec. 31) will benefit Make-A-Wish.You can also donate directly to Make-A-Wish via Macy's website.

This holiday season may be a tough one this year, but you can bring joy to children fighting critical illnesses by delivering hope for their wishes to come true.

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The story of Patricia and Leslie "LD" McWaters dying together might have both of those elements, but it is also tragic because they died of a preventable disease in a pandemic that hasn't been handled well. The Michigan couple, who had been married for 47 years, both died of COVID-19 complications on November 24th. Since they died less than a minute apart, their deaths were recorded with the exact same time—4:23pm.

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Courtesy of Macy's

Brantley and his snowman

True

"Would you like to build a snowman?" If you asked five-year-old Brantley from Texas this question, the answer would be a resounding "Yes!" While it may sound like a simple dream, since Texas doesn't usually see much snow, it seemed like a lofty one for him, even more so because Brantley has a congenital heart disease.

On Dec. 11, 2019, however, the real Macy's Santa and his two elves teamed up with Make-A-Wish to surprise Brantley and his family on his way to Colorado where there was plenty of snow for him to build his very own snowman, fulfilling his wish as part of the Macy's Believe campaign. After a joy-filled plane ride where every passenger got gift bags from Macy's, the family arrived in Breckenridge, Colorado where Santa and his elves helped Brantley build a snowman.

Brantley, Brantley's mom, and Santa marveling at their snowmanAll photos courtesy of Macy's

Brantley, who according to his mom had never actually seen snow, was blown away by the experience.

"Well, I had to build a snowman because snowmen are my favorite," Brantley said in an interview with Summit Daily. "All of it was my favorite part."

This is just one example of the more than 330,000 wishes the nonprofit Make-A-Wish have fulfilled to bring joy to children fighting critical illnesses since its founding 40 years ago. Even though many of the children that Make-A-Wish grants wishes for manage or overcome their illnesses, they often face months, if not years of doctor's visits, hospital stays and uncomfortable treatments. The nonprofit helps these children and their families replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy and anxiety with hope.

It's hardly an outlandish notion — research shows that a wish come true can help increase these children's resiliency and improve their quality of life. Brantley is a prime example.

"This couldn't have come at a better time because we see all the hardships that we went through last year," Brantley's mom Brandi told Summit Daily.

Brantley playing with snowballs

Now more than ever, kids with critical illnesses need hope. Since they're particularly vulnerable to disease, they and their families have had to isolate even more during the pandemic and avoid the people they love most and many of the activities that recharge them. That's why Make-A-Wish is doing everything it can to fulfill wishes in spite of the unprecedented obstacles.

That's where you come in. Macy's has raised over $132 million for Make-A-Wish, and helped grant more than 15,500 wishes since their partnership began in 2003, but they couldn't have done that without the support of everyday people. The crux of that support comes from Macy's Believe Campaign — the longstanding holiday fundraising effort where for every letter to Santa that's written online at Macys.com or dropped off safely at the red Believe mailbox at their stores, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. New this year, National Believe Day will be expanded to National Believe Week and will provide customers the opportunity to double their donations ($2 per letter, up to an additional $1 million) for a full week from Sunday, Nov. 29 through Saturday, Dec. 5.

There are more ways to support Make-A-Wish besides letter-writing too. If you purchase a $4 Believe bracelet, $2 of each bracelet will be donated to Make-A-Wish through Dec. 31. And for families who are all about the holiday PJs, on Giving Tuesday (Dec. 1), 20 percent of the purchase price of select family pajamas will benefit Make-A-Wish.

Elizabeth living out her wish of being a fashion designer

Additionally, this year's campaign features 6-year-old Elizabeth, a Make-A-Wish child diagnosed with leukemia, whose wish to design a dress recently came true. Thanks to the style experts at Macy's Fashion Office and I.N.C. International Concepts, only at Macy's, Elizabeth had the opportunity to design a colorful floral maxi dress. Elizabeth's exclusive design is now available online at Macys.com and in select Macy's stores. In the spirit of giving back this holiday season, 20 percent of the purchase price of Elizabeth's dress (through Dec. 31) will benefit Make-A-Wish.You can also donate directly to Make-A-Wish via Macy's website.

This holiday season may be a tough one this year, but you can bring joy to children fighting critical illnesses by delivering hope for their wishes to come true.

via Twins Trust / Twitter

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