Continuing the Surviving Bipolar series.
Trigger Warning: Depression, suicide, self-harm
Welcome back. Surviving Bipolar is an ongoing series where I share my personal experiences, good, bad, and ugly, with living with bipolar disorder.
This post will explain how the Speaking Bipolar blog came to life.
Who Am I?
To start, let me tell you a little about me.
My name is Scott, and I’m in my early fifties. Yes, there are a few miles on these tires.
I grew up in Central Wisconsin, but moved to Tennessee when I was 20. As you’ll learn, it was largely a bipolar decision, but I didn’t learn about my mental illness until three years later.
I battle every day with bipolar disorder and Familial Mediterranean Fever. My days revolve around my job as a bookkeeper and tax preparer. Chronic illness gives me little strength for much of anything else, though I still find time to volunteer, practice my faith, and take care of my aging parents.
I’m writing this series to give hope to all those dealing with a mental or chronic illness diagnosis. Being diagnosed with an incurable disorder doesn’t mean your life is over. Instead, a new life is beginning. It’s a blank slate, and it’s up to you to choose how to fill it.
The goal is for this tale to give validation and encouragement to at least one person. Maybe that person is you.
Now, let me tell you a little about this blog’s history.
A Joke Turns Serious
I am blessed to have several friends with bipolar disorder.
I say “blessed” because I have a circle of friends who understand the dark and twisted things in my head. Not only do they give me a sense of belonging, but also a safe place to vent without being judged.
Okay, so maybe I might be judged, but at least they understand where the craziness is coming from.
One cold winter morning, five of us were waiting in a van for another friend to come out of his house. The subject of communicating with bipolar came up.
Each of us knew how often we both misunderstand things and are misunderstood for the things we say and do. We felt there should be a language dictionary for people without bipolar so they could understand us better. It become our running joke.
In my mind, I started writing the dictionary. I decided I would call it Speaking Bipolar: A Mental Illness Translator.
For years, Speaking Bipolar was little more than a joke. It was our fallback conversation when we were together and needed to laugh. I kept a mental list of what we said, but never thought seriously about writing the book.
Life Events Change Me
As I shared in part one, a friend’s suicide changed things for me.
Jim’s death consumed me, and I was haunted by the belief I could have done more to help him. Bipolar delusions made me think I should have been able to save him.
In reality, I don’t know if I could have made any difference, but the thought is still there.
Living with bipolar means you spend many nights not sleeping. Many, many nights.
Sometimes I watch TV or read to fill those long hours, but more often than not, I lie in bed in the dark and let my thoughts run wild. Trying to control my thoughts is about as effective as herding cats.
Most nights, my thoughts would steer back to Jim.
He was not the first friend I lost in such a tragic way. There are more than a dozen names on what I call my “death list.” Every suicide tormented me, but Jim’s was the worst. I felt a wave of panic every time the phone rang because I feared my death list would grow longer.
I was relatively stable, living a productive life, and reasonably happy. If I could be okay, I knew there should be a way to help my friends before it was too late.
The more time that passed, the more driven I felt to take action. A fire was lit deep inside, and with each passing day, it grew in size.
I rarely talked about my bipolar disorder outside of the friends who understood.
I wondered, “Could I finally tell others about me and what bipolar is like on the inside? Is it possible my experiences could help someone else and keep them from falling into the abyss?”
Do I Have the Courage?
Living with mental illness is a daily struggle. Bipolar colors every interaction you have and dictates many of your activities and decisions.
All too often, people view you differently when they know you have a mental illness diagnosis. This is also true for many chronic illnesses, but for years I thought it was specific to mental illnesses only. I think it’s a harder fight with a mental illness, but since I’ve never lived without one, I can’t say.
Bipolar can become your whole identity. Not by choice, mind you, but it can become the only label that people associate with you. Once people know the label, they think they know everything about you.
This stigma and prejudice is why many people living with bipolar disorder choose to keep it a secret. It’s a problem we all need to work on changing.
To make things worse, some people lie and say mental disorders are a sign of weakness or a lack of faith. It’s no wonder why so many feel hopeless. Men especially face this challenge, and far too many fail to seek help because of it.
I feared I lacked the courage to face the stigma, to meet the disapproving looks and comments, and to be identified as being mentally ill.
But the more time that passed, the more my fire grew. I knew if I could help even one person, any discomfort I might suffer would all be worth it.
The Third Time’s the Charm
Here’s a truth none of my friends knew until recently. Speaking Bipolar is my third blog.
The first blog only ever had one post. Fear kept me from posting more, and when it was time to renew the domain, I decided to let it expire.
A voice deep inside my head refused to be silent. So, I tried again.
Irrational fears were still holding me back, so I started the second blog under a pseudonym.
That blog gained a few readers, but the more time I put into creating a fictitious me, the less authentic the posts felt. I’m not sure if my readers felt it, but it was a constant weight holding me down. The blog never took off, and in time, I shut it down as well.
Two blogs had come and gone, and I had helped no one. I was failing in my primary goal. I’ve let discouragement stop me too many times, so I vowed to be better with my current mission.
I promised myself I would make a blog a success.
The Real Me
Speaking Bipolar is about the real me.
The stories I share are about real experiences, things that happened in my life. The picture I share online is my real picture.
Few things have been more terrifying than writing words about the real me. With each step forward, though, something amazing and wonderful happened.
I’m far from being the world’s greatest writer (you know you were thinking it) nor am I the best storyteller. Still, slowly over time, my words touched people. Each comment on a post or email reply to a newsletter told me people were being touched by my words, and my heart exploded every time.
Every week, readers reach out to tell me how my words give them hope. I’m filled with a joy I never expected.
Even with all the good, fear continued to hold me back. There was more of my story I needed to tell.
What Bipolar Is Really Like
There’s a darkness inside that never fully goes away.
Suicidal thoughts are part of my everyday life, and have been as far back as the fifth grade.
Thoughts of self-harm are not the only truth to living with bipolar disorder.
Then there are the thoughts you can’t control.
I replay conversations hundreds of times in my head. Conversations from today, yesterday, and ten years ago.
I deconstruct and analyze every word and every gesture. This isn’t just a manic thing, but something that happens every single day. Ruminating fills part of every night.
When I run out of past conversations, I imagine conversations I need to have. I plan what I will say in any given situation and proceed to play out the conversation in my head. If part of it feels off, I start over again and play the whole conversation again.
Still, No Words Spoken
The ironic thing is, even with all the planning of conversations in advance, when the time comes to actually have a real conversation, I usually say nothing.
After all, isn’t everyone judging every word I say? Doesn’t everyone spend every night playing back every conversation they’ve ever had? Isn’t that normal?
If you have bipolar, then yes, it is perfectly normal.
Wait, where was I going again? Getting lost is also part of bipolar.
It Can Be a Scary Place in Here
It’s more than just conversations, though, but it’s probably the easiest to understand.
The bipolar brain likes to do much more. Racing thoughts and delusions of grandeur are things people often associate with bipolar disorder, but they’re only part of the story.
My brain likes to play the worst-case-scenario game. It is not a fun game.
If someone is five minutes late getting somewhere, I know they are dead.
If a friend doesn’t immediately come up to me at a party, I know I did something to upset them, and now they hate me.
When a friend doesn’t call me, then I’m sure they were never really my friend anyway. But if they do call me, then they are obsessed with me, and I refuse to be smothered. Or I know they’re only calling because they need something from me.
Yep, it’s often a no-win situation.
Still With Me?
Wait, have I completely overwhelmed you? Let me slow down.
I can type at incredible speeds, which is also how my mind works, but I have to remember many of you reading this may not have a Bipolar brain. And, as of yet, my mental illness translator is still unfinished.
The thoughts in my head are often complicated.
I know lots of my thoughts aren’t “normal” or “healthy,” but they are the truths of my daily life. It’s a truth I kept hidden for many years, but now is the time for me to talk.
For years, I thought I was the only one who thought or felt this way. I had no idea other people thought about ending things or lived with conversations on an endless loop in their mind.
It was only after I started speaking up that some of my friends said, “Hey, yeah, I feel that way, too!”
Speaking Bipolar is here to help you feel connected and normal. You are not the only one, and you are not alone anymore.
Until next time, keep fighting.
I was well into my twenties when I was finally diagnosed with manic depression, as bipolar disorder was then known. In the next part, I talk about my life pre-diagnosis and how I knew something was wrong.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an easy map to follow to guide our lives? That’s the subject of this poem video.