What to Do When Managing Bipolar Disorder Is Really, Really Hard

If I buy into the idea that bipolar disorder is easy to treat and one day I’m going to magically be better, I will be upset every time I get sick. I have to accept my bipolar reality.

 

What My Bipolar Reality Looks Like

I’ve had mood swings while sleeping.  I can tell that my eyes are closed and that I’m dreaming, but the symptoms of the day are still present even though my brain has supposedly gone into a different state. I’ve experienced panic attacks during a nap and have been so depressed I’ve rolled in a ball, promising the people around me that I would NOT hurt myself. This is my bipolar reality. I want to be honest about what I experience so that you will not have to feel alone if it happens to you as well.

We have a mental illness. This is our reality. It doesn’t matter what we call it. It doesn’t even matter if we deny we have it. The reality is our mood swings are there for all to see. I often experience depression, anxiety, mania, and psychosis in the same day. I hide as much as I can, and I know what to do for help, but reality is reality. My brain is not my friend.

You Are Not Alone in Your Struggles with Bipolar

You are not alone if you haven’t found a magic pill that takes away the mood swings. You are not alone if you struggle in school and work. You are not alone if bipolar profoundly affects your relationships. You can’t put lipstick on a piggy wiggy, and you can’t perfume dog poop. Sorry to be so crude. But bipolar is bipolar. It is a brain-based illness. Despite all of this, I am still an incredibly positive person, and I am hoping you can also find a way to love life, too, despite the pain caused by this illness.

Why am I being so honest? It is how I survive. If I buy in to the idea that this illness is easy to treat and that one day I’m going to magically be better, I will be upset every time I get sick. I’m a realist and it helps me move forward in life despite my mood swings.

When you look in the mirror and say to yourself, “Well, gosh darn it, I’ve got a genetic mental health disorder that affects my ability to manage my moods,” it clears the brain for getting help.

Denial, refusing to accept my limitations, thinking I will wake up one day and my brain will have righted itself and listening to people who say that mental illness is a sham or shameful take up valuable time and brain space that I need for my management plan.

I need strategies in place for staying alive when the life-threatening thoughts shows up simply because someone writes something rotten about one of my blogs. I need the space to put something in my brain that is going to help, from medications, if needed, to meditative time alone, and supportive friends. This can also include exercise and having fun. Managing this illness has to be my job or I will not be able to reach any of my goals.

People often ask if the illness gets worse as you get older. There is no evidence for this that I know of, but I can tell you from my experience that it gets harder to manage as your body changes and life gets more crowded. When you’re 20 and don’t have as many worries, the illness may be the same, but it will affect your life incredibly differently than when you are 40 and have kids and a mortgage.

Choosing My Perspective for Optimal Bipolar Treatment—and Living

My attitude is one of realistic positivity.

If I know what I’m up against, I can be ready for the mood swings when they inevitably appear. I’m going on year 22 of my diagnosis and year 37 since my first bipolar symptoms [at the time of writing]. I am ready for this illness.

I have to remain fascinated with my own brain. I have to remain vigilant and kind to myself when I get sick. This is an illness. It’s not emotional instability. It’s not a personal choice, and it’s not something created by my childhood. Bipolar disorder is genetic; it’s strong, and I have to be ready for what it throws at me, even if I’m sleeping.

I am up to the task and I know you can be as well.  When my bipolar disorder gets really bad and I feel I am too sick to function, I know that I am going to be ok. It’s an illness.

I am strong, and you are, too.

Julie

Originally published December 13, 2017 for Bp Magazine. 

Bipolar and Restless? You are not Alone.

Bipolar took everything from me before I was diagnosed. I left everyone and everything during my out of control mood swings.

I didn’t care that I hurt people… simply because I was too sick to think of other people!

When I was manic, I had no empathy.

When I was depressed, I was so focused on my own pain, I couldn’t think clearly.

Bipolar is not psychological. It’s chemical. You can’t talk yourself out of something you don’t recognize. You have to learn how to manage this illness.

When bipolar is in control, you WILL crave change. It will feel good to leave everything and everyone.

You will hurt others.

Ultimately, it hurts you the most.

Stay where you are and manage the bipolar.

Focus on stability and staying in one place while you learn to recognize and manage mood swings.

Your family, coworkers and especially your partner will thank you.

Learn from me.

Looking at your partner one day and saying, “I don’t love you any more. I’m going to China. I already bought the ticket,” is not healthy.

This was my last manic episode before I was finally diagnosed with bipolar in 1995 at age 31.

I still have bipolar restlessness, but I sit with it and work through it. Before I was diagnosed, I averaged three to four jobs a YEAR.

I have now been in the same career for 19 years. Miracles happen. 😎

Manage the bipolar. Ask for help. Read Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder. Tell the people in your life what to look for when you get restless. Let them anchor you to the stable world.

If you want help with bipolar restlessness, send me a DM and I will send you an article on the topic.

Julie

 

 

Bipolar Mood Swings are….

I’m often asked how we can tell the difference between bipolar disorder and the typical ups and downs of everyday life.

One of the best ways to figure this out is to remember that bipolar is unexpected.

It is not… and I must emphasize this…. bipolar is NOT a reaction that makes sense.

Bipolar behavior is off kilter. Too loud. Too quiet. Too weird. Too difficult. Too open. Too closed. It is excessive.

Bipolar mood swings don’t match the mood of the room. They don’t match the mood of the event that they are reacting to. They don’t match how regular people behave.

And for the majority of the time, the moods have NOTHING to do with anything. They are what I call free form moods!

Mania is all about energy so the manic mood swing is over the top in terms of body movements, brightness of the eyes, loudness of the voice, expansiveness of the body and lack of preparation for how our behaviors will affect ourselves and others.

Depression can be agitated or weepy, but it almost always has a negative view on any situation whether the situation itself be negative or positive. In other words depression clouds the situation instead of being a reaction to the situation.

The list of words on the graphic can help you determine if you or a loved one are having a mood swing or a regular response to every day life.

Bipolar is not normal behavior.

Bipolar behavior will stand out from the norm.

Yes, we do have a norm. And bipolar is not normal. Our stable selves are the norm.

Julie

If you’re new to my work, start with Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder and then Getting it Done When You’re Depressed.

Partners can start with Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder. This is a great book for family members and health care professionals as well.

My book of essays on life with bipolar,  OMG! That’s Me  Vol.2 is available on Amazon.

I have an article from Bp Magazine on the BoHope webpage called ’‘Does My Teenager Have Bipolar?’ that can help parents and health care professionals decipher typical teen behavior vs. the behavior of a teen with bipolar.

Julie 

Partner with Bipolar? Join Julie A. Fast on The Stable Bed on Facebook

Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner.  She runs a group for partners on Facebook called The Stable Bed. The post below is an example of posts on The Stable Bed. 

 

Hello dear reader! I am still on my self imposed break for a few weeks from daily social media and writing. This is an essential part of my bipolar management plan.
 
I don’t like it!
I feel ridiculous to need breaks just because something normal is happening in my life such as an upcoming move.
My goal on The Stable Bed is to show you how a partner with bipolar manages the illness and what you can do to help you partner.
One of the biggest mistakes we make as partners is expecting a person to be better than they actually are….
We need time after a big episode and we often need time in order to prevent an episode.
This is inconvenient and at first, quite upsetting for the relationship.
But once this is accepted- and once this idea is incorporated into a relationship, you will find some relief. The more your partner learns to manage bipolar, the easier it becomes to take this kind of break.
Nothing about bipolar is fair. Nothing about bipolar is reasonable. It is an illness. It’s not personal and it’s not psychological. As you learned in the Triggers chapter of Loving and Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, this illness lives in us and shows up when change is a part of life. SO…… considering that change is inevitable, those of us with bipolar must learn to manage change and manage the inevitable mood swings that come with big changes.
In 2020, we had covid. That was a big trigger for rapid cycling bipolar. My research showed that rapid cycling was more common than depression. I find that very interesting.
For some, not working was a huge relief and the bipolar got better. If this was the case for your partner, finding work/bipolar balance is essential. We don’t get to manipulate bipolar. We don’t mess with bipolar and then hope for a good outcome. It is an illness. We have to learn what bipolar does to our brains and make accommodations.
 
If you’re new to my work, welcome! Start with Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder for my basic management plan. There are many strategies for partners in the book. Then Loving Someone with Bipolar. This was the first book ever written for a partner and has sold over 400,000 copies. So, you are not alone in needing this book! Then, I suggest Getting It Done When You’re Depressed. It is an incredibly helpful book to memorize so that you can use the strategies when your partner has a down swing.
 
There are over two years of posts on this page. None of them are date specific. They will answer the majority of your questions. I would start from the bottom and read to the top! I suggest reading the comments section as well. I answer many partner questions that you might have yourself.
 
My break is due to a move from Oregon to Alabama here in the States. It is a good move, but disruptive to my bipolar. I had to process all of the change and get my bipolar in check. It is working so far, but it means I am not here as often. I do read all of your comments and it is my plan to be back to work in the next few days.
 
I know how to manage bipolar as well as anyone in the world. I am an expert… but bipolar could care less about my ‘expertise.’ It affects me the same as anyone. If I don’t respect my brain’s need for a break, I will get very sick. This is hard on me emotionally and very difficult financially, but it is what keeps me stable enough to do this work.
Welcome to our new members. I will have videos and workshops soon, but for now, I hope you will peruse this amazing page and find answers to your questions.
 
Julie
 
Here is an article from Bp Magazine that talks about healing time after a bipolar episode.
 
I highly recommend a subscription to Bp Magazine. It’s a wonderful resource.
Parent or caregiver? Please join me on The Stable Table on Facebook.
My work for those of us with bipolar is mainly on Instagram. I hope you will join me on my JulieFast Instagram page.
Health care professionals are welcome on The Stable Table and The Stable Bed.

                 

 

Why Does Bipolar Make Me Feel Abandoned?

When I’m in an abandonment downswing, I think, “I am a worthless ant, a speck of dirt on this huge revolving planet. I’m completely alone!” The idea that I’m the last person on earth and no one loves me is a typical depression symptom. It’s not personal, and it’s not true. It’s a sign that I’m depressed.

Three signs of abandonment depression

  1. You do have people who want to help, but you ignore their words and actions. You feel like even pets don’t want your company.
  2. The abandonment feeling encompasses home, work, and the world in general. You feel that EVERYONE and EVERYTHING is leaving you.
  3. The abandonment feelings are not attached to an event. Events (triggers) can exacerbate your feelings of abandonment, but you will NOT be able to find proof that abandonment is actually happening.

Did you know it’s normal to feel abandoned when you have bipolar depression? Just like it’s normal to feel shaky if you have diabetes and your insulin is low. We have an illness, not a personal problem.

The good news is that symptoms can be managed. There is nothing wrong with your life when you feel abandoned while depressed; there is something in your brain that needs to be treated. When you manage your depression, the feelings of abandonment can go away. Honest.

Here are my typical abandonment depression thoughts:

  • No one is calling me.
  • My friends are too busy for me.
  • My nephew is growing up and doesn’t want to be with me anymore.
  • There is something about me that people don’t like.
  • No one else has problems like this.
  • Why are all of my friends so much happier than I am?
  • What is wrong with me?!?

See how this cascades? It can be especially tough at night when I try to sleep or I wake up too early and can’t get back to sleep.

If you love someone with bipolar disorder who gets these abandonment symptoms when depressed, what can you say? Here is a script to get you started:

I hear that you feel lonely and that no one wants to be with you. I have heard this in the past when you’re depressed. I looked at the actual events around you and realized that you are not able to answer your phone or say yes to things because your brain is off track. Let’s talk about your depression and get you back into the life you care about; I know your feelings of being alone in this world will lift as well. They are a symptom of this rotten illness. How do I know this? Because I’m standing next to you and I’m not going anywhere, no matter what.

I asked Martin Baker—the coauthor along with Fran Houston (who has bipolar disorder) of the book High Tide, Low Tide: A Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder —how a friend can help someone thorough an abandonment episode: “Julie, I recognize the internal dialogues you’ve listed (‘No one is calling,’ etc); I have heard them from Fran many times. My response is not to bombard her with contradictory assertions: ‘Of course they like you!’ ‘You are imagining it’ ‘There’s nothing wrong with you—you are a fun, lovely person; anyone would be proud to be your friend!’ That kind of talking doesn’t honor what Fran is actually feeling. A better response is to simply be there. Be the person who does call. Be the person who isn’t too busy. Be the person who demonstrates (not merely says) that you are likable, and liked.”

What about you? Having a plan in place to counteract these feelings of abandonment is my best advice for maintaining relationships when you have bipolar depression. I have learned to recognize my abandonment symptoms. My first rule for getting through an abandonment episode is not hiding in my bedroom. And I force myself to pick up the phone when it rings, or answer that email from a friend. It is so hard, but it works. You can do it!

Julie 

– This article was original publishing in Bp Magazine.

Do Friendships Affect Your Bipolar Disorder?

Friendships can be very difficult for people with bipolar. My article from Bp Magazine can help you understand why… and how you can help yourself or a person with bipolar navigate friendships that cause mood swings….

Bipolar Disorder & the End of Friendships

Bipolar can damage, even ruin, a friendship. If it ends badly, both people are hurt—and I might experience a mood episode. So, I discuss this freely with others and acknowledge my imperfections.

Romance Fades, But Friendship Is Forever?

I’ve noticed that, in general, our attitude about and understanding of romantic relationships is quite different from our beliefs and expectations surrounding friendships. For instance, we find it natural that, sometimes, romantic relationships end, and we can usually list the reasons why:

  • We were not compatible.
  • The passion is gone.
  • We grew apart.
  • My partner was not faithful.
  • Our lives moved in different directions.

The ending of a romantic relationship or partnership might be painful and heartbreaking. But, overall, we tend to accept that many romantic relationships have a time limit or a life span.

For some reason, though, we think friendships are supposed to be different! We often have the belief that friendship is forever. When we hear stories of lifelong friends, especially online, it reinforces this ideal:

  • I have the same friends I went to school with!
  • My mates and I have gone on vacation together for the last 20 years, and now we bring our partners and kids!
  • She’s my BFF!
  • My wedding had all of my college buddies and their wives and girlfriends!

Viewing friendships this way can lead to a lot of pain and stress—and possibly trigger bipolar symptoms and/or mood episodes—when our own friendships don’t follow this anticipated lifelong path. As a society, we have created a friendship ideal that simply does not match reality.

Click here to read the rest of the article on the Bp Magazine for Bipolar website www.BPHope.com.

Julie