Bipolar Disorder and Addiction

A few words on bipolar disorder and addictive behaviors. It’s normal for people with mood disorders to turn to another substance to feel better. Our illness sucks. The problem is that we only have so much brain space and addictive behaviors take up a large part of life that we need in order to manage our illness.

For example, my addiction is sugar. When it is not controlled, I will choose eating sugar over seeing people. I isolate and use food to feel better. I know this. I know it is not the smartest choice and yet it is always a challenge.

Addiction is helped by replacing the behavior with something that feels better. I have to focus on what feels better than ice-cream. Ice cream is the heroin of the sugar world as anyone with an eating disorder will tell you.

What causes any of us to choose a substance over a person or an event? It is because we somehow believe that the substance will give us more than the person or event will give us.

One way I deal with my addictive behaviors is to have more fun in life. Taking a class. Saying yes to invitations even when I want to isolate.

No one is judging you if you have additive behaviors along with your mood swings. Start today by adding things to life that make you feel good. Is is a dog? A new partner? A writing class or a painting class? How about doing something for someone else?

I want to gamble when I get sick. I want to drink when I get sick. I want to stick my face in a cake when I get sick.

That is addictive behavior and part of our illness.

What can we do today to choose something else besides the addiction?


PS: I am sure this is Tuna Flavored Icing. HEHE.

Daniel Bader: A Therapist who has Bipolar Disorder Talks about Self Forgiveness

Guest blogger Daniel Bader talks about life with bipolar and how learning to forgive himself for past behaviors helped him create strong relationships and a successful career as a therapist. 

Like most people with bipolar disorder, I have done many things that I regret. Some of them involve harming other people: broken friendships, horrible things I’ve said, and even betrayals. Some of them involve harming myself: missed opportunities, lost jobs, and burned bridges. Looking back, it’s difficult to think about these events without cringing. I will often think self-abusive comments: “You’re an idiot!”, “Your so stupid!”. Sometimes, I even say them out loud.

In order to stop being so abusive to myself, I’m learning the art of self-forgiveness. I’m not perfect at it. Sometimes I’m not even especially good at it. But it’s made enough of a difference in my life that I know I will keep practicing this technique forever. With self-forgiveness, I can move away from abusing myself to being more compassionate with myself, both in terms of how I think and how I act.

My Three Steps to Self Forgiveness

There are three things that I am working on in order to be more forgiving of myself. Each of them helps in its own way, and many have had positive impacts that I never expected.

  1. Abandoning the Blame Game Through Restorative Justice

In the past few years, I’ve served as a mediator for our local victim-offender reconciliation program.  As I became more involved in this form of restorative justice, the idea of harming someone who did something wrong made less and less sense for me.  It accomplishes nothing, and, more importantly, causes more harm than good by causing further shame, trauma, and damaged relationships.  The more that I focus on healing and restoration, the less I focus on blame.  Now, my first instinct is more and more to focus on how to heal a wound, instead of creating new ones.  Through my work, I see first-hand the power of restoration over retribution and I want to apply that same  positive outcome to my relationship with myself.

“Restorative justice is an approach to justice that personalizes the crime by having the victims and the offenders mediate a restitution agreement to the satisfaction of each, as well as involving the community.” Wikipedia

  1. Turning Guilt into a Path to Change

I can’t change the past, so it makes no sense at all to deliberate about it, even though it is human nature to do so.  I might as well deliberate about what would be the best orbit for the moon.

 I needed to ask myself: what is the purpose of my guilt? Since it’s not to change the past, it must be to change the future.  

And here I can recognize not only have I done things that I regret, but I have learned from those mistakes.  I’ve even benefitted in many ways. If I hadn’t blown all of those old relationships, I wouldn’t have the wife and family that I have now. If I had become a lawyer, I wouldn’t have become a therapist, a job that I love. The pain that comes from guilt can spur me on to make even greater changes in the future. It can do the same for you.

  1. Self-Compassion

It’s not enough for me to replace harsh thoughts with kindly thoughts about myself.  I also need kindly actions.  When I want to show someone I care for them, it is important for me to be nice to them. Since I’m stuck with myself all day, I want my relationship with myself to be a kind one in the same way.  I now try to make sure I engage in at least one self-care activity per day: I’ll take a walk, or buy myself a nice lunch, or take a nice nap.

Forgiveness involves action and it involves restoring the relationship, and I can’t think of any better way to restore my relationship with myself than to be kind to myself.

Sometimes if I’m really down, it can be kind to myself just to be able to stay in bed all day and rest, rather than thinking that I “should” be doing something else.

Moving Forward

All of this, of course, is a work in progress. For every time I am able to forgive myself, there is a time where I fail.  But forgiveness and kindness are habits, and I know that my low moods can make them even harder.  My goal isn’t to be perfect at being kind to myself, only to be better and gentler with myself as I grow.

I continue to grow in self-forgiveness and self-compassion, and to develop a better and better relationship with myself. 

Being kind to myself, regardless of my past, has made living with bipolar disorder much more manageable.

What are some ways that you can forgive yourself and be kinder to yourself?  Find what you enjoy, take it easy on yourself, and be kind, regardless of what may have happened in the past.  It is something that you have the power to do!


Daniel Bader, Ph.D, RSW, CCC was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1997.  He is the founder of Bipolar Village and works as an in person, email, video or telephone counsellor for people in Canada.  Please visit Bader Mediation and Counseling Services to read more.


A note from Julie: Therapists who have experience with bipolar disorder are gold! At this time, Daniel works with people in Canada, but I am hoping he will expand to the United States in the future. We need men to talk about bipolar and we need therapists who have life experience regarding mental health disorders. Bravo to Daniel! If you are in Canada, you can contact Daniel through his webpage.

Chat with Julie Live on Saturday on the Voices for Change 2.0 Podcast with Rebecca Lombardo

I love doing live call in shows. I hope you can join me tomorrow for a chat about mental health on the Rebecca Lombardo Podcast Voices for Change 2.0.


Here is the direct link to our #podcast tomorrow with Julie A. Fast
See you tomorrow at 11am EST!

#KeepTalkingMH #mentalillness #mentalhealth #bipolar #anxiety #depression#advocate #author



Do I Have Bipolar Disorder?

People ask this al of the time. Here is my basic answer:
The only way a person can have bipolar disorder is if they have mania. If you have mania as described below, you have bipolar.
Mania refers to energy. It can be an upbeat energy that we call euphoric or an agitated depressed energy called dysphoria. It always means energy. The #1 symptom of mania is needing less sleep and NOT being tired. People who are manic do not need to catch up on sleep. Everything is sped up.
For example, a person will sleep three hours a night and say things such as, “Sleep is such a waste of time. I get SO much more done! I can’t believe I used to need so much sleep!” And they will be all over the place in terms of cleaning the house, writing a book, driving fast, talking fast, meeting new people and being super happy….. if it is euphoric.
If it is dysphoric mania, the same energy is there, but it is a negative energy. The person is aggressive, violent, depressed, upset, agitated, physically uncomfortable and confrontational. The sleep is the same- we don’t need sleep.
Mania has two levels. Hypomania and full blown mania. People with bipolar two have hypomania. People with bipolar one have hypomania and full blown mania. Some people with bipolar only have mania, but this is rare. The vast majority have mania and depression. This means that a mania will be followed by a depression, so it is about the comparison.
I have bipolar two with a separate psychotic disorder and a head injury that created a separate anxiety disorder. I live with hypomania- symptoms include excessive creativity, obsessions, grandiosity, aggression, hyper sexuality, racing thoughts, less need for sleep, sped up physical actions, lack of insight and the ability to do a gazillion things at once. Then I crash and get depressed.
You can’t have mania unless you have experienced the sleep changes. Yes, anxiety can look like mania as it is so agitating, but anxiety has insomnia, not needing less sleep.
It is essential to know that mania is alway episodic. This means you will see a beginning , middle and end to the mania. It is not a personality disorder. So, the person is very stable when not manic.
Do you have bipolar disorder?


How to Get a Grip When You Know You’re Manic

From my Bp Magazine for Bipolar blog:

Julie, MANIC. Circa 1990


Learn to stop bipolar mania from wrecking your life by sticking to a mania prevention plan

Mania is very hard to treat in the moment.  The treatment window for depression is very high. We tend to be reasonable and are able to see we are sick. Mania, even the mild hypomania some of us have experienced our whole lives can take away our ability to see we are sick in just a few hours. A prevention plan is key. The fist step in managing is accepting that mania is dangerous. I know … what a bummer!

Step One: Teach yourself that just because mania feels good, it doesn’t mean it is good.

I had to teach myself that the incredible feeling of invincibility and sexiness—of the ability to do ANYTHING I wanted—and I do mean anything—was not a positive. I had to teach myself—train myself, to STOP behaviors that felt like a better high than any drug; a better feeling than being drunk; often a better feeling than actual sex. That is hard, but I did it and I got my life back. I am willing to say no to mania even when I’m feeling good.
Here is the outcome in my life of giving in to mania:

The Manic Urge to Purge from Bp Magazine

I love writing for Bp Magazine. Here is a reprint of an article I wrote for the hard copy of the magazine.


When I’m in an agitated hypomanic state, the desire to get rid of items in my house is strong. But when the mood episode is over regret is bound to follow.



 by Julie A. Fast


If you go into my mom’s garage you may see a bag full of dishes and clothes. There may be noodles, rice, and a few cans of food in another bag. You might see a tub filled with jewelry supplies and crochet yarn.

It looks like my mom is getting ready for a garage sale. But she’s not.

Can you guess what is going on here?

It’s my mania. Or hypomania, as I have bipolar II. When I get into an agitated hypomania, the urge to get rid of items in my house is strong. It feels overwhelming to have so much stuff in my life. All of my possessions are closing in on me, so out they go.

My mania tells me there is too much food in the fridge and freezer. Do I really need more than two plates or two forks and knives? Will I ever cook the noodles? What about all of the wine glasses?  My mania tells me I’ll feel so much better when I have a minimalist kitchen. Depending on the strength of the agitation, I can clear out my kitchen in one night and then mop the floor. (Why doesn’t this happen when I actually do need to clean!)

Then my mania ends and I realize I’ve given away items I really need—dishes that are actually used and jewelry supplies that would be very expensive to replace. Clothes, shoes, CDs, and food!


Why does this happen?

It’s a natural symptom of my hypomania. Mania creates feelings that feel real—it’s that simple. It’s not like I’m confused; I don’t even question if I’m doing the right thing. Mania tells me what to do and I do it. My desire to get rid of everything is chemical, manufactured by my bipolar brain.

Here is where my mom and sister-in-law Ellen come in. We have a deal. When this mania hits me and I feel compelled to pack up all the stuff that’s crowding me, I give the bags to them and my mom stores them in her garage. Eventually, I go in my kitchen and think, “Where are all of my darn glasses! Did I lend someone my glasses?” My mom tells me, “They’re in the garage in a bag. Where we always put them.”

Life is different now. After years of giving in to this, I’ve learned what is real and what is driven by my mania. I don’t let myself do the kitchen purge completely! When the desire to get rid of my jewelry supplies shows up, I say to myself, “This is mania, Julie. Your thoughts aren’t real. Leave the stuff alone—or, let yourself pack it up and ask your mom or Ellen to take it from the house. But don’t give anything away right now. If you still feel this way in a month, then you can give it away.”

I have found that the only way to deal with my purging is to manage my mania. We can all learn to recognize the signs that our mania is starting and then have a plan and get help. For me, I know that even the smallest desire to put things in bags and give them away is a sign I’m in a mood swing. I have to focus on managing what’s in my head, not what’s in my kitchen.

I know that even the smallest desire to put things in bags and give them away is a sign I’m in a mood swing. I have to focus on managing what’s in my head, not what’s in my kitchen.

If a person with bipolar disorder doesn’t learn to manage the smaller and often humorous symptoms of a manic state, larger and far more disastrous symptoms can take over—such as wanting to get rid of everything, including relationships, work, and even where you live. This is how I ended up going to China by myself a few months before I was finally diagnosed!

I’d rather make decisions from a place of stability, not as a result of mania.

A few years ago, Ellen met me for karaoke wearing a really nice leopard velvet scarf with a black feather trim. I looked at the scarf and said, “Wait a minute! I made that scarf!” She said, “I know. You gave it away and I gave it a new home!” I said, “Can I borrow it?” We had a good laugh.


PS: Mania has a small treatment window. As you can see from the great comments below, if we don’t have a plan in place, we may through our furniture out on the street during a mood swing! We can prevent mania and save our family treasures!


Printed as “Fast Talk: The Urge to Purge”   Fall, 2013


A note from Julie: I highly recommend Bp Magazine for Bipolar Disorder. It has four beautiful hard copy magazines that are filled with research, hope and some really great writing!  There is an electronic copy as well! The cost is reasonable and I can tell you from personal experience that the magazine puts this money back into the community by hiring writers who have bipolar disorder. Like myself! Please subscribe to this wonderful magazine and if possible, send a copy to your doctor’s office!