Podcast Interview: The Wellness Project with Des

I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Desiree Argentina on her podcast The Wellness Project with Des and it was a wonderful interview. She asked me:

  • To share my story
  • How old were you when you were diagnosed with depressive disorder and anxiety? And when did you get an accurate diagnosis of bipolar disorder? (8:33)
  • How did you know something was wrong and what were your earliest memories of something being off or different? (9:04)
  • At what point did your family realize that there was something off and you needed help? (14:40)
  • Did your family know about bipolar disorder? Or did they just recognize that something was off a bit? (16:10)
  • Can you talk a little bit about how your family approached you? Can you explain that? Some family members and loved ones don’t know how to approach it, don’t know what to say, don’t want to offend the person. How can someone go to someone in an empathetic supportive way? (16:55)
  • Can you speak about how bipolar disorder affected your relationships with your family, romantic relationships, relationships with your children? (19:40)
  • Would you mind sharing what techniques helped your relationship with your husband from going to therapy together? (24:30)
  • Can you share what steps you took to heal yourself to get better and could you share your self-care regimen? (27:54)

I was so grateful to have the opportunity to speak with Desiree. She asked fantastic questions and we had a very productive conversation about how to successfully navigate diagnosis, relationships and treatment with bipolar disorder. 

Desiree is a mental health therapist. Her goal with her podcast and social media is to help others transform their lives by providing actionable and practical steps to live a fulfilled life. 

I am excited to share this interview with you!

Podcast Interview: Master Your Mental with Paris Prynkiewicz

I had the opportunity recently to be interviewed by Paris Prynkiewicz on her podcast Master Your Mental. In the interview Paris asked me about:

  • my experience with bipolar disorder (my history and how things turned around for me),
  • what coping with mood cycles used to look like (unhealthy) versus what managing mood cycles proactively looks like now,
  • how and why I started helping moms with bipolar disorder and what my favorite experience so far has been with that, and
  • what is my number one most powerful tool that I use in my self-care.

I loved speaking with Paris about how I have learned to live well with bipolar. It was a really amazing conversation. Paris’s mission with her podcast, social media and book are to offer encouragement and hope to others with bipolar disorder and it was an honor to be on her show. Enjoy!

Guest Post: Turning Your Lemons Into Lemonade: How to Make the Most of Difficult Situations by Scott Ninneman

SCOTT IS A GUEST BLOGGER FROM SPEAKING BIPOLAR WRITING ABOUT FINDING COURAGE AND CONFIDENCE FACING YOUR BIPOLAR DIAGNOSIS.

Growing up, I made every effort to be home by dark. Two reasons kept me conscious of the time and how much daylight remained. One, there was a bright floodlight at the peak of our roof that came on at dusk. With our yellow farmhouse on a hill, it was easy to see it from most of the neighborhood. The family rule was that everyone had to be home when the light came on.

I was a good rule follower, but my second reason was the better motivator. I was terrified of being alone in the dark. The fear was unfounded, but my young mind ran wild when the world around me disappeared into darkness.

One afternoon, I rode my bike to see a friend who lived about a half mile away. His house was the coolest. He had every Star Wars toy, and as a little boy with nothing more than one Luke Skywalker figurine, I was in awe. From an X-Wing Fighter to Darth Vader’s Tie Fighter with wings that popped off when attacked, his room was an imagination paradise. It was one of my favorite places to escape to.

Submersed in an epic battle of good and evil, I lost track of time. When my friend’s mom came to check on us and ask if it was okay that I was still there, I glanced out the window. It was dark.

Panic flooded through me like the force through a Jedi. I don’t remember saying goodbye or anything. Like Roadrunner taking off, I sped out the door and hopped on my bike.

We lived in farm country in rural Wisconsin. Our dirt road was covered by leafy branches from trees growing on each side. As I looked up at the menacing boughs, they seemed to twist and grow. I imagined dozens of sets of glowing green eyes watching me.

Moving Forward

I swallowed hard and looked back at my friend’s house. Surely, his mom would take me home. It was my only safe option. But I was the kid afraid to ask for help.

“Never ask for anything,” my mom had drilled into our heads. Of course, she meant not asking for food at a friend’s house, but in my young mind, the rule applied to everything.

For a moment, I thought about calling my mom. Then I heard her tough-love voice. “You got yourself into this mess. Now, get yourself out.”

Okay, ma. I get it.

Foot met pedal, and I was on my way.

Halfway home, coasting down a steep hill into the valley between our two houses, I heard it. A branch broke with the sickening sound that can only occur by a large animal crushing it. I looked ahead to my left, and there I saw it. About a hundred yards ahead, a bear was clawing away bark from a tree. I jerked my feet back and skidded sideways to a stop. The bear was close to the road. Would he allow me to pass? Or would he jump out into the road and gobble me whole?

The blood whooshed through my ears with deafening thuds. Going back to my friend’s house would mean going back up the hill I was almost down. Going home meant confronting a bear. As I stood debating my options, the sky grew even darker. Not only was I about to be eaten, but it was so dark that no one would see it.

Meeting My Bear

I looked up at the hill I lived on. The floodlight on the end of the house shone as my lighthouse. I just had to get to it. I wrapped my hands in a death grip around the handlebars and got back on my bike.

The bear may eat me, I thought, but he’ll have to eat the bike, too. I’m not letting go.

The best option seemed to be moving forward with as little noise as possible. Maybe I could be quiet enough to sneak past unnoticed.

With each spin of the bicycle chain around the sprocket, I grew closer to the bear. I tried to focus on my house but then didn’t want to be caught by surprise. If the bear was going to eat me, I wanted to see it coming. Oh, how little boys think.

As I coasted the last 20 yards into the bear’s territory, I heard a new sound. This one was unmistakable: the clink of metal hitting metal. Trembling inside, I turned my attention to the bear, just as he swung the hammer another time.

My vicious monster turned out to be an old farmer pounding a new tap into a maple tree. Overwhelmed with relief, I waved to my neighbor and sped home.

Bipolar and Other Scary Monsters

When you receive a bipolar diagnosis, it feels a lot like confronting a bear in a dark woodland. Everything feels terrifying and overwhelming, but mental illness doesn’t have to be as scary as you think.

The experiences of that night taught me two life lessons. For one, I learned things are rarely as bad as we imagine them to be. I was so intent on the woods being full of danger that any sound had to be a ferocious animal. In reality, there was nothing to fear on my ride home.

Two, I learned how to summon courage when needed. My fear of the dark didn’t go away, but I discovered I could push forward no matter the obstacle. I had it in me to rise up and save myself.

Many times in life, what you imagine is so much worse than reality. The bears and man-eating trees are no more dangerous than an old farmer preparing for maple syrup season.

No one likes to experience scary events, and receiving a bipolar diagnosis is terrifying. This is especially true in the early days when you’re finding your way, but just like my bear, you can conquer bipolar.

It’s important to remember challenges are a natural part of life. They can be helpful if you know how to use them effectively. After any event, think about what it taught you. Life is full of lessons if you’re paying attention. Most of the lessons will strengthen you.

It’s also important to remember that not all lessons will be immediately apparent. Sometimes it takes time to reflect on an experience before you can see the positive lesson within it. If you’re patient and open-minded, you’ll eventually find the silver lining in every cloud.

Keep Fighting

It took me a while to recognize the full impact of my bear experience. In the following years, I focused on the courage I summoned that night. The strength I gained helped me face the increasingly dangerous monsters the world brought my way—bipolar being one of them.

You can do the same. Face your monsters head-on and learn from every experience. As you slay your beasts, you’ll gain the confidence you need to keep fighting. Instead of dwelling on the negative, try to find the positive lesson hidden within it. By doing this, you’ll be able to turn every negative experience into an opportunity for growth. Turn your lemons into lemonade.

Until next time, keep fighting.

Read my interview with Scott.

Bipolar Disorder: The Pandemic of Negative Media

Over the past few years it seems that media has been getting more and more intense, more stressful and more controversial. With increased access to social media and platforms like YouTube it is easy to become overwhelmed by the steady stream of negative content. This is detrimental for most people’s mental health, but it is especially destructive for someone who has a mental health disorder like bipolar.

Media these days has become similar to the Coronavirus pandemic, infecting those who consume it with fear, anxiety and worry over increasingly intense conflicts–domestic and foreign. This “infection” has a serious impact on their mental health. 

During the worst parts of the pandemic anyone who was physically “immune compromised” needed to take extra precautions to protect their physical health from infection by a disease that could have serious, potentially fatal consequences. If you have a “preexisting condition” mentally you need to take extra precautions to prevent exposure to the “pandemic of negative media” that could have serious consequences to your mental health.

Stress Sensitivity

When you have bipolar disorder you will tend to be “stress sensitive.” Stressors can trigger mood cycles, depression and anxiety.

Mania and the Emotional Rollercoaster

Stress sensitivity can look different for each person. Some people respond to stress by becoming manic, triggering a mood cycle. Seeing intense situations that seem immoral or unjust can cause some with bipolar disorder to latch on emotionally and become hyper focused on trying to solve it, even if there is no reasonable way for you to have a meaningful impact on the problem. 

Mania causes the brain to go into “overdrive” and eventually crash into depression. You can’t get on the rollercoaster and jump off in the middle, you have to ride it all the way through (see my post Bipolar Disorder: The Rollercoaster).

Depression

Some people become overwhelmed by everything that is happening and get severely depressed. This happened to me when I was trying to help a friend who was directly connected to an international crisis. She needed help and I was trying desperately to assist her, but I had no idea what to do and spent days trying to help with no success. 

I felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and the futility of my efforts. It began to impact my ability to function in my own life. Those feelings of helplessness and futility began to color my view of my own life and I spiraled down into depression. I began struggling to maintain my self-care routine and found myself wanting to escape into sleep and television or YouTube.

Anxiety

Other people find themselves dealing with increasing anxiety. When you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious about your own life it is easy to get focused on outside problems that are beyond your control. In an effort to avoid dealing with your own challenges you are focusing on other issues that bring you additional anxiety and stress and most of those issues are things you have no real ability to influence. This results in increased anxiety, frustration, and anger and will cause you to become more emotionally and mentally unwell.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Danger! Social Media Ahead

Social media can also be a “high risk” environment for someone with bipolar disorder. First, you have little control over what you see as you scroll through YouTube, TikTok, or Instagram Reels. Even your feed on Facebook and Instagram isn’t limited to your contacts as it includes ads and suggested accounts. 

Not being able to control the images and videos that come up in your feed is similar to not being able to control the people you come into contact with outside during a pandemic. If you are “immune compromised” with a mental health disorder you need to be vigilant in limiting your exposure to potential “infection.” Scrolling through social media for hours a day can be very dangerous to your mental health.

There is the risk of being exposed to toxic content that can be emotionally upsetting. There is the risk of falling into the comparison trap, seeing influencers that seem to have it all together physically, in their homes, as mothers, as women. 

This is especially dangerous for women with bipolar disorder because we are already prone to feeling broken, damaged or flawed. To learn more about the dangers of comparison when you have bipolar see my post Bipolar Disorder: You Are Not Broken!

What Do You Do?

Does this mean you should never view the news or social media? No, of course not. But it is critical to be aware of the negative impact these things can have on your mental health and be diligent in setting healthy boundaries to protect yourself.

Circle of Influence Vs. Circle of Concern

Years ago I was reading Stephen R. Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (one of many attempts at using self-help books to “fix” myself) and I learned an important concept that has had a profound impact on my journey to learn to live well with bipolar disorder.

This concept addressed the difference between your circle of influence and your circle of concern. Your circle of influence are things you have the ability to “influence” or change by your choices and actions. Your circle of concern, on the other hand, are things that you have no real ability to impact in any meaningful way.

Over the years I realized how important it was in my journey to live well with bipolar disorder to focus on my circle of influence, beginning with myself and my mental health. In the beginning of this journey that was all I could manage at times.

As I worked to learn how to live well I was able to expand my circle to include my family and my home. Gradually over the years I have learned how to keep my priorities in the right order and focus on doing the work to learn how to live well and my circle of influence has expanded to include additional responsibilities outside myself, my family and my home.

I had been a political science major in college and I have always been fascinated by politics and world events, but I began to recognize that listening to the news and political talk shows usually had a very negative effect on my mental health. Focusing on stressful things in my circle of concern was having a very negative impact on my ability to function in a healthy way in my circle of influence.

So I have learned some very important lessons in the past ten years about how to manage my exposure to social media and the news so that I don’t damage my mental health and my ability to take care of myself, my children and my other direct responsibilities.

Identifying Your Priorities

When I was developing my Mental Health Emergency Response Plan I needed to identify what my top priorities (circle of influence) were in order of importance to determine my “Auxiliary Power” (Step 3 in the plan).

I needed to make sure I protected my limited emotional resources and focused on my responsibilities in my own life, beginning with taking responsibility for my mental health. I became very careful to identify unnecessary stressors in my life and either eliminate them or create healthy boundaries to limit their use of my emotional resources.

The Impact of Media

You need to carefully monitor and evaluate the effect of the news and social media on your mental health. What good is it for you to watch news coverage of children in dire circumstances on the other side of the world that you can do nothing to help if it damages your mental health and makes it difficult or impossible to care for your own children? Your “sacrifice” of your mental wellness is not helping the children that are suffering in another country and now your own children are suffering.

What good is it for you to view someone else’s perfectly curated life if it makes you feel horrible and inadequate about your own? You boost their following and make yourself feel worse, damaging your mental health further and preventing you from progressing in your journey to live well with bipolar disorder.

Some of the best ways to be proactive about identifying the influence of media in your life and creating healthy boundaries are:

  1. Use a mood tracking app. I use Bearable. I DO NOT receive any benefit from recommending it, I just love the app! Bearable is customizable and you can record the amount of time you are spending on social media, YouTube, news, etc. Using the app you can identify how it impacts your mood cycle.
  2. Discuss social media and news consumption with your therapist. Some people struggle with controlling these things because of unresolved issues, unhealthy boundaries, or addictions. Working with your therapist you can come up with a plan to manage your social media and news consumption in a healthy way. 
  3. Develop a Mental Health Emergency Response Plan to help identify your “circle of influence” or your highest priorities for your mental and emotional energy. Then commit to protecting your emotional resources so that you are able to care for yourself and those who matter most to you.
  4. Join our Facebook group Bipolar Moms Learning to Live Well to get encouragement and support in your journey to live well with bipolar disorder. You can ask others in the group about their experiences with media and what boundaries they have set to protect their mental health.

Our world is experiencing a “pandemic” of negative media. Everyone is impacted by negative media, but if you have bipolar disorder you are especially sensitive to it. In order to protect yourself and learn to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar disorder you need to be willing to accept responsibility for managing the stressors in your life. 

Those stressors include social media and news consumption. If you are willing to evaluate the impact of media on your mood and set healthy boundaries to protect your mental health you will be one step closer to learning how to live well with bipolar disorder.

PODCAST: The Reality of it All

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with @therealityofitall21 on her awesome podcast!

Living well with bipolar disorder is absolutely possible, and that is a message I LOVE sharing.

Check out this episode to hear more about how I live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar. I hope you enjoy!

Bipolar Disorder: What’s Your Depression Saying?

One of my favorite animated children’s films is Inside Out by Disney. It makes you laugh, cry and is a genuinely wonderful movie. But more than that, it is extremely insightful and teaches some powerful lessons, even for adults.

One of the messages of the film is that feelings aren’t good, or bad, they just are. And not only that, they have a purpose. Learning to understand the purpose of the feelings is a powerful thing. Instead of feeling bad that you are experiencing certain feelings, and shaming yourself for those feelings, you can learn to feel your feelings, understand what those feelings are telling you, and then decide what action you should take based on what you are experiencing.

In the film Inside Out, the main character Joy, gives a breakdown of what each feeling’s purpose is: Fear is “good at keeping Riley safe,” Disgust “basically keeps Riley from being poisoned, physically and socially,” Anger “cares very deeply about things being fair,” Joy’s job is to keep Riley happy, and Joy doesn’t understand what Sadness is supposed to do, and keeps trying to prevent Sadness from having any influence on Riley.

As the film goes on it becomes apparent that Sadness has a very important role to play for Riley. When Joy finally understands Sadness’s purpose, she encourages Sadness to play her part. With the help of Sadness, Riley is able to get the help she needs to adjust to the changes and challenges she is facing in her life.

When the brain is functioning in a healthy balanced way, feelings are produced by experiences. For example, in the movie fear is caused by Riley encountering dangerous situations, disgust is caused by encountering unappealing food or social situations, and anger is brought on by perceived unfairness.

What If Your Emotions Are “Misfiring”?

What do you do when your emotions are misfiring because of a chemical imbalance or unhealed trauma? If emotions are occurring because the chemicals in your brain are out of balance and not necessarily because of normal outside stimuli, are they no longer valid or useful? Should you label your emotions as bad, or not listen to them when you are experiencing a mood cycle?

Not necessarily.

One of the challenges I faced when I was first diagnosed was that I didn’t know how to trust my feelings anymore. For the years that I went undiagnosed I had listened to the feelings that I was having and tried to interpret them according to what I had been taught by others. 

When I felt the intense, euphoric exhilaration of mania I believed that all the irrational thoughts that were in my head were not only rational, but inspired. I made sweeping changes because of those thoughts and feelings and I told everyone. It all felt right and real.

When I crashed into depression I believed all of the negative, self-destructive thoughts that were in my head because they matched the negative, self-destructive feelings I was having. I hid myself from the world and tried to numb my brain by binge-watching television and movies.

I develop irrational thought and behavior patterns based on this cycle and by the time I was diagnosed those patterns seemed normal to me. This continued for years after my diagnosis because even though I was trying to find the right combination of medications to balance my brain and working with a therapist nothing seemed to help and I just felt broken and hopeless.

How do you live a healthy life if you don’t know if you can trust your own mind and feelings? It can make you feel insecure and unsure of yourself. Or you may feel belligerent and angry and decide that you should be able to just live on the rollercoaster because that is the way you were made and everyone else will have to just deal with it (see my post Bipolar Disorder: The Rollercoaster).

One important tool to develop when you are trying to learn to live well with bipolar disorder is to learn how to recognize when feelings are produced by the chemical imbalance. You need to learn to identify the signs that you are manic or depressed and then understand what those mood imbalances are trying to tell you. 

The feelings produced by a mood imbalance can serve a purpose. It is like they are speaking a different language and if you learn to interpret them correctly you can then understand how to respond in a way that is healthy, even if your brain isn’t healthy at the time.

How Do You Identify Signs of a Mood Cycle? 

In the beginning it may be difficult to distinguish between healthy emotional responses and unhealthy ones, because it all feels normal to you. For this reason it is critical to begin tracking your moods and symptoms. Tracking your mood and symptoms will begin to help you create a more accurate picture of what is happening in your mind and identify when you are experiencing a mood cycle, what the associated symptoms of your mood cycles are and even what may have triggered it.

There are a number of ways to accomplish this. You could use a journal, a spreadsheet, or an app. My favorite tool is the Bearable app. (I DO NOT receive any benefit or compensation from recommending Bearable, I recommend it because I love it!) 

Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels

I struggled with using a mood journal because it required me to think and often I couldn’t think clearly enough to put what I was feeling into words. I also struggled with remembering to write things down frequently enough to create an accurate picture. Another issue I struggled with is how to convey what I had written to my doctor and therapist. Weeks and pages of journal entries can be difficult to condense and quantify, and that can make it challenging to see patterns and connections.

The Bearable App is fantastic because it is very user friendly. It allows you to keep track of your mood, different factors that could trigger cycles, medications, sleep, and other helpful information. The app is very easy to use and you can set reminders for yourself to input your information each day. It is very customizable, and it gives you a way to view insights to see trends and connections.

When you discover the symptoms of your mood cycle you can learn to understand what your depression or mania is trying to tell you and you can then respond to it in a healthy way.

Learning How to Respond to a Mood Cycle

Some of the ways you might respond are:

  1. Discussing a medication or supplement change with your doctor or customer support. If the mood cycle is being caused by medication or supplements not doing their job you may need to adjust or change them. Always work with your doctor if you are on medication or customer support if you are taking supplements. DO NOT make these changes on your own as it can be dangerous.
  2. Working with a therapist. A good therapist can help you learn to identify if your emotional responses to things are healthy or unhealthy and how to handle the unhealthy responses in a healthy, balanced way. Your therapist can also help you identify if your mood cycle is triggered by unhealed trauma, unhealthy thought or behavior habits, or unhealthy boundaries. 
  3. Learning to practice mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is a very effective tool to help you learn to separate yourself from your thoughts and feelings in a way to look at them more objectively and determine if those thoughts or feelings are healthy or unhealthy. Mindfulness is an important tool to learn if you want to learn how to live well with bipolar disorder.
  4. Developing a Mental Health Emergency Response Plan. Your plan will help you learn how to take responsibility for your mood cycles and manage them more effectively–lessening the impact of the cycle on you and your family and shortening the duration of the cycle.

Just like Joy learned that Sadness served an important purpose in Riley’s mind, you can learn to understand what your mania and depression are telling you and learn to respond in a healthy way, even if your mind is unhealthy at the time. Taking responsibility for your mood cycles, instead of giving into them or fighting them will help you progress on your journey to learn how to live well with bipolar disorder.

If you are a mother with bipolar disorder and you are looking for support in your effort to live well with it please join our free Facebook group Bipolar Moms Learning to Live Well.