Content warning: suicidal thoughts and substance abuse
When I received my diagnosis of bipolar disorder a couple of months ago, I felt winded. A rush of fear, suicidality, and overwhelm overtook me as I tried to comprehend what it all meant for me. As a full-time graduate student who works part-time teaching undergraduates, I wondered how bipolar disorder might impact my ability to be reliable for my employer, my program, and my students. I feared that I might snap and hurt someone. I considered dropping out of school. I considered suicide. I reflected, worried, and fell victim to my own thoughts. I entered a stage of denial that caused an onset of hypomania and depression.
For an entire month, I lost my sense of self. I became confused, empty and forgetful. I missed classes. I ignored assignments and meetings. And in my utter unwillingness to contend with bipolar disorder, I worsened it. I drank alcohol, I drove drunk, I flirted with strangers and talked uncontrollably. I slept for hours or didn’t sleep at all. I gained weight from eating without thinking. I felt hopeless and isolated myself from my friends, my partner, my colleagues and my healthcare providers.
After four weeks of self-mistreatment, my partner drove me to my psychologist’s office. In less than three hours, my case manager set me up with a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, and helped me to meet with my psychologist. I got the necessary contacts in order to ensure that student accessibility staff could advocate for me in my classes. I visited my medical doctor and psychologist and heard from both of them over and over again that I need support, I need support, I need support. They tried to help me feel less shame. They told me it’s livable, like a mental equivalent of diabetes. They assured me that it wasn’t a death sentence. That I would be able to manage it and get used to the flare ups. All of these words which now hold truth to me felt empty. I felt alone still, and even reached the darkest depths of my suicidality than I ever had before. Even with lifelong mental illnesses already on my radar, this felt beyond my control.
I eventually got the advice to check out Facing Bipolar. My case manager pointed out that counselors she admired recommended it to young adults clients working through bipolar disorder. I promptly purchased it on my kindle and began reading. I am so glad I did. It mended my overall sense of hopelessness and changed it to action. The book offers calming, yet realistic advice alongside tangible actions one might take in order to manage their newfound diagnosis.
Facing Bipolar frames treatment for bipolar disorder around concepts of health and management. The authors point to basic tenants of health (like diet, sleep, stress reduction) as primary necessities. But, thankfully the book continues with other aspects of health like building community, forming a healthcare team, making lists, and altering one’s daily life. Every sentence felt like it was written for me. The book aided me in working through the sacrifice that comes with self-care and disability management, but also offered actionable suggestions to help me feel a sense of purpose. I read those 150ish pages in 48 hours and soaked it all in. It even inspired me to be more open about my diagnosis. And, that openness helped me to form important new connections with unexpected people.
If you are feeling lost with a new bipolar diagnosis or overwhelmed by the impacts of mental health management, please read this book. It is affordable online, and I believe one can find it in many psychologist offices and libraries.
If you need help and would like someone to talk to, call:
- Lifeline 13 11 14 (Australia)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (USA)
- Samaritans 116 123 (UK and ROI)
- Crisis centres in Canada
- Lifeline 0800 543 354 (New Zealand)