About “Talk to Someone” and Crisis

On July 20th, 2017, Chester Bennington died by suicide. I was never much of a fan of Linkin Park. They had a couple of okay songs and, a long time ago, I owned one of their CD’s (that’s a Compact Disc for you youngin’s). I didn’t even know his name before the headline started crashing across social media. Even still, it hurts to see another person lose their war. You know that there will be pain and suffering left behind in the people that he loved and that loved him. And, as a mentally ill person, you wonder if that will be your end as well. You may not want it to be, but you can’t really know how the culmination of your past with the grinding of the present and future will wear you down. It’s a stark reminder of a reality that many of us live with twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Every time there is a high profile suicide social media is overran with grief and anger. People are constantly sharing articles about warning signs, retweeting crisis services, and posturing about how much they care and claim to want to help. As you may have guessed by my tone, I have a problem with this.

My problem is that I feel it may prevent at-risk people from getting meaningful help that they need while instilling a false confidence in the general public of how much they can legitimately help a person who is in crisis. I want to call specific attention to the words “in crisis,” because there are plenty of people who may be in a dark space that just need someone to be present with them for a little while.

I am not talking about that. I am specifically talking about people who are at or near their limit.

About Target Audiences and Demographics

As a writer and a marketer, understanding one’s target audience is of the utmost importance when constructing a Call to Action (CtA) or message. The method you choose in trying to gain a conversion is often more important than the message. A conversion can be anything from convincing another person to accept a new idea, buy a product or service, sign up for a newsletter, or take some kind of action. A CtA is the content or statement that you are using to try to get the viewer to take an action.

Let’s deconstruct a common Call to Action. “Talk to someone if you are having a hard time.”

Who is the target audience of this CtA? It’s people that are struggling, unstable, depressed, possibly suicidal, and emotionally compromised – people that may not be in the best mental space for making sound decisions. Still, it’s an audience that needs to be reached.

What action are we trying to convince this audience to take? We want them to get the help and support that they need to get through whatever it is they may be dealing with. We want them to communicate. Again, nothing wrong with that. That is a valuable message.

My problem with this statement comes from “talk to” and “someone.” They are not the right words.

On “Talk to…”

All my life I’ve been told to talk about my problems, I’d feel better. I know I’m not the only one. That works well for people who are not mentally ill because they do not have traumatic experiences or physiological processes impeding the way their mind should function.

On the other hand, I have Bipolar Disorder and Major Depression. Talking about my problems never did much for me because talking about those problems did not change the physiological processes and physical problems associated with my mental illnesses. I stopped talking about my problems because talking about them just made them more complicated to deal with. In regards to friends and relationships, now I have to deal with what’s going on in my mind on top of trying to make you feel like you actually helped so you won’t feel bad, so I won’t feel bad for making you feel bad and like you couldn’t help me. What I really needed was medication to control the physiological processes and therapy to fix the way I perceived and interpreted the world through my mental illness.

You have social attitudes about talking about your problems to cut through. The way I combat this perception is to frame that kind of statement in a way that is solution oriented. I don’t want a person to just talk about their problem, I want them to talk to a certified professional that can help them find a way to manage or solve that problem.

The statement “talk to” is too indirect, intangible. An important piece of an effective CtA is an action that spells out a direct reaction. Why? Because people will not figure it out on their own. They just don’t. You have to lead people directly from Point A to Point B. You can look at about any commercial or advertisement that is asking you to do something for confirmation. “Sign up for this newsletter and receive a free XYZ!” You must tell people exactly what you want from them and why or the chance of them taking action drops straight off.

Talk is technically a correct word, but it’s not a good choice because of the stigma and emotion people associate with it. Hell, “talk therapy” doesn’t necessarily indicate just talking about one’s problems. I found talk therapy to be incredibly helpful in learning to understand myself and my mental illness. What I did not do was talk just to talk or be heard. I talked because I had a specific goal in mind of understanding what was going on in my head and how to manage it. Talking about my problems? Useless. Talking about my problems to find a solution for them? That provides a course of action not influenced by my personal feelings or perceptions.

Why does this matter? Because of the word “someone”.

On “Someone…”

Who exactly is “someone?” Now, you may be sitting there thinking, “Oh! A doctor! A crisis counselor! A therapist!” Fair and valid. What about a person who is suicidal or going through something horrible? Who are they are going to reach out to? Is their first thought going to be seeking professional help? Doubtful. They are more likely to reach out to people that they believe love them, care about them, or that they care about. That is a major problem.

It’s a problem because of mental health stigma and how many people are in dysfunctional families and relationships. I started on my advocacy path in 2010. I cannot tell you how many fucking times I’ve heard variations of, “I tried talking to my mom, but she didn’t think it was a big deal.” “I tried talking to my husband, but he doesn’t care.” “I tried talking to my sister, but all she said was, ‘This, again?’” “I tried talking to my best friend, but they were too busy and I didn’t want to bother them.” Over and over and over and over and over. And that’s not even touching on the number of abuse survivors who reached out for help in their worst times and were met with inaction.

Who is “someone?” Is someone the spouse that’s been gaslighting and tormenting them? Is someone a parent that doesn’t believe in mental illness? Is someone a person they think is their friend, who doesn’t actually give a damn about them? Is someone a member of a dysfunctional family? Is someone a person who has ground down that at-risk person’s mental and emotional health to control and manipulate them?

Or maybe someone is a person who cares, is a kind and loving soul, is gentle, considerate and warm. Someone who donates to charity and would offer you the shirt off their back. And maybe that someone, with all their warm thoughts and good intentions, doesn’t have an iota of knowledge or experience in being that close to something so delicate. Perhaps that someone believes that the fact they care is good enough to patch up the wounds of a difficult or traumatic life. It’s not. Caring isn’t good enough.

Many wounds just don’t heal all of the way. Look at Chester – sexually abused as a child, recovering from addiction, and long-term mental health challenges. For a lot of people, those scars do not fully heal. They can be brought under control, they can be managed, they can be worked on, but they still linger to some degree and need to be managed in the long-term. And to manage them in the long-term, mentally ill people need more than just people caring. They and their families need support, they need the clinical knowledge that professionals can provide, they need affordable and accessible services.

Crisis services are well, good, and important; but what about the rest of life? What about the times when we’re not in crisis but starting to slide? What is the long-term solution to that? I watched many people beat the drum on Chester’s “cries for help.” I don’t know how many of those people realize that he did reach out for help and support when he needed it from his friends and bandmates. But, after awhile, you just don’t want to anymore.

In Conclusion…

The posturing that happens every time there is a high profile suicide feels so phony. It’s bothersome how oblivious society is about the everyday struggle of dealing with and surviving long-term mental illness. And I dislike the phrase, “Talk to someone if you are having a hard time.” I feel that this statement puts at-risk people in a position to either be harmed or dissuaded from pursuing professional help more often than not.

I do not believe that encouraging suicidal or severely mentally ill people to talk to just anyone about their problems is a good idea. By all means, be supportive, try to be understanding, thank them for opening up…but encourage them to talk to someone who is trained to meaningfully help them. Yes, support from friends and family is important. As a supporter, there is definitely a line where help from a qualified, certified mental health professional is necessary.

It’s a tricky thing because people need different things. There are plenty of us out there who do see and talk to our medical professionals, who still do sometimes just need someone to be present with us in a difficult moment. On the other hand, a lot of the messages being pumped out after high profile suicides are related to suicidal people.

It all just depends on the person and the specific situation; which isn’t a good combination with the general, generic nature of social media posturing.

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The Most Ingredient Component of Compassion

In 2010, I started talking about my mental illness and path in life with other people. I have conversed with many people struggling with a number of different problems. I’ve spoken with several friends, family, and loved ones of mentally ill people who want to be compassionate and understanding to our challenges. The people who do well at it with least amount of emotional turmoil because of it share one important ingredient. Self-love.

The idea of selflessness is one that is heavily promoted and romanticized in our society because it is a beautiful ideal. You can look at anything from religious figures and icons, to movies featuring heroes and heroines willing to lay their life on the line for the cause, to questionable hero worship of people. Everyone who deigns to undertake some action of sacrifice is doing so for some reason in their own mind and soul.

“I felt like it was the right thing to do.” “I felt it was my duty.” “I’m doing this because I want to make a difference in the world.” “This is my calling…” “I believe in my heart…” All of these things have to do with the emotions and beliefs of the person expressing them. All of them. And I have crossed paths with so many people who think that by emotionally martyring themselves, they can somehow save another person. It doesn’t work that way. You can only assist someone in saving themselves.

I don’t believe that the romanticized version of selflessness that so many people seem to think is a good solution actually exists. And that’s why self-love is so important. Self-love allows you to see a situation more clearly. It helps you set boundaries that will keep you well and healthy. It helps you know when it is time to walk away from a situation, no matter how much you want to help. Self-love can also help you recognize relationships and friendships that you should not be in.

“I don’t care! I care about X more than myself!”

And that’s a problem. You just can’t do that and expect to come out of it unscathed. That’s not a mentality that will bear a healthy relationship with respected boundaries. Furthermore, someone that genuinely loved and cared about you wouldn’t want you destroying yourself for them. That all gets into much trickier territory when you’re talking about parental love or mental unwellness that is so severe that it’s really twisted the person’s perspective inside out.

Even in those situations, there does a come a time when one has to say enough is enough to ensure they can survive the situation intact. Love is not an infinite resource for many people. It’s something that has to be fed and nurtured to keep it healthy and strong. And that’s something that you need to do with yourself, just as much with the people you care about.

Parental love is different. I’ve met several parents who would sacrifice anything and everything to help their child – and quite a few that have. That includes wealth, property, and their own physical and mental health. But, again, you can’t save someone from themselves. Burning your own life and health to the ground will not help an adult child who refuses to help themselves.

And if you can’t see that for yourself or feel that your well-being is just as important as the object of your affection – that is something you should speak to a certified mental health counselor about. It may point to something in your own mind that needs to be sorted out so you can find more peace and happiness with yourself in addition to weathering whatever storm you are facing in your life.

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Can a Person Recover From Their Mental Illness?

Are you a kind, compassionate person? Are you the type of person who looks for and sees the best in everyone? Do you believe that many people can heal or recover from their mental illness? Believe it or not – I do. But, that’s not the most important question. The real question is – will they be able to recover?

That is an entirely different question altogether. Quite a few people I cross paths with want to hear a story of hope. It’s clear from the questions they ask and the statements they make. They are less than impressed when I tell them the truth; that my recovery was largely fueled by fear of my own mind, being stubborn, and anger.

People cling to hope because it’s positive and romantic. And yes, hope is an important thing because it can keep people moving through dark times. However, there comes a point where hope can be harmful because we invest so much emotional energy in how we want things to be as opposed to how they are. We spend too much of our time in the future instead of the present.

Do I believe that most people can recover and attain a higher quality of life? Yes. Do I believe that they will? That’s a more complicated question. And here are a list of reasons why…

1. The person has to want to change. My biggest system shock came with the realization of how few people want to change. They want something easy, a therapist or a pill to fix them. Recovery is like 98% personal work, 2% clinical assistance. That personal work includes reevaluating one’s emotions, how one conducts their life, how one interacts with others, learning management practices and actually implementing them, and so much more. Every person I know that has reached a high degree of recovery from Depression or Bipolar Disorder is a very different person from who they started off as. Why? Because the attitudes and emotions that these mental illnesses foster are often harmful and toxic. They must be changed.

2. The person needs adequate resources. Numerous people just don’t have access to the resources they need or reject the ones they have access to. Medication and doctor appointments can be expensive. And yes, I know, “Some have sliding scales!” Which means little when you have next to nothing and are barely able to keep your head above water. I’ve watched people absolutely refuse to request help from charities or other resources when they would have qualified because of their own pride. I was one of these people, too.

3. The person needs to be okay with changing. This is different than the first point because a person may decide they want to change, but not like how they change. I find this to be especially true in Bipolar people who trend towards the escalated side of the Disorder that is pronounced, but not necessarily destructive. But even a destructive mania can feel absolutely wonderful to the person experiencing it. And I’ve met several people who view it as their edge in their art, career, or social life. Real emotions are so quiet compared to what a Bipolar person experiences in escalation. Some people don’t want to give that up. On the other side of that coin are the people who are content to be miserable and depressed. Life is just horrible and they feel more comfortable being a victim to it all.

4. The person can make bad decisions. Many people are a bad decision or two away from serious repercussions. “I feel great! I don’t really need this med.” “I’m going to skip this doctor’s appointment.” “One night of hard drinking or drugs isn’t going to kill me.” “I didn’t call in my prescription early enough and they are out of my med until next week!” “I’m not really mentally ill. Everyone else is the problem.” I can talk until I’m blue in the face on what to avoid, but people insist on learning the hard way time after time.

5. Even if the person makes all the right decisions, the pursuit of wellness can still go sideways. Medication can have negative reactions or unmanageable side effects. A person can be medication resistant, meaning their body just doesn’t react well at all or positively to medication. Trying to push through past damage and trauma with a therapist can make a person worse before they start getting better. Many mental illnesses can get worse with age, not better. Bipolar Disorder is one of them. And then you have dealing with the general stresses of life on top of everything else.

And none of that is including the people who like having their mental illness as an effective “Get Out of Responsibility” card. Abusers and manipulators regularly use hope and compassion against their victim. The victim carries the hope that a toxic person will recover, feel sorry for their actions, and everyone lives happily ever after. That rarely happens.

Even if we do everything right, things can still go completely wrong. And getting people to want to change is the hardest battle of all, because change is fucking difficult and scary.

I know that a lot of people are going to take this post as me being negative, but I’m not. This is the reality that I’ve come to know in trying to help other mentally ill people and their loved ones walk their own path. It’s still difficult, even in an optimal scenario. Hell, it’s not like my life is where I want it to be yet either. Self-improvement is a marathon, not a sprint. And I still get shit wrong, too. All you can do is the best you can, really.

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On Where to Draw Boundaries and Lines in the Sand…

Quite a few people reach out to me in the hopes of gaining some understanding of what their mentally ill loved one is going through. One of the most common strings of questions I receive goes something like this: “Where do I draw the line? How will I know when enough is enough? Where does compassion end and accountability start for destructive behavior?”

There is a simple answer. The line is drawn wherever you want to draw it. That’s as complicated as it needs to be. No one but you can decide what you are willing to deal with. No one but you can decide where your compassion needs to end. You are the only one that can make that decision for yourself, based on your personal circumstances. And if you’re confused and unsure? Get off the internet and talk to a certified mental health counselor about the situation.

There are no internet articles that are going to be able to replace that important knowledge and neutral, third party perspective.

And it would be lovely if the more vocal, compassionate people of the world would stop pushing the romanticized narrative that martyring oneself is a good and noble choice. It’s not. It’s short-sighted and destructive. The stains, wounds, and scars of staying in an abusive situation, regardless of the cause, do not just disappear after. They may linger and continue to be destructive even decades later.

Then you have the generic, blanket advice to clearly state one’s boundary and enforce it. Okay. And if the other person is a skilled manipulator who can gauge how to coast just below that boundary to be destructive, but without overstepping? What about people who have been in emotionally abusive relationships that have been conditioned by an abusive partner to bend their boundaries?

Blanket statements can cause a person to give up far too much information to someone who may be adept at wielding that information as a weapon to harm. Anyone who’s been in an abusive relationship knows that honesty is an impossibility in that kind of situation. That person knows that what they say or do can, will, and often be used against them.

Always be wary of who you discuss the issue of boundaries with and treat their words with skepticism. They are not you. It is so easy for someone sitting outside of the situation to tell you to keep going through hell because they believe it’s the compassionate or right thing to do, when they aren’t the one suffering. That’s not their decision to make for you.

And in my personal experience, having listened to the survivors of these situations for years now, women tend to get the worst end of that. For men, it’s typically, “She’s crazy. You should dump her.” For women, it’s typically, “You need to be more supportive and understanding. It’s your job to keep things together.” Which is total bullshit on so many levels.

Draw the line wherever you want. You are the only one that can decide what you are willing to suffer through. No one else is going to live your life 24/7. No one else is going to have to deal with the consequences of that choice. You are your own person. No one has the right to tell you how compassionate you should or shouldn’t be.

Anyone that would criticize you for choosing your own survival and well-being is not worth listening to.

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Musing and Thoughts on the Future…

Hello, friends. Been awhile, hasn’t it? My last couple of posts over the past few months have been kind of vague, sort of updates, sort of not. I’ve been doing a lot of introspection on my direction and trajectory, what I want to and can accomplish, as well as life. Blog posting kind of fell by the wayside in all of that. I’ve still been doing what I normally do, answer emails and comments, quietly and behind the scenes, as many of you who have reached out to me in the past know.

I figured I would talk to you all about some of my thoughts, ideas, and concerns; as a way to provide a meaningful update, feedback, and a glimpse into the consideration I put into my work.

On Books and eBooks…

About two years ago, I made the decision to write eBooks, and so far wrote two, what I felt to be fairly digestible works. In trying to write a third, I hit a point where it felt so flimsy. I’ve been blogging about and commenting on Bipolar Disorder for over five years now – blog posts, comments, numerous conversations, thousands of emails, and it all just feels flimsy. There are literally trillions of webpages out there. I don’t want to produce something that can disappear in an instant.

It took awhile for me to figure out I was wrong, that the people urging me to just write regular books and offer electronic versions was a better plan. And so that’s what I’m going to shift my writing toward. I already have two strong ideas that will be an excellent start. I’m still not keen on the idea of writing a full-blown memoir though, which several people have asked about. I honestly don’t feel like they are all that helpful, but I wonder if that has something to do with autistic disconnect?

I’ve tried reading a few, and I just don’t feel like I venture forth onto that person’s emotional journey with them. So, I don’t know.

On the Podcast…

I had teased the idea for a podcast in the past couple of posts. I ran into a lot of problems, both technical and within myself, in trying to figure out how to approach it. The first issue is that I’m a much better writer than speaker, and not in the way that most people think. Being High-Functioning Autistic, speech can be difficult with emotions involved, which is going to be a thing in speaking about my mental illness. It’s easier in a one-on-one format. Much more intimidating with the consideration of how many people will hear it.

The second is in general perception. I often wonder what impression my audience actually does have of me? Because usually, the only thing I hear are criticisms about how angry my writing sounds. In reality, I’m not an angry person at all in my personal life. I channel passion, and yes, anger, into my work because I am angry at the general state of the world. Will people who follow my writing expect me to rant and rave? Will they be disappointed or disillusioned if I don’t? Will I alienate or let down people who have read and supported my efforts for years? Again, I really don’t know.

The closest niche I sit in is self-improvement, the whole coaching/consulting world. And that world is filled with fake smiles, shallow affirmations, and people trying to peddle happiness like it’s some tangible product on a shelf. I don’t have the energy or patience for fake smiles. I don’t know if everything is going to be alright – plenty of times it won’t be. And I have no happiness to sell you or anyone else. It took me decades to find any kind of real happiness within myself. It’s not something you can promise anyone else.

Anyway, I don’t want to keep you too long. I apologize for the lack of meaningful, public facing content the past few months. I’ve been heavily distracted with life and trying to figure out my path. I’m still here and in it for the long haul, just trying to figure things out. Feel free to let me know if you have any thoughts or opinions. Thank you for being here and for following my work. I appreciate you.

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Just an Update…

Wow. I did not realize it’s been a month and a half since I last posted! I think a bit of an update is an order. Let me start by saying, thank you to all of the people who reach out to me when I poof for a bit. I do appreciate your concern for my well-being. I’m quite an introvert, so when things are kind of bumpy, I tend to retreat into myself to deal with things. Let’s me give you an update…

1. My brain is in a pretty level place again. I dealt with the difficulties that came up, using many of the suggestions and points I’ve put out there. Tides rise, tides fall. Just the nature of Bipolar Disorder, really.

2. I had been working on an ebook over the past several months. About a month ago, while trying to communicate a point, I had an epiphany. The realization struck me that I did not understand what I was talking about well enough to create a piece of work that would stand up to scrutiny. I don’t talk about my creative process a great deal, but I spend a lot of time polishing to ensure that my writing won’t be harmful. And I don’t feel like what I was working on abides by that rule. I have decided to shelf that work for the time being and shift my focus to something else.

3. I previously announced that I was working on a podcast. This has turned out to be more challenging than initially anticipated. I am still working towards this, but I’m not sure when it’s going to come, exactly. Yay for teaching myself new things…and all of the things that inevitably go wrong in that process. The podcast is shifting to be a main focus for me. I think it will offer a lot of value.

Anyway, I hope things are going well for you all! Thank you for being here, for reading my work, and the support you show me. I do appreciate it.

-Dennis

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The Joys of Unexpected Events and Bipolar Disorder

The unexpected can easily threaten one’s stability and well-being when you are mentally ill. For the better part of January, I have been largely quiet on my blog. The reason is due to an unexpected circumstance that threatened an unwell cycle. Thanks to medication, practices I learned in therapy, and the knowledge I have built about how my mental illness affects me specifically, I was able to keep that stress from exploding into a full-blown unwell cycle.

The benefit of psych medication, for me, is that it prevents Bipolar Disorder from pulling my mind out into extremes. There are times when I feel like my brain is trying to escalate or crash into depression but it just hits a metaphorical wall and won’t go any further than that. But it does still like to hang out in those more troublesome areas where greater volatility can further threaten my stability.

And that’s where practices I learned in therapy and on my own come into play.

I think most people can agree that the more you dwell on a matter, the greater power you give it to affect you. In dealing with a mood disorder, dwelling on stresses, emotions, and other troubling circumstances not only fans the flames, but throws more fuel on them so they just burn brighter.

I strive to limit the amount of attention I give to circumstances that are beyond my control. In this case, I was unenrolled from a program that was paying my Medicare premiums about three months ago, but they did not actually adjust what I was receiving from Disability. I received no notification that this was happening, for whatever reason. I found this out when the government reclaimed those funds through a deduction that cut January’s payment by 2/3rds.

Shit situation? Absolutely. Anything I can do about it? Not according to Social Security.

It’s important to confront problems head on. The longer they fester, the worse off they will get. Ignoring them is the worst thing you can do. But, it’s really easy for anxiety, depression, or Bipolar Disorder to make everything feel overwhelming. We need to attempt to strike a middle ground. I do that by dedicating a certain amount of time to working on that problem and then forcing my brain onto different subject matter. This is not something that is easy to do initially! It’s a skill you need to work on. It does get easier with time and effort.

In this case, I allotted two hours to researching what happened and looking for a solution (not counting the time I spent on hold!) That culminated in a handful of phone calls to various offices and discovering there was nothing I could do to affect the situation. From there, any additional thoughts or energy dedicated to it would simply be wasted. It’s just potential fuel for the fires of unwellness to ignite and burn.

Whenever I find myself dwelling on what happened, I redirect my thoughts onto something else that requires greater focus. The more complex, the more I get immersed, the less energy I’m giving to thoughts that could spiral out of control.

This also works pretty well in trying to support a loved one who is being hit with unwell or anxiety-driven thoughts. If I know what the person’s interests are, I will ask them what their favorite thing about that interest is. As I get them talking about it, I’ll just keep asking questions about various details about the hobby or thing until I can tell they are calming down. If I don’t know, I’ll just ask them what their favorite thing is and start unwinding from there. It can take a few minutes, but it’s a really good way to derail anxiety or unwell thoughts.

I would like to close off this post by thanking the several people who sent me, “are you okay?” messages. I do appreciate them. I am okay, just dealing with my mental illness.

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4 Thoughts on Marriage, Long-Term Relationships, and Bipolar Disorder

Everyone needs love in their life. Like many mentally ill people, I have experienced a great deal of turmoil in all facets of my life, including romance. I’ve been engaged twice, but never married. I was diagnosed and started on my recovery path around the same time that my second engagement ended.

I distinctly remember her expressions of pained confusion as my mind melted down. At the time I was diagnosed, I decided to just stay single because I was tired of dragging people I loved through pain and misery with me. But, after three years working on recovery, I began to see that it was certainly possible to have a long-term, happy relationship as a mentally ill person. The problem is that a lot of the advice and information out there is aimed at a generic, lowest common denominator “typical” person.

The following thoughts are derived from my own recovery, as well as listening to the woes of several married couples where Bipolar Disorder is present. Your mileage may vary.

1. Accept that not everyone can handle mental illness.

You don’t have to look far to find articles about how people with mental illness need kindness, compassion, and understanding. That is true. However, it’s also true that not everyone has a thick enough skin to handle mental illness. It can be frightening, disturbing, and confusing. Not everyone can handle that, and that’s okay.

It is worthwhile to consider what kind of experience and opinions a potential partner holds about mental illness. Have they ever been emotionally close to a mentally ill person before? Do they accept it is a medical problem, an illness? What kind of challenges have they faced in their lives? Will this person fall to pieces if they are confronted with the worst your mental illness has to offer?

I find that there are a lot of people that want to be understanding and compassionate, but the extremes of mental illness are just so different and unsettling that they don’t understand how to be.

2. The traditional tropes of partnership don’t necessarily apply.

A traditional idea of marriage sees two people joining their life together in many ways to be partners in this life. I know it’s a heart-warming, romantic notion to many. In a relationship involving Bipolar Disorder or other mental illness, there has to be at least some degree of space between the partners.

I’ve heard the following scenario dozens of times.

Husband has Bipolar Disorder and is the primary source of income. Husband swings manic, cleans out the bank account, and bails on wife and children. Husband may be a fantastic guy when well and balanced, but for the next several months, he’s teetering on the edge of out of his mind while mania does what it does. Wife is forced to cajole, coerce, or literally beg husband to keep their family afloat and a roof over their heads, not always succeeding.

In my well, placid state of mind, I would never want that for my family. Any half-decent person with a conscience wouldn’t want that for their family. So, I would never want to fully intertwine my financials with a long-term partner, because who knows what I might think is a good idea when I’m out of my mind? Separate bank accounts, avoid cosigning for things if it can be avoided, maybe a mutual bank account for paying bills and rent at the most. Need to build or rebuild credit? Get yourself a Secured Credit Card instead of cosigning a debt.

Not everything needs to be meshed together. And in my opinion, it definitely shouldn’t be. Boundaries are necessary.

3. Patience. Take your time developing the relationship.

Personally, any time I start to feel too good, I just assume I’m escalating until I can confirm that I’m not. Hitting things off well with another person can certainly be a escalation trigger for Bipolar Disorder. In fact, the following scenario is the most common that people write to me about.

Person A meets Person B and there is immediate chemistry. Person B lives with Bipolar Disorder. The relationship takes off hot and heavy. They’re my soul-mate! It’s intense, it’s passionate, everything seems to be perfect for about three to six months. Then, things change. They change because Person B triggered into mania, the cycle runs its course, and they crash hard into depression. Person A is confused, they want the person they fell in love with back!

Well, that’s what they think they want. In reality, the person they fell in love with may not actually exist. Mania can be a distortion of the person with Bipolar Disorder. It can also create totally fictional feelings and beliefs, making it not real at all. So many people are looking for this romanticized notion of a soul-mate. They think they find it in manic Person B because mania isn’t anything like what they’ve known before, unless they’re actually familiar with Bipolar Disorder, in which case they would know that it’s not a good thing at all.

Patience is a virtue that everyone needs more of. Date for at least two years before making any major decisions like getting a place together. This is good for both parties. It prevents the person with Bipolar Disorder from acting on fictitious emotions they may not actually feel and it gives the partner a chance to see a wide sampling of the mood swings and how things can be.

If you meet a person and you’re flooded with all of these overwhelming feelings of perfection, love, beauty, and purity of passion; assume it’s mania until you can prove otherwise. A lack of doubt is a major warning flag for escalation.

4. Do not hide your mental illness to achieve a relationship.

People come and go in life. Living with mental illness, we often see a number of people go. Friends are nowhere to be found, relationships crumble when drastic unwellness hits. It can be tempting to want to hide this facet away from a potential partner, but that’s a mistake.

You can’t build a healthy, loving relationship on distrust and partial information. Healthy relationships aren’t built that way. Sooner or later the partner will find out, and they will be hurt and feel betrayed. You’ll be setting yourself up for failure from the start.

The matter of mental health does need some partnership to it. If you’re going to spend a large amount of time with a person, it would help both parties out if they could communicate and work together to overcome the inevitable hurdles that the mental illness will contribute. I’ve talked to both mentally ill people and their partners who think that it can just be the sole domain of the mentally ill person, that it can be kept from affecting the partner. That’s naive, wishful thinking at best.

When’s the best time to have that discussion? Earlyish. It doesn’t have to be immediately, but somewhere before love and serious relationship sets in. I prefer sooner so I don’t waste our time.

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Posted in Depression, Relationships, Slider | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Can Bipolar Disorder Be Controlled Naturally?

I’ve spent a great deal of time talking to people newly diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Inevitably, they ask about controlling Bipolar Disorder through natural means. Can Bipolar Disorder be totally controlled through natural means? I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that it can. I think that the numerous natural practices out there supplement a person’s overall wellness and stability, at best.

I am not a mental health professional or a doctor. However, I am a guy who has talked to literally hundreds of mentally ill people and their families over the past five years. I’ve met people who have believed a great number of things ranging from diet being able to cure their mental illness to people who thought Jesus came to them and exorcised their demons to “Native American secrets they don’t want you to know!” I’ve listened to a hell of a lot of claims.

If Bipolar Disorder can be well-managed or cured through natural means, where are the people doing it? 

Quality of life is an important consideration, even with psych medication. Oh, so your medication knocks you out for sixteen hours a day? A person can’t live that way. Call your doctor and see what should be done about it.

And then you have the people touting a natural approach. “I do X, Y, and Z and I feel AMAZING!” Well, I got news for you. You feel amazing because you’re either borderline manic or high, I can tell by the way you’re ranting at me and exuding energy. It’s obvious to anyone familiar with mania and you probably missed it because you’re escalating.

Here’s a simple pro-tip: if you have Bipolar Disorder and you feel “amazing” for absolutely no reason, start going through your process to make sure your brain isn’t escalating into unwellness. People don’t typically feel amazing for no reason.

I am not telling you to take psychiatric medication. That is a decision only you can make with a qualified professional. What I am telling you is to not delude yourself into thinking that you’re out of the woods because you feel good for the moment. That may not mean a damned thing a week, six months, or a year from now. You should certainly be prepared for a major cycle to kick your teeth down your throat should you trigger.

The Mental Health System is the Most Effective Way to Achieve Wellness

I believe that our flawed mental health system is the most effective way to attain control over mental illness and achieve a greater quality of life. That’s what I’ve seen work for people over and over.

I’ve met several well-balanced people who have achieved years of stability and peace through means offered by the mental health system. On the other hand, I’ve met zero who achieve it through self-medication and substance abuse, prayer, Native American secrets, smoothies, or positive thinking.

There are no shortcuts to achieving mental wellness and stability. It is challenging and it is work. Anyone that says otherwise is either trying to sell you a product or doesn’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. Meaningful change takes time and effort, in all things. Period.

And, if you are a person with Bipolar Disorder who has managed at least a year of stability with a decent quality of life through “natural” anything, I would love to hear from you.

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Love Is Not Greater Than Mental Illness

Love is not greater than mental illness. I’m writing that sentence out because I find myself needing to regularly tell people that love is a product of the brain. It’s not the heart, which pumps blood. It’s not the soul, an often debated construct of belief. Love is created, grown, and hosted in the mind. Therefore, love is just as vulnerable to mental illness as any other emotion or thought process.

Bipolar Disorder unwellness can create a fictional reality and emotions out of thin air. From the outside, it is incredibly confusing. From the inside, the fictional emotions and beliefs that arise from them seem as though they are reality. To say that, “they are not real” is incorrect. They are real in that the unwell mind is saying that “this is reality.” They are not real in that those beliefs don’t typically align with fact.

A person with a high degree of awareness, who retains enough presence of mind to listen to the people around them who can see when they are unwell, can attempt to counter that thinking by continuously reminding themselves that what they are experiencing is not factual and not base their decisions off of them. But, then there are people who are too unwell to see their illness, listen to supporters with rationality, or become convinced that they are being lied to.

“Why is my spouse being so awful to me now? We had a good relationship before!”

“Why is an otherwise loving parent now treating their kids like an afterthought now?”

“My significant other really loved our pets. Why are they so cold and ignoring them now?”

Mental illness would not be nearly as devastating if love surpassed it.

A majority of the people that reach out to me are the friends, family, and loved ones of the mentally ill who are trying to understand what is going on in the mind of their mentally ill loved one. The problem is that they do not have the appropriate perspective to accurately do that. They try to filter mental unwellness through the filter of how they experience and interpret life. It’s not the same.

A person with a typical mind may get angry with their partner but they still retain love.

A Bipolar mind that swings into mania can have that love overridden by the unwell cycle. Instead of anger with love, the person may wind up with intense anger and frustration, impeded decision making ability, impulsiveness, recklessness, racing thoughts, in addition to a removal of the filter between the brain and the mouth. Irrational emotions that are not based in reality flow through actions and words, free to deal drastic damage to a loving relationship.

And then the cycle will end sooner or later. The Bipolar person goes back to who they were before the manic cycle blasted its way through. Then the people involved are left to sweep up whatever ashes they can, because we can’t take back actions or words. All we can really do is apologize and try to put it back together as well as it can be.

“But, if they really loved me, they wouldn’t have done XYZ!”

No. Love is not greater than mental illness. In fact, I would argue that love is the single most vulnerable victim of mental illness, because it’s something that is an essential part of every person’s existence in some way.

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Posted in Relationships, Slider | Tagged , , , , | 18 Comments