Contemplating the Masks of Depression

What do you think of when you hear the word, “Depression”? Is it an image of a sullen, morbid soul who is sitting in darkness by themselves? That is a very common stereotype facilitated by pop culture and some of the easiest to understand extremes of depression.

Depression has many masks. The name is quite literal. It literally depresses a person’s ability to experience many emotions in a way that you would expect from a healthy mind. It can look very stereotypical, like anger, or in some cases, it can look like nothing at all. The person may be totally functional in every day life. They hold down a job, have a family, go about their lives; but they are unable to feel the emotions they are supposed to.

How many people do you know that are just angry and bitter all the time for seemingly no reason? And I’m not talking about just a hard life either. That can certainly contribute. Even people with hard lives do have temporary reprieves from time to time. Maybe it’s being proud of a child for an accomplishment, getting a raise at work, or having a great night with the spouse.

Instead? There’s just nothing there. Just emptiness, hollowness, pointlessness. And that emptiness gets filled with anger and bitterness as the weeks, months, and years grind on. Depression won’t let that person feel happy or any kind of joy or satisfaction. Maybe enough time passes where the person moves past that into a desolate landscape where the mind can’t even muster up anger anymore.

Many people think that because life is hard, it’s normal to never feel joy or happiness; for anger and bitterness to replace sadness. It’s not.

It’s depression. And it can be caused by anything from a bad diet, to poor sleep hygiene, to trauma, to not exercising, to the seasons changing, to a lack of sunshine, and so much more.

Are you depressed? I think there are a couple of pretty easy questions to ask yourself to determine whether or not you should speak to a doctor.

Do you feel any strong emotions other than emptiness, anger, or bitterness? How did you feel the last time something good happened to you? Were your emotions appropriate for what transpired?

Many screening tools ask a question like, “Are you able to enjoy your hobbies or interests?” The reason is that you’re supposed to be able to, but depression can rob you of that, too.

Sadness and depression get a bit trickier. Genuine sadness is not supposed to feel empty or hopeless. It should also not make you feel as though you should hurt yourself or not be here any longer. Genuine sadness is not a black hole. There is supposed to be emotional pain there. A lack of emotional pain and numbness may also potentially point to depression.

If this writing resonated with you, if it’s something you see in yourself, talk to your doctor. That does not necessarily mean you need or should go on meds, either! Quite a few people successfully combat depression with lifestyle changes and healthier habits.

Life is difficult enough as it is. Don’t let it rob you of the ability to feel emotions, too.

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A Video Post from Sophie

Bit of a different post today. Was recently reached out to by Sophie, a young lady who wanted to share part of her own journey with others. As y’all may or may not know, I’m generally pretty picky about what I choose to share from other people. I appreciated her short presentation for it’s authenticity and genuine nature.

Also, she is a person who was misdiagnosed for quite awhile as well. Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder get confused on an all too regular basis.

So, I am passing her video along.

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Mental Illness and The Importance of Professional Diagnosis

There are a lot of people in the world that are looking for easy, convenient answers. Not a week passes when I don’t receive correspondence from someone asking, “Am I Bipolar?” or “Is my loved one Bipolar?” And my response to all of these people is the same. “I’m not qualified to make that kind of statement. You need to discuss everything you just told me with a mental health professional.”

It’s not hard to find statements on the internet, throughout mental health websites, and advocates talking about how important it is not to self-diagnose or attempt to diagnose a loved one. But, I’ve yet to see anyone really address the question, “why?”

It’s not that difficult to tell if someone needs to be speaking to a mental health professional. A mental illness is defined as some form of behavioral or mental pattern that impedes a person’s ability to meet the basic needs of human existence, often compared against Maslowe’s Hierarchy of Needs as a rule of thumb. Once you understand that, it is much easier to see in the way a person conducts their life.

What is not so clear are the details of that person’s history, life, and medical history. Furthermore, many mental illnesses look very similar. People regularly confuse Borderline Personality Disorder with Bipolar Disorder because they both can include drastic swings. However, the details of those mental illnesses differ greatly.

Details are vitally important. A lot of loved ones of the mentally ill do not get to see all of the details that will really help explain the whole picture. We keep a lot buried and hidden away from others. Furthermore, many mentally ill people do not always understand what details point to symptoms. It’s easy to view a “minor quirk” about ourselves as just part of our personality instead of a problem.

That makes the work of mental health professionals all the more difficult because we don’t necessarily know what information needs to be communicated. That’s a knowledge that we gain over time as we grow to understand our mental illness and how it manifests in each of us, specifically.

The biggest threat of self-diagnosis is convincing yourself that you have a certain mental illness. The biggest threat of attempting to diagnose a loved one is convincing them that they have a certain mental illness. Because an unwell mind can latch onto that and hold tight to it as an explanation for why things are the way they are. Why is that bad? What if the person becomes convinced that they have the wrong mental illness? How long is it going to take to convince that mentally ill person that they do not have that mental illness? Months? Years? The rest of their life?

Diagnosis by a professional is the only way to go. Yes, misdiagnosis happens. The doctor may not be as knowledgeable on a particular mental illness, the patient may not be cooperative or communicating, important details may get overlooked. There are numerous reasons for misdiagnosis even in the best of conditions. But, that can be corrected by the patient educating themselves on their diagnosis, working out how it affects them specifically, and openly communicating with their professionals about what they learn and the affects of their treatment.

If you take nothing else from this blog post, I want you to understand this. There is NOTHING simple about confronting, fighting, and overcoming mental illness. Even getting a correct diagnosis can be hard and can take time. Do not make that process more complicated for yourself or your loved one by attempting to diagnose. Leave that to qualified professionals.

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Cutting Medication Costs With GoodRX.com

I want to start this blog post by informing you all that I am NOT in any way affiliated, receiving compensation for, or have any connection at all to GoodRX.com. I am writing this blog post because medication is a pretty major part of managing and maintaining Bipolar Disorder, so finding ways to cut costs on medications is generally a good thing.

What is GoodRX.com?

GoodRX.com is a search engine, of sorts, that compiles and compares pharmacy pricing information to help you find the lowest cost on your prescriptions. Their service offers different coupons as they come available to further help the user cut their cost. They do not require a sign up or a credit card, in fact, their service and app are both free. If you create an account, you get a few additional benefits such as: price alerts, new coupons, finding the lowest average price to get all your prescriptions at a single pharmacy, as well as updates sent to your email.

As of this writing (7/8/2016), they currently have 27,000 reviews and a 4.7 rating on the Google Play Store for their app.

So, what’s the catch?

GoodRX.com is not forthcoming about how they are actually making their money. In the research I conducted, I mostly agree with this write up by Ejovi Nuwere, as well as his concerns. Namely, that they have partnered with Pharmacy Benefit Managers to generate sales. The PBMs earn a transaction fee in exchange for driving customer traffic to certain pharmacies. The marketer (GoodRX.com) is then paid a transaction fee from the PBMs. Essentially, a type of internet affiliate marketing.

The other concern is information. Data is king in marketing. Users of this service are essentially providing “free” data to GoodRX.com on their prescriptions and whatever other personal information they provide. It is written into into their Terms of Service that they will not sell that information. However, if GoodRX.com was created and funded by another company, that information will go to that company. So, for example, if Pfizer is the one that paid for it, then Pfizer would have access to those assets because it’s not “selling” the information.

A concern that Nuwere puts forward is the sale and acquisition of the company. If the company is sold, any data collected would go with it as part of the company’s assets, because it is not technically a sale of the data. It would be a sale of the company.

Should you use GoodRX.com?

It depends on how you feel about providing information to a third party. You can use their website and service without actually signing up, thus you can avoid providing any directly linked personal information; but they are still collecting data, even if it’s not directly attached to a name.

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Bipolar Disorder: Beware the “Spark” and Honeymoon Feeling

You’ve met an awesome new person, you feel an immediate click with them, you feel amazing, everything is great! If you have Bipolar Disorder, that can potentially be very bad. That click and the honeymoon feeling of meeting an awesome new person is the result of a flood of endorphins that your brain produces in response. That endorphin flood can kick off an escalated cycle and send your mind running into hypomania or mania.

Probably 80% of the correspondence I receive is from people asking questions about this. They meet an awesome person, things are amazing for anywhere from a couple months to a year, and then it all comes crashing down in a storm of chaos, confusion, and depression. In the course of that year, both parties may end up making life-altering decisions as a result of the escalation.

There is a very common theme in this correspondence. The passion can be overwhelming and exciting, but it’s the conviction that really cements the idea that this it is all real. It’s very common for a person with Bipolar Disorder in a dominant escalated cycle to be absolutely certain of what they feel without zero doubt or any reservations.

I rarely make absolute statements because there are so many gray areas, but I am willing to here. If you are Bipolar or love a Bipolar person, doubt is a good thing. A typical mind is supposed to have doubt at times. A lack of doubt, or one of my loved ones pointing out that I’m having no doubts, would be an immediate reason for me to start scrutinizing my mental state to ensure I am not escalated. A lack of doubt leads to scenarios like this:

“Of course it’s a good idea I move to another country to marry you even if I’ve only known you for six months! It’s ridiculous for you to suggest otherwise! Look at what we have! How special it is! I’m going to quit my job/school, sell my car, and buy a plane ticket! I can’t wait to start this new chapter of my life with you!”

To expand on that, many people with Depression and Bipolar Disorder subconsciously chase new relationships as a result. The endorphin flood is powerful, it can knock out depression in many people for a little while. As a result, the Depressed or Bipolar often incorrectly conclude that the key to their happiness is finding the right person and relationship.

They then attain it, that honeymoon feeling eventually wears off as time goes on, the depression sets back in, and then they conclude that they aren’t really in love because the depression swallows it up. Then the mentally ill person either leaves or feels that spark with someone else, which causes them to pick up and move on.

“This person is the wrong person because I don’t feel good or feel good about the relationship.” That is incorrect. The depression is just doing what depression does; depressing our ability to experience emotions correctly. Sooner or later, it will overwhelm the endorphin flood as it trickles off.

Love is a product of the mind, and therefore, is very vulnerable to mental illness.

When You Feel That Spark or Click

For people with Bipolar Disorder: Be wary, even if you’re well-medicated. Your body does increase its tolerance to meds and the endorphin flood can tip you into escalation even if you are medicated. If you start getting ideas of drastically changing your life within the first six months, go through whatever processes you have on confirming whether or not you are escalated. Talk to your support network or mental health professionals. If you’re not or poorly medicated, you should plan for an escalated cycle because it’s probably going to happen. Listen to the people around you if they are expressing reservations. It can save you the pain of blowing up your family or relationship.

For people with Depression: That honeymoon feeling is going to eventually go away, one way or another. A relationship will not fix the problem. It is only a temporary reprieve in the overall storm if you’re not treated. Talk to your doctor. If you are correctly treated or recovered, there shouldn’t be an issue or it should be manageable.

For the partners of the mentally ill: Be wary. If your new partner mentions they have Bipolar Disorder, it always pays to be wary lest you make life changing decisions because you get swept up in the intensity of it all. The biggest tell is a lack of doubt or any fear from the other person. A person in a reasonable mentality is definitely going to have some doubts about moving to another country or spending the rest of their life with someone they just met. A lack of doubt or fear is quite likely a symptom of Bipolar escalation. My general rule of thumb is not to make any major life-changing decisions unless you’ve known the person well for at least two years.

The key phrase there is “known the person well” not necessarily “been in a relationship with”. Two years will give you a pretty good view of the ups and downs. It will also give you time to see how the person approaches their mental health and management as well.

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Mental Illness and the Fear of Involuntary Hospitalization

There is a relatively common fear among the mentally ill of involuntary hospitalization. It is perfectly reasonable for anyone to fear the loss of their freedom of movement and choice without any real say in the matter. In relation to Bipolar Disorder specifically, the fear can easily get exploded out of proportion in a mentally ill person’s mind. Remember, Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder, which primarily affects emotions, and fear is most certainly an emotion.

The best way to combat this fear, whether you are mentally ill yourself or the loved one of a mentally ill person who fears it, is to arm yourself with the knowledge of the process and requirements for involuntary hospitalization in your local area. In the United States, involuntary hospitalization follows proof that the person poses a real and imminent threat to themselves or other people.

The best way to double check this is to inquire with a local facility and ask for a patient rights pamphlet or ask your doctor.

Every place I’ve received mental health treatment has given me a pamphlet that clearly outlined my rights as a mental health consumer. If you have not been given one or it’s been awhile since you started treatment at a particular facility, ask.

As it relates to trying to soothe the oftentimes irrational fears that mental illness creates, the best route is to ground the other person in truth and reality, reinforced with boundaries. The approach I personally use is:

“I will not promise you that I will never call authorities. If you are suicidal, violent, or making threats, I absolutely will. But beyond that, I will not.”

Clear, concise, with fair and meaningful boundaries.

Involuntary hospitalization is meant to be used as a last line of defense to help a person in dire need and prevent them from hurting themselves or someone else. It is a tool to be used if a mentally ill person has completely disconnected from reality, rationality, and poses an imminent threat. It’s not something that can just be evoked over whatever. The authorities are not going to haul a person off and lock them in a padded room just because another person says they are a threat. It’s not that simple.

My personal opinion? If I were to ever reach the point where I would need to be involuntarily hospitalized? I would be glad for it once I leveled out. I’m sure it would have been used at a time when I could have done serious harm to myself or someone else at a time when my mental illness was overwhelming me. And you don’t get to take back the actions you take in those times.

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Of Patreon, Sustainability, and Growth…

Hello, folks. Today’s post is going to be a bit different. I want to talk to you about Patreon and my path. For those of you unfamiliar, Patreon is a niche crowdfunding platform that allows creators and artists to generate funding over a long period of time, such as a small contribution per month, as opposed to a single lump sum. After a lot of research and consideration, I have decided to launch my own presence on Patreon as a means to turn what I do into my career and expand.

In a nutshell, my life situation will be changing in the coming months and I cannot continue to do what I do as I’ve been doing it. I will need to either turn this into something sustainable and profitable or focus on finding a full-time, traditional job. Even though I have accepted donations through my website, I have never actually broken even on the expenses associated with running it, let alone the number of hours I put into maintaining my presence and helping people.

I attempted to push towards sustainability with my “Pay What You Want” consultation offering. I launched that about two months ago and I’m writing it off as a failure. Why? Well, the idea behind it was to provide something optional to help support my work and what I do. I created it as an option. I wrote it as an option. I presented it as an option. But many people interpreted it to be a paywall that separated us instead.

Whenever I consider fees or money, I always ask, “Would it be accessible to 29 year old me who was broke with his life crumbling around him?” If the answer to that question is no, then I don’t do it.

If I put myself behind a paywall in a traditional way, I wouldn’t be accessible to the homeless Bipolar guy who emailed me from the library or the many people whose Bipolar spouses swung manic, cleaned out their accounts, and bailed on their family.

Then there is the additional problem of money in this general niche. As soon as you introduce a paywall into the equation, now you have to deal with trying to convince people of why they should be spending their money. I would have no problem doing that if I could guarantee that I would be able to help every person that took me up on it. But I can’t guarantee that. I don’t know until I’m actually talking to the person if I’ll be able to contribute anything meaningful to them.

But then I stumbled on Patreon and I had another idea.

What if, instead of a front facing paywall, I went the other direction? It would allow me to remain accessible and approachable. I wouldn’t have to try to sell myself to people that don’t know who I am or what I’m trying to accomplish. I wouldn’t have to set a static price point for myself or my eBooks.

Instead, I could simply continue helping people, writing, and producing content. After that, I could simply say:

Do you believe in what I’m doing? Do you like my content and would like to see more? Would you like to support my work and efforts? Then consider becoming my Patron on Patreon for as little as $1 a month. Your contribution will enable me to help the next person without expectation, as I’ve done my best to help you.

I’m not trying to get rich here. I can fit everything I own into a single load of my 13 year old truck. But no one asked me to do what I do and no one cuts me a consistent paycheck for it, either. I’m asking you to support my work so I can live, establish greater consistency, and expand my work to better help people with Bipolar Disorder and our supporters.

So, have a look at my Patreon page for more information. I have some rewards available, which I will expand on in the future. And I will likely be using Patreon as a hub for general social interactions with my Patrons.

Thank you for your time and consideration. And thank you to anyone that has ever contributed anything to me before. I appreciate you all greatly.

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Updates, Updates, and Future Plans

About two months ago, I decided to add a “Pay What You Want” pricing measure for consulting that was intended to be an option to generate some income for the time I put out. I’ve been looking for ways to make what I do sustainable as well as allow me to focus on this as my career, because of how much time and energy I actually put into it. It’s way past the point of being a hobby and it certainly isn’t something I do for fun.

This appeared to be a good idea because, in my mind, it did not put me behind a paywall. The person on the other end who knew their own situation could decide what they could afford. I presented it as an option. I phrased it as an option. And I figured it would be interpreted as an option. It was not.

Instead, many people just interpreted it as a paywall that separated us. In the past two months, I have received far, far too many comments, messages, and emails from people literally pleading with me for my time, perspective, and assistance though they had no money. I am not okay with that. I absolutely refuse to have anyone sacrifice their dignity on my account. I wish I could put into words how awful it felt to read those words and know I was the cause of them.

And that’s not considering the number of people who didn’t reach out at all as a result.

So, fuck that. That is going away in the very near future.

About Traditional Paths

I’d like to take a moment to talk about traditional paths involving writing and promotion.

A lot of people tell me something to the effect of, “You should really write a book, get it submitted to publishers. Someone will want to publish it, you can reach more people, and become a bonafide, published author!” Let me take a moment to explain what it means to be a bonafide, published author in the traditional space.

There are several different ways the path can go, but let me give an approximation. An author writes a pitch or a manuscript and shops it around to publishers. Let’s say that after about 20 rejections, the author finally gets an offer for a $10,000 advance with a 10% royalty to publish the work.

That sounds pretty nice, right?

Wrong. Writing a book is a lot of tedious, difficult work. The author may spend months to years writing that book. Writing the book is maybe 50% of the process. That’s not including research, editing, proofreading, redrafting, proofreading again, and finishing the manuscript. Bam! After a years worth of work, the author finally finishes their book and it’s ready to send to print.

So the author is going to make money now, right?

Wrong. You see, that publisher is going to do next to nothing to actually promote or market your book. They only agreed to print it, little else. You need an agent, which costs money, or market it yourself, which costs time. And guess what? That advance you received? Your book sales are going to go to paying that back to the publisher until the advance is paid off. THEN you will earn the 10% royalty.

Let’s take the average mental health memoir. It’s like what, $20.00 for a hard back? So, after that $10,000 is paid back, the author will make a whole $2.00 on each book.

So, let’s talk about marketing. Want your book on a bookstore shelf? You or your agent have to make that happen. Want to have book signings? You are the one paying the expenses associated with it. That is, unless you somehow make it big and are important enough for other entities to want to handle those expenses for you. And most authors do not.

About Marketing as an Author

In today’s marketing landscape as it pertains to being a published author, social media is an imperative part of building an audience. Twitter is pretty much an essential platform for authors to interact with their audiences. I’ve tried to expand to Twitter in a meaningful way on two different occasions. As someone familiar with marketing through it, I know it is a powerful tool if you take the time to do it correctly and network. The first time? I couldn’t remember why I hadn’t stuck with it. So, earlier this year, I decided to give it another go.

“I can expand my reach this way! I really should commit to making this work!”

Round two lasted about four days. On Day 3, while perusing the hashtags related to Bipolar Disorder, I caught a tweet from another Bipolar author who was offering her memoir for free in exchange for reviews and blog post exchanges. Blog post exchanges are a pretty solid way to expand one’s audience, so I sent her a message.

I pointed out that I was new on Twitter, but my website had a fair following and generated a good amount of traffic, which is more valuable from a marketing perspective than 40,000 Twitter followers. After some polite conversation, I suggested we should both read one another’s last six blog posts to get a good idea of what we were both about. She agreed that was a good idea.

I read her six. She was a good writer but her content wasn’t really worth reading. It provided no value to the reader. I received a message from her a bit later that said, “You’re going to have to write with more passion if you want to appear on my blog. You’re too technical.” I found that puzzling. My last post was indeed technical, but there were also two angry posts in my past six. They were certainly emotional. I asked her if she had read the past six. She said she had. I sent her links to the two rantish posts and asked, “Is this more what you had in mind?”

She replied, “OMG, NO! You’re so angry! I don’t want that on my blog!” Confirming that she didn’t read the past six, otherwise she would have seen those two and commented on them to begin with.

I sent her a message.

I politely, tactfully, delicately (seriously, I went total, over-the-top professional mode here) explained to her that lying to people who were willing to help was not the best way to form meaningful relationships with them. I essentially opened a door for her to acknowledge her mistake, which would have been fine for me, and then we could move forward. After a lot of consideration and convincing myself that, “I really need to make Twitter work. The sacrifice will be worth it if it will allow me to reach more people.” I added the following to the message, “I’m not particularly fond of your style of writing. It’s not for me. But, I think we can work together on an exchange that will benefit both of us.”

You would think I had threatened to beat her children. That elicited three full direct messages of ranting with such highlights as (and these are actual quotes):

“My story is inspirational and I’m changing the mental health paradigm!”

“I have 40,000 Twitter followers. How many do you have? I am a Queen of Social Media!”

“You need to pay me, my work, and my story the respect it deserves! I am an inspiration to thousands I’m going to be on Dr. Oz someday.”

It ended with: “If you’re willing to apologize for being so rude, I suppose I might be willing to do an exchange with you, if you’ll read my book and give me a review on Amazon.”

Here, my friends, is where my brain somehow left without me. I’m ashamed to say that I sat there, seriously considering how I could salvage this interaction so I could reach more people. As I sat there in thought, my email notifier dinged. I swapped over to my Inbox where four emails awaited my Replies.

One was from a mother facing the prospect of cutting a toxic child out of her life, one was from a newly diagnosed Bipolar person who was terrified for their future, one was from a person whose Bipolar spouse quit their meds, cleaned out their bank account, and bailed, and the latest was from a person I had helped a few years ago who was sending me an update on how they were now doing in life and to thank me.

And that’s when the revelation struck. The reason I didn’t stick with Twitter the FIRST time was because I HATED dealing with people like that author. I wasted THREE HOURS of my time talking to her. That’s three hours I could have spent far more productively: like working on my next eBook, responding to emails, working on marketing, writing blog posts, downtime and decompression, or hitting myself in the junk with a hammer.

I am not an author trying to sell books. I am an advocate who uses the vehicle of the written word to dispel stigma and enable people to better help themselves. I am an advocate who is trying to make quality information and assistance available to anyone that needs it.

You know why I haven’t written a book and shopped it around?

Because 15 year old me, erratic, suicidal, and unstable never would have bought it. Because 19 year old me, squatting alone in an abandoned house never would have bought it. Because 29 year old me, newly diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and ready to recover, couldn’t afford to buy it.

And he certainly would not have believed any author that told him, “My story will totally inspire you and totally might help you! It’ll totally change your paradigm! You should totally buy my book for $20 you totally don’t have! And please be sure to totally review it!” I would have looked at that person and thought they were an asshole.

I opted to price my eBooks on a “Pay What You Want” basis so I didn’t have to do the things that are required to succeed in the traditional space. I don’t want to spend my time convincing troubled people to buy my shit, especially since I cannot guarantee that it will resonate or be useful to them. I’ve read a bunch of books on mental health and Bipolar Disorder that were fantastic books, but meant nothing to me because they were written for people with Type 1 Bipolar Disorder.

Times are different now. Technology is the order of the day. For all of the bullshit that goes along with traditional publishing, at a $20.00, 10% royalty? Moving even one $5 eBook means 2.5x more money in my pocket. Traditional publishing is a very poor Return on Investment and time.

About Further Development

In the coming weeks and months, I will be sharing more with you about my plans to expand on what I do. I have a two year goal of establishing a Charitable, For-Profit web-based business aimed at serving not only the mentally ill, but our loved ones and the people who care about us.

Allow me to share with you the most common sentiment I’ve heard in the four and a half years since I started my website.

“I tried talking to my friends and family, but they just don’t understand.”

Well, what if there was a well-managed, well-moderated internet community where you could be around and talk to other people who understand? A community centered around dealing with mental illness in a realistic way and pushing towards results? A community that was healthy, because paid staff with an expectation on quality of service were used instead of unstable volunteers with dangerous or stupid ideas about mental illness? Where the toxic, abusive, and disruptive are shut down and removed?

Life with mental illness is far more than crisis and medical advice. Sometimes, you just need a friend that understands what you’re going through to help keep you pointed in the right direction. Sometimes, you just need someone to help you to your feet and get you moving forward again.

The internet and technology could be very powerful tools for making that happen.

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Bipolar Disorder: Do You REALLY Think You Inherited a “Chemical Imbalance?”

Every once in awhile, one of my readers will ask for my input on a product, service, or system that relates to mental health. It’s usually in the holistic or alternative medicine categories. It recently occurred to me that many of the people shilling bullshit and false hope to desperate people parade the angle presented in the title: “Do you REALLY think you inherited a chemical imbalance?”

Let’s take a dive into marketing psychology really quick. This kind of open-ended question is not designed to make you think yes or no, even though it is a yes or no question. Instead, it is designed to instill doubt in your mind. What did you think when you read the title? Did you think, “Oh that’s total bullshit!” Did you think, “Wait, that does sound kind of ridiculous.” What was the reason that you clicked the link and landed on my blog? It’s not because you thought yes or no, is it?

Businesses and advertisers bet their advertising budgets on that kind of thinking every day.

I was asked to look over a book and system that a medical doctor was selling through their website. The central theme of the author’s message was “Isn’t it a little ridiculous that the establishment says you can inherit a chemical imbalance? You can fix that with diet changes, regular sleep, and natural living!” I could tell that their website copy was written by marketers and probably proofread by a lawyer because there were no solid assertions, only leading questions like the above, designed to funnel your mind down a particular path: that it’s totally ridiculous that you can inherit a chemical imbalance and you should buy my book and two month long program for a metric shit-ton of cash to get it under control!

About 80% of the information on the site was valid, useful information. The problem is that they willfully omitted a chunk of very important, relevant information that helps to clarify the entire picture. In retrospect, I realized that quite a few people selling bullshit products and services do the same thing. They sell the angle of chemical imbalance pretty hard because it doesn’t sound severe, much like “mood disorder” doesn’t sound all that severe until you understand what it is.

Do I REALLY think I inherited a chemical imbalance? No. I think I inherited a genetic predisposition for the physical differences of the brain that CAUSES Bipolar Disorder and the chemical imbalances associated with it. It is known that Bipolar Disorder is genetic and heritable. It is known that the brain of a Bipolar person is physically different.

How many Bipolar people reading this right now can think of at least one other family member who is likely Bipolar? How many supporters reading this can clearly see other examples of mental illness in their loved one’s family? I know that it is pretty damned clear in my own family history.

Why would Bipolar Disorder frolic through the family lineages of many of us? The only truly unifying thread is the genetic information being passed down. There are plenty of people who do not manifest a mental illness that runs in the family. That’s what genetic predisposition is all about. That link points to a discussion about recessive and dominant genes as related to hair color and eye color, a very common way to explain genetic predisposition.

The same is true for several mental illnesses. Just because there is a genetic predisposition for it, a potential for it to be there, doesn’t mean it will emerge. Neither of my parents or any of my siblings manifested Bipolar Disorder; but once you start jumping out to extended family then you can see evidence of it all over the place.

Con artists and the ignorant parade and tout the chemical imbalance angle without ever addressing the real question: “Why is the chemical imbalance there in the first place?” They also tend to conveniently leave out the numerous other factors associated with Bipolar Disorder; such as overworking and inhibited sections of the brain it affects, volume loss of brain matter that intensifies unwell cycles, abnormalities in the way the brain communicates between sections, and more.

“But, Dennis! You’re not a doctor or mental health professional!”

Correct. I am not. There are plenty of qualified professionals out there who are ignorant, have no idea what they’re talking about, or are just plain terrible people. A lot of people look at “Doctor” and think “trustworthy.” I once had a doctor for all of 10 minutes, right up until he revealed that he “didn’t believe in Bipolar Disorder,” and wasn’t going to re-prescribe my lithium because “I didn’t need it.” Now, for people that are unaware, lithium is not a “fun” drug. No one wants to take the shit. It doesn’t get you high or anything of the sort. I don’t take it because I like it or because it’s fun. No one does. I take it because it keeps me sane and from tearing my life to pieces on a regular basis.

And that does not mean that all doctors or mental health professionals are bad. Not at all. I’ve had some great ones. Trust, but verify.

“But, Dennis! People with Bipolar Disorder are normal just like anyone else!”

No. We’re not. And the sooner that we come to terms with that, the easier it is to swallow all of the bullshit that we have to go through to be well, balanced, and maintain it long-term. Our minds are physically different. Our thought processes are different. Our emotional reactions are different. We are not “normal.” We have to learn how to live and exist in a way that is right for us, that will allow us to find whatever happiness and peace of mind that we can find, and mitigate the destruction that can surround us due to unwell cycles.

People that push ideas like, “it’s just a chemical imbalance” are not just selling a product, they are selling false hope that we can be normal. “Just buy my books/program/services/crystals/chakra realignment/psychic healing/nutrition plan/herbal supplement and then you can be just like everyone else, too! We have a simple solution to all of the pain, misery, suffering, loss, and destruction you’ve suffered! Big Pharma just wants to turn you into a customer! Not cure you! BUY MY SHIT!”

Those products have as much chance of curing mental illness as it does of curing a gunshot wound. They don’t address the CAUSE of the symptoms, and science isn’t far enough along in it’s understanding of the brain and several mental illnesses to provide an ACTUAL cure. I may not be a doctor, but I know enough to understand how monumental and complex the task is.

“But, Dennis! Psych medication doesn’t treat the cause of the symptoms either!”

Correct. It doesn’t. Nothing that we currently have does. Many people interpret this to mean that everything is equal, but it’s not. No one’s spent millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours, research, and study on the cause and effect relationship of how chakra realignment or “purging toxins” benefits a person. And frankly, if there were anything to it, “Big Pharma” would have already bought the rights to it and produced their own products if they were as Machiavellian as the alternative health crowd would have you believe. Martin Shkreli, anyone? It’s not like we’re living in a vacuum where Big Pharma would be totally oblivious to the information and claims.

“But, Dennis! Big Pharma does x, y, z evil/shady/awful thing!”

No. “Big Pharma” does not. Humans involved in Big Pharma may or may not be doing awful things. But the same is true for anything, anywhere that humans are involved. For example, Steven Nardizzi, the CEO of Wounded Warrior Project allegedly using donation funds like a party slush fund. The Non-Profit sector didn’t do that. The Wounded Warrior Project didn’t do that. These are the alleged actions and decisions made by one person that affected a whole lot of other people, including denying wounded veterans the resources that donors were putting into their mission. Can we just write off the entire Non-Profit sector because of his actions? No. That would be stupid.

Just like we can’t write off the pharmaceutical industry because there are bad players in their number.

Be wary of anyone providing easy answers or making grand claims. In my experience, they’re either ignorant of the complexity of the problem or are con artists preying on the confused, hopeless, and desperate. I hope the few bucks in profit are worth the tax that comes with contributing to the suffering, chaos, and suicides of at-risk people and their family members.

And yes, I purposefully chose not to include that doctor’s name in this blog post. Putting that person on blast is not the point. The point is to better enable you to spot any person like them that may derail and jeopardize your pursuit of wellness and happiness.

Bipolar Disorder is a manageable mental illness. But it’s hard. It’s all hard. And not everyone will succeed, for reasons too numerous to list.

Beware of anyone selling simple solutions. They do not exist.

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Bipolar Disorder: Stages of the Journey

I’ve been putting in quite a few hours to get my third eBook ready finished, polished, and ready for launch. The subject matter of my next eBook centers around tearing down the barriers that separate Bipolar people, their Supporters, and loved ones when the situation is not toxic. A big part of working to tear down those barriers is to understand where the person is at on their journey.

Many advocates and Bipolar spaces around the internet trumpet the individual nature of mental illness loudly. That’s true, to an extent. Mental illness is a very personal experience. However, as someone who spent 5 years doing internet marketing work, it is very clear to me that niches exist in our overall demographic. I’ve spent a great deal of time reflecting on how I analyze the situations and people I interact with as a means to best communicate with and reach people.

As a bit of a teaser let me share with you the the niches that I’m referring to as the “Stages of the Journey” with some brief notes.

Stage 1: Lost (Toxic) / Lost (Aware)

Stage 1 is divided into two categories, Lost (Toxic) and Lost (Aware). A Lost (Toxic) individual may be undiagnosed and doing all of the awful things we do to ourselves and others, diagnosed but are unaware of the severity of the problem, or simply don’t give a shit. The Lost (Aware) person has caught glimpses of understanding that there is something wrong with them that needs addressed, but does not understand how to start confronting the problem. This is where we start our journey. Many of us bounce back and forth between the two due to instability and the chaos of life.

Stage 2: Novice

Stage 2 begins when the person understands and accepts that they have a problem, at least some of the time, and they are willing to confront it. Many people do struggle with the idea of having a mental illness. It is very easy for a person at Stage 2 to fall back somewhere into Stage 1. This person needs support, encouragement, and tangible goals to keep them in Stage 2 and looking forward. At this stage, the person is beginning to learn about their mental illness and themselves.

Stage 3: Learner

These individuals don’t struggle as often with their diagnosis. People in Stage 3 are most receptive to information. These people are active participants in pursuing wellness. They not only attend their appointments, but tend to act on whatever practices their mental health professionals are telling them they need to be well. These individuals still need support from time to time, but their needs are less pronounced than previous stages.

Stage 4: Adept

Stage 4 is the last stage. Adept is defined as someone who is reasonably skilled and proficient at a thing. The mentally ill person at Stage 4 has a firm grasp on their mental illness, management, and engages in the practices required to be healthy. This person has likely been through therapy, different doctors, different medications, and more. Ideally, this individual is living a fairly typical life.

I chose Adept to describe the final Stage for a specific reason. One would assume you would end a list with something like “Expert” or “Master.” Right? Not in this case. Because even if the person is an absolute expert on their own diagnosis as it pertains to them, that does not mean that the information is applicable to the next person. I’ve had more than a handful of advocates inform me they were an “expert” on Bipolar Disorder when I pointed out that they were giving bad or misinformation. They’re not, I’m not, you’re not; and you probably won’t be unless you decide to go into psychology and study the work of the doctors that have brought us to our current understanding of a mental illness.

The Adept often suffers from one very major drawback that I’ve seen over and over. They often do not understand that just because they take their medication and go through whatever practices are required to be well now, that they will continue to be well in the future. I’ve seen more than a couple Adepts backslide because they either didn’t know or forgot that the body can grow tolerant to psych medication, which can let the Disorder and an unwell cycle creep back in. The person is often convinced they are totally fine, because they have been fine for years and regularly take their meds. So how can they possibly be unwell now? And then the Disorder further convinces them that they are totally fine and it’s everyone else that is the problem, allowing the unwell cycle to run unchecked.

But What’s the Point?

Effective communication requires understanding one’s target audience. If I’m going to write a romance story, then I need to have a reasonable understanding of how women who read those books think and what they take out of the work. Similarly, I have never had a Lost person tell me my writing was too abrasive, I shouldn’t swear, or inane bullshit like “you should refer to yourself as a person with Bipolar Disorder instead of a Bipolar person.”

On the contrary, I instead get regular feedback like, “your writing is the first that really spoke to me.” Because I’m writing in the tones and language of the way that we think, but do not express, so we don’t have to listen to people bitch at us about it.

Anyway! In my next eBook, I go over these things more in-depth, in addition to methods I use to effectively communicate and build knowledge at the various stages to help people find their way up the ladder. It is my hope that this will allow supporters and their mentally ill loved ones to better dismantle the barriers that inhibit communication; in addition to providing a clearer road map and goals for we mentally ill who are trying to find our way.

The next eBook is still a bit out, but I will keep you posted when it gets closer to release time.

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