Meeting David Miklowitz, author: “The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide”

When I arrived at the Clifton Center tonight, I had no idea what to expect. I’ve thus far avoided the support group meeting so technically this was my first official bipolar “event.”

I had no clue where to go when I got there, but saw a line and planted myself in it. It seemed safer than wandering around asking where the bipolar thing was. Soon enough, a woman behind me spoke.

“Do you know what this line is for?”

Me: “Not really.”

I wanted to joke, “It’s OK, I’m loony, too,” but my self-deprecating humor is not always welcomed.

After creeping up to a table, I filled out a piece of paper and snatched up a brochure about the University of Louisville Depression Center.  I headed inside the theater – dimly lit as if to hide the room’s bipolarness – and nestled into a very comfy, red, velvety chair.

After talking about  how she passes the time during her son’s swim practices, the woman behind me (in conversation with another woman about their work), said: “I prefer my clients to be just plain ‘ol schizophrenics. And no one who smokes crack.”

Can I get a WTF? Lucky for them, I have bipolar disorder- not schizophrenia – and I don’t smoke crack.

But moving along … the speaker of the night was  David Miklowitz, author of “The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide.” Pretty famous book in the bipolar world. He was fantastic. Essentially, he spoke about Chapter 8 in his book (“8 practical ways to enhance your wellness”), such as keeping a mood chart, maintaining regular daily and nightly routines, avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs and survival guide David Miklowitzrelying on social supports.

I walked out of there feeling more knowledgeable about how to handle having bipolar and, more than anything, just realizing that this is going to be a journey, there’s no stopping point, no end in learning.

My husband asked me if it was worth attending. Absolutely.

Even with the woman behind me making those snarky comments – and I didn’t even roll my eyes.

Yep, my meds must be workin’.

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The shrink with the crinkly forehead

ImageSo I’m shopping for a psychologist — aka “talk therapist.”

I already have my psychiatrist — aka meds doctor. She’s great, which shows I ought to stick things out longer than I usually do. Because initially I was oh-so skeptical. Maybe it was because she’s not much older than I, if at all. It’s a little strange thinking your little sister could be in control of your psychotropic medications. But, we’re good now. And besides, I don’t actually have a little sister.

So today I met the psychologist, we’ll call her Dr. P.

Dr. P gave me the lay of the land – where to find the potty, HIPPA papers, and the whole money spiel: cancel-two-days-prior-or-you’ll-get-docked-some-cash. She brought me a glass of water, which helps, with what I don’t know, but it was nice. She gave me the chair option. I chose the one facing her, so I wouldn’t get a crick in my neck.

I crossed my legs, uncrossed them. Saw a bunch of balled up tissue in a garbage can. Wondered if she was going to make me cry.

I was kind of hoping she’d just make a beeline right to questions but instead and she asked me to start where I wanted to start. First of all, I didn’t want to start anywhere.  But I did, beginning with very vague feelings about how I want to “understand my bipolar illness.” She crinkled her forehead, thinking deeply, perhaps? I managed to miraculously prattle on for a good 45 minutes without saying one word about the “really crazy stuff.”

“You say ‘weird’ a lot,” she said. I crinkled my forehead.

Yeah, well, it sounds better than crazy, right? And she crinkled her forehead. What does that mean? I pondered, the crinkly forehead. You don’t understand me? What I said was crazy? I am totally confusing you? The crinkly forehead might be the be-all-end-all here. I was obsessed.

And then, she spoke. She told me what incredible strength I have. That it’s amazing, all that I have – despite not being diagnosed until age 42.  Still married after 10 years, have two amazingly wonderful children, a job I love.

And that I carry a lot of shame. A lot. And that I shouldn’t.

She told me that if I had diabetes, I would find a specialist, figure out how to manage it, decide who I wanted to tell … “Bipolar illness is no different.” I am pretty sure I rolled my eyes. Because she crinkled her forehead and went through  the whole diabetes comparison one more time.

OK, slight breakthrough. You can have chemistry issues throughout your body – including your brain. I’ve read that in my bipolar magazine and the dozen books I ordered right after my diagnosis. But somehow having this PhD-educated women verbalizing it, with such conviction. Well, I believed.

And that was that. I survived. Only one tissue and a half glass of water.

She told me she figured we’d only touched the tip of the iceberg.

Smart cookie.

Then, she said, “I think you’re a flight risk.” Yeah, she’s right. The chances of me showing up for session No. 2 would normally be slim to none. But this is different. This time, I know I have bipolar. And I want help. I need help.

And I’ll be listening to her again, 8 a.m. Tuesday, crinkly forehead and all.

After all, she told me I have strength.

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One toe in the pond


If it weren’t for others “coming out” and putting their “bipolar-ness” into words, I’m not sure I would have the courage to do the same.  While I only have one toe in the “coming out” pond, I see myself taking the polar bear plunge someday soon.

One of those I owe thanks to for this strength is Bipolar Mom. Reading her blog, with a little “Rocky” theme song thrown in, and I’m so empowered I almost skyrocket right into mania. All kidding aside, her words really do matter.

So here’s what I’m talking about. This is bit I pulled last night from her e-book, “Find Your Brave” (which you can download here for free):   “A mental illness diagnosis is not a death sentence. Even though it may feel like it at the time. It’s just a curve ball that life has thrown out, and it’s your job to adjust your stance, tighten up your grip, and swing accurately so that you can hit it out of the park. Every time. Just because you’re living with a mental illness, doesn’t mean you can’t hit a home run in the game of life.

There will be many at-bats. There will be times when you’ll strike out, times when you’ll walk, and times when you’ll nail that homer. The key is to keep your eye on the ball: Getting well and staying well.

Yippee! When life seems impossible there’s nothing better than reading or listening to something or someone who lifts you up. Would I love to be able to lift myself up? Of course. But I don’t always cooperate. So thanks Bipolar Mom, and all of you other courageous women and men out there who are making it just a bit easier for me to hold my head high and look to the future with a little bit of courage.

Whether it’s another blogger, a quote from Richard Dreyfuss (yep, he’s bipolar) or a line in a movie (“Of Two Minds“), I love it when someone else explains perfectly what’s been swirling around in my head. Perhaps because I was just diagnosed in July, I’m too new to my bipolar-ness to be able to wrap my head around it (I know, funny). I’m starting to get it, but far from crystal clear clarity. And, like I said, for now, I have just one toe in the pond.

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Worth watching: “Of Two Minds”


So I forked over $3.99 to rent “Of Two Minds” at I wasn’t about to actually buy the movie, award-winning or not (it is). I mean what if I didn’t relate to anyone in this documentary, what if they were really crazy?

Well, they totally were. And I related to at least a piece of each of them.

“Them” being the people with bipolar disorder that the filmmakers followed for three years.

I watched it last night on my computer. I cried. I laughed. Shouted “yes!” a few times when someone described a sensation or thought I have often had:

  • “It’s like the flu but in your mind.”
  • “The parts of the life I enjoyed are now an illness.”
  • “There’s no ‘Oh, I’m gonna calm down.’ You can’t, it’s your brain.”

There’s the whole let’s organize the bathroom closet at midnight. Or wanting to eat dinner in bed, because the thought of leaving the room is unbearable. Your mind has gone to the dark place.

Yeah, sounds pretty crappy. And it is. But this whole crazy thing also makes us crazy creative. Like the people in the movie – artists, musicians, writers.

Liz-Laughing-01-1024x576Liz was the person I most related to.  Like me, she’s had a journalism career. She’s succeeding, even after a nine-year hiatus. And I love that.

Although there was plenty in the film that I did not relate to, it portrays well  the extraordinary mood swings that come with bipolar disorder. It pretty much wipes out the idea that bipolar = moodiness = like the rest of the population.

It’s so much more than that.

Watch “Of Two Minds” – if you have bipolar disorder, but especially if you do not. You “normal” folks can help crumple up the stigma and toss it in the garbage.

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“Mommy’s brain works kinda funny”

Tell my kids I have bipoloar disorder?


When I first learned about all of this, the last thing on my very active mind was what I would tell our 6- and 12-year-old. It’s not like I have cancer. They aren’t going to see mommy’s hair fall out. So why bring it up?

But the more I read, and the more I have grown to understand, the more I know that our kids not only should know, they need to know. My bipolar becoming the big family secret was not going to help anyone.

So after church one Sunday in September, I told them over grilled cheese sandwiches and cobbler that mommy’s brain was sick, that it works kinda funny. I told them that the funny brain stuff sometimes causes me to act differently than I should, or want to. I downed an entire, very large, blackberry cobbler as the words came out. I put it in very simple, non-scary terms. My daughter, the 6-year-old, broke down sobbing, snot and all, in the middle of the restaurant.

Yeah, I told ’em in an eating establishment. The time just felt right and being around strangers kept ME from having the in-public breakdown.

Our son just looked relieved, like certain things made sense, his gifted brain just clicking away. I whispered to him that we would talk more later, after he Googled “it.” And my husband, well I gave him a whole 1-minute bipolar warning in the parking lot that I’d probably tell the kids over lunch.

So the kids know I am taking meds and seeing doctors, and will have good days and bad days but that more good days is the plan. And that I love them more than anything. I didn’t say it aloud, because I don’t want to put this on them, but there were really, really bad days where their smiles were all that stood between rock bottom and a place much worse.

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Thunderstorms in the brain

ImfineI initially thought this blog would be rather chronological – you know, the events, in order, the ABC-123 of what has led up to this point. Not quite ready, however, to go there just yet. And its definitely a wee bit more complicated than that.

I am basically at a stage right now where I am questioning everything. It’s like re-living the Terrible Twos. If I’m feeling a little “off” my mind starts churning. Is it the new meds? Is it my mind playing tricks? Maybe I’m just tired? Focused too much on work? Too much caffeine? Hormones? Maybe I should see Dr. W? Mostly, I just know I should wait until next week to check back in. See, biploar isn’t so much about short-term mood instability. I know one thing: I’m not in the part of the cycle I was in a few months ago (deep sighs of relief).

So, if I’m unusually grumpy I just chalk it up to the fact that I am accepting the fact that I have biploar disorder – and that, in a nutshell, pisses me off. I hate it. I want to be in control and fix everything. I don’t want to question anything and everything I’ve ever done, or am doing, or will do, and wonder if that was me or the bipolar (and yes, I know they are one in the same, sort of, but you know what I mean).

Don’t get me wrong, a part of me, despite still being rather irritated about this whole thing, is grateful. Bipolar cycles tend to grow in intensity over time. Mine definitely were. The thunderstorms in my brain were becoming tornadic. I can only imagine what my next crazy move would be, or just how low I would go.

My hope is that I never have to find out.

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Ripping off the Band-aid, bipolar style

Disclaimer: I actually wrote this post back in July. So much has happened during the time I got the courage to hit the publish button. Stick with me while I ease into this and get you up to speed.

Alright, so let’s get to it. 
I’ve only told my close family and boss but what the heck, let’s jump right to the entire blogosphere. I’ve always been a rip-the-Band Aid-right-off gal, so here we go.

I have bipolar disorder.

I am bipolar.

I’m not yet sure what the “politicallbipcorrect” wording is but am pretty sure either is accurate.

I was officially diagnosed in July.
There was no denial. I knew I needed help.  Due mostly to a recent bout of mania (we’ll get to that later) that I hadn’t yet buried into the deep crevices of my mind along with the other “crazy times.”  I thought maybe I was having super bad hormones. I hoped.
If you’ve already stumbled upon my blog, you’re someone who already has bipolar disorder – or think you might – or are just plain curious about “issues of the brain” or perhaps just a tad nosy.

Any of the above is fine. My hope is that this blog will tackle stigma – one uninformed person at a time – give solace to others with bipolar disorder, and, selfishly, provide this bipolar writer with an outlet – someone, OK something to “talk” to besides my doctor or therapist. And God knows my husband and mother don’t need to hear everything, even if they don’t admit it.

I am so grateful to others who have “come out” with their books, blogs and articles. They are few and far between, really. But I have clung to their words dearly.

So let’s see, so far I have shed a half ton of tears, thrown things, and now, simply wobble between sadness and the horrible feeling that my control-freak self ain’t really so much in control. Oh, and fear. Total fear of telling anyone – what they will think, what they will say (or how I will react), and other things I’ve convinced myself I haven’t thought of yet.
Some people may ask, why not just keep this hush hush or blog anonymously? Good question. I may still do that. For me, though, writing is therapy. It always has been. I have to believe that being a writer, along with having bipolar disorder, has been in some greater plan all along.
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