Bipolar Is Only One Part of Me

I have to keep telling myself that. Over and over. I even have a post-it on the bathroom mirror to remind me.

So much of the time I feel overwhelmed by the bipolar. The moods. The mood changes. Taking meds now only three times a day. Managing schedules and routines to anchor my life to manage the bipolar.

It’s easy to be defined by mental illness. It takes everything you have to fight the lies it tries to tell you, such as death is preferable. It takes all your energy to _manage_ the illness.

All of this combined makes me think I am my bipolar. It has taken over my life, even to moving to another state to live with family for more support. My thoughts are always clouded by bipolar. It’s a brain disease. I feel like Matchbox 20’s hits “Unwell” and “Bent.”

In NAMI circles, and other mental health advocacy circles, we say I Have bipolar, not I am bipolar. There are arguments about this because of how much of your life is affected by a brain disease.

But if I listen to advocates, I have to remember that I have values and character and personality traits, even though bipolar colors how I can use them and how I live in the world.

So bipolar is just one part of me. I have bipolar. I have to tell myself this over and over each day.


My Story – A Summary

Hi! I’m Deb, and I blog at

I am an ordained Presbyterian minister. I like to think of myself as a Mental Health Advocate as my current calling, since I can’t pastor a church anymore because of how my Bipolar Type 1 with psychotic features manifests. I also have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which just exacerbates the Bipolar.

I’m a lover of movies, books, politics and sociology. I’d like to do a PhD in Sociology of Religion if my brain will let me. It’s hard to read, so we’ll see what’s in store for me in the next few years.

I recently moved back in with family to get extra support. Even with a strong support system, it wasn’t enough to keep me from being lonely where my thoughts and feelings would take over to make me suicidal and bouncing in and out of the hospital over 30 times in the last 7 years.

I was diagnosed in September 2010 after falling from a manic high (August being a common time for mania for me) into a suicidal depression, my first and definitely not my last. Among my therapist, psychiatrist and me, we figured out I had my first depressive episode at 13 when I had major back surgery for scoliosis. Manic delusions may have started as early as 9, however. I had hallucinations in 2 psychotic episodes my first year in college at age 17, a common time for bipolar to raise its ugly head.

I spent my young and middle adult years in primarily hypomania, some mania and fewer depressions. I had a vibrant spirituality that people thought was a gift, but was really mania. Oh, well.

As I said, I was diagnosed in 2010, a year into my first solo pastorate after years as an associate pastor or youth director. I loved and was good at my job. It’s been a huge loss and sore spot that I can’t pastor anymore. Over the next 7 years I had amazing care from my psychiatrists and therapists, and a strong support system. But I still bounced in and out of a psychiatric hospital over 30 times, for as few as 3 days, and as much as 2 months. I saw the darkest days, despite love and support. It took Years to get the right meds and every time I went into the hospital we tried something or tweaked something. And my psychiatrist outside did too, though she was more conservative.

Finally, I spent 3 months at my family’s home relearning how to care for myself (cooking, cleaning, exercise) and getting concentrated support and love. Eventually, together, we concluded that I should move to Texas from Chicago-land to continue support, be around people, and at least temporarily live in community. I hope to live a mile away soon and still get the benefit of daily support but independent living again.

I’ve been with my family for two months now and we are slowly making our way into community. I don’t feel settled. I miss my old support system. I sobbed leaving my main psychiatrist. I’ve been in a day program and inpatient for a few days. But I’m looking forward now to beginning a new life with meaningful activities.

Early in my diagnosed life, I accepted the bipolar as something I would have to manage for the rest of my life. The bipolar and anxiety are just a part of me, though sometimes taking care of them seems to overwhelm me. I remind myself they are just a part of me. I have routines and schedules. I advocate for myself with providers, and I talk with my support system regularly, sometimes (ok, most of the time) daily. I use coping skills like Radical Acceptance, Mindfulness, Thought Defusion, and Committed Action toward My Values (from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). I also use Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills such as Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance. I also volunteer at various places, though it’s hard and I have a hard time holding even one for longer than a couple months. Maybe I haven’t found the right place for my passion yet.

I am open about my struggles and triumphs on social media. I educate about and offer resources on bipolar on social media (such as my page on Facebook, Suddenly Bipolar). Advocating for others seems as important as advocating for myself. My blog is one way I do that by sharing my thoughts, feelings and journey. People tell me that reading about these things is helpful, and I’m glad. But really it’s my journal. 🙂

I hope to meet you in the blogosphere or on Facebook or Twitter. Together we can end the stigma and support one another. Find your voice!

Cross posted on as part of the “There’s Glory in Sharing Your Story” campaign.

Not Settled In

I still feel like a stranger in what is supposed to be my home. It’s been 2 months. But I was here for a total of 4.5 months before that in large and small spurts. I guess I always knew I was going “home.”

And now I feel stuck emotionally. It’s not my place. I have a bedroom and bathroom to call my space. All other space belongs to someone else even if they welcome me into it. It’s still not mine. And I can’t watch my shows except on the tv in my room. I guess that’s good. At least there’s a way to record them and watch them.

I feel segregated off in my room. I tried to use the kitchen last night and this morning, and I was an imposter who somehow was in the way.

I’m an imposter segregated in my tiny space in this gargantuan house. Even that room feels like a borrow though. It’s not my space.

I’m not sure how to make any of it my space. I don’t have art or pictures to put up. I’m always in someone’s way or space.

This sucks. And I’m not ready financially or emotionally to move out. Not that I’m getting much support these days.

An Icky Stay at a Icky Hospital

I miss my Illinois hospital so much. The people, the familiarity of the place and routines so I could feel safer faster. I was planning to write them an update anyway. Now I’ll sing their praises too!

I hit 10 months out of the hospital last Sunday. Hooray! Then the next day I went inpatient at the place I was doing outpatient programming. That was so very, very disappointing to stop my streak. I was doing well! Then it was just too intense with ridiculously high anxiety, suicidal thoughts and urges more frequent and more intense, PLUS visual hallucinations starting. [sheepishly] I guess I needed to go in.

I was only in for 4 days. Thank Goodness! It was a horrible and icky experience.

  • My medical meds were messed up the whole time. Apparently I needed x,y, and z from home. And then I didn’t. And then I did. And then I needed an order for them. Giant Sigh!
  • It was freezing! I was wearing two shirts and a sweater and I was still cold! I mean, I understand germ control, but give us a couple more degrees!
  • It wasn’t all that clean or kept as clean as it could, especially between roommates.
  • Most of the people were detoxing from alcohol or drugs, very few dealing with mental health situations. It was clear the rules, such as keeping rooms locked during the day, were meant primarily to keep them from sleeping the day away.
  • It was clear during the very little processing or therapy time of the need to keep such different groups separate. The dire issues are so very different.
  • There were six smoke breaks a day preceded by fresh air breaks. Guess which breaks were NEVER skipped? And since I’m allergic to cigarette smoke and have asthma, I can’t just go out during their breaks and stand away. That smoke carries far!
  • Did I mention how little therapy there was? I mean it was blank time so much of the time. Why be there?
  • Only benefit to me was the change in my psych meds which got rid of the hallucinations, and my anxiety went down. Suicidal ideation finally lessened too but I lied about having any. They wouldn’t understand that I have them all the time but now I don’t entertain them all the time. That was how I was able to stay out of the hospital for 10 months. (Still miffed I have to start my count over).
  • I am left with my psych meds making me sedated All.The.Time. I fell asleep in my chair there all the time, even meals. And I’m doing it again at home. Something I still need to work out in outpatient.

So I’m back in the outpatient program. I was so sedated this morning driving in that I was swerving and trying not to hit bumpers. So now I’m getting transportation from the program but I’m leaving an HOUR before I need to. (I’m whining I know. But I’m not a morning person plus all the sedation.)

I had a good day today and got a hair cut for self care. Here’s to processing grief and anxiety for a few weeks!


I’m walking for the first time this year!

I’ll be walking for Stigma Busters in the NAMI Dallas walk.

Come support mental illness research, support and education! I am walking with Stigma Busters! The local chapter of NAMI in my new location. Donate as little as a $1 or much more! Every dollar helps!

My current goal is $150, and already have over $100!

Come see my fundraising page:

Anxiety Blows

I am struggling with an extraordinary amount of anxiety – 8-9 on a scale of 10. It has been high since October before I tried living on my own again. But with the move to Texas, the anxiety has been my constant companion and consistently high. And so I am in a day program to deal with mood lability, anxiety, and depression.

Today in program I had a nice meltdown about my anxiety. I figured a few things out. It’s related to losing my independence because I feel that I’m a failure at taking care of myself. The bipolar and anxiety and depression have won and I’m failing. I’m buying into the stigma that mental illness is a moral failure or weakness of character.

It doesn’t matter that I would tell people that their illness is biological and a disease they had no say in contracting. It doesn’t matter that I would tell people that asking for help and getting more support is a strength not a weakness. It doesn’t matter that I would tell people that living with mental illness is brave and courageous.

Because deep down inside I don’t believe it. I‘m a failure at living independently and taking care of Continue reading

It’s World Bipolar Day!

One of the best ways I take care of my bipolar (and anxiety) is listening to and following the advice of my care team and all of those who care about me.

Yes, I’ve had a volatile 7+ years since diagnosis with over 30 hospitalizations for suicidal urges. And hours, days, of fear and psychological and emotional pain.

But by following advice I’ve learned a Ton of coping skills I use regularly. Some of those are as basic as keeping a sleep routine and eating healthy. Another piece of advice has to do with exercise. I don’t get endorphins from exercise, but I do better emotionally when I exercise regularly.

The biggest advice I got was spending time with my family in another state to relearn basics of taking care of myself. And two more shorter stays after that, and my care team, good friends, and people who care about me agreed that I was doing better with my family, leading to moving in with them this past month.

I really wanted people to tell me that I could continue to live alone and rely on my usual supports. But there was overwhelming consensus. And I live in Texas now. Not my pick, but that’s where my family lives right now.

I’m having a hard time adjusting and settling, more than others of the many moves I’ve made. It will get better. And I’m following good advice.