Bipolar Illness

I've been open about being bipolar for over ten years now. Sometimes this has been good to me, it has led me to new friends and relationships, and I've gotten feedback that my story has helped others. Sometimes this has been bad for me. I've heard through backchannels that some business partners worry about what it would be like to go into business with someone who is bipolar.

But I'm making the intentional decision to go with the positive over the negative. If this means that I lose some possible business partnerships, so be it.

I was first diagnosed with bipolar illness at age 25. I would go days at a time with tiny amounts of sleep, I wrote prolifically, I had grandiosity, I was easily irritated by people that I perceived as not being "fast" enough, and I was very impulsive. During depressive episodes, I spent days on the floor, and had panic attacks, fearful that night would not turn into day. This was all damaging to my relationships and my health.

Over the years, I learned to mostly control my illness, through therapy and meds, and through the assistance of my closest friends and family who look out for me.

Meditation practice and mindfulness exercises have given me "muscle memory" to "respond not react". Things don't bother me as much now as when I was in my 20s. I am generally a happy, optimistic person, and when I do get angry at someone or something, it subsides very quickly these days.

In the end, I feel no need to hide this part of me. The more I know and can acknowledge about myself, the more connected I am with all of myself and others, and that has become far more important than trying to control my image. Secrecy and shame are the enemy of healing.

I am now working to create the Bipolar Social Club, a peer network of people with bipolar illness, so we can support each other with stories and meetings.

My hope is that people living with bipolar disorder see my story and others and no longer feel the need to hide their diagnosis. People managing bipolar disorder can lead successful, meaningful lives. I'm proof of that. By working together to combat stigma, we can make our world a place where all people living with mood disorders have a fair shot at living their best life.

Advice to Bipolar People

Here is advice I give to people who are learning how to deal with their bipolar illness:

  1. If you are contemplating suicide, call 988 (or 911) and then call a loved one.
  2. If you are having a panic attack, take slow deep breaths, and start to name out loud five things that begin with the letter A, then B, and so on. Walk around as you do this (ideally outside), maybe one step per item named.
  3. Bipolar illness can be managed. You can learn to live with this, and to minimize its negative impacts on your life and the lives of your friends and family. Many bipolar people can use their passion and energies when "hypo-manic" to produce great work when they focus on it. I suggest that you marshall up that focus and energy to focus on fighting the negative parts of your bipolar illness.
  4. Find people to talk with, ideally one family member, one friend, and one colleague. Only by being vulnerable and starting to talk about your condition can you begin a path towards healing.
  5. When you are in a down period, put up a note on your bathroom mirror or fridge with your ADLs - activies of daily living. Things like make your bed, brush your teeth, take a shower, put on clean clothes, go for a walk, eat three meals a day, drink water, sleep eight hours a night, etc. Even when you are in your darkest periods, try to check off each item on the list each day, even if you are just "going through the motions". I believe strongly in "fake it until you make it", and forcing yourself to do your ADLs is step zero of healing.
  6. Find an excellent therapist. This is work. If your first try is not a match, don't give up on therapy, just find a new therapist. Work with that therapist to find a psychiatrist as well.
  7. Work with your psychiatrist over months to tweak your meds until you find the formula that works for you.
paulenglish.com - articles - startups - nonprofits - press 11-Oct-2022