Author Bio: Lance Merrick is a freelance copywriter. He graduated from the University of Texas in 1982 and is the father of two adult daughters.
Lance’s personal blog details his journey with Bipolar Type I and PTSD. His blog can be found at bipolar420.com
Follow him on Twitter @bbqdadofficial
He also writes original music, which can be found at bbqdad.bandcamp.com
Hi, I'm Lance Merrick (also known as “BbqDad”) and I have Bipolar Type I and PTSD.
I'm over six decades old and live in a senior community apartment in a little town in Alaska. I am actually the youngest one here as everyone is my elder. I met one such lady named Sharon, and she has some memory issues.
There is a bus that takes us to a senior center where they serve a great lunch for free. I go twice a week on my days off and that is how I know Sharon.
We eat lunch together and every time she asks me if I want cream and sugar for my coffee. I always reply that I only drink my coffee black, unless someone buys me a coffee (then get me a Carmel Macchiato!)
Sharon just doesn't have a very good short-term memory. She lives by herself in an apartment with no internet, no phone, and no TV. Her only social contact is talking to people at the smoking area (she doesn't smoke) or going to lunch.
Today, I was feeling a little sad because I haven't been able to talk to my daughters in a month. Mostly because I had a manic episode recently and that scares them. They don't want to hear my racing thoughts or agitation in my voice when I get that way.
Sharon asked me how was I doing. I thought, “What could it hurt?”
So I told her my story.
I told her all about how I had bipolar and twenty years ago, I left Connecticut for Oregon to work in a high paying consultant gig. I wanted to be a big shot. What I lost was contact with my children and eventually a divorce from my wife since I had separated myself over 3000 miles away.
I went on to say how I got involved with drugs and started drinking heavily to drown out my guilt and pain over what I had done. It didn't help that I had severe mania and depression and both would last several months in length. The alcohol especially would extend and make my mania worse. I couldn't sit still and couldn't focus on doing my job. I bounced around from consulting gig to consulting gig, trying to hide my symptoms all the way.
I missed going to soccer practices, Halloween birthday parties, proms, helping with math homework and all the things that happened to my kids while I wasn't there. What I had done killed my spirit.
It wasn't until I was attending a self-growth entrepreneur weekend seminar that I had a breakthrough. You see, the speaker was chatting me up during a break and found out that I had not talked to my daughter in over 10 years.
At once, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "We are not going to leave this hotel until you call and talk to one of your daughters".
He was listening to my heart and what I desired most. Calling my kids is what I wanted to do.
It took a little effort but I texted my ex, and she graciously sent me the number to my daughter's cell phone.
I prayed and called the number.
After two rings, she answered. I told her that I was sorry and didn't feel like I had a right to even call myself her dad. She explained that she saw the number and area code and almost didn't answer, but that she decided instead if it was me she would try to forgive.
Then she said something that rocked my world and set me on a straight path.
"Dad it's been so long, but I forgive you and you are still my hero."
I looked over at Sharon to see if she was still listening and I saw tears well up in her eyes. I started to tear up myself when I asked what was wrong.
She said, "You have been through a lot, and I know you are a good person. I am so glad that you get to talk to your kids and visit with them again."
Then we both cried tears of joy. I was grateful for the seminar speaker that gave me a kick in the pants to pick up the phone. (By the way, If there is someone you need to talk to, give them a call)
I told Sharon, "You have been through a lot too. You lost your dad, You lost your son, and are living alone in Alaska."
She said, "I know but I have you."
I had listened to her story too.
We both were listening to each other and able to give each other a touch of human kindness and sometimes that is the thing that will cure a pain in one's heart. To be heard.
Sharon can't remember our conversation. She doesn't remember seeing me at lunch. She can't remember if I take cream and sugar with my coffee, but she can do one thing well.
I hope that if you have some pain in your heart that hasn't gone away in years, let me offer you this:
I will listen.
I will listen because someone listened to me.
Lance Merrick is on Twitter @BbqDadOfficial
His personal website and blog can be found at bipolar420.com
His original music can be found here on Bandcamp
Author Bio: Roberta Henderson is a writer from Virginia who lives with bipolar disorder and uses poetry to help cope with her illness. In this piece, she describes feeling strange about yourself, and facing feelings and emotions.
Now, by the title, you may think that this article is about learning to love your bipolar diagnosis, and, in a roundabout way, it sort of is. But more so, this piece serves as a reminder that having bipolar disorder does not make you unlovable.
When I was young, my biggest fear is that I would grow up to be exactly like my bipolar mother. And this scared me, not because of her diagnosis, but because of how she behaved. She did not take medication. She did not go to therapy. I watched as she pushed every person in her life away and then cried. She manipulated people. She abused drugs and alcohol, often to the point where she chose those things over her own children. I was neglected and traumatized. At age eleven, I even watched her slit her own wrists and listened to her tell me that if I left in response, she would kill herself. And the last thing I ever wanted was to have kids because I couldn’t bear the thought that I could ever even possibly make them feel half as bad as I did.
As I drifted through life from age twenty-one to age twenty-seven, I lost my ability to self-validate, and I forgot exactly how I used to self-soothe. I was, instead, dependent on others for consolation and for authentication, and, while I was aware of how unhealthy that was, I didn’t know how to stop it.
At twenty-seven, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, too, and the fear that I would “end up exactly like my mother” resurged—only this time, it sprung to life with bonus atrocities because now, I also feared for my relationships. My mom was in an on-again-off-again abusive one until she died. My examples of relationships, then, showed me that “people can’t love me without being intoxicated” and that “no one ‘normal’ will love me because I’m ‘crazy.’” I internalized these from a young age and carried them with me through adulthood. It was only with the help of therapy and medication that I was able to unlearn those negative thoughts and begin to relearn healthier ones.
That said, small parts of me still very much hated other, much larger parts of me. And, with all of my self-discontent, I couldn’t see how anyone would want me. Because dating people with bipolar disorder, I thought, was a life-sentence. I knew that it was difficult, excruciating—even, from both first- and second-hand experiences, and because of that, I knew that if I didn’t have bipolar disorder, there was no way in hell that I would ever date someone who does. That warped thinking came from a special form of self-loathing.
Fast forward to twenty-eight:
I have just suffered a hellacious ankle injury that left me immobile for months. I’m going through the worst depressive episode of my life after a year-long manic episode, and my partner—whom, for months, I had been absolutely petrified and paranoid was going to break up with me because of my mood disorder—breaks up with me because she cannot “handle” me now that I’m so “down.” Cue: homelessness and the sad reassurance that everything awful I feel about myself must be true.
But I’m almost done with university, and I have friends who—thankfully—will always have my back. So, I keep showing up. Despite this gaping pit of depression I can’t seem to claw my way out of, I continue going to classes. Most of them. Somehow, I do my course work, even if it’s not 100% my best work. I let it come down to the wire, and then I force myself to write my 74-page capstone. I keep going to therapy. Every session. I keep taking my medication—every day, like clockwork. I am on autopilot, and while I do not feel even the slightest bit human, I am, surprisingly, still managing my life in a way that does not lead directly to destruction.
Until I met him, and then…suddenly, I didn’t have to just “manage” anymore. You see, E’s the first person I’ve ever been interested in who also has bipolar disorder. And while I was not looking for him, he still found me—as love often does.
In his bones, I found shelter—not from the outside world, but from myself—and with his unknowing aid, I unraveled parts of myself that I thought were so far gone I would never see them again. Through his words, I discovered that I was capable of restitching the fragments of myself that I used to keep hidden away beneath my floorboards. As he grew, I grew, and as he learned, I did, too. In E’s eyes, I began to see the reflection of a me that I had missed for so many years—a me that I didn’t even think existed anymore. Because he has bipolar disorder and I am so madly in love with him, I revealed to myself that people can and will have the capacity to love me—even if I’m bipolar—in the same exact ways and to the very depths and intensities that I so love him.
And that revelation was life-changing for me. But this is not one of those stories where the princess is rescued by a knight who receives all of the glory, despite the efforts she may have put in. Instead, this is an allegory for how other humans may serve as beautiful and necessary catalysts for your own love and hard work. Because while I could not have done this anywhere close to as easily or as quickly—or, hell, maybe even ever at all—without him, it is still I who had these epiphanies. It is still I who connected all of these dots. But, don’t get me wrong, I am forever grateful to E for putting me into this specifically aligned place where I was able to view through him an entire future that’s so much happier and more well-adjusted than any future I had dreamt up before.
What these last few months have taught me is that bipolar self-love is magnificent. It’s awe-inspiring, all-encompassing, and transcendent. Bipolar romantic love is very much the same—passionate, cavernous, transformative.
To all of my bipolar babes who feel that they are unlovable—you are not. You are not something to “deal with.” You are not someone to simply “handle.” You are a force to be reckoned with, and despite what anyone says about how bipolar disorder makes one “unfunctional,” you are living proof that that is not the case.
You are enough.
You have always been enough.
And you will always be enough.
Rowan Hart's other work can be found at
Note: Many authors on BP Swing Sets reference that they have Bipolar Type I. Bipolar Type I is often referred to as the "most severe form" of BP. The following article explains the specifics of BP Type I, although other forms of BP also exist.
From the DSM-5, the formal diagnostic manual that clinicians use to diagnose bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses (abridged):
“For a diagnosis of Bipolar Type I disorder, it is necessary to meet the following criteria for a manic episode. The manic episode may have been preceded and may be followed by hypomanic or major depressive episodes.
A) A distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood and abnormally and persistently increased goal-directed activity or energy lasting at least 1 week and present most of the day, nearly every day.
B) During the period of mood disturbance and increased energy or activity, three (or more) of the following symptoms are present to a significant degree and represent a noticeable change from usual behavior:
C) The mood disturbance is sufficiently severe to cause marked impairment in social or occupational functioning or to necessitate hospitalization to prevent harm to self or others, or if there are psychotic features.
D) The episode is not attributable to drug use.”
Bipolar disorder (BP) is a lifelong, chronic disease. Someone once told me that about 1 in 3 people with BP end up committing suicide. That’s a horrifying mortality rate—for comparison, the current suicide rate across all Americans is about 13 in 100,000 (according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention).
I’m not positive how accurate that “1 in 3” statistic is; this type of data is extremely hard to track. This is actually a key limitation of evaluating and resolving the prevalence of mental health problems in our society. Especially because many people with mental health problems go undiagnosed throughout their lives.
If “1 in 3” really is the case, though: F*** off, brain, I’m still in the world of the living.
I rarely have opportunities to speak candidly about my experiences with BP. The social stigma, misinformation, and emotional heaviness that surround serious mental illness (SMI) make it a sensitive and awkward topic to grapple with in everyday conversation. Sometimes, I offhandedly mention past manic experiences to my friends and they’re not really sure how to respond, despite having known me for many years.
The only people I always feel comfortable discussing the disastrous, bizarre, and sometimes even morbidly funny throes of BP with are my psychiatrist and therapist.
At the time of this writing, I have been relatively mentally stable for about five years. I emphasize “relatively” because there are mild mood lifts and drops that I still experience throughout the course of each year. This is normal for people with BP, even for people like me who take mood stabilizing and antidepressant medications. I guess these fluctuations would be most accurately referred to as “low grade depression” and “hypomania.” I have not experienced a full manic episode in about five years, but I did experience a major depressive episode that lasted three to four months within these past five years.
From the DSM-5 (Abridged): Major Depressive Episode:
A) 5 (or more) of the following symptoms have been present during the same 2-week period. At least one of the symptoms is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure.
B) The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
C) The episode is not due to other medical conditions or drug use.
“Baseline” is what doctors and therapists call a person’s normal functioning level. Some people tend to be more calm and mellow when they’re at their baseline, others like me tend to be more active and hot-headed but not in a way that would be much different from a mentally healthy (i.e. “neurotypical”) person.
Bipolar (which translates to “two opposing poles”) means that sufferers periodically experience major drops in mood (depression) or major lifts in mood (mania). These periods can last for weeks and even months. The vast majority of people with BP do not experience the stereotypical “laughing one minute, crying the next” type of symptoms that you may have seen in television shows and movies. Often, symptoms will remain dormant for long periods of time and a person with bipolar disorder will appear no different than a neurotypical individual.
Even though the mood shifts become extreme, they creep up on you and you often do not notice them until your symptoms start becoming exponentially worse over a very short period of time and reach a dangerous, intense level for long periods—at least, that’s how it works for me; everyone with BP experiences these shifts a bit differently.
“Hypomania” is simply the clinical term for what can be thought of as “mild mania.” Some people have a form of bipolar called “Bipolar Type II,” wherein they only experience hypomania and depression but not full manic episodes. This does not mean that Type II is “better” to have than Type I (I have Type I); they are equally disruptive but in different ways.
You may have noticed in the excerpts from the DSM-5 that when we say “mania” or “depression,” we do not necessarily mean “happy” or “sad.” The symptoms are far more complicated and often involve different aspects of negative feelings and positive feelings simultaneously. For example, when I experience severe manic episodes, it feels euphoric but like everything is happening very rapidly, I talk nonstop, I feel full of energy but also strung out and highly anxious…it’s really not great…
Bipolar disorder tends to have comorbid disorders as well. “Comorbidity” is the clinical term for when you experience multiple disorders at the same time and that are related to one another. To use physical illness as an analogy: it’s like having cancer and also an associated heart problem. Using myself as an example, I have experienced Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) as a comorbid condition with my Bipolar disorder.
Now nearing age twenty-seven, I can look back on the early stages of this disease and identify key moments where things started going south. Most of the red flags started between ages nineteen and twenty-two, which is the prime time when bipolar disorder begins to truly manifest (according to the National Institute of Mental Health).
It is still not understood exactly what causes bipolar disorder. It seems to be genetic, but environmental factors can greatly affect the progression of the disease. Researchers are still trying to whittle down the different components of brain chemistry (i.e. “neurology”) that are behind bipolar disorder.
Hunter Keegan is an author, musician, and visual artist based in Greater Washington, DC. His works have been featured by National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Shatterproof. He recently published a new book about bipolar disorder titled, “My Brain Is Trying To Kill Me.”
His full works can be found at hhkeegan.com
What does it mean to be bipolar? If you asked me this question fourteen years ago my answer would be far from the definition I would give today. Fourteen years ago I had never even heard of a mental disorder or had I even been in the know about the notion that a mental illness existed. I would probably just shrug and tell you that it means you're off-the-wall crazy. A response of clear ignorance compared to what I know today. At the very start of the new year in 2007, I, myself, was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder, something that I continuously define and redefine to this day as I march forward and discover what this illness is truly all about. My first manic episode came when I was a sophomore in college at the age of 20, and it changed my life. At the start of the second semester, a year and a half into Boston College, I stopped eating and sleeping to an extreme extent. I got caught up in my own little world. It did not take long before my roommate suspected something was amiss. I was acting erratically, talking to myself, and skipping all my classes. Luckily my roommate was able to get into contact with my mom after about a week of strange and destructive behavior. She rushed out, pulled me out of school, and went about having me checked into a mental institution where I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type I.
The recovery after being diagnosed took five years. I was out of the hospital in three weeks and given a leave of absence from school for as long as I needed. Although I ended up graduating only one semester late from college, the road to recovery after the initial diagnosis took many years past graduation. First, I had to get ready to go back to school. With a new medication regimen, I quickly gained about seventy pounds. School was never the same. I lost a lot of who I
was after being diagnosed; I lost a lot of confidence. Confidence I really could have used as I went about fighting the negative stigma of this illness. Instead, I was a shell of myself. Even classes, something that always came easy for me and something I took for granted, became a tremendous challenge. It didn’t help that I was in an atmosphere where it seemed like the whole world knew of my bipolar diagnosis, and so many already had their own preconceived notions about what exactly was wrong with me. It felt like all eyes were on me for all the wrong reasons. For the first two years after sticking it out and graduating college, I ended up living back in my parents’ basement. I was still not prepared to take control and confront my bipolar disorder as I was still struggling to accept it as part of my life.
A change of scenery can really help put things in perspective. Early in my mid-twenties I moved to Hawaii. For the first time after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was leaving the stigma behind me and getting a fresh start where no one could have these ‘preconceived’ ideas. I learned to feel like my old self after being in Hawaii for nearly a year. After being diagnosed you battle the stigma of mental illness with other people, but you also battle the idea of having a mental disorder with yourself. It takes a long time to come to grips with the diagnosis. You fight it until you can’t fight it anymore. Then you learn to live with it; oftentimes out of shame as you can cower from the sheer weight of the whole thing. Moving to Hawaii, getting a fresh start in a new place with new faces all around me, made me ready to own the disorder I was dealt with. It made me want to fight and able to fight the stigma I had been dealing with since the earlier
After my time in Hawaii came to an ironic and abrupt end (I ended up leaving due to a manic episode), life has taken me on twists and turns or ups and downs that have made me cry both of defeat and utter joy. They say that bipolar disorder will do this to you. I asked earlier what it means to be bipolar. Of course it means intense manic episodes filled with grandiose thoughts and some crazy stories that go with it. Of course it means being left alone in utter and intense sadness battling depression. More importantly, it means a constant battle to push onward, and have the resilience and fight from within to push onward despite the glaring obstacles.
Being bipolar means to have a story worth telling and worth listening to. It means being counted out but never crossed out. People with bipolar disorder, myself included, are faced with a challenge we sure as hell never volunteered for. We were chosen because we are strong, intelligent, and striving to change the negative light that bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses are stuck with on a daily basis.
Will Morro is the author of Nobody Believes Crazy
LinkedIn: Will Morro
However, just months later he confusingly stated that he had stopped taking medication for bipolar disorder. He said that felt that he wasn’t actually bipolar.
Shortly thereafter he had a spiritual awakening wherein he embraced his Christian beliefs to the extent that he decided to scrap other musical projects he was working on. Instead he decided to release a hastily composed album album entirely centered around his religious beliefs. He titled the album, “Jesus Is King.”
Kanye West’s relationship with his own mental health appears to be inconsistent. In his art, Kanye often references mental health — I even quoted one of his songs, “FML,” in my own book about bipolar disorder! This is why his actions are compelling to people who live with various forms of SMI. Many of us find it easy to relate to the strange and sometimes disastrous headspaces mental illness can take you to. We find hope in his successes and tragedy in his failures.
When Kanye West erupts like he did last week, numerous posts speculating about his mental health begin showing up on internet forums and other media. We begin fearing for his safety and fearing for the safety of the SMI community.
Our preoccupation with Kanye is not solely out of the spectacle of his actions, his fame, or his notoriety. Our concern also becomes: Will this blowback affect all of us?
A core mission that myself and many others with SMI actively work toward is destigmatizing SMI. Instead of focusing only on the negative aspects of diseases like bipolar disorder, we seek to educate the general public about what it’s like to live with SMI on a daily basis. We work to show people that our diseases are real, treatable, and are not a death sentence.
One of the primary reasons we work toward this goal is in order to be taken seriously. Because many people misunderstand the nature of hidden disabilities like bipolar disorder, educating the public and destigmatizing mental illness is paramount.
While having celebrity spokespeople can bring attention to lesser known topics such as bipolar disorder, they’re also double-edged swords. When people like West have ambiguous relationships with such sensitive subject matter, the resulting discourse is often distracting and counterproductive. Even harmful.
When I see high profile figures like Kanye West embracing the label of “being bipolar” and bringing attention to it, I naturally become excited. But I become frustrated when I see the same high profile figure backtracking on such statements and effectively muddling conversations surrounding SMI. I think this notion is shared by many in the bipolar community. This is because we, the group of people with this dangerous disease, are directly impacted when mainstream media begin haphazardly introducing buzz words like “manic” or “bipolar” or “certifiable” or “psychotic.”
The reasoning behind Kanye West’s rants from last week is, perhaps, known only to West himself. He could have been experiencing mania. Or maybe he was intoxicated. Or maybe he was experiencing symptoms of a different type of mental illness altogether.
Because we don’t know — and we can’t know — we have to leave it up to West to spearhead his own narrative. He has claimed to be part of our unique community, yet has gone on to actively disrupt the conversations around this complex disorder … and it’s upsetting.
The public deterioration of a celebrity who has, at times, spoken about being bipolar and how it’s “awesome” is toxic. My hope is that West goes on to speak more about his relationship with his mental health and clarify some of the problematic statements that he’s recently made. I hope that he will provide context and explain what was behind his meltdowns and that he will hold himself accountable and relay those thoughts in a coherent and tactful way that supports the SMI community.
Most of all, I hope that he is able to get healthy and keep his life on track (or, if you prefer, get it back on track). No healthy person wants to get themself hurt, and no healthy person wants to hurt their community.
Hunter Keegan is an author, musician, and visual artist based in Greater Washington, DC. His works have been featured by National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Shatterproof. He recently published a new book about bipolar disorder titled, “My Brain Is Trying To Kill Me.” His full works can be found at hhkeegan.com