Lately, there’s been a battle in my head—my own thoughts are warring with the cruel monster of bipolar disorder and its lies, all while I hear my psychiatrist’s voice in the background. To keep pushing forward, I’m focusing on the basics: sleep, medication, connection, and creativity.
Bipolar Disorder & Feeling Hopeless
It’s been a season of double whammies. As I am writing this,
we’re deep in the middle of a public health crisis, and all across the South,
we’re recovering from a devastating storm system that destroyed homes and lives—including
in my home state of Mississippi and where I’m located now, in Georgia.
For most of this, I have been surprisingly calm on the outside, but I can’t help but feel overwhelmed and burnt out. It seems that everything is about the disasters unfolding around us. I would much rather turn on the TV to see a presentation of the next round of puppies and cats looking for a foster home, which is what the local news network here in Atlanta does every Friday. Funny that I actually miss that, because I’m not a pet person and probably never will be.
Beyond the sadness and overwhelm, I’ve also talked to a few
people about one thing in particular that I feel: a sense of futility. That no
matter what I do, no matter how much I barricade myself from these outside forces
of illness and danger, I’m going to suffer. And even though this feeling of
futility scares the hell out of me, it’s easy to give in to when you have the
monster of bipolar in your mind.
It’s a dangerous place to be—and certainly not where I or anybody else should be.
Fighting against Futility &
Negative Thinking with Bipolar
When we have a sense that everything is pointless and we
might as well give in because the worst seems inevitable, it’s only a matter of
time when EVERYTHING else comes in. When I say everything, I mean every
negative thought and voice that could enter your mind.
I’m sure a lot of people feel the same sense of futility
that I feel. Even those who live without diagnoses for mental health conditions,
these are hard times that trigger anxiety. But it especially affects those of
us dealing with bipolar disorder because we’re already fighting an illness that
tries to take us out every chance it gets. The added stress of what’s going on in
the wider world just makes that fight so much harder. It’s overwhelming and tiring.
The Monster Says It’s All Pointless …
Those negative thoughts? Well, I don’t have to tell you here, but you know what I mean. In my case, I’m tempted to throw caution to the wind and just stop all preventive health measures in the middle of a public health crisis. Of course, I know better. I don’t have to listen to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or other medical professionals to know that it’s a bad idea, to say the least. I’ve had the flu, bronchitis, and walking pneumonia before, so why would I expose myself to something far worse? … That’s the rational side of me. But that little monster in my head tells me, “It’s going to happen to you, regardless. If it doesn’t happen now, it will happen later.” This monster is completely irrational. But I’m still fighting him.
I hope you have an idea of how dangerous it can be, falling
into an endless sense of inevitability. And why it’s important to step away
from the edge of that cliff.
But My Psychiatrist Says to Go Back
to the Basics
So how am I coping with all this talk of storms and struggles and monsters? Well, I’m almost hearing my psychiatrist’s voice in my head as I write this, but I have been trying to work on my sleep hygiene, not only because it’s healthy for me, but also because I like sleeping. I always say that if it weren’t for the fact that I have to be a productive member of society and move my body around so I can at least maintain my weight if I can’t lose it, I would sleep all of the time. And I joke about how that’s probably why I’m such an insomniac … my mind and my bipolar know that I love to sleep, so they take it away from me as a cruel joke.
I’ve also been especially faithful to my medication regimen.
It’s my first line of defense in keeping those negative thoughts out of my
head. They don’t take them away entirely, but they make it easier to manage
these downward-spiraling thoughts.
Entrepreneurialism & Creativity
I’ve also been more into my business. I was working on adding a travel business to my portfolio, which is under my business entity Mad Excursions, LLC, but with the travel industry all but shut down, I had to focus on something else. (By the way, I didn’t come up with the name Mad Excursions—a friend of mine did—but I took it and ran with it because it combines my writing entity, the Mad Writer Project, with my travel business. But I digress.)
Instead of feeling like I was defeated, I went back to what I’ve always loved to do: writing. I’m currently planning a book that puts together at least two e-courses, and I’m working on getting my blog, The Diary of a Mad Writer, back online. Writing has always been therapeutic for me, and times like these make it especially important to keep putting thought to page.
Connecting with Others
Most important for a recluse like me, I need some kind of
human communication—and that’s normal. I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to
people almost every day, not only from here in the United States, but also from
different parts of the world. These conversations have nurtured social
relationships unlike anything before, and they have given me a chance to understand
how other people from around the world are coping with our shared struggles.
While our experiences are vastly different, they’re also the same. It’s a great
learning experience and it helps me realize that I’m not alone in this.
Listening to Myself & My
Psychiatrist to Silence the Monster of Bipolar
All of these different activities and strategies take my mind, even for one second, off what’s going on around us. They help me when I feel that sense of futility and inevitability. They help me disconnect from the horrible and sometimes-monotonous news that I see every day. In fact, by engaging in all of these practices—better sleep, medication compliance, creative expression, and social connection—I’ve become increasingly optimistic, even with the darkness around me. I see the light in my own life, and it has made me a more productive and better person. While bipolar disorder will forever be a part of me and will always try to bring me down, I’m not letting it. And that’s especially important right now, probably more so than ever before.
So I ask you to not give in to the monster’s whispers about
futility. Find something positive that will take you away from this madness,
even for a moment. Whether it’s reading a good book, doing meditation exercises,
playing games like Risk or chess, or just dancing and singing yourself silly—even
if you’ll break windows with your singing and definitely won’t win a dance
competition—do something that’s a healthy escape. Whatever you do, I can’t say
it enough, don’t go to the edge of that cliff.
As for me, I’m looking for a way to do something even more
creative with what I share and how I contribute to the bipolar community. We’ll
In the meantime, stay safe. Stay healthy. We’re going to get
through this together, and this too shall pass.
JB Burrage is a writer living in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. A Meridian, Mississippi, native, he served in the US Army for over ten years. He started battling depression before he was a teenager. After years of receiving different diagnoses, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2011. For years, he was in self-denial before he finally accepted his diagnosis; he's slowly working to manage it, one day at a time. He’s the creator of The Diary of a Mad Writer, a blog that he uses to discuss various topics, especially mental health. He's a publisher of his own stories and is working on creating online courses. You can learn more about him, follow his blog, and contact him at jbburrage.com.
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