Kat Atwell is a freelance writer, blogger & stage presence telling stories that deliver laughs, validation & community.

Mental Health | Wellness & Self Image | Experiential & Reviews

World Bipolar Day

Every story is different.

Toby Allen — Zesty Does Things

According to the World Health Organization, bipolar disorder is the sixth leading cause of disability in the world. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that roughly 2.6% of the American population over the age of 18 live with bipolar disorder.

Here’s a bit about me:

I’m Kat. I’m 41, and I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder nearly eleven years ago to the day. I’m married, I have a 9-year old daughter, I work full-time in the financial industry. I love writing, storytelling, and performing onstage. I’m an improviser and an emcee. I’m a comedian and an activist. I have my hands in a ton of projects at any given moment, and I know A LOT of people.

Prior to the bipolar diagnosis (which I fought against for several years), I had been diagnosed with unipolar depression and anxiety in my early twenties.

The cohabiting mental illnesses, for me, seem to have grown into this amorphous uberillness that supercedes any particular diagnosis. My therapist and I have long discussed how naming my illness doesn’t really serve me much; what does help is ongoing therapy, medication, and developing (and utilizing) the right tools. I’m starting to realize, though, that this isn’t always the best idea.

As it goes with a majority of folks living with bipolar disorder, the depression is more frequent than the mania. There’s a lot of hopelessness, of worthlessness, of all-encompassing self-defeating thoughts. I isolate, I avoid, and I shame myself into a hole of self-destruction. This isn’t an illness, this is weakness. I’m just not trying hard enough. If I do better, I’ll feel better. But, if I try to do better and I can’t, then it makes it exponentially worse. I’ve proven myself right. I am a failure. There’s a reason I feel like disappearing.

The mania (which is a word I’m reluctant to use) is powerful. It’s me, but better. I’m charismatic, and confident, and I can accomplish anything. If you can’t keep up with me, that’s not my problem. I talk faster, I organize everything, I commit to a ton of stuff. I sell people on how great I am. I glow. I make a ton of new friends and business contacts. I eat less, I sleep less, I’m agitated. I forcefully lead and make big decisions. I am persuasive like you wouldn’t believe. I become hyper-competitive. I get real judgmental. It’s very easy to piss me off. Don’t waste my time.

Then, I can embody the mixed state. I take all that frenetic energy associated with mania, but instead of using it to conquer the world, I feed myself all the depressive thoughts at warp speed. That emptiness gets agitated and magnified. I become frantic and hopeless at the same time. And, in my case, you throw in a super ridiculous amount of anxiety. I imagine it as being in one of those fear-based reality shows, where they stick a person in a box, cover them with snakes and cockroaches, and wait it out while the person squeals and squirms for 60 seconds in an attempt to win a bunch of money. Except in my case, I don’t know how long the timer is set for, and I don’t get to win any money. I’m probably holding the stopwatch. Who knows.

Now, obviously, it’s not all like this all the time. There are plenty of moments where I’m experiencing neither depression or mania. I mean, the bulk of my life is pretty normal. A lot of the stuff I work on with my doctors is how to identify when I’m slipping into the deep end of the pool. Or, I suppose, catapulting myself out of the pool and running around it telling people how awesome everything and everyone is.

I track my moods, I take medication. I journal. I practice EMDR. I talk about my life with mental illness a lot. Or, I did, but I haven’t so much this year.

My friends have been on my ass to get back to writing on a schedule again. Unbeknownst to everyone, I’ve been beating myself up about it, too. I miss my regular writing days. I miss my stories. Winter to spring and summer to fall are hard times for me, and according to my psychiatrist, hard for a lot of her patients with bipolar disorder. So, treat us gently. Love us a lot. Get to know us. We’re good people. Help us celebrate and bring awareness to our illness today and remind us that we’re not alone.

Keep fighting.

Tomorrow, I write.

Echo Chamber