Bipolar Disorder: “My family keeps me going each day and they are my “why” in life.”
Published Apr 12, 2023 • By Polina Kochetkova
John has been struggling with bipolar disorder for years. Today he tells us about his journey. He opens up about getting diagnosed, while being in college, struggling to understand his condition and educating himself.
Discover John’s story!
First of all, could you tell us more about yourself?
I live in the gorgeous state of Colorado, in the U.S.A. I am married to the most beautiful woman on this planet. She’s my best friend and partner for life. We have two amazing kiddos - a daughter in high school and a son in 3rd grade. They are both such creative and thoughtful human beings. My family keeps me going each day and they are my “why” in life.
My favorite thing to do is spend quality time with my family. Whether it is going for a bike ride, having a movie night, writing stories together, or playing a board game, I cherish my time with them.
Other interests of mine include helping others in whatever capacity that may be. I love exercising and learning new and innovative ways to improve my healthy lifestyle. One of my non-negotiables, things I absolutely have to do each day, is work out. Also, in that list is creating something. For example, I love writing, drawing, and finding ways to express myself through creativity.
You have bipolar disorder. At what age were you diagnosed? What led you to seek help for bipolar disorder? How long did it take to make the diagnosis and how many doctors did you see?
They diagnosed me with bipolar disorder type 1, right before my 21st birthday. At the time, I attended Colorado State University (CSU). The year prior to my diagnosis, I saw about a dozen different psychiatrists and therapists. I was seeking answers to explain my thoughts, feelings, and behavior. You see, from an early age, I knew I was different in how I functioned and processed things compared to my peers. That was what led me to seek help.
During that year, I received other diagnoses and various treatments. The different medical providers could not pinpoint exactly what I had. The new psychiatrist on CSU campus finally properly diagnosed me after a year of trial-and-error.
How were you told about the diagnosis and how did you feel about it? Did your loved ones support you? Was it easy for you to talk about the disease to those around you?
The new psychiatrist, on the CSU campus, diagnosed me during our first appointment. Throughout the decades following my diagnosis, I learned the common initial reaction to the diagnosis of bipolar disorder is generally denial. For me, I actually felt elated at the news. She told me there was no doubt I had bipolar disorder. I was seeking answers while attending CSU, and this was it.
What type of bipolar disease type do you have? What are the manifestations of the disease? Could you tell us about the different “phases” you go through?
I have bipolar disorder type 1, which is characterized by episodes of mania and depression, with periods of stability in between. There is specific diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Only a licensed medical professional can diagnose bipolar disorder.
Also, the type and severity of symptoms is unique to each individual. Just because I experience a specific symptom, doesn’t mean everyone else with bipolar disorder will. For example, I experience psychosis during full-blown manic episodes. Not everyone with bipolar disorder does.
Mania is at the extremely high end of the bipolar spectrum. The manic symptoms I experience include:
- Racing thoughts.
- Pressured speech, meaning talking very fast and jumping from subject to subject.
- Poor decision making, with potentially dangerous and life-threatening results.
- Noticeable agitation.
- Little to no need for sleep, yet feeling fully refreshed.
- Psychosis (both hallucinations and delusions).
- Starting lots of new projects.
Depression is at the extremely low end of the bipolar spectrum. The depressive symptoms I experience include:
- Sleeping too much.
- Lack of energy, which leads to a lack of motivation.
- Feeling sad, hopeless, despair, emptiness, worthlessness, and guilt.
- Pessimistic attitude.
- Illogical and distorted thinking. This also goes for mania.
- Loss of interest in the activities I enjoy.
- Little to no libido.
- Suicidal ideation.
Sometimes, I can experience symptoms from both mania and depression at the same time. We term this a mixed episode.
Have you ever been hospitalized? If so, how many times? Could you tell us about the conditions of these hospitalizations?
I have been hospitalized multiple times. Actually, I lost count how many times. However, I remember the length of my stays. They lasted anywhere from one week to three months.
I live in the USA and the conditions of those hospitals, in which I found residence, were very good. I remember around the time of my original diagnosis, it scared me to be hospitalized. My line of thinking was extremely illogical, which is one of the many symptoms of a mood episode. I thought if I went to the hospital, they would throw away the key and forget about me. This line of thinking is distorted. Most of the time, hospitals keep individuals until they are no longer a threat to themself or others. Insurance companies don’t like to pay for hospitalizations, so they try to get patients out as soon as possible.
How has the disease affected your private and professional life, and how does it still do so?
Bipolar disorder has directly affected my private and professional life, in both positive and negative ways. One way it has affected my professional life negatively is that I am disabled. Everyone’s bipolar disorder is different, and I have a very serious and extreme case of it. Throughout the years, it has left me incapacitated and unable to function for long periods of time. At one point, I was unsure if I would ever be able to live independently, without the care of my loved ones. My ability to function has waxed and waned, to extreme lengths, along my journey. It has made it difficult to find any consistency in my life.
Like my professional life, bipolar disorder has negatively affected my private life. I have made more than my fair share of mistakes because of my illness. One of the hallmark symptoms of bipolar disorder is impulsive and poor decision making. For example, I have jumped into many toxic relationships, resulting in many broken hearts and let down.
Needless spending is another hallmark symptom of bipolar disorder. I made some illogical and poor business decisions along with needless spending sprees. This resulted in debt and financial ruin.
However, even with all the negative impact on my life, there has also been a very positive one. My passion is to empower others along their journey with bipolar disorder and overall mental health. Actually, I won a WEGO Health Award for my advocating efforts. I accepted this prestigious award in Las Vegas at the end of 2019.
It is a daily battle with bipolar disorder because it is difficult to maintain any kind of consistent routine. Some days, I simply cannot do anything. Just getting out of bed and living is enough.
I do the best I can with what I have at each moment. When I can, I work on my various projects and collaborate with others who share my same vision. In August 2021, I turned my advocacy efforts into a nonprofit organization. Now, it is officially The Bipolar Battle, Inc. and we are expanding and helping to improve lives every day.
Besides my nonprofit, I started JP Publisher LLC, in April 2022. My publishing company’s primary focus is to publish publications covering mental health in both direct and indirect ways.
For example, a non-fiction book is a direct way to cover the topic of mental health. At the beginning of 2020, I published my first book, This War Within My Mind. It is based on my blog and a compilation of articles covering the different topics related to bipolar disorder. My focus is on bipolar disorder, what it is, how to manage it, and other related topics.
An indirect way is by means of a fiction novel. It isn’t an educational work, like my first publication, but ties into the topic of mental health throughout the story. There are mental health undertones.
Let me give you an example. Right now (at the time of this interview), I am writing a three-part science fiction series about a dystopian future. I weave bipolar disorder into the storyline because the main character has bipolar disorder. There are also alluding mental health undertones.
Are you being treated for bipolar disorder? If so, what is your treatment? Is it effective? Are your phases getting better?
I have always treated my bipolar disorder, since right after they originally diagnosed me. The foundation of my treatment is the medical model. I see my psychiatric nurse practitioner and therapist on a regular basis. When my symptoms escalate, I see them more often.
It took me around 10 years of trial-and-error to find the right cocktail of medications to treat my bipolar disorder. As I mentioned though, I have an extreme case, and it generally does not take that long to find a medication, or cocktail of meds, that works. Now, I take my meds three times a day - first thing when I get up, in the afternoon, and right before bedtime.
In order to treat my bipolar disorder successfully, though, there is more to it than just taking some pills and talking. My approach is a very synergistic one. I employ a number of different strategies and techniques each day to manage. Some of these ways include at least 30 minutes of exercise, drinking plenty of water, getting outside, making sure to get plenty of sleep, getting appropriate downtime, and deep breathing exercises. It is imperative that I focus on these basics because I can de-escalate fairly quickly if I neglect them.
All of these ways, working together, is an effective treatment for me. Still, my psychiatric nurse practitioner tweaks the dosage of my meds a handful of times, during the course of the year, to keep me stable. Throughout the years, I have focused on improving my self-awareness. This has been key for me, so I can relate my experience to my psychiatric nurse practitioner. Then, if need be, she can tweak my meds before my symptoms get out of hand.
As time moves forward, the severity of my episodes has reduced, and the time in between episodes has increased. So, my bipolar disorder has definitely gotten better.
My original diagnosing doctor told me that bipolar disorder is a degenerative disease. She said that means if I don’t treat my bipolar disorder, it will only get worse as I get older. My symptoms will intensify, and mood episodes will become more frequent. My experience is valid proof of the validity of her sentiment. Finding the right treatment has improved my stability, and now, I successfully manage it.
You have a blog called “The Bipolar Battle”. Why did you start this endeavor? What messages do you want to convey to your readers?
In 2017, I started my blog titled The Bipolar Battle. At the time, I was fed up with hiding my diagnosis of bipolar disorder from everyone. I took a class on how to start a blog and I quickly found the enjoyment of writing. It became a creative outlet for me.
I love helping others, and starting my blog gave me a means to do this. So, I wrote articles about tools and strategies on how to manage bipolar disorder. I branched out from there and covered any topics related to bipolar disorder. Since it affects every corner of a person’s life, I wrote about whatever inspired me, basing each article on my own experience.
The mission of my blog is to empower those living with bipolar disorder. One of my key messages is that you can successfully manage bipolar disorder. It is just a matter of finding the right treatment. I firmly believe that everyone has a warrior within them. They just need to find it.
Mental illness has gained a lot more attention in recent years but do you think enough efforts have been done to tackle this issue? What more do think could be done to effectively deal with this illness?
Compared to when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, there is currently a lot more awareness about the topic of mental illness. Yes, efforts have increased, but we can do more to tackle this issue.
My observations are regarding The United States, because I live in Colorado. Changes need to be made at the governmental level. Laws need to change. We are going in the right direction, though. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is now available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
In addition to policy changes, we can raise awareness and stomp out the stigma associated with bipolar disorder through advocacy. I am honored to be a part of this movement to educate about the reality of living with bipolar disorder and ways others can improve their own quality of life.
How are you doing today? And what are your plans for the future?
Presently, I am doing very well. My positive approach to dealing with bipolar disorder has made me more aware of this condition. This allows me to tweak my approach whenever I see the start of a destabilization. Of course, both my psychiatric nurse practitioner and are consistently monitoring me, and do not make any kind of medication changes without their consent and approval.
My primary plan for the future is to keep myself stable. That is a primary goal of mine each day, and for the long-term. If I destabilize and am in the throes of a manic or depressive episode, I cannot be the father, husband, or friend that I want to be. Regarding my various projects, I want to expand the reach, influence and impact of The Bipolar Battle, Inc. I also want to publish more books through JP Publisher.
Finally, what advice would you give to Carenity members who also suffer from bipolar disorder?
If someone newly diagnosed you with bipolar disorder, I highly suggest you educate yourself about everything related to it by reading books, articles, and researching it. Learning about it will help improve your own self-awareness, so you know what to look for.
Another suggestion I have is to keep a mood journal. Just get a blank notebook and write in it every day. Include your feelings, thoughts, and emotions about the events that happened during the course of the day.
In your journal, chart your mood. Give it a value from negative three to three. Zero is baseline. A positive number records the severity of manic symptoms. A higher number indicates the manic symptoms are increasing in intensity. The same is true for the negative numbers. They just indicate depressive symptoms.
Also in your journal, include a chart for symptoms such as anxiety, paranoia, and any other symptom you want to record. Give a numerical value to the severity of the symptom, from zero to ten. Zero, the symptom is not affecting you. The higher the number, the more severe the symptom. Ten, the symptom is most severe.
Over time, you can start to see patterns in your charts. You will also be able to read back on your journal entries and pinpoint your triggers and what activities improve your symptoms. That way, you can make sure to do that particular activity as part of your routine.
I have spent considerable time and effort in creating educational materials that will help you. These include:
Here, you can sign up for free access to our online forums, the bipolar test (to see if you have it), and our periodic newsletter. With a small donation, you can get mood tracking materials, lifestyle tracking materials, access to Bipolar Bootcamp (our masterclass), and future livestreams and seminars.
Voted one of Feedspot’s top 10 bipolar disorder podcasts on the web. I discuss anything and everything related to bipolar disorder.
- This War Within My Mind.
- You can also email me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have bipolar disorder, be patient with yourself. It takes time for medication to work and to find the tools and strategies that work well for you. For example, meditation is a very effective tool to add to your daily routine, but not everyone benefits from it.
Lastly, acknowledge that you are a warrior and embrace it. After all, you fight the bipolar battle every day of your life.
A big thank you to John for this interview!
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Take care of yourself!
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