Happy Or Sad Or Mad

“I have the choice of being constantly active and happy or introspectively passive and sad. Or I can go mad by ricocheting in between.”  ― Sylvia Plath

Poor Sylvia, she sounds bipolar. In fact, she killed herself at the age of thirty. Something was desperately wrong, but no one knew. Everyone knows I have bipolar disorder. As many people as possible anyway. I am shouting it from the rafters hoping others will see it is okay to talk about.

The only thing wrong with this quote as a description of bipolar is the word “choice”. We really don’t have one. We cycle between happiness or sadness like the change of the weather and there is no way to tell where or when the wind may change.  Or when the madness may come in. When we have cycled to such an extreme that we are in fact psychotic and have lost touch with reality. At least that is when I call it madness.

Psychosis is to be avoided at all costs. But is there a choice? Only as far as taking your medications, trying all you can to get your rest. Taking care of yourself and asking for help when you begin to lose control of your thoughts. Because the faster you mention that the easier it is to stop it. With a medication adjustment rather than a hospital stay. That is always my goal. I hate going to the hospital. But I go if I have to, because the question they ask is: are you a danger to yourself or others? Well I have not ever been a danger to others. That leaves me. I’ll be darned if I’m going to fight so hard to stay ahead of this disorder. To live victoriously with it to succumb to what got Sylvia Plath at this late date! Not going to happen.

But I’m not pushing it. Not going to push this illness to the breaking point. I’m not going to pretend everything is fine when I really need help. The hospital is not that bad. Actually it’s the best place to be when you need to be there. I know that. So in I will go, if necessary.  And I will work hard, doing everything I need to: adjust to new medications, work on sleep, group, whatever it takes, until it is time to get out.

I’m never alone. I have faith that the Lord is with me. He goes before me, beside me and has my back. I have nothing to fear. Having nothing to fear makes bipolar disorder a lot easier to have. I don’t fear death or destruction because of it. I don’t fear that I will be abandoned or alone. I don’t fear the hospital or strange people, like myself, only sicker. I do not fear because I am  never alone.

That helps a great deal. I dreamed one time I was in the hospital that I was falling. You know that old superstition that if you dream you are falling and if you land in your dream you will die? No? Well it was a superstition when I was a child. And I still believed it back when I was 23, in the hospital with bipolar for the first time and having this dream. Suddenly to my horror, I landed. I lay there expecting the worst. Instead I was surrounded by the warmest, deepest love I had ever felt. And I knew for once and for all that God was not only at the mountain top, but in the deepest pit we could ever fall into. I knew it then, and I know it now. He is always there for me — and for you.


Speaking Out From The Shadows

In our culture, the topic of mental disorders exists mainly in the shadows. It has yet to reach the light of day. You can learn about mental illness  if you go looking for the subject. Yet, aside from an occasional made for TV movie by an actor so afflicted, it is not the subject of coffee house chats.

We are afraid, I suppose. But of what? Of catching one? Not in our logical minds. Maybe somewhere down deep — where we keep our superstitions and fears — we wonder if we learn something,  if the subject becomes more real we might discover something in ourselves. Education has the opposite effect. It dispels fears. If you feel your reading uncovers the possibility that you have depression or something else…then please see your doctor and be thankful that you found out when you did. There is one thing worse than mental illness: untreated mental illness.

I think about the million plus people in our country with bipolar disorder and some speculate many more are undiagnosed and my heart goes out to them. There are many more people with major depression or panic attacks. Many of them are are living in the shadows, without support, or recognition of their suffering or their humanity. It makes me want more than anything, to bring this topic to into the light.

My story is starting to be embraced by the blogosphere. The Howie Blog: a regional blog with over hundreds of thousands of readers is publishing each post. Howie Hanson put a link to one of the articles in http://startribune.com with 30 million readers! I believe the word is starting to get out in Minnesota a bit.

I am calling people in churches in the Twin Cities right now, working on getting a chance to speak. I found a great link today to send in a follow-up email: http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/topic/bipolar. It contains great information on causes, treatment,  good health habits. I met with a my dear friend and first minister last week. He was so supportive and gave me some names of people to call. He and his wife Molly run a ministry now to bring healing to the hearts of people around the world with the message of forgiving each other: Dr. Arthur Rouner, The Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation. (Pictured below):

Dr. Arthur Rouner and I.

When you begin to share, more and more wonderful things start to happen. Yesterday I shared my story on my High School’s Facebook page. I discovered a dear friend from my class was bipolar and neither of us had known about the other! Now we do. We had a long conversation, right in the middle of the Facebook page. Hopefully others will be helped by it. There was a time when I would not have wanted my classmates to know I had developed bipolar disorder. I would have been ashamed. I am not ashamed anymore. I have an illness. No one should be ashamed of that.

I believe that by keeping everything so hush hush in our culture we  contribute to the isolation and sense of shame. So let’s take things out of the shadows and into the light, shall we? Let’s talk my friends. Thank you for listening.

@copyright Libby Baker Sweiger

Common Sense Out the Window: Mania Has Arrived!

I don’t get into a full blown manic episode very often anymore. Usually I get hypo manic, which is a mood disturbance marked by uncharacteristic behavior and lack of judgment among other things. I shop. Bills to pay. I shop. Hard on the family, selfish and wrong, I shop.

“Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before.” — Mae West

Mae West and I have a bit in common during these times. Otherwise, I am nothing like her. I don’t like the values she represents. She is funny though. When I say I’m nothing like her I don’t mean to sound too good to be true, but I’ve learned over the years to compensate for the negative behavior of shopping sprees. I’m really good at taking things back. When the hypo manic episode has dissipated in a few days, I try my best to right my world.

Unfortunately this is not always possible. I remember a lady I met in the hospital. She had taken her family’s money and flown to Nepal! Her husband and children didn’t know where she was and they were hurt severely financially and every way.

I have had bipolar disorder a long time. I can anticipate mania. Now I give my debit card to my husband when I feel it coming on and try to spare us the pain of it all. One thing I haven’t talked about yet is family and the effects of all this on them. It’s hard to do so. My husband is very patient and hates to see me struggle. Financial trials are also very stressful.

I have a daughter who was raised by two loving parents. She was lucky there. On mother’s day this year I was giving my husband Mike credit for all the typical mommy duties he assumed in raising her. An example: I was sleeping through the night on medication and Mike was bottle feeding her from the time she was two weeks old. She said to her dad, “Yeah, you raised me from a pup!” I teared up. But, I’m happy they are so close and shared so much when she was a baby and all through her childhood. I did not sleep for two weeks after her birth in the grips of a severe manic episode. Fortunately I was not hospitalized, or separated from her, but I did have to sleep through the night feedings from then on.

I don’t mean to sound sorry for myself. Many people with bipolar disorder do not get to have children because they cannot get off their medication to get pregnant. I had a psychiatrist back then who believed in lots of exercise. I ran and ran to increase the endorphins in my brain, got off all psyche meds and got pregnant. My little girl was medication free in utero, and healthy as anything! I feel so very fortunate to have her. We have a special bond. She still calls me “Momma” at 29 years old. 🙂

Is it worth the risk to have a baby when you are bipolar? I would answer a resounding yes! To that! To living! It is all worth it! Dealing with life becomes so much more tenable when you have good mental health care, take your medications, get your sleep and don’t encourage the trauma of mania or depression with bad care. Staying well and not going there is the best way to manage.

But when it happens, remember it is not forever. If you’re manic, prepare ahead of time. Have a plan. Do you have someone to take you to the hospital and a doctor to help you see you need to go. If you’re only hypo manic, how do you tell? What are your weaknesses? Can you go on a cash allowance and take yourself out of the family account until it passes?

I recommend psychcentral.com to you. It is an online service run by doctors with all the latest research. It has a Mania Quiz, Depression Quiz, a Sanity Test, things you can take online to take your Mental Health temperature. You create a user name so it remains anonymous. It is no substitute for Mental Health care, but it can give you some idea of where you are. Tell a loved one. Use it yourself. Find out if you are depressed and seek help. Please. Your life, quality of it and very existence could depend on it. Thank you! Here is the link. Now make a great big dent of happiness in your day!

@Copyright Libby Baker Sweiger

The Unspoken Illness

If we knew each other’s secrets, what comforts we should find.
John Churton Collins

Mental illness is the unspoken illness, yet it is more common than many of the physical illnesses plaguing us. In Wikipedia (among an impressive array of footnotes) it says that 1 in 3 people worldwide will be affected by a mental disorder at one time during their lives, and 46% in the United States will have a mental illness. This is startling only because there is so little talk about it! The unspoken illness is just that — a pretty big secret!

I love the John Churton Collins quote. It is comforting to know each other’s secrets as they pertain to mental disorders, because keeping everything a secret produces shame for the person with the disorder. It also contributes to insensitivity, misunderstanding and ignorance in the culture.

If I don’t tell you why I cannot sleep at night. Why I struggle. Why I start to wind down for bed at 8:00 p.m. with my first regimen of relaxation on a good night. Then, knowing I love the night, you are likely to call me late, like 11:00 or so. Without knowing that a stimulating phone conversation before bed could easily keep me up for three to four hours — you might! And what about more serious matters than sleep? For these you need to know my secrets. Although, sleep is a familiar refrain for me. It is a nightly struggle for me to keep from mania. And I hate mania!

Many people with bipolar do not hate mania. For them it is a fun high. They go off their meds to experience it. Not for me. It’s not fun. It’s scary and out of control and panicky. I try to avoid it at all costs. Lately, I have been staying up late writing and paying for it.  Not with mania, yet. But with exhaustion. So this post is being written in the early evening.

However, back to my topic. Ignorance in society. Secrets. How can these things stop? I am trying one way, by speaking out. If everyone with bipolar disorder, major depression, or panic attacks quit being ashamed — or afraid of their reputations — or what others might say, and spoke about their disorders — this world would change.

I believe it would change for the better. Everyone would stop feeling so alone. Fellow sufferers would come out and talk about it too. People who don’t have mental disorders would empathize, as they have with me, and lend support. Hope and help would be offered, sought out, and found.

I believe that honesty, clarity and genuine sharing improves this world. If you don’t have the courage share, email me at libby@livingabovethemadness.org. I will talk with you. Share, commiserate and love you.

Don’t let that spook  you. I just know where to find a very large reservoir of love to share with you and I will. So please write and let’s get these secrets out. Let’s let the healing light of day shine on them and begin our journey of hope!

If we knew each other’s secrets, what comforts we should find. — John Churton Collins

@Copyright Libby Baker Sweiger

Also published in The Howie Blog Regional Blog May 15, 2012

Boing Went the New Job!

This was a day for the books as my grandmother would say. It will go down in my history book as my shortest job ever. I didn’t get fired. I imploded. I got up for work with my husband. I took my usual two plus hours to get ready. This is not because I’m a fashion diva, but because I change my clothes five to ten times in the course of getting ready.

I have ever since I developed bi-polar disorder. Or when I’m manic it could be many more times! Oddities like this befall the lifestyle of people with a mental illness. You compensate, absorb them into your routine. Joke about them. Try not to think that most people just get dressed.

Back to the implosion. I haven’t worked outside of my home office for nearly five years steadily. But, I thought I could get back. And I still feel I could, with the right circumstances. If the company leadership knew I had bi-polar disorder and would let me work and their office and virtually (at my home office). If I were doing what I love: social media, blogging, etc. I could see myself doing that.

But the days are past when I can call companies and people on the phone and sell them things. I’ve done some campaigns from home. I guess that makes the difference. However, it makes me anxious to think about it today. That’s how I imploded. I had a full blown panic attack and had to go home in the middle of lunch. These are not common for me. It was awful. My heart raced. I felt like I had to jump out of my skin, which felt all creepy crawly. I was hyperventilating. I tried to slow down my breathing.

Worse, I had to call and tell them about it and that I wouldn’t be back. Most embarrassing moments? Tell me about it. I called my supervisor and told him I experience a severe panic attack about the job and he said, “I guess it won’t work out then, will it?” I said I would be happy to call for you from home and he said they needed someone on site. So I apologized again.

Disappointment can reign in the mind and heart of an over-achieving bi-polar! And worse yet, I had an appointment scheduled with a really good new psychiatrist in two days and had cancelled it because of the new job. I didn’t want it to interfere. Poor judgment is another trait that plagues people who are bi-polar. I’ll get in to see her. But I wish I was seeing her in two days.

I do have someone I can call. It’s so important to get regular psychiatric help, and ask for help when you need it. Panic attacks are not for the weak at heart. I had my reservations about my desire and ability to do that job right then. So when I had the attack, I listened to my body. I didn’t push myself. Sometimes you have to do the opposite and push through the panic. Knowing when to push, and knowing when not to is key in managing a disorder like bi-polar.

Sure, I have to push myself or I’d end up sitting in a chair staring out a window. I push myself to be involved in life and to engage with people when I am depressed. I talk to myself to slow down and rest when I am getting manic, and give my husband permission to help me. I push myself to leave the house because I’m a bit agoraphobic or working outside the home would be as easy as writing in my home office.

That is the story of my shortest job. There are many stories like this in the life of someone battling mental illness. I am trying to live above the madness. I do appreciate your help! Please read along and learn with me. There is so much in life that’s new each day. I’m trying to find my way like you are. Let’s find our way together.

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” Joseph Campbell

copyright Libby Baker Sweiger

Blog first appeared in Howie Blog: MN’s Regional Blog

Awake: Even In My Dreams

I’m sure you’ve experienced insomnia from time to time. Sometimes life gets too stressful or exciting to shut down and sleep. We are all working too hard, doing too much. We push ourselves to such an extent that our bodies release too much adrenalin and we keep going on nervous energy.

I get excited about life. I have suffered from sleeplessness due to excitement since I was a young child; the night before the first day of school, the big play, my first date, my first job, my wedding. I’d lie in the dark with my bright eyes round as saucers staring at the ceiling, wondering if the night would ever end. Eventually the new day would dawn and I would enjoy every minute of it.

The sleeplessness that comes with bi-polar disorder is different. It is driven, striving, anxious, panicked and unrelenting. Your mind races with thoughts and stimuli that keep you from rest and peace. Your whole body is weary but your thoughts race onward, without focus, without purpose and without end. You get confused. Just as you think you’re starting to fall asleep, you jerk awake, again and again and again. Then you stop even doing that.

My husband and I had a miniature pinscher named Spike. He was a wonderful friend and a very high-strung dog. He would get so wound up he would quiver and shake. We would practice “sensory deprivation” with him as we called it. He loved to burrow under the covers and sleep at our feet, totally buried in the quilt. He was so small that the height of our feet provided a prop which gave him lots of air to breathe. He slept that way. When he started to shake during the day, we’d put a little blanket over him to calm him — right over his body, including his little head. I tried it on myself the other night. It didn’t work. Well, it was worth a try!

I take meds that quiet my mind and help me to sleep. Eventually I fall asleep. If I’m manic and cannot get to sleep on whatever regimen I’m on, eventually I may have to be hospitalized. Hospitalization is no fun. I have affectionately nicknamed it the “Loony Bin.” Some people may find that disrespectful. For me, it helps keep my sense of humor and perspective on the place. You’re locked in, hence the bin analogy. You’re only a bit loony as are your new friends. It makes me laugh about a grim situation. Maybe some wouldn’t find it too hilarious, but to each their own.

It’s a fact of life for most people with serious mental illness. No matter how hard you try to take care of yourself, the illness can overwhelm you and in you go. But it’s temporary. You are coming out. I’m thankful and blessed to be able to come home to a loving husband and family and friends who are there for me. How much more can anyone ask out of life? Well, maybe a good night’s sleep.

“I had a dream I was awake and I woke up to find myself asleep.”
― Stan Laurel

Dodging the Bumps in the Road


Every day is a challenge for many people. I’m sure it is for you. I find it to be so. Many people to look at me would not think I have a care in the world. Some days I don’t. But I do live with a secret from some. It isn’t tattooed on my forehead. I expose it as often as I can. I have bi-polar disorder. I’ve had it since my early 20’s.

Now, don’t jump to conclusions. I’m not a dreary person, quite fun, rather. I love life. Life is an adventure I would not want to miss! I love the colors, the action, the beauty, the love I feel, sunshine on my face, memories of childhood, work, play, writing, my daughter, my husband, God.

Some days I don’t love MY life. Some days I get tired of the struggle and I try to let go and float above it. Everyone’s life hits a bump in the road. Sometimes the day is filled with bumps. I have many days like a big ski race filled with moguls: dodging this fear, motivating myself to do that, jumping the hurdle of leaving the house, etc.

Then there is night, that’s hard. Nights can be very long. Sleep eludes me. Sleeplessness can cause a manic episode, insomnia is a symptom of mania, which came first? Oh, I don’t want to go manic, you cry into the night. Fortunately this is not a nightly battle. If it were to become one…to the hospital I would go. No! That is to be avoided at all costs!

These are the types of thoughts going on inside the head of someone who has a mental disorder. There is a lot to worry about. Organizing medication, filling and refilling, taking everything on time, getting to sleep early, eating right, exercise (oops!) I worry because I want to do things right. I want to stay well. I want to be functioning, successful and happy. I don’t want to be a burden. I want to contribute life and laughter to those I love — in my family, online, in my neighborhood, church, in the workplace.

One of my favorite quotes my Mother Teresa is: “Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” (Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/mother_teresa.html#GmZYDrlESgVWesOb.99) I meet everyone with a smile regardless of how I feel inside. Seeing someone else makes me smile. People who know me well can see depression behind my smile, or in my voice, sense the over-stimulation, beginnings of mania.

I know there are so many other people who feel this way. I want to reach them…and others, who don’t understand. So, I’ve decided to write about…okay I’ll say the words: mental illness. There it is. Now I’m laughing! That wasn’t so hard to say. Stick with me and let’s learn together. Let’s blow up some misconceptions, CRUSH some taboos and EXPOSE prejudice with the good old LIGHT OF DAY! Welcome to my life and let’s see if we can live ABOVE madness!

Online articles on this subject by Libby Baker Sweiger: http://theusguys.com/2011/02/profile-libbytalks-has-a-secret/

This article first appeared in The Howie Blog: Regional Blog

Copyright by Libby Baker Sweiger