Carrie Doran is a mental health advocate, intensely driven to share her experience in the name of helping others. Her site, The Carpe Diem Life, was named one of the “Top Mental Health Blogs” in 2018. According to Carrie, “Blogging is purely a passion and I do it from a place of compassion and with the purpose to help others.” Given the significant correlation between addiction and other forms of Mental Illness I am incredibly grateful that Carrie took the time to contribute to the ODMovement. This piece is an interview between OD and Carrie. In it she shares her story on struggling with Bipolar disorder, as well as other mental health issues, and gives her perspective on addiction in society. I strongly encourage you to check out Carrie’s blog (link above) as well as take a look at her Instagram. Recently Carrie launched her own clothing line Carrie’s Customs Shop, a brand focused on affordable statement apparel built around a positive message. Her story in fascinating and she is doing some truly amazing things to make a difference.
1. Tell me about bipolar disorder and its symptoms?
Bipolar disorder is a shift in mood swings that usually occur without warning or triggers. The symptoms are broken into Depression Episodes or Hypomanic Stages. During a depression episode, you are completely defeated by the dark cloud that covers your mental state. You have suicidal thoughts and ideologies on a consistent basis. The world seems a lot less bright, you feel useless, defeated and no matter how much thought you put into being “positive”; bipolar depression overpowers it. Hypomania on the other hand is a state of euphoria where you lose a portion of your rational thinking. You have unlimited energy, you can stay up for days straight, you have an inflated self-esteem and engage in dangerous activities you normally wouldn’t. Bipolar Disorder alternates between these two states of mind.
2. How did you view bipolar, and mental disorders in general, before your diagnosis?
I was deeply interested in Mental Health because I was diagnosed with PTSD, Anxiety Disorders and Major Depressive Disorder years before Bipolar 2. My view on mental disorders was that they’re just as, if not more important, than physical health; so I invested my time to pursue a degree in Mental Health and Human Behavior to help those with Mental Disorders. Before my diagnosis of Bipolar 2 though, I was naïve. I knew of Bipolar, but had no idea the severity or struggles it brought.
- How did you function prior to being diagnosed with bipolar disorder?
Before being diagnosed with Bipolar 2, I was enrolled in regular therapy. I was learning really great coping skills to combat my depression and anxiety and learned how to manage my mental illnesses. Before being diagnosed with Bipolar, I was genuinely happy despite the mental health issues I had. I had a great understanding of my mental health and I had a “toolbox” of sorts that I’d worked hard to use to manage my mental health.
- How did you come to be diagnosed?
Early this year, my depression deepened to a scary point. Those suicidal ideologies that I mentioned were persistent and so unusual. I picked up habits that I’d never done before like smoking cigarettes which I’ve hated my whole life. I couldn’t shake this dark cloud that overcame me daily and after a month, I reached out for help to find out I had developed Bipolar 2 and those were the reason for the changes in habits and thinking I’d been experienced.
- What was it like when the doctor mentioned the disorder?
I walked into the psychiatrist office hoping that maybe my depression wasn’t working, I never expected to be diagnosed with Bipolar so to say I was shocked and devastated barely scratches the surface. I was so shocked, sad, and defeated. I asked her if there was anything else it could be, but she confirmed that based off my symptoms; it was a classic case of Bipolar 2 and she was confident that’s what I’d developed. As soon as I left the office, I was hysterical. I cried the entire drive home. I felt like I was crazy and worried I’d never be the same person I was before.
- Walk through your progression of feelings following the diagnosis.
Looking back, I hate admitting that I was so heartbroken, devastated and embarrassed throughout the first week of my new diagnosis. I remember crying my whole drive home and couldn’t work up the courage to tell anyone why. I think the stigma that so strongly surrounds Bipolar had been something I didn’t realize I was dealing with. I just thought of all the movie scenes where people portrayed as Bipolar are usually the crazy ones. I told some family and my best friends still feeling so ashamed. Most (of them) reminded me that life was going to be just fine, a few refused to believe it. Even months later, I knew my life would never be the same. And although it isn’t, that’s not all bad.
- What, if any, symptoms can you recognize looking back?
The two main symptoms I know now were so apparent, but I was so naive to them was first, picking up the habit of smoking cigarettes. I had never even tried them and one day, I picked up a pack of cigarettes and struggle to quit today. It’s always baffled me. The second symptom was the dark thoughts that accompanied depression moods, suicidal thoughts I’d never experienced before yet they were persistent and out of the blue.
8. Substance abuse is a common byproduct of bipolar disorder, what are your thoughts on addiction?
Addiction, in my experience, is almost always coupled with a mental health disorder; whether that’s depression or bipolar or one of the many other Mental Illnesses. For people who are experiencing unwanted moods and symptoms from their mental illness and mood disorders, it’s understable why substance abuse and mental illness go hand in hand because addiction is ultimley an attempt to ease these symptoms, therefore leading to substance abuse. Addiction is highly stigmatized and often looked at like a “bad choice” that people make. I believe that addiction is far more complex than most of society understands. Between genetics, environmental factors, chemical imbalances and mood disorders; it’s clear to me that addiction is far more than just a bad choice someone makes, but instead an impulsive and almost irresistible urge to relieve the pain.
9. How do you think bipolar and other mental illnesses are viewed in today’s society? Is there still a stigma associated with them?
Mental Illnesses in society are still largely misunderstood. Addiction is viewed as simply a choice or Depression is something people should be able to “snap out of”. I can’t count how many times I’ve been told, “You have Bipolar? You don’t look like someone with Bipolar”. It baffles me because Bipolar (like addiction) doesn’t have a face to it. It can affect anyone, so those comments just shed some light to how misunderstood Bipolar and Mental Illness are. This goes hand in hand with the stigma. When people don’t experience something for themself, are afraid of it, or just poorly educated on the topic; it’s easier for them to stay uneducated about the issue rather than gain the necessary knowledge. Stigma, I believe, stems from a lack of understanding.
10. How do you feel about the present health care system in regard to mental illness?
The health care system in regards to Mental Health needs serious attention. All across the nation psychiatric wards are closing down, mental hospitals are overcrowded forcing people that are admitted to the hospital to stay in wards that don’t apply to them. There is a shortage of expert psychiatrists and most importantly, there is still not sufficient research on Mental Illness. When you go to a doctor for a broken bone, they can easily confirm that you have a broken bone because of the adequate care and resources they have. Same with heart attacks, diabetes, diseases, etc. But when it comes to Mental Health, the way you articulate your feelings to a psychiatrist is how you’ll be diagnosed. You could be misdiagnosed for years, on the wrong medications because there isn’t enough resources out there to confirm a diagnosis which is very unfortunate.
11. What advice would you give to anyone who might be struggling with bipolar or other mental illnesses?
I would tell someone struggling with bipolar or other mental illnesses that it is hard to deal with, to say the least. You will have bad days, unbearable days, days you feel like you can’t handle one more thing… but you WILL get through it. You ARE stronger than your mental illness. It takes work, consistent work and recovery isn’t a linear process. You’ll have to be okay with NOT being okay sometimes. You will have to be patient with yourself, show grace and love to yourself on your hard days and remember that you are a human being capable of doing whatever you set your mind too just like everyone else. Your mental illness is a part of you, but it will not define you. It is not ALL you are and it’s important to remember that.
As always PLEASE send this post along to anyone who might be able to find strength in Carrie’s message!