When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I felt ashamed and, most of all, alone. Joining bphope and finding a community has made a world of difference.
Being Diagnosed with Bipolar & Feeling Trapped
“You have bipolar disorder type one.” After receiving my first diagnosis of bipolar disorder from the psychiatrist at the treatment center, I had never felt so alone. The diagnosis explained so much about my experiences, but I felt trapped. Trapped with the feeling that I now had to bear this “secret” of bipolar disorder.
Everything felt so heavy. Guilt, shame, and—most of all—isolation were weights that held me down.
I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about what I was going through. It was 2013, and my familiarity with bipolar disorder was based on other people’s negative perceptions of it. The only person I “knew” who had bipolar disorder was Carrie, a character on Homeland. And I couldn’t exactly reach out and talk to her!
Fast-forward to now, and I don’t feel so heavy. This is because of the abundance of information I’ve learned about bipolar and the community I’ve built with others who are living with the same mental health condition.
Community & Validation with Bipolar
As of this writing, I have been a part of the bphope/bp Magazine community for a year. During that time, I was read other bloggers’ stories, and it was like they were reading aloud from a book in my head. All their thoughts and feelings were so aligned with mine. All the “shameful” feelings and difficult emotions I’ve experienced while living with bipolar were also being felt by others who have bipolar.
Joining a “bipolar community,” I’ve found, can help us not feel so alone. It can lead to friendships (and, who knows, maybe even romance?). But it’s also a way to help others. I never realized the impact of blogging about my journey with bipolar, how it would help others and lead me to bphope.
Quietly Observing Or Actively Participating—It All Helps
We all have a voice. When we share our experiences, someone else can benefit from them, and this can help both them and us to not feel so alone. But where can our voices be heard? And, if we don’t want to be heard just yet, where else can we go to observe and learn about other experiences with bipolar?
While blogging about bipolar this past year, I have found many other like-minded individuals with this brain-based disorder. bphope opened the doors, helping me to lean on the support systems I already had in place and connecting me with both its own resources and others’.
How to Build a “Bipolar Community”
If you are looking to find your own community, here are some of the places and platforms through which I have been able to connect with others in the community.
(I also want to add that I am in no way endorsed by, paid for, or being told to promote any of the material below. These sites and resources are simply some of the ones I’ve found useful, personally.)
#1 Make Use of Your Social Media Accounts
Instagram: Apart from bphope, Instagram has been monumental in pivoting me to the right direction in finding my own “bipolar tribe.” Until last year, I never knew about “bipolar art.” There are content creators living with bipolar who come from all over the world and display their art on Instagram. They opened my eyes to how creative our community truly is. For example, Chloe of Bipolar Creatives has an Instagram account that features artists with bipolar disorder.
Facebook: Since its launch, Facebook has kept me in contact with people across the globe. But what’s been really helpful? The groups.
Facebook “Groups” are “mini-communities” that users can join, and they’re based on topics of shared interests. If you do a simple search for “bipolar groups” on Facebook, you will get tons of results: There are big, general groups with thousands of members, and there are smaller groups for narrower audiences, often based on preferences (i.e., women only, support for family members, moms, faith-based groups, etc.). One of the groups I belong to stems from a podcast, which leads me to my next suggestion …
#2 Listen to Podcasts
I never used to be a big podcast listener. But then a friend enlightened me with the Bipolar Now Podcast, which is run by Mike Lardi. Mike talks candidly about “bipolar life,” with topics ranging from substance use disorder to forgiveness and everything in between. Members of its Facebook group talk about his topics and even open chatrooms for members to meet virtually.
Podcasts are a great option for those who don’t want to be on social media. Joining a community does not always mean having to interact directly. It can simply mean sitting back and hearing from people with similar stories or backgrounds.
#3 Find a Local Support Group
While NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is not “bipolar specific,” it still provides a wealth of information on mental health conditions and offers different resources. Depending on your location, there are local support groups of people who meet up in person or virtually.
I joined NAMI after a psychotic episode when I was postpartum with my middle son. This was prior to the world health crisis, so we were able to meet in person. The connection and love I found within the group members, regardless of our various mental health diagnoses, was overwhelming. By hearing their experiences, I learned that we are no better or worse than anyone else out there.
#4 Don’t Forget What’s Already Available to You
When we’re overwhelmed, it’s easy to overlook what is otherwise obvious. So try not to forget about the support system you may already have in place.
Professional Support: Finding a bipolar support community is great. But some medical matters should be discussed only with a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or a talk therapist. Don’t mistake advice for professional mental help, especially when it comes to medication management.
Personal Support: It’s also important to maintain your other support systems, such as your relationships with friends, family, and other loved ones. When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I learned the importance of realizing who truly mattered in my life. This is paramount. The people who truly mattered were those who stood by me through my substance use disorder, which led to my diagnosis and, now, to my recovery. Hold onto those who bring you hope.
And if there’s no one yet to hang onto, keep reading bphope. I know that by simply sharing my own experiences, I don’t feel so alone anymore.
Tiffany Romito is proudly from New Jersey and now resides in beautiful Washington state, outside of Seattle. She holds her master’s degree in special education and has been teaching special education for almost a decade. Tiffany was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder in 2013, after a long battle with addiction. With the help of her support system, therapy, and medication, Tiffany is now living her dream as a mom of four boys. Tiffany lives on a small farm with her pigs and goats. Her life on the “funny farm” and her mental health journey can be found at farmerish.org or on Instagram @tiffanyromito.
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