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I have bipolar. I can live well with that.

What do Demi Lovato, Catherine Zeta Jones, Jane Pauley, Sinead O'Connor, Carrie Fisher, Linda Hamilton, Mel Gibson, Ted Turner, Patty Duke, Richard Dreyfuss, Jenifer Lewis, Sting, Britney Spears, Kay Jamison, Suzy Favor Hamilton and Chamique Holdsclaw have in common? They all have bipolar. This year Michael Phelps (depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts), Dewayne "The Rock" Johnson (depression), DeMar DeRozan (depression) and Kevin Love (panic attacks) revealed their struggles with mental illness. This shows that mental illness can touch anyone and any family. 28 Olympic medals including 23 gold medals and a drive and determination second to none didn't protect Phelps from severe depression.

I have bipolar too. I never intended to share my story. I always wanted to control my own narrative. I didn't want to be defined or even worse stigmatized by my disease. Many people have no idea about bipolar. I wondered how people would receive me. When Phelps, Johnson, DeRozan and Love courageously shared their mental illnesses, it inspired me. Phelps, Johnson, DeRozan and Love took a monumental leap. I decided that if they could do it and make a difference, so could I. Perhaps someone will benefit from reading my story.

18.5% or 43,700,000 Americans have a mental illness. Unfortunately only 19,200,000 receive treatment. There's no denying that mental illness and suicide are connected. It is generally accepted that 90% of people who commit suicide have a mental illness (usually depression) when committing suicide. The number of suicides in the United States has increased by 24% in the last 15 years. 9,400,000 Americans think about committing suicide each year. 2,800,000 Americans plan their suicides each year. 1,300,000 Americans attempt suicide each year. 44,000 Americans commit suicide each year. Among adults suicide is the 10th leading cause of death. Among 10 to 14 year olds, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death. Among 15 to 34 year olds, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death.

When there is a mass homicide, people assume that the killer has a mental illness. In fact people with a mental illness commit only 22% of all mass shootings. Most murders are not mass murders. In 90% of all murders only one person dies. People with a mental illness commit less than 5% of all violence including gun violence. If you were to take everyone who has schizophrenia, bipolar, depression and other serious mental health disorders off the streets, violent crime would decrease by less than 5%. People with a mental illness are much more of a risk to themselves.

I was diagnosed with bipolar in 2012. I think that I've had bipolar much longer, but there is no way to know. I have bipolar 2. I have had one or two manic episodes. I have depression and anxiety mostly. People who have bipolar 1 also experience more depression and anxiety than mania. However people who have bipolar 1 have many more manic moments that tend to be more intense than people who have bipolar 2.

It took me several years to get the right treatment. The first step is being diagnosed with a mental illness correctly. Only 25% of people who have a mental illness receive a correct diagnosis within three years. My first two psychiatrists didn't work for me. It wasn't until several years after 2012 that I was on the right track as far as my medications. I've been taking the same amount of lithium, two other mood stabilizers including one that helps me sleep and an antidepressant for a long time now. That's a lot of medication, but if you have a mental illness, you need to be medicated.

Like most people with a mental illness I had a hard time accepting it. The bad news is that all mental illnesses are incurable. Treatment is not optional. You can't outtough it or outgrow it or beat mental illnesses into submission. Let's say you have a mental illness, you're in a toxic relationship and you have an abusive boss. Ideally you jettison the relationship and the boss. You have improved your mood markedly in the short term. You still can't outrun your mental illness.

I've accepted that I'll have bipolar the rest of my life. Sometimes that realization makes me sad. However I have to remember bipolar is just one thing that I have, and I have so many things for which to be thankful.

The good news is that all mental illnesses are treatable. Look at that list of highly accomplished people again. You can thrive if you have a mental illness. Take a look at the NBA logo. It's a silhouette of Jerry West. Jerry West has had depression for many decades. He's very open about his mental health. West is considered one of the greatest players and general managers in NBA history despite having a mental illness since childhood.

It's natural to worry about the side effects of taking heavy medications. Many people gain weight. Many people worry that taking medications means losing their energy, their personality and their creativity. You become flat. It's been a long arduous process, but the medications that I take have not taken anything meaningful away from me. In many ways I'm a better person and more productive than ever. I've never slept as well too. I'm thankful that I have insurance, and I don't have to pay too much for my medications.

Much of what I do to keep my bipolar in check would benefit anyone. Whether you have a mental illness or not, most people could really benefit from talking with a therapist. My therapist, Carolyn Dozier, has really helped me with accepting my disorder and changing the way that I think. She doesn't judge me. When my Mom died two years ago, I lost one of my cheerleaders. There is no replacing my Mom, but I have a cheerleader in Carolyn Dozier.

I also focus on family and friends, nutrition, fitness, gratitude, sleep, and stress management including meditation. I have to stay on top of these things if I want to stay on top of my bipolar. Consistency is essential for my mental health. Not surprising everyone benefits from focusing on family and friends, nutrition, fitness, gratitude, sleep, and stress management including meditation. If I didn't have bipolar, I would still need to focus on these six things to be my best.

On average people who have bipolar live 9.2 years less. 30% of people who have bipolar attempt suicide. 20% of people who have bipolar commit suicide. If you have bipolar, you're 3.5 times as likely to have diabetes. 60% of people who have bipolar have a drinking problem. I have one kid. My wife doesn't have a mental illness. My daughter is about 23% more likely to have bipolar. I think about this often. If both of your parents have bipolar, there is a 66% chance you will also have bipolar.

These facts are daunting no doubt about it. Day by day I'm going to keep managing my bipolar the best way I know how. I hope I can make a difference in someone's life. Thanks for reading my story. Please pass it on.

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