How to Better Cope with Bipolar

Madeleine Kelly, author of Bipolar and the Art of Roller Coaster Riding, discusses how to limit the damage bipolar disorder can cause to your life.

Madeleine Kelly, author of "Bipolar and the Art of Roller Coaster Riding," discusses how to limit the damage bipolar disorder can cause to your life.

Madeleine Kelly, author of the ebook: "Bipolar and the Art of Roller-Coaster Riding" is our guest. She is joining us from her home in Australia. Ms. Kelly has been living with severe mood disturbances and bipolar disorder since the age of 16. She is very involved in being a mental health advocate and educator in Australia.

Natalie is the moderator

The people in blue are audience members.

Natalie: Good evening, everyone. I want to welcome everyone to the website.

Our guest is joining us from her home in Australia. Madeleine Kelly has been living with severe mood disturbances and bipolar disorder since the age of 16. She is very involved in being a mental health advocate and educator in Australia.

Ms. Kelly says that at one point, "Bipolar ruined my life. Over and over I'd get sick and whammo - rugged to the eyeballs, couldn't finish university, no job, debts to high heaven, kicked out of home, not even allowed to see my baby."

We'll be talking about: how to make informed choices about your bipolar treatment techniques to limit the damage bipolar can cause to your life, how to develop confidence to get what you need and not suffer discrimination because you have bipolar disorder.

Good evening Madeleine and welcome to our site. Please tell us a bit about yourself.

Madeleine Kelly: Hi Natalie and everyone. I'm in my mid-forties, and I live in a beautiful part of the world in the hills on a 5 acre property a couple of hours from Melbourne, Australia. I have a son who is 19 and studying at university, and a daughter in her second year at school. Both are happy and healthy. My partner and I are preparing our land to be planted with blueberries next year so we can be self-employed. In the meantime, he also works in disability services and I write and develop the website.

Natalie: The reason we invited you to our bipolar chat conference was because of your personal experience with bipolar disorder and how you have come to deal with having bipolar disorder. When did it start? How old were you?

Madeleine Kelly:Looking back, it started when I was about 7 or 8. I was diagnosed at the age of 26. I remember struggling to be happy for most of the time in my childhood and teenage years.

Natalie: What kind of symptoms were you noticing?

Madeleine Kelly:The symptoms of bipolar changed over the years. When I was about 8, we went to visit my aunt in the outback, and Mum told me later this aunt was horrified at how distressed and tearful I was every bedtime. We went to a family holiday to Europe when I was 17. I just could not enjoy it. No one, including me, had any idea what was going on. When I was about 20, I had headaches that couldn't be diagnosed. After that, I had stomach complaints, and apparently, there was nothing wrong. The symptoms were mainly bleakness, a lack of enjoying anything. I was over-eating and oversleeping. Later I got very upset and agitated. I couldn't make friends. After the idea of depression was suggested to me by a family doctor, I started to realise that how I was feeling wasn't necessarily the 'real me'. That helped a little. I was eventually tried on antidepressants (this is 25 years ago, so you can imagine the side effects!). They sort of worked a bit.

Natalie: What was life like for you during the initial stages of the disease?

Madeleine Kelly:I just tried to keep on going. I was in medical school and I got good marks first year, so-so the second year, just passed third year and had to pull out in fourth year. I was so upset I couldn't even talk to the patient, and often couldn't stop crying. So I took the rest of the year off. I went to work in an insurance company, and couldn't stop crying at my desk. During my uni days I felt totally out of it, it was hard to make friends because it was like I was totally distracted and not 'with it' enough to have proper conversations or be witty. In second year I realised I was upsetting the rest of my family and to make matters worse, my mother agreed! So I moved out and spread bleakness through West Brunswick instead of Camberwell!

Natalie: As time went on, how was having bipolar disorder impacting your life through adulthood?

Madeleine Kelly:In my twenties, everything was in chaos. Eventually I got married but that didn't mean settling down. I would be so agitated each morning I'd thump the tiles in the shower. I'd utter phrases involuntarily, and often loudly, stuff like 'Why would you bother? Sometimes I just screamed. I cried buckets when I realised I would never be able to complete the medical course. So instead I tried to carve out an alternative career in human resources with the state government. I would always bounce back at work but I'd usually end up losing the job. So each new job in my resume represents a major episode! Partly because of my out of control mood state, my first marriage failed and my baby went to live with his father. He came back to me 4 years later. I didn't know it at the time but I was experiencing classic mixed states.

Natalie: So with this chaos and sense of failure, what was your self-esteem like?

Madeleine Kelly:I just chuckled then at this question! Pretty rotten. I was convinced I was an utter failure and waste of space. I nearly succeeded in a suicide attempt. Other times I felt ruined were the loss of custody of my first child which was because of discrimination to do with bipolar. Countless jobs lost; countless friendships burned or not made in the first place; countless friends who couldn't cope with my disorder; separation from my current partner; separation from my son later in his life; continuing grief over a lost career in medicine; constant self-blame that I have not done as much with my life as I should have; hospitalizations representing months in drug-induced delirium.

But you bounce back. You bounce back because this is your own life, here and now and if you've got a problem, you don't moan or blame anyone. You just fix it, get on with it. You only live once, they say.

Natalie: What is your life like today?

Madeleine Kelly:I have tons of projects that I can do whether I'm hypomanic or flat. I operate my website and keep it up-to-date; I am researching another book; my partner and I are preparing to plant blueberries on our land; I am the active mother of a wonderful 19-year-old man and a very special little girl; I am married to my best friend and we laugh together all the time; I do small writing projects and at present I am working part time in a day education centre for people with intellectual disabilities. And I wonder, constantly, at how lucky I am. I work hard at cognitive behavioural thinking (CBT) every day to make sure I live in the moment, even while having plans, projects and goals.

Natalie: So that's a big change from before. Was there a turning point for you - an event, a feeling, an experience - where you can say "this is when my life started to change and I decided to take control?"

Madeleine Kelly:Yes, there's a story to it. In 1993, I was in hospital with two others with bipolar disorder. We spontaneously started teaching each other how we limit the damage of bipolar and stay well. I thought we could repeat this on a larger scale. So MoodWorks was born. At MoodWorks, we invited guest speakers to address people with bipolar and their supporters on all sorts of things bipolar could impact on - medicines, employment, discrimination, housing, banking and insurance, everything we could think of. I developed this over the years and included it in the first edition of my book. I now had a technique for spotting early signs of my illness in time to do something about it.

To summarise, I got onto the idea of educating people with bipolar for a better life. With MoodWorks and the step-by-step approach in the book, I had something of value to give to my community. I felt okay at last.

Natalie: We'll start with some questions from the audience now. Here are some of them.

seperatedsky : Do you take medication for bipolar disorder?

Madeleine Kelly:Oh yes! Won't go into details because that's not helpful, but I can say that like most people I tried going without. At the end of the day, I have a better, wealthier, happier life when I take the stuff, so it's a no-brainer for me.

Lstlnly: How do your kids handle your bipolar?

Madeleine Kelly:This is important. The 19 year old understands the basic mechanics of the illness. But he copped a lot of scary behaviour, which I tried to give him space to discuss / complain about to me and others while growing up. The little one has a way of thinking about it: "mum's brain is broken at the moment' and a strong attachment to other adults in the extended family.

eve: How often were the mood swings and did meds help or hinder you?

Madeleine Kelly:The pattern has changed over the years. Presently, I'll have a six week hypomania then about four months flat. The degree of distress/dysfunction is much less now that I'm on a really good meds regime.

thankyou: How do you deal with stress in reference to getting along with others when you've hit your breaking point?

Madeleine Kelly:I'm laughing out loud now, it's such a good question. I hide from people outside the household; I like to think that I listen to my partner when he says 'go for a walk' or 'pull your head in.' PRN medication (i.e. when needed) is so important in situations like that.

Dwarf: I would like to know if your husband also has a mental disorder, and how the two of you manage to keep your relationship going smoothly. Being the spouse or a family member to someone with a mental disorder such as this isn't always easy.

Madeleine Kelly:It would be inappropriate for me to comment on anyone else's medical status so I won't answer the first part of that. However, I do have experience living with someone else with bipolar. Provided you both are going after your own health (bipolar or not) and it is possible to learn ways of being happy even so. There's a page called 'caregivers' on my website which gives more.

Natalie: Madeleine, In your e-book: "Bipolar and the Art of Roller-Coaster Riding," you acknowledge that there are different paths to wellness, but you say there are ways to manage bipolar and live well. How?

Madeleine Kelly:Basically to get to first base, you have to acknowledge that you have had a problem that could return, and you would be better off if you did something about it. In other words, don't put your head in the sand. Or worse, turn into a professional manic depressive. Once you start thinking in a helpful way, you can learn to spot the signs of illness and put brakes and safety nets in place.

Natalie: As you, and I'm sure many others with bipolar disorder have experienced, there is a lot of wreckage that can result when the person and the disease are out-of-control. Damaged relationships. Excessive spending. Loss of employment. What techniques have you learned and used to limit the damage that bipolar illness can cause to your life?

Madeleine Kelly:The most important is to identify your own warning signs, and you can learn how to do that, signs that are idiosyncratic or unique to you - then devise some 'Brakes' to stop illness worsening, and then you can look at 'Safety Nets' just in case, so as to protect your job, work, money etc. You need to tailor your 'Brakes' to your own specific illness pattern. When it comes to Safety Nets, it's best to look at your own history of illness and loss, because those events often tell you what you need to do. I'll give 3 examples:

  1. If you're in a partnership or marriage, consider giving the other partner an enduring power of attorney or its US equivalent.
  2. If possible, get a month or two ahead in your rent or mortgage payments.
  3. If you know you get sick quickly if you miss a dose or two of your medicine, get to know your pharmacist (I think you call them some other name) and see if they will be prepared to give you a day or two's dose even if you have lost your prescription or it has run out.

It's most effective if you do this brakes and safety nets work as a team with a supporter and your usual doctor / clinician.

Natalie: One last thing I'd like to address and then we'll get to some more audience questions: discrimination against people with bipolar disorder or any mental illness for that matter. And by that, I mean how people - friends, relatives, employers - react to you once they discover you have bipolar. Have you had personal experience with that?

Madeleine Kelly: I have certainly had personal experience. Some friends stay the same but others pretend to be the same, only you can tell they are somehow distant. Others just say 'pull up your socks'. In employment, I've been unlawfully sacked, my contract not extended, invited for sham interviews, and shifted sideways. If like me, you live in a small town, your reputation will be history as soon as people know your secret. In that case, you can giggle because you have no reputation left to lose. Be as mad as you like! However, with relatives, you have to remember that life is a long journey! Some people in my family of origin seem to blame me for my actions while ill and haven't actively stayed in my life. Suits me. If someone doesn't want to continue a relationship with you, shrug. Maybe things will change with time; maybe they won't. Don't wait around to see! Get on with your own stuff.

Natalie: What can someone, and I'm talking on a personal basis, do to effectively cope with the stigma and discrimination when they come face-to-face with it?

Madeleine Kelly: First, remember you can't make anyone else change. If someone reacts badly to your bipolar disorder, that's their inadequacy, not yours. Next, define yourself by who you are, not by your relationships. Love yourself calmly and love your life patiently. Go after your own goals. Decide what's important for you. You can't avoid telling some people, so invent and practice a little spiel that explains but does not apologise. Separate yourself from the disorder at all times. Also, get used to telling half-truths to protect yourself and your reputation. With employers, never, never, never disclose your condition. If you do get sacked or demoted, don't bother to take them to court and waste energy being angry. Use that energy to get a better job or become self-employed. It's just not your job to be the knight on a white horse changing society for the better.

Natalie: Here's an audience comment:

misssmileeyes: great advice! TY! (On my daughter's behalf)

Natalie: Here are some more questions:

frustratedmother: I'd like to know how to help a child with bipolar who does not want help?

Madeleine Kelly:How old it the child?

frustratedmother: He's a 17-year-old teenager.

Madeleine Kelly: Oh boy! No getting around - it's hard. Sometimes you have to let disaster fall and limit yourself to helping pick up the pieces. That goes for any age. Often the best help is to let the person decide for themselves what sort of life they want but it is so hard as a parent to let go. I suggest trying to focus on living your own life in your own moment; also remind yourself that things will probably get better - somehow. Good luck.

Natalie: Here is a great question from Katie:

katie: If you are in a slump-and can't get moving in a positive way (depression has a hold on you), what techniques do you have for getting out?

Madeleine Kelly:Walk, walk, walk. Last thing you want to do, but it's now being shown that rhythmic, side-to-side exercise like walking or swimming is actually beneficial. Other than that, force yourself to keep going.

Lost2: If you get sacked from a job because they found out about your condition and you don't take them to court or at least voice the fact that you are aware of the reason, isn't that just like letting them trample on you; especially if it happens more than once?

Madeleine Kelly:Yes, and I have found it is in the interests of getting on with my life that there are certain groups and individuals whose behaviour I would like to change

lejamie: What methods, aside from medication, have you found useful when an episode strikes fast? What preventative measures did not work?

Madeleine Kelly:You would need to go over the lead-up events carefully to see if you could influence them to intervene next time. Sometimes though, people just get ambushed. I would recommend getting an expert psychiatric opinion on medication, as sometimes a simple change can help. In this situation you have to rely on your safety nets much more, rather than on stopping the illness as it gets worse. Is this helpful?

Erica85044: I have an 8 year old daughter who currently is without meds (the costs). Until assistance comes through, I have the choice of hospitalization. What impact do you think this will have on her? I can't lose another job and I'm very confused.

Madeleine Kelly:Erica this sounds grim, but I really can't comment as I have experience only in adult hospitals in Australia. I assume you're in the US because we have subsidised meds here.

Natalie: Madeleine, you mentioned not telling people at work about your disorder. Zippert, an audience member, wants to know: What about telling other family members and friends about having bipolar disorder?

Madeleine Kelly: Do they need to know? Do you need to disclose to them? Do you want to get them to realise all those 'bad' things you did were just bipolar? Well, in my experience people just say 'too much information' and rarely change there opinion anyway. Be careful, be selective in what you say and to whom you say it.

Natalie: Our time is up tonight. Thank you, Madeleine, for being our guest. You were extremely helpful and we appreciate you being here. 

Madeleine Kelly: Thank you and good night.

Natalie: Thank you everybody for coming. I hope you found the chat interesting and helpful.

Good night everyone.

Disclaimer: That we are not recommending or endorsing any of the suggestions of our guest. In fact, we strongly encourage you to talk over any therapies, remedies or suggestions with your doctor BEFORE you implement them or make any changes in your treatment.

APA Reference
Gluck, S. (2007, February 3). How to Better Cope with Bipolar, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 20 from

Last Updated: May 31, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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