By Ambassador Kyla Forsberg

May is in full swing. Flowers are blooming, BBQ’s are firing up. And in the PNW, the trails are drying out from the constant rain we get in the winter and early spring months.

 Those of us living with mental illnesses also know May is Mental Health Awareness Month. During May, organizations and people join the movement to raise awareness about mental health. Fighting the stigma, educating the public and advocating for policies that support people with mental illness. Not just those living with it, but their families too.

 I’ve lived with bipolar 2 disorder all my adult life. However, I wasn’t properly diagnosed until 6 years ago. For me, mental illness has always been thought of as a negative. Something that makes people uncomfortable. Something that makes people look at me with pity, and sometimes even keeps people from wanting to start a friendship. Nobody wants the drama of inviting a “crazy” person in their life.

Some common myths are:

Bipolar disorder is just mood swings everyone has.
People with bipolar disorder are either out of control or depressed
There is only one type of bipolar disorder.
People with bipolar disorder are violent and dangerous.
People with bipolar disorder can’t hold a job.
Mood swings always indicate bipolar disorder.
People with bipolar disorder will lash out at you unexpectedly.

Actual facts about bipolar disorder:

People with bipolar disorder can experience periods of balanced mood.
Proper treatment and support can enable people with bipolar disorder to work and be successful.
There are different types of bipolar disorder. Bipolar 1, Bipolar 2, Cyclothymic disorder, mixed bipolar and rapid cycling.
Bipolar disorder doesn’t cause people to kill people, but it does kill. Let me say that again.
Bipolar disorder can kill. At least 25% to 60% of people with bipolar disorder attempt suicide and between 4% and 16% die from suicide.
With proper treatment, people who have bipolar disorder can live normal and happy lives.

Bipolar disorder for me means I can be overly dramatic, spontaneous, chaotic, intense, emotional, difficult, and obsessive. Just to name a few.Sometimes I have crippling depression. I can’t move. I daydream about dying. I have no hope. This is my brain trying to kill me.

Sometimes I can go days on little to no sleep. I start talking fast, my thoughts race from one thing to another. I’m full of endless energy.

Sometimes I’m stable.

For me, medication and therapy help me live a normal life. I have a great job, a supportive family and friend group, and a healthy way to cope.

My coping mechanism is riding my bike. When I feel like I’m losing myself, I escape to the woods. Long climbs with technical or flowy decents, drain my negativity, give me something to focus on and brings me joy. Admiring the view at the top fills me with gratitude. The beautiful sea of evergreens all around me and the mountain peaks take my breath away. Letting the power of nature fill me with peace and help me process whatever it is I’m trying to escape from. I’m fortunate to have this healthy outlet. One that fills me with joy, and gives me something to improve at and share with others.

One day I was venting to my therapist (aka the greatest therapist ever) about how exhausting it is to always be aware of my actions and moods. Sometimes my medication needs adjusted because I build up a tolerance. It’s annoying and pisses me off.

She said something to me I had never thought of before.

“You have to stop looking at your disorder as a negative thing. You have so many positive traits because you have this disorder. In a lot of ways, bipolar disorder is your superpower. You accomplish so much because of the beautiful traits you have thanks to bipolar disorder”.

That was a profound statement that sat with me. She’s right.

I’m kind, empathetic, passionate, creative, detail oriented, resilient and confident.

Having these traits help me excel at my job, share my love for biking with others, create creative content for my blog, meet new people, do my best work and above all, stay alive.

I love to help with women’s and co-ed group rides. I love introducing people to bike packing, I love the friendships I’ve made with other bike lovers.

When I start a project I’m passionate about, nothing can stop me. I focus all my energy, time and creativity into it. I look at every detail. Nothing can stop me. Sometimes this can waiver between passionate and obsessive so I do have to be aware of that. It’s something I’m still working on.

I’m not sure I’d call myself a superhero, but I do have a superpower. Bipolar disorder.

For more stories that open a dialogue about mental illness and bikes, visit my blog at bipolarbikechick,com