Me: What made you decide to write this book (Loving Someone With Bipolar Disorder)? What was your inspiration?
Julie: I remember standing next to my wonderful partner Ivan when he was in the hospital. He was often in restraints and could not have a coherent conversation. I’d never seen mania and certainly had no experience with psychosis. I remember one day after he had been in the hospital for a month I walked in and he said, “Hi Julie. How are you?” I was shocked as he had not been able to communicate very coherently for weeks. I said, “Hi Ivan! I’m so happy to see you. How are you?” He looked at me suspiciously and said, “I’m fine. And how is the baby you had last night?” There are no words to describe what it’s like to see someone you love so much be so incredibly scary. I said to myself- if we make it through this, I’m going to write a book for someone like me! The partner! The one who does all of the work at home. We made it through and I wrote the book. It took a long time as my bipolar took over right after Ivan got better. But I did it!
Me: How did you decide to become a writer for bipolar disorder and mental health issues? What other publications do you have or where can we find your work?
Julie: I started as an eBook author when no one even knew what the word meant. I started my website www.BipolarHappens.com in 2002! When I was diagnosed in 1995 I realized that there were two of us in a relationship with this illness and we had better figure out how to manage it successfully. Ivan responded well to meds I didn’t. So I wrote a management plan I still use today. It’s the plan in Loving and Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder. The full plan is on the website.
All of the writers I know either write all of the time or talk about writing all of the time! It’s innate. I have to write. Books ideas come naturally to me. When I was finally well enough to work part time, I starting writing books. Mania helps- but most of my work was written while I was depressed. Mania can be so scattered. When you’re a natural writer and then get into a situation where both you and your partner have a serious and the SAME mental illness, you tend to write about it. My original idea was to write about Ivan’s time in the hospital- but that was when I became more ill in 1995. I actually got out my notes and journals last year and thought about writing the memoir, but it was way too overwhelming. Who knows! Most people who write about bipolar write a memoir. I love writing self help books. I love anything I can put into steps and strategies! I teach writing- and I always teach similar non fiction. I get overwhelmed by writing projects, but I just keep going. I wrote Get it Done When You’re Depressed to help myself and others finish projects- and I had to use all of the tips in the book while I was writing the book!
My writing process has improved now that I take Ritalin and have meds that work. My ADD is still pretty bad and that affects writing project choice more than the writing itself.
As for publications: Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder: A Four Step Plan to Help You and Your Loved Ones to Manage the Illness and Create Lasting Stability (Time Warner) , Get it Done When You’re Depressed: 50 Strategies for Keeping Your Life on Track (Penguin) , Bipolar Happens! (Kindle) , Tips for Talking with Health Care Professionals, The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder (the basis of all that I write) available on BipolarHappens.com, The Idiot’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder by Jay Carter (I wrote the chapter on partners), columnist and blogger for BP Magazine, mood disorder writer for www.HealthyPlace.org, bipolar disorder expert for the Dr. Oz site www.ShareCare.com, original advisor to Claire Daines for the TV series Homeland, recently interviewed by Newsweek and PsychCentral.com.
My books are on amazon.com and my websites.
I started writing in 2002. I didn’t write as much between 2005-2011 as my depression became more severe. Now that I am doing much better, I have three projects to choose from. My issue is not writing- it’s focusing!
Me: Do you have any suggestions for those who have bipolar disorder and are looking for different job opportunities? (I think this one is more for my benefit lol!!!)
Julie: An incredibly important question. I need the info too! The most important step is to treat bipolar disorder first. You must have it basically under control in order to stay in a job. Work is a trigger for many people. Think of how people without bipolar talk about work! So we have to not only have the right job, but be prepared for the stress it may cause.
Many people are surprised to hear that I have never held a traditional job for more than two years. I can’t handle the work environment. It’s never the work is it! It’s the people who cause trouble and the overload of information and expectations that cause the problems. Also, when you get depressed, work is so difficult and when you get manic people think you are amazing until you spin out of control and lose your job! J
Here is what I advise: Go easy on yourself mentally. Most of the people I know with bipolar have work challenges. If you can’t work full time because of this illness, then you are in a pretty full club! Myself included. I got lucky in many ways in that I decided to write eBooks before anyone knew what they were. I had just broken up with Ivan (we didn’t break up because of bipolar disorder!) and had to work. He basically supported me for years. I knew I couldn’t do the temp work I did when I was first diagnosed. I hated it. It was demeaning. I am sure many of you know what I mean. So I started a jewelry making business. I worked hard on that business- and because I didn’t have the pressures of working with other people, I did ok. But looking back I see that I didn’t make as much money as I could have- the bipolar still took a lot of my time. Also, when you have a partner who is making money, you’re not as scared and stressed as when you have to do it all yourself. When Ivan and I broke up, I knew I had to support myself 100% and I’ve done that. But it has been very hard.
I remember thinking- I’m so smart. I have my degree. I’ve traveled the world and am so experienced in life. And I can’t work. I can’t support myself. It’s not fair. And it’s not. I know that being so ill the past few years has been hard- but I was still able to do a lot of my work such as coaching. Coaching is my most successful and most rewarding work. I won’t go into it here, but the coaching is explained on www.JulieFast.com/ this can help anyone who wants to go into coaching – it’s a very rewarding business.
Here are some questions: How much money do you need to not only survive but save each month? This includes all of your bills, etc. There are so many people who don’t know this number. I was shocked when I saw how expensive life can be here in Portland, Oregon! But this is an essential number to know. Then, how many hours can you realistically work? There is a point between effective working and then work that makes you ill.
The next step is to figure out the work that will make you the most money in the least amount of time. Before publishing took a nose dive, writing books was an excellent way for me to make money as I got an advance and it takes less than a year to write a good self help book. I don’t have that option now. So, I have to think differently which is why my next book will be sold on the Kindle only.
It’s all about finding your niche. What do you have to offer that people will pay for? This must be answered before you start a new project. Finding an audience comes first.
This is all business knowledge- but we have to take our bipolar disorder into account. I recommend an amazing book called Better, Smarter, Richer. I published the book a few years ago. It has been very successful and completely changed my life. I recommend it for anyone who has a personal business.
Me: How have your relationships withstood your illness?
Julie: It was super hard at first. I now have very, very stable relationships. It wasn’t easy. I write about this in all of my books and especially on my blog. My relationships are very strong because I don’t let this illness ruin my relationships. This takes a huge amount of self awareness. Daily and sometimes hourly self awareness. I had to teach myself to be a good friend and partner. Self honesty is paramount- what do people think about your behavior? If people don’t like you, why? I wrote down all of the reasons people told me I was too difficult. I also tell everyone what my symptoms look like so that they can point them out and help me. I don’t overwhelm people though. No one wants to hear about bipolar disorder all of the time!
I do have problems with romantic relationships-dating is very hard for me as I have panic attacks from the stress. I have friends who get stressed from dating- so at least I know I’m not totally bonkers! I will date eventually. I have no problem with the relationships themselves- it’s the dating!
I’ve never had anyone be worried or judgmental about my bipolar- they honestly don’t care and usually want to help me stay stable.
Me: I recently learned that you had the opportunity to work with Claire Danes while she was prepping for her Emmy award winning role in the show Homeland for her character who has bipolar disorder. What was that experience like? [ps – Claire is also in this months issue of Elle magazine talking about her role in Homeland]
Julie: It was great in some ways and very distressing in others. It’s the typical bipolar disorder dichotomy. This was two years ago so I was still in my long depression. When I get depressed I don’t care as much about things career wise. Of course when I get better I get very upset with myself! Claire’s agent called my agent and we set up a time to meet. I was at my dad’s in Michigan and she sent a car to pick me up and fly me to upstate New York. It was winter and near Christmas. I can’t stand this time of year, so that was a sign I needed to be careful!
I stayed at a small bed and breakfast that had no other guests! An extrovert nightmare!!! It was all decked out for Christmas and I felt very alone. I met with Claire- who is cute and nice and looks just like she does on TV. Her voice is amazing. She said she used Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder to study for the role and then asked me questions about how she could portray her character realistically in terms of mania. She knows how to do depression as I saw in Shop Girl. We talked a few hours and we walked down this street that was all decorated for Christmas. (Can you tell I equate Christmas with depression!) She had a party that night with her cute husband and this is when the depression started for me. I went back to that quiet as a tomb bed and breakfast and just wanted to get out of there! I took a walk and ate at an Applebees and did karaoke and felt better! I then flew back home.
Here is where the bipolar kicks in. While we were meeting, we talked about my watching a show’s recording and possibly reading the script. I didn’t do it. If you have bipolar disorder, you will understand. It was just too much. I didn’t put it on my web page or do all of the PR stuff any writer would do in this situation. I kept going with my regular work and that was all I could do. My coaching was more important in my mind.
Two years later Claire, her costar and the show all win Emmys. I watched and thought- this is what bipolar has done to my life. So many opportunities lost and so many years of work woes! Luckily, I’m out of that terrible depression and I simply reminded myself that I’m darn lucky to be alive and other opportunities will come along –and I will be well enough to experience them fully!
Me: Do you find it easy to help people who do not have bipolar disorder understand what it feels like and what life is like having bipolar disorder, or do you find it easier to write and/or speak to an audience that has bipolar disorder about the illness?
Julie: I work directly with parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. This is my favorite work. I always use examples in my own life to help them understand that what their loved one goes through is NORMAL for this illness. I know that helps. I also have thousands of stories about this illness- and they are all similar- so sharing these definitely helps people see that we are not freaky inside of bipolar disorder. We are all the same. I also point out that understanding a person’s behavior is not innate and there is no way a person can understand bipolar disorder is if they have the illness. This takes away a lot of stress.
People with bipolar disorder have their own language- and it’s very foreign to others! When we get in a room anything goes. Mania stories, psychosis stories, depression stories, medication side effects, ECT, natural treatments, work, travel, sex, etc. We could talk forever. My specialty is management- so when I do speak to an audience who has bipolar disorder I don’t have to explain as much. I show them strategies that work and then how they can start using the strategies immediately. If they are in my audience, they want to change. Unfortunately, those who refuse treatment or can’t see they are ill are never in my audience-this is when I meet the parents and partners.
I think I have the most impact on those who don’t have the illness. There is not enough information for what they go through. This is my true calling- to help parents and partners as much as possible. I have a newsletter for parents called Bipolar Disorder is in the House!
Me: How had writing these books and writing about bipolar disorder changed your life? Has it helped? Has it been therapeutic at all? Are there negative aspects to it?
Julie: It’s all positive. I’m glad you asked this question. I can rarely say something is all positive. It’s so easy for me to regret all of the books I couldn’t write. As I wrote before, if you look at the beginning of my writing career, I wrote books regularly. I then have a time with no books- those were the severe depression years. I was able to work- but not write full books.
Here is the reality: I’m lucky that I get to do something I love as a profession- the problem- as always is the financials of this business. The writing world has changed completely with the advent of ePublishing. I’m lucky that I have been in this since before the beginning! It means a change for all writers- and I like this challenge. I will never stop writing about bipolar disorder. As I get older, new topics arise such as how our bodies change and how this will affect bipolar disorder treatment- especially for women as they go through menopause. When I was depressed, I had no hope for my life. Zero. Now that I am better, I can see many more books in my future!
I think that all the work Julie does in the bipolar community is a TREMENDOUS effort. In our lives, there are people that sit in the background and don’t really know what to do, and then you have the people who yell and scream at the top of their lungs and are the voice for those sitting behind. Ask A Bipolar is a community that screams at the top of our lungs and encourage others to do so. Julie has been a huge voice for the bipolar community long before Ask A Bipolar and the word “bipolar” became a trendy word. I truly commend Julie for all of her accomplishments and all the work she has done, continues to do, and has plans to do.
Thank you Julie for bringing us into your world for a bit. You are an inspiration for so many people!!
Click here to find out more about Julie Fast and her other books and accomplishments. www.juliefast.com
Julie A. Fast is a world leading mental health expert on the topics of bipolar disorder, depression, seasonal affective disorder and mood management. She is the bestselling author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get it Done When You’re Depressed and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. Julie is a critically acclaimed national speaker, family and partner coach and sought after media source on the topic of mental health management. Her books have sold over 150,000 copies and her popular websites have received over one million visitors.