Living with Bipolar – a #HoldOnToTheLight post

People sometimes ask me how I’m so productive, how I manage to turn out a novella every month, plus run a publishing company, and do a couple of podcasts each month, and attend an average of 1.5 conventions each month, and do all the other shit I do.

The answer is – productivity through mental illness.

No joke, no bullshit, I am mentally ill and that is how I get so much shit done.

When I am able to do anything at all.

I self-diagnosed myself with depression when I was a teenager. I didn’t go see a doctor, or talk to a therapist, or do anything healthy to deal with it for almost thirty years. Last year, after dealing with depression for years, and after realizing that it wasn’t just depression, but I also had episodes of super-manic activity that were often equally damaging to my life, I self-diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder. This is not the bipolar that leads to throwing things in tantrums, or driving across multiple states wearing a diaper to murder the spouse of your astronaut lover. That’s Bipolar I.

This is the bipolar that vacillates more slowly, sometimes having month-long or multiple months-long episodes of depression, alternating with equally long episodes of mania. The depressive episodes are marked by hypersomnolence (sleeping all the time), lack of enjoyment in things you generally enjoy, lack of energy, and general malaise. The manic episodes are marked by lack of sleep, irritability, judgmental tendencies, waspishness, and hyperproductivity.

After a couple of meetings with a psychologist and some testing, my personal diagnosis was confirmed, and added to – ADHD along with Bipolar II. So I went on drugs. I take one pill every morning, and the idea is just to keep my shit regulated, to knock the tops off the highs and the bottoms off the lows. As I said to my GP, who is the one I talk to now about my meds, I’m not currently under psychiatric care (although given the fact that I don’t think I need it, I probably do), I just want to keep life on a range between a 3 and a 9, instead of a 1 to a 12.

The drugs I’m on haven’t done much to mitigate the current manic episode, I still don’t often sleep more than five hours each night, but I am less irritable, so that’s something. What the drugs have done is really helped with the depressive episodes. I had a pretty rough depressive episode in November, then another in January. December was okay, and February was pretty level. I was still able to work during November and January, and that’s probably mostly thanks to the drugs. In the past, when I had a depressive incident, I didn’t write at all, and that’s no good for someone with as many deadlines as I have, and someone who lives month-to-month from the fruits of their writing. A period last summer of no writing made for a couple of very tight months in the early fall.

About halfway through February, I felt the restlessness start to pick up, and I knew I was coming into a manic time. So I upped my daily word count, and I’m now writing as fast as I can to take advantage of the illness. That’s my current coping mechanism – when I’m feeling manic, I write as much as I can as fast as I can, that way I have stuff stored up for when I come down. It helps me stay productive, and keep getting paid, which the people that hold my mortgage appreciate. It’s just another part of living with a mental illness – learning the coping mechanisms.

I owe a lot to a couple of people in particular for their part in me getting help. Wil Wheaton released a video about his depression and anxiety that was really influential, and Jim C. Hines wrote a blog post about his fears of going on medication, which mirrored my own, and his positive experiences. Those two things really pushed me to get help, which lets me continue to bring people the stories that they hopefully love. So if you don’t feel right, find someone to talk to. If you can’t afford a doctor, try a clinic. If there isn’t a clinic around, ask around for a patient minister. If you don’t like church, call a hotline. Or phone a friend. There have been too many statistics. You don’t need to be one.


Words from Gail Z. Martin, founder of #HoldOnToTheLight –

#HoldOnToTheLight was inspired by #AKF #AlwaysKeepFighting, a campaign from the Supernatural TV show fandom (

#AlwaysKeepFighting #AKF showed the reach media stars have when they talk about issues, and I wondered what would happen if genre authors opened a similar conversation. I recruited my usual partners in crime—John Hartness, Misty Massey, Jaym Gates, Jean Marie Ward, Emily Leverett and my husband, Larry N. Martin—as the steering committee, and we started asking our colleagues and author friends to join us.

The result? More than 100 science fiction, fantasy, horror, paranormal romance and speculative fiction authors are part of #HoldOnToTheLight—and the outreach grows every day.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to and join us on Facebook

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2 thoughts on “Living with Bipolar – a #HoldOnToTheLight post

  1. John, Thank you so much for sharing your experience. My daughter has BiPolar II, Depression, Anxiety and PTSD. I have Depression and Anxiety. There has also been so much stigma surrounding mental illness. That is finally beginning to change because of people like you and Mr. Wheaton speaking out. The Harker series, ebook and audio especially, has been such a joy for me on those days when I just cannot deal with anything. Thank you for sharing your talent and your experience. It means a lot.

  2. My husband also has Bipolar II disorder. Even with his meds, he can’t function that well. I love your books! God Bless!!!

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