The four year anniversary of Carrie Cantwell’s dad’s suicide hit her hard. That day, she fell into a deep depression, went on disability from work and stayed with her mother. Her mom—a psychotherapist—took her to a psychiatrist because of her genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder, because her dad had bipolar disorder too. At age 28, Cantwell was diagnosed with bipolar II. Cantwell had always been hypomanic, but she never considered it a problem because she felt great. In college, she was quite hypersexual, sleeping with strange men and women she barely knew, all without thinking about the consequences. She also shoplifted once just for the high of it.
Now, 44, Cantwell, of Atlanta, has a handle on her triggers and symptoms. She writes about bipolar disorder in her blog darknessandlight.org. She finds blogs written by others with bipolar inspiring such as the ones on BPhope.com. She has gone to Depression Bipolar Support Alliance DBSA meetings, and has written for their newsletter.
“When I’m manic, I sleep four hours a night and spend a lot of money, even though most of the time I am frugal.” Cantwell said she could spend 6 hours at a thrift store and walk out of the store with $100 worth of stuff when she is manic. Online shopping has been a problem for her too.
During her depressive episodes, anxiety is paralyzing. “If I see a glass of water on the table, I am afraid of spilling it and if it spills it will be the end of the world.” She also cries more and feels lethargic. “Moving feels like walking in molasses,” she said.
In 2012, a suicide attempt culminating from a mixed episode almost ended her life. A mixed episode is mania combined with the hopelessness of depression. They can be particularly dangerous because the charge and racing thoughts of the mania can give one the energy to try suicidal behavior.
“My diagnosis helped me understand my dad. My mother told me when I was eight that my dad had manic depression. I understood that as he would spend lots of money and blow up at me for no reason. One day he was nice and the next day he was scaring me. It wasn’t until my first depressive episode in 2002 that I was diagnosed, because I was triggered by his death.”
Growing up an only child, she realized that this is a mental illness which affects personality and behavior. Her diagnosis and suicide attempt—in the end—helped her understand both her and her dad.
Cantwell is currently editing her memoir Daddy Issues: A Memoir about growing up with a bipolar father and receiving the diagnosis herself, which she’ll shop to agents in January. “This book is me coming out of the bipolar closet,” she said.
Her mother and her boyfriend are her biggest supporters in life. She’s known her boyfriend for 22 years and told him on the first date about her bipolar diagnosis, but he already knew and was cool.
“Sometimes he says calm down, turbo, in a gentle way, when I’m getting worked up,” said Cantwell.
Her best friend of roughly 30 years, who has anxiety issues, is supportive as well.
Cantwell loves knitting and crocheting mice for the kitties at the Humane Society, she’s vegan and loves vegan cooking, she does yoga, plays trivia at bars, and loves watching movies. Her favorite movie is Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
“My dad showed me that movie when I was a kid, and that movie inspired me to get into the film business,” she said.
For work, Cantwell uses her graphic design skills to create fake worlds for movie sets. She holds a BFA in Graphic Design, a BA in English, and a Master’s Certification in Project Management.
Cantwell works remotely, which she says is a healthy balance of not always being on a movie set. She makes worlds look real by designing fake products and signs.
She’s only told a select few colleagues about her bipolar diagnosis, but she doesn’t plan to hide it after her memoir is published. Her blog is also in her real name.
After all she knows that she is reliable. “I am reliable and I never quit a job.”
She is always hustling for work in this business, and she likes it. It keeps her on her toes.
“Working in my career for 13 years, I’m established enough now to pick each job I take,” she said.
Her bipolar gets triggered by the traffic in Atlanta. To avoid road rage she tries to avoid driving at high traffic times like rush hour. Daylight savings time can also be a trigger so she has to make sure sleep is priority. She has an eye mask and a white noise machine, and a portable white noise machine for when she travels.
You can read her blog Darkness and Light and find out more about Carrie Cantwell by going to http://darknessandlight.org.