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Living with bipolar disorder: Man inspired by his mental health starts nonprofit

Living with bipolar disorder: Man inspired by his mental health starts nonprofit
Posted at 11:03 AM, Dec 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-05 13:03:43-05

A man who has bipolar disorder is using his experience to fuel a nonprofit to improve mental help through volunteering and kindness.

Justin Kruger is the CEO of Project Helping — a nonprofit that aims to provide opportunities for people to build a sense of purpose and connection by volunteering.

That includes making 'Kynd Kits' with positive messages and helpful resources for someone in need.

"I started it based on my own struggle with mental health," Justin Kruger said.

"At a point where I was really struggling with my mental and had tried a number of treatments, I was invited to volunteer. And I went -- sort of begrudgingly, but I went – and found that the sense of purpose and connection that I got from that was really powerful for me in dealing with my own mental health challenges," Kruger said.

Kruger is living with bipolar disorder.

"I feel like I'm always coming into or coming out of one episode or another," Kruger said.

Bipolar disorder is a genetically-based mental disorder that affects a person's ability to regulate emotion. It leads to extreme mood swings – Kruger explains it as a rollercoaster with endless ups and downs.

Psychotherapist and author Michael Pipich says those peaks and valleys are referred to as manic and depressive states.

"We see symptoms including grandiose feelings and inflated self-esteem or high levels of irritability and agitation along with what we call 'decreased need for sleep' — which is not insomnia — in which you try to sleep and you can't," Pipich said. "A person in this manic episode very much doesn't want to sleep so that they can keep going because they're just enthralled with this high level of energy."

"It almost feels like a superpower when it happens because you can be so productive and get so much done, but yet it's so deeply exhausting," Kruger said.

That 'super' feeling is only temporary because then the depressive state kicks in.

"That's a period of days and nights of very deep depression where they feel hopeless and where they feel quite the opposite of what they were in that manic episode," Pipich said.

Pipich says they also have damaged self-esteem, they lose a sense of pleasure in their daily activities, they disconnect from relationships and they can often feel suicidal. Kruger says he deals with a lot of fear of the unknown because he never knows when an episode will hit, or how long it will last.

"And especially in the depressive side – like it feels like it's never going to end. Though it almost inevitably does," Kruger said.

Pipich says it's important to raise awareness of the disorder because it's far more prevalent than people even realize.

"We believe that up to five percent of the total population may have some form of bipolar disorder," Pipich said.

According to Pipich, recent studies show it typically takes 10 years for someone to be accurately diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Many people get misdiagnosed, and improper treatment can lead to more needless suffering -- especially if loved ones don't understand what's going on either.

Justin's wife Ashlee says he's the most loving and passionate person she's ever known, but there are days that are more challenging than others.

"It's hard because you're not quite sure sometimes what to do. You feel like you're almost paralyzed like if you do something a little bit wrong, it's going to be dissected, and it might spiral him," Ashlee Kruger said.

Since Justin has learned to be open about his feelings, Ashlee now feels like she can be the support system he needs.

"The best way I feel like I can support him is just by letting him know I'm there," she said.

And she also supports him in his endeavors to fulfill his purpose in life — which he found through Project Helping.

Justin says he's now living a life with much more hope and happiness. However, he does realize he's in for a continuous battle with ups and downs. But it's a battle worth fighting alongside the people he loves.

"There are things that work, and it's just a matter of finding them. And it's not linear you're going try things that'll work, you're gonna try things that don't. But you gotta keep trying," Kruger said.