Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceLife Unlimited Stories

Each month, DBSAlliance.org features new, empowering stories of individuals whose lives have been touched, but not limited by, a mood disorder. Our hope is to provide inspiration to individuals living with depression or bipolar disorder—to acknowledge that, though there may be dark times, there is also hope, and we are not alone.

If you would like to participate in our Life Unlimited feature by sharing your story, please submit your contact information.


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Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceElvira Gladys Crespo Castillo

My mother, widowed at an early age, was a teacher and I was her youngest daughter. She had to face life with three children in an underdeveloped country. She felt the best thing she could do for me was to enroll me in a sports academy.

I began to practice gymnastics and sometimes had collapses, but overall this experience ended well. Despite being far from my family, I had a happy childhood: I loved sports and enjoyed the way I gained capabilities. I was an outstanding athlete and earned silver and bronze medals in many competitions. I was an athlete until 1979, when I began my university studies.

At 21 I received a degree in Pedagogy (English Language), and began to work as a teacher in various levels of education as I sought to become a methodologist. I learned a lot because I never stopped studying. I was assigned to work as an interpreter and translator in a factory where I stayed for two years, but the working conditions took a toll on my mental health. I began to experience depression, anxiety and, most importantly, a lack of self-esteem. My mother was concerned about me, and at the same time I had two children of my own, a son and a daughter.

I consulted psychiatrists but received misdiagnoses. I suffered ups and downs while my children were growing, and needed hospitalization. The last hospitalization was in 2014, when I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder and received the right medication. Since then I have had to break the stigma about my condition. I never stopped working (since 1996), which helped me to realize that I could go forward, and I could apply the willpower that I acquired from my career in sports to help me succeed.

I have learned that I am capable of reaching my professional aspirations. Today I am 55. I have worked as a translator in a radio station for 14 years, and have work at a university teaching English to students in the fields of psychology and pedagogy.

My daily routine helps me stay on the right path. I had the chance to encounter DBSA, and I feel blessed for that. I usually read everything in each issue of BP magazine, I take medications, I get proper sleep, and I practice meditation, yoga, and Qi Gong. I am also a member of an Ishaya community, whose main objective is to go beyond mental limitations and to explore consciousness.  I also like to take walks with a neighbor to relax and be outdoors.

I am enjoying happiness and peace, and I wish to help spread them. Thanks to the universe!


Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceBryan Rich

Adapt. Improvise. Overcome....  This saying was powerful while I was serving in the United States Army, and it still is. I continue to live by this saying, and it has gotten me through some tough challenges.

Having grown up a country boy in Oklahoma, I was transplanted to the city―a typical kid enjoying my youth, hanging out with my friends, and playing sports. Of course, I knew everything and was untouchable, though actually I was probably a pain in the rear for my parents! I had an older brother and my parents are still together, so life was good, except for the part where I got my General Education Diploma. That’s right, I never graduated high school―and still would not change that. In October of 2000, I joined the United States Army and graduated Soldier Leader in my cycle out of Basic Training.

I deployed to Iraq in 2003 and served my country with pride. However, when I came home, I was different. I began to push people away, avoided situations that reminded me of being in Iraq, and began to isolate myself. I was always on-guard. I had been injured in combat and was Honorably Discharged in 2004. I didn’t want this: I wanted to continue to excel and become the perfect soldier, which is what I had been trained for. 

I was sinking and didn’t even care that all those around me were suffering too. My marriage was failing, and I was even pushing my kids away. I had lost all hope and was planning my own suicide. I had reached my all-time low and just wanted the memories, pain, and depression to go away.  

In 2007, I walked into the VA and for two weeks I wandered the halls. I was lost, and the only people I could find to lean on were my fellow battle buddies. We knew sometimes, without even talking, what each other was going through. I was diagnosed with PTSD and depression, and a laundry list of other things both mental and physical.

I found a Marine who guided me and helped me get the help I needed. I started treatment that day―actually, I started my RECOVERY that day. I started medications and classes, and began to spend time in the world outside. I found that spending time with fellow Veterans is the most powerful thing in my recovery, and I have spent time educating later generations of soldiers on PTSD and depression. I spend my time with others, giving back, living by the creed of selfless service I was taught in the military and growing up.

With my family’s support, I was able to graduate from college in 2010 with my Associate’s Degree. I worked hard and, in 2013, became a Peer Support Specialist for the VA, which has helped me become the person I am today. I learned that I am resilient and able to get through hard times. I am a loving person and enjoy time with my family. I am passionate about giving back to my fellow Veterans and my community.

I am Bryan Rich. I adapt, improvise, and overcome. This is how I meet the challenges that life throws at me.


Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceDavid Neuer

Is there a tipping point in a person’s life where the drive to be better, to never quit, and to throw off doubt enables that person to move forward with more momentum? To not look back in fear, to refuse discontent, to reject complacency, and to cast aside regret? To displace paranoia, to remove anxiety, and to experience life as a human being without them—or, if they do remain present, to understand the lingering distrust of a more complete identity?

I've overcome many non-physical obstacles like class, religion, even cultural differences, but it was not until I achieved my life-long goal of graduating from university that I understood the importance of taking medicine regularly, being candid with my doctor, and educating myself about mental health conditions. I saw the value of peer-reviewed journals, books, and online social media. I began to learn about “early warning symptoms” like insomnia or rapid speech, and developed support and self awareness to help me detect these signs before they occurred.

I gave a speech right before I graduated on “Fight or Flight Mechanisms.” The whole speech was about my passion for running cross country and track, of running away from problems at home or in school, of spending my healing time playing video games instead of coming to terms with emotional loss. In short, the speech was about how I choose “flight” as my instinct mechanism. “I'm a runner, I run from everything, instead of facing my fears,” I said. Looking back, I realize that I am a fighter: I fought for 10 years to complete my bachelor's degree; I fought through dropping out of schools and multiple visits to the mental health unit; I fought to reconcile my past and accept who I am as an individual; and, lastly, I fought to obtain the healing necessary to reconcile the stigma that accompanied my diagnosis. What did it for me?

It wasn't until after I was diagnosed that a sudden, severe depression accompanied my high anxiety. I felt worthless, like nothing could save me. I had neglected myself for so long that I was almost beyond repair. Then, I was gifted with a pen and a journal. I started to write down my thoughts and, when there were only fragments, I wrote songs or poems.

The process of writing is in itself the most therapeutic tool I have ever used in my life. If this writing accomplishes nothing else, it is to inspire one to pick up a writing utensil, start scribbling on paper, make notes, sketch pictures, doodle, anything. In doing so, hopefully, the process may turn into some success or grasping for a more complete identity, so that down the road one may look back and say, “When I wrote, I had some sense of belonging, of being and feeling, and that in that catharsis, it was possible to find hope to continue on through the drabness.” That is my only desire, for that is what saved me.


Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceSue Atkinson

Bipolar disorder did not become a part of my life until I was 34. While I had experienced several bouts of depression earlier in my life, it had never been so severe that I required hospitalization. I was the proud mother of two beautiful daughters and an 18-month-old son when mania rushed into my world like an unexpected thunderstorm. You see, one day I woke up with the inspired idea to start my own shopping business. Mind you in addition to being full-time mom, I also had a part time job, was a member of a moms group and was highly involved with the Parent Teachers Organization (PTO), yet starting my own business seemed like no big deal―how could I fail; I loved to shop! And shop I did; driving around and picking up anything I found bright and shiny. Then one day as I was playing with my kids in the yard, I saw my neighbor walking towards me, a good man I had known for years, but on that day, I was convinced he was coming over to kidnap my kids. After rushing the kids inside, I sat down in a chair and said to myself, “Something is really wrong.” These events led me to my first hospitalization, after which I had more than 6 years of relatively good mental health―years that I am extremely thankful for as they allowed me to be Mom to my three wonderful children―until my eldest was in fifth grade.

Then, triggered by many factors including the loss of a long-held job and some physical health problems, the bottom dropped out and started 15 years of almost annual hospitalizations, 13 in 15 years. It felt like I was either in bed or in the hospital. This was no life for me, or my family. My doctor recommended a DBSA Support Group. I attended and it felt like it helped, but some days, I just didn’t feel like I could muster the energy to go. On one such day, I pushed myself to go. It was Divine intervention because that day, the psychiatrist guest speaker introduced me to Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS). I was so excited about this new technology I immediately spoke to my doctor about getting a VNS implant and within two months I had one―and so began my journey towards sustained wellness.

I knew the implant was working when, within only a few months, I felt good enough to plan my daughter’s graduation party. A few months after that, I no longer needed my medications. I started engaging with life again. After my divorce, I moved to Tennessee for a year to live with my sister. I spent that time learning. I took a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) class. I took classes on facilitating peer support groups and started a DBSA Chapter. Life still had its ups and downs, but aside from a time when I had a problem getting a new battery for my VNS implant, I felt pretty good. After moving back to Illinois, I helped facilitate a DBSA support group. The organization has changed my life for the better by helping me learn so much about how to help myself and others. When the chance presented itself for me to start a new DBSA chapter at Linden Oaks hospital in Naperville, IL, I leapt at the chance and became the chapter president.  I continued my learning by training by become an instructor for DBSA’s “Living Successfully with a Mood Disorder” course. Teaching the course and leading the support group has become a passion of mine, and is as much of a wellness strategy for myself as for those in the group or course―helping others helps me! I’ve also tried to advocate for mental health by serving on educational panels and by sharing my story. Recently, my daughters and I shared our family story in a video for WebMD. I feel bad about the times I wasn’t there for my family, but I know I am loved and I am so thankful for the support of my children―the are my rocks!

I am excited to continue my education and advocacy volunteer work. And to spend time with my beautiful grandchildren. To others living with depression and bipolar disorder, I hope my journey can serve as an example that life can be good; that unexpected paths can lead to life changing discoveries; that peers and family can help you when you can’t help yourself; that learning can open new doors; and that wellness is possible.


Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceJeena Jodikinos

At an early age, I started to feel like I was much different than people around me. I’ve always felt that I have never truly fit in with the crowd. I guess a good way to explain it would be feeling like “a needle in a haystack.” I can remember having a lack of self-esteem as early as 10 years old.

My parents got divorced when I was 11 or 12 and that damaged me in more ways than one. Things got worse after that. I got bullied in middle school and part of high school. I was sexually assaulted and abused at 15. I became pregnant at 16 by the same person. I let myself down; I put trust in someone who only made my life worse and abused me in more ways than one. I finished high school with help from my family and graduated from a technical institute where I earned my diploma in the medical field. I somehow found the courage to get away from this man who caused me so much pain. Soon after high school I met a new man and fell in love. We got engaged and then married. I had the best wedding day and dress, just had the wrong man.

At 21 I decided to overdose and luckily I failed. Attempting suicide wasn’t the worse part. Waking up next to someone who still didn’t care about you hurt the most. At 22 I had a mental breakdown and was taken in an ambulance from work to a hospital where I was admitted to their psych floor for a second attempt at suicide. That was one of the greatest experiences of my life! With help from medical professionals it was suggested that I get a divorce, as the marriage was doing more harm than good. Again I had to find the courage to pick up the broken pieces and move on to something better for me and my child.

Along with the depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, I now also suffer with PTSD. Every day is a struggle, but everyday I’m getting stronger. I take multiple medications and have gone to therapy several times throughout my life. I’ve learned even though it may seem impossible to forget all the bad things in the past, it is possible to continue to get better. You have to SPEAK UP! It is impossible to get through any mental disorder on your own. Hearing others stories about living with a mental illness gives me hope as I hope that my story gives someone else hope. Just remember, as bad as things can get that the world keeps turning. Life goes on and you are the key to your happiness! As painful as it seems, all the broken hearts in the world continue to beat, and the one thing I’ve learned is time changes everything. We can’t go back; we can’t erase the damage that is done. The only choice we have is to keep moving forward!


Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceKristin Finn

Let the journey begin. I relied on two diaries from ages 10-20 to help recall details. Partying with friends to help slow my racing mind morphed into mania at age 15. Behaviors and actions did not resemble the Kristin I once was. The sneak attack followed and I lost all interest in hanging out with friends. This was a glaring red flag. At school I felt invisible and hid away in a library cubicle between classes and during lunch. How would I know I was imprisoned by the dark cloud of depression? Feeling scared and hopeless became my normal. I wanted my life to end to escape the relentless pain.

I transformed and became out-of-control and reckless with no insight or judgment. Consequences for my actions? I never gave them a second thought. I had a guardian angel! I lived a double life; lying to my parents was as easy as breathing. Eventually they took me to a psychiatrist and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at nearly 17.

I was relieved to learn that I had a treatable medical condition. There was a reason for my erratic behavior. Shortly after I started medication, I felt like God placed His hand on my shoulder and told me to have peace. I had no idea it could potentially hold me back, which was a blessing in disguise. There weren't any non-medical books about this condition and people certainly didn't talk about it! I'm grateful I have a supportive family who took the red flags seriously.

Striving for balance is a life-long journey. I'm diligent about watching for triggers that have the power to flip me into the oppressive dark cloud or excessive behaviors and agitation I feel with mania. Keeping a mood chart is critical because it helps me "see myself", especially when my conscience, judgment, and awareness grow dim. Getting plenty of sleep, having a routine, and exercise are imperative. My faith is my anchor.

When I'm gripped by depression or hypomania, I capture my thoughts to help regain control. I share them because I have a thirst for being understood. Refer to my website embracingbipolar.org, Kristin's Insights. Favorite entries are Balance, The Dark Cloud, and Depression—Taming the Wild Beast.

I talk with a therapist once a week because she helps me keep my thoughts and feelings in perspective. I struggle with telling myself stories about them. Redirecting and living in the moment makes a significant difference!

Co-facilitating the Grand Rapids DBSA support group gives me the opportunity to help people realize they’re not alone. Seeing faces when it connects that we "get it" is priceless. Watching family and friends nod their heads and realize they don't have to be silent sufferers gives me profound joy.

I thrive living with bipolar disorder. I've had numerous bumps throughout the 38 year journey but have noticed a pattern that eventually ends in contentment and peace. My passion is to increase awareness about bipolar disorder and depression and to decrease their stigma.


Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceSara S. Mushegian

I’m 61. And, I have really only discovered in the past nine years what it means to live Life Unlimited by mental pain.

Here is my story.

Over thirty years ago when our family was young, my husband, Dan, and I sought mental health help for one of our children. For years we tried various psychiatrists and psychologists and with them came drug prescriptions and talk therapy but nothing helped. In fact, our child worsened. As weeks and months became years, there was no doubt that our child’s depression and anxiety created a heavy burden on our entire family so much so that our quest to find help for one person became a quest for six. There were countless times when we felt we might never lift up our family to feel joy again because, unfortunately, it took many years (yes, years) to find the help we needed. Remarkably, it was right in our own backyard, so to speak. In my attempt to exhaust all possibilities near and far, I found a DBSA chapter in Greenwich, CT. The Group I discovered was founded by Dr. John Tamerin. There is so much to share about the blessing that this Group was and still is to my husband and me, our child, and our family as a whole but there is another part of the story I need to tell.

Throughout all of those years of searching for and finding help for our child and our family, there was another person among us who suffered silently but severely from depression and anxiety—for many years, in fact, dating back to her twenties. She remained quiet about her plight until one day when she could not suffer in silence any longer, she broke. I reference myself. I had one “breakdown” in the midst of my search for help for our child and then another several years later, a more severe one. I hid the first one. (Those of us in mental pain are masters of isolation.) But, the second one which was far more debilitating―I could not hide it. The difference between the two? Amidst the second one, I wanted to die. I never had those thoughts before. As painful and debilitating as the first episode was, the pain of anxiety during the second one was so severe that I felt hopeless that I would ever feel any bit of peace again. I thought that dying must be the only way I might know relief.

In those early days and weeks of this second collapse, I did not attend Group nor do much of anything except try to lift my head and find my place in the world. I was literally an anxiety-ridden mound on the floor and I wanted to flee from my own skin. I could not eat nor sleep. I could barely sit still from the anxiety coursing through every fiber of my being. But, in my therapy with Dr. Tamerin, I worked to try to rally―relentlessly trying to realign the out-of-synch gears of my brain. It was difficult and painful work, but through ongoing talk therapy with Dr. Tamerin combined with my own determination to recover, plus some medicine, I managed to thrust myself toward an attitude of hopefulness about life once again. 

Along the way, I returned to Group and despite my head still hung low from utter mental and physical pain, I could be present among my fellow Group members in a way I could not yet with others—because I knew they would understand my story and what I had endured. No longer did I attend my DBSA Group for our child or for my family—I was there for myself.

And just as it was when I sought help for my child, the Group performed for me. Their outpouring of understanding, empathy, and advice based upon lived experience guided me to help myself to recover. Honesty and human connection are never so deeply present, generously offered, and easily felt as within my Group. We share a deep human connection that is based upon our willingness to be vulnerable to our own truth and the truths of others in ways that not only aid recovery but empower us to thrive, to live robustly, and yes, to live life unlimited.

To bring my story full circle: during my therapy with Dr. Tamerin, he encouraged me to write, to keep a journal of my thoughts and feelings. I happen to be a published writer so you might think that writing and keeping a journal would be second nature. But, it did not go that way. Trying to write made me even more anxious so instead I just happened to try to sketch with a pencil. Remarkably, I was pleased by what I saw and even more surprised that the process allowed me to channel some of my anxiety. Very quickly, sketching was no longer something I did therapeutically―it became a passion. From sketching came painting, and together, an emerging career I had never imagined. During the ensuing years, I have created many works of art, some of which awarded me recognition as an emerging artist and in one instance, a second prize in a nationally juried exhibition in Sante Fe, NM.

But in the middle of one night in January of 2016, I was struck by an idea of how I could combine my art and my lived experience with mental pain to benefit others. In Group, Dr. Tamerin always encourages members to find their passion and purpose, and to be pioneers whenever possible. That night I became inspired to create Mental Health Greeting Cards that respectfully and compassionately convey understanding of mental pain. Soon thereafter I created Sara's Mental Health Cards, which relate specifically to people like me who live with depression and anxiety.

Approximately 20% of all Americans suffer from some form of these mental conditions and yet there is not a single national greeting card company that offers cards, which a caring person might send to this one fifth of our population. All of the cards I create feature my paintings or graphic designs on the front and the themes of each one reflect my lived experience with mental pain. With these cards, my goal first and foremost is to validate sufferers. My ultimate goal is for these cards to assume their place among the stacks of other greeting cards where and when their very presence will send a message that mental pain is as real as physical pain. For the millions of sufferers like me they are my way of helping to send a message about being able to live Life Unlimited.

Join DBSA Greenwich and DBSA national in celebrating the Life Unlimited of Sara Mushegian with a contribution and, in so doing, help to make the transformative power of peer support available to more people, not only in Connecticut, but across the country!


Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceAlex Hanna

Mental health challenges are no joke. They suck. Suffering with anxiety, severe depression, and ADHD has made "adult life" challenging. Not that it was easy as a child either. For me, an always-busy childhood helped keep everything in check. I would spend the school year going 100 miles per hour between school, sports, and other extracurricular activities. Then in the summer, I would work six days a week, work out seven days a week, and do all of the preparations needed to continue the high octane life I had built. Then, when I had the opportunity, I would completely crash. Zero miles per hour, clutch disengaged, rolling wherever gravity would take me.

I went to a top-tier college and joined a high-octane consulting firm after graduation to keep up the heat. 15 hour days? On the road 250 days a year? You bet! I still didn't realize what was going on. I was hiding my condition from work. But I couldn’t hide forever.

I got married, which meant that I was about to share my life with someone—and that I could no longer run away from my mental health. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the best gift anyone could have given me.

When I was 27, after years of erratic mood swings, periods of hyper-activity—always in “gotta-be-productive” mode—and days-long breaks from everything and everyone, I finally broke. Still traveling for work, I had, for the fourth week in a row, fled an entire state without telling anyone so I could come home and curl up in bed for multiple days. Daily panic attacks were now part of my routine. I wasn’t able to function outside of the 27 steps a day I logged on my pedometer.

I had been medicated for about three years at that point (and still am today), but had never thought to try therapy. My wife helped me find a therapist, and through that, daily life slowly became manageable again. I was back at work and going through the motions, but I still wasn’t “better”.

For the next year, I would attend therapy, build a mental health advocacy platform, work full-time, and go between being “fine” and completely depressed, to the point where I thought the best thing would be to end it all. But my wife, family, and friends were (and are) always there to support me when I’m down. The platform I built, Challenge the Storm, allows me to share my story and encourage others to do the same. I am not alone.

I spent months off of work learning to love myself again. What I’ve learned is that we all have a story to share; we must always love ourselves unconditionally; and that even during our darkest days, there is always a brighter day ahead.

The sunlight shines  
Shines so bright.
After the darkest
 
Darkest of nights.
You’re tired or fighting
 
Fighting this fight.
But tomorrow brings hope
 
Hope of new light.


Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceRachel Reed

Ever since I was a child, I felt different, too emotional for my own good. When I was fourteen, the feelings became too much, and my doctor prescribed an antidepressant. At seventeen, I was hospitalized for having delusional thoughts and hurting myself. It felt like I hadn’t slept in weeks, and the most terrifying thing in the world was happening. I was watching myself go crazy; snapping in and out of it like my brain was pulling some sort of cruel joke on me. Bipolar disorder was so difficult to understand. What did this mean? Was I going to be this way forever? I felt branded; ashamed of who I was, unable to picture a successful future for myself.

After I accepted my diagnosis, I suddenly found bipolar disorder to be part of my identity, even as a well-kept secret hidden from most friends and family. However, it made me creative and artistic. It made me see the world from a million different perspectives, depending on whatever mood decided to take control. In that process, I lost myself, or at least the person I wanted to be. I gave my mental health condition all the power and decided to use, “I’m bipolar,” as an explanation to myself.

My dream of becoming a scientist had fallen by the wayside, but this time I recognized I needed help. As soon as I worked up the courage to try to get better, I realized life did not have to be so hard. At twenty years old, I’ve confided in others and, to my surprise, have received immense support and acceptance. I’ve learned to never underestimate the love and selflessness of people. I’ve found the gumption to go back to school for biology with a neuroscience concentration. Maybe I can become an expert on the brain, and someday find a better treatment, or even a cure for bipolar disorder.

Another thing that helps me immensely is writing everything down. Now, when I feel an episode coming on, when I feel like I am going down the wrong path, I try to recognize those feelings, know that they are only feelings, and write them down. It helps me think more logically, even when my body is screaming at me to think otherwise. Also, I try not to let my health fall by the wayside. Therapy, effective medications, exercise, pets, and healthy eating have been important factors in my recovery.

Lastly, I try not to describe myself as a bipolar person. I have bipolar disorder—a chemical imbalance in my brain. It doesn’t make me who I am. I am who I choose to be. I keep on the right path by remembering that the most important things in life are not fleeting, and also by the support of friends and family. Being honest about the way I feel, accepting and loving myself, living healthily, and being determined to get help have gotten me this far.

 


Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceMergery Wachira

After living with bipolar disorder for ten years, I can see that God uses the struggles of a few to save the lives of many. The early indication that I had a mental health condition was at 25, when I suddenly stopped working at a pharmaceutical firm. This strange behavior started taking its course like a river. I would spend the whole day in bed and was so restless. I grew up with no known health conditions, so the thought of having a mental health condition, much less bipolar disorder, never crossed anyone’s mind.

Where I live in Kenya, Africa, staying in bed for the whole day is considered selfish. There isn’t much known about what it is like to live with bipolar disorder in developing countries. After moving to a new environment, things got better for a while, but then, I ended up in the hospital in need of care for a severe chest infection. While there, I was also seen by a psychiatrist, who misdiagnosed me and prescribed general antipsychotics that made me feel like I was in a constant state of “black-out.”

I was finally discharged, and with the financial and moral support of my immediate family, I was able to get back on my feet. If not for them, I would not have made it through the darkest times. I remember my Mom praying by me when I couldn’t get out of bed, repeating the phrase, “there is light after darkness” in our native tongue.

With the limitless efforts of my immediate family, I was finally correctly diagnosed with bipolar disorder in early 2007. This was the step I needed to get my life back and start heading somewhere. Finally, I was prescribed a medication that worked for me and I started to feel hope again.

When I felt better, I began working as a pharmacy technician. But by early 2008, the depression hit again for a grueling eight months, leading me to suicidal thoughts and nowhere to turn. In Nairobi, mental health services are highly neglected and misunderstood. There are no suicide hotlines or support and advocacy groups. Thankfully, my immediate family was there to help me find treatment again.

To continue to feel like I am participating in my life, I stay on medication and stay aware of my social behavior. When I feel depression’s force, I have to fight the battle within. When I feel like I cannot control what is happening within me, I have to struggle to control the way I respond and remember my inner power.

I’ve been living with bipolar disorder for ten years now. My journey is not about sadness, it is a journey to thrive and save lives. While mental health conditions are described as "foreign" in our developing countries, young people are suffering and dying by suicide from this "silent killer”.

I am the change I want to see in others. I have learned so much—the end of a single life can turn into a resurrection for many lives. Through my work as an education promoter, I speak about hope to teenagers in my country and volunteer with American doctors in various annual mobile health clinics. Mental health conditions might be genetic and chronic, but they do not have to lead you to end your life.


Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceSarah Bauer Hernandez

Having bipolar disorder has not made for an easy life. But within my pain and struggles there have been transformative gifts, that I honestly wouldn’t change it if I could. It has offered me the opportunity to create a meaningful life, the ability to feel compassion for others, and allowed me to discover the unshakable joy and gratitude that comes from having survived deep suffering. At 37, I am more fulfilled than I ever dreamed possible. In fact, I was certain I wouldn’t live past 30. For many years, I wondered if I was born to suffer. To be alive, healthy, hopeful, and truly happy is nothing short of a miracle for me.

Around age 13, I started to experience extreme mood swings that got worse over time. Within one day I would be giddy and supremely confident, then crash suddenly into worthlessness and despair. This split made it easy to live a double life: one was the smile I showed the world, and the other was a sharp, suffocating, secret darkness.

My secret self escaped with food binges began a decade-long battle with self-harm. My world continued to grow smaller and darker, culminating in two suicide attempts. Both times I lived and wondered why I was forced to stay here and be tortured. Desperate for a lifeline, I started seeing an irresponsible, cruel psychiatrist who further injured me in my vulnerable state. When I quit my poorly prescribed medications, I flew straight into my first real manic episode. I spun high into the stratosphere, and then like clockwork came the sudden, terrifying drop. This spurred years of maniacal ups and devastating downs, and I became completely disheartened and hopeless. Finally I was diagnosed correctly, but it took years to secure the right medication, psychiatrist, therapist, and self-care routine to create a stable foundation.

Discovering what I needed to keep balanced and receiving my therapist’s unconditional support built up my confidence brick by brick. To truly heal, I had to address my embarrassment for my very visible breakdowns, grieve the years I lost, love the part of me that felt defective, and learn how to trust myself again. I had to accept my diagnosis and its limitations, but also be willing to live bigger than that. My mental health condition forced me to question what happiness meant for me personally. If I wasn’t meant to die, how could I make my life worth living? I started opening up to the idea that maybe my life had been saved for a greater purpose. From this new lens, I decided to become a therapist so that my experiences could be used to help others. This felt both exciting and terrifying. I took a risk on myself, giving school one more chance. My success there was an incredible surprise, and I finally started to believe in myself.

Now four years into my therapy practice, I consider each day with clients a precious gift. Guiding others to find peace and empowerment, no matter how painful the circumstances, is my calling. The ever-changing nature of bipolar disorder makes you an expert at the art of riding life’s ups and downs, and it also cracks your heart open to allow you to love more fully. Maintaining balance and weathering mood disturbances will always be a part of my life, but this diagnosis does not have to be a life sentence. Instead, it can be an invitation to see the world in a beautiful, meaningful way, and to share your unique vision with others.


Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceRebecca Lombardo

At 19, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. From that point, life was a struggle. My moods were all over the place. I never knew what to expect. In my late 20s, I decided that I wanted to take my life. In the end, I just couldn’t do it.

After being committed to inpatient treatment on two separate occasions, and losing every job I ever had, I had no clue where my life was headed. Anyone that I dated dumped me due to my mental health condition. Eventually, I met the man that would become my husband, and we were married in August of 2001. He was there for me when nobody else would take the risk. In 2006, we moved into our first home and things seemed to be looking up.

Life changed drastically when my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer in September of 2007. I promised her I would be at her side for everything; and I was. She passed away in January of 2008, and my life fell to pieces. I was filled with grief that I was unable to overcome. 

In June of 2013 depression hit me like a brick. Overwhelmed by sadness and grief, the suicidal thoughts were taking over. I missed my mom immensely. I couldn’t cope with my life any longer. I cut myself and took an entire bottle of pills. Sensing something was wrong via text, my husband came home and took me to the ER. I stayed in the hospital on suicide watch for five days. I was then told that the state was having me committed.

When I was released, I promised myself that I would never put my husband or my family through any of that again. I decided that if I told my story, it might help people. By helping others, I knew I would be helping myself. I began writing a blog detailing my struggles with bipolar disorder.

People from all over the world have written me to thank me for coming forward. My writing has been the best therapy I have ever known. I continue to write my blog, and I’m extremely proud to be able to say that I’m now a published author. I consider myself an advocate for mental health.

Life is much better, but I need to be realistic. I will never know life without bipolar disorder, and medication will forever be a part of my life. I am OK with that. If anyone I know isn’t, I don’t need them in my life. I’m taking care of myself for the first time. I’ve lost a lot of friends and even family members because of my suicide attempt. Some people consider me selfish. 

I’m here to tell you that suicide has nothing to do with being selfish. Having bipolar disorder doesn’t make you selfish. Allowing yourself to find happiness doesn’t make you selfish. I’m 43 years old, and I’m living proof that you can succeed despite your mental health condition. It will take a lot of work, and you will stumble more often than you sprint, but it can be done.


Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceSheri Medford

Over the years, medications changed, counselors changed, locations changed, but the condition was always there—relentless. Bipolar disorder takes me to a place I call the Nothingness. Sometimes my thoughts are like a game show wheel that some outside force spins again and again. Sometimes, a darkening of my senses descends, causing my thoughts to fold and turn inside out. Thoughts come in slower and slower waves until they threaten to disappear entirely. It has been a daily battle for over 40 years, a battle I hope I will win and then someday die of natural causes and not the Nothingness.

Five months ago, my husband and sanctuary of love died of cancer. I feared the worst for myself. I made a list of hospitals that were okay and those that weren’t for when I fell apart—I was ready for the end. But that isn’t what happened.

When Bill once passed out during chemotherapy treatment, I called my brother Jim who lived four hours away. He said, ”I am on my way.” Ten days later Bill died at home. At that moment, a sensation something like energy rushed into my chest. It was a feeling of power and love and it filled me. I experienced a shift in how I viewed myself. And with that love and power came a calmness.

Jim helped me pack up and move to Gig Harbor to live with him. I have my own room, which is my art studio plus a bed. I wake up every morning with a great ache at Bill’s physical absence, but there is also gratitude that fills me and gives me strength. What Bill’s love taught me is that I am loveable, creative, smart, and funny. My mind is grounded in reality and the Nothingness has not swallowed me as expected. Daily I do what everyone who survives bipolar disorder does: I take my medications, manage my stress, create art, give of myself to new friends and my spiritual community, and, most surprising to me, I continue to draw on the strength of Bill’s love that still lives in my soul. This is not my end.

The Nothingness was like a wind that blew and bent me as though I were only a tiny tree. However, the years of persistence and the love of others have helped me grow into a mature tree; now that wind only flutters my leaves. A new artist friend said to me over tea, “You are so strong, so full of joy and peace.” I realized that no one had ever said that to me before. I felt that, yes, I can survive and grow in this world. I feel alive. I feel gratitude and that sustains me.

Sheri is the author of the Dark Side of the Mood and creates stuffed animals she calls Unity Babies to teach the concept of Unity in Diversity. She has been a member of the Baha’i faith for over 45 year and holds a master’s degree in health education and minors in art and dance.


Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceBryan Barks

One of the most emotional moments of my life was when I decided I was staying—when I took suicide off the table. I was stable for the first time in years, and as I stood in the shower in complete darkness, hot water and shampoo running down my back, I had a moment of clarity. I realized I was going to fully experience life with all its difficulties, heartache, monotony, delight, joy, and excitement. I committed to keep myself here, and in that moment, I cried tears of sadness and relief and strength.

I was 18 years old—a freshman in college—when I was hospitalized for the first time. For a year I had been taking different antidepressants which sent me into what my doctors recognize now as a mixed state. The on-call doctor spent about 15 minutes with me, told me I had major depression, switched me to a different antidepressant, and released me after 72 hours. A year later, after several more medication changes, I was back in a different hospital.

By this time, my life had almost completely collapsed. One month I felt like the most brilliant, productive, successful person on earth. The next month I was suicidal, convinced I was worthless and pathetic. I dropped out of college and moved back home. I slept most of the day and was suicidal during my few waking hours. All of the big dreams I once had for myself seemed completely unattainable. My mom would watch me sleep and cry, wondering if I would ever recover.

Unlike the first time I was hospitalized, the doctor at the second hospital spent several hours with me. At the end of my evaluation, I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. I learned that the antidepressants I was taking had likely made my moods more erratic and that my desire to do everything was not just a personality trait—it was hypomania. I spent the next few days talking with other patients—some of the strongest, most resilient people I have ever met— about their experiences.

Now, after years of therapy and the right combination of medications, I have my bachelor’s degree, live in Washington, DC, and have been able to pursue a fulfilling career. I am married to my high school sweetheart, who has been with me since the beginning of this journey and has loved me even when I felt unlovable. I lead a normal life, though I am aware of my bipolar disorder every day and often struggle with my moods, even in periods of relative stability. I am hyper-vigilant about changes in my sleep patterns, which often foreshadow a change in my mood. I am not the same person I was before bipolar disorder; the ongoing journey of recovery has made me stronger than I ever could have been without this illness.

Many people don’t like the word recovery to describe relief from the symptoms of a mood disorder; they prefer remission. I understand that. Even after diagnosis, I have changed medications too many times to count. When I’m depressed or overly energized, my doctor will add a medication, and when I’ve leveled out, I’ll go back to my baseline routine.

My doctors have always celebrated my successes with an asterisk. When you live with a mood disorder, there is always the possibility of relapse in the back of your mind. There is no cure for this condition, and I will struggle with it for the rest of my life. But to me, recovery means being able to live a normal life without the weight of the asterisk attached to my chest.

One of the most important concepts I have taken from treatment is that of self-efficacy—a belief in one’s own ability to overcome challenges and succeed in the face of adversity. Managing bipolar disorder—learning to take the positive things it has to offer and succeeding in spite of the negatives—has given me more pride, strength, and self-efficacy than any other accomplishment. I have weathered the most violent storms, and I’ve seen they always pass. When darkness comes again, I will keep hanging on for that inevitable shimmering light.


Karen Trudel Karen Trudel

I’ve always excelled in everything I’ve tried. In grade school, I swam on the YMCA swim team. Every time I dove into the pool to race or practice racing, I beat my own best time. But no one knew how anxious and depressed I was; I had very few friends. Even after graduating from high school as a member of the National Honor Society and then college with summa cum laude honors, I was still very sad and anxious. I’d also functioned on very little sleep in college and didn’t understand why.

I moved to another state after college graduation, trying to run away from my depression and anxiety, but that only made things worse. I had a really tough time managing a full-time job and started to see a psychiatrist. One day, I was at rock bottom and called my doctor, saying I wanted to hurt myself. Ten minutes later, the police were knocking on my door. They took me to the hospital and I don't remember much after that. My parents were called and my family was great about taking me back home to live them. (I hadn’t been an easy child to raise—the illness was there and there wasn’t a diagnosis.)

Once home, I had a really significant stay at a hospital that lasted for a month. I thought I was someone else entirely and was convinced that the police were coming to get me. It was there that I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychosis not otherwise specified. I was paranoid, thinking that the nurses were trying to poison me with my meds. They finally gave me injections to help me feel better. I would not eat, so they kept up my nutrition with an IV. 

My road to wellness actually began when I did get on medication. This was the very first step in a long process—I’ve tried many treatments. The medication helped bring me out of a psychotic state and since then I’ve used all kinds of therapies, medications, and ECT to get to where I am today. Looking back, I think the scariest part of my journey was when I didn’t know who I was anymore or who I could trust. But I wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world because I’m proud of the person I’ve become.

I currently work as a peer advocate, supporting people as they learn more about themselves. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. I can relate to them and talk about what has worked for me. Maybe someone will follow my lead and feel more positive about their life. Today, just as I’ve always done, I’m constantly trying to improve.


James BentonJames Benton

To put it mildly, my upbringing was pretty tempestuous. As a result, I developed woefully low self-esteem—I was inherently not good enough, no matter the situation—and grew from a reclusive young boy to an adult who struggled for a solid identity. I did not have meaningful relationships because I was never fully there. I could not accept love because if someone loved me, there had to be something wrong with them.

In spite of the vicious voice that had set up shop in my brain, somehow, somewhere, deep in my soul, I had a sense that I was good. This slight glimmer of hope gave me the strength to contact a psychologist and it was a crucial moment in my life. Through sessions with my therapist, I learned that I had clinical depression and that I was not an unlovable loser.

It’s said that knowledge is power. Now that I know about depression, I perceive it as Enemy No. 1. I have learned that the depression and the depressive voice constantly talking in my head are NOT ME. Fundamentally, I am optimistic and, at my core, a happy person. It’s just the crippling thoughts that cloud my perspective.

Throughout my life, and in spite of my depression, I have maintained a strong commitment to a fulfilling life. I knew there was more to it than the ugly thoughts that ran rampant in my mind—I knew it. I also knew I had a fight on my hands, a fight for a happy, purposeful, goal-achieving life.

Today I am ready to prosper and take on life’s challenges. I have been blessed with the love of my girlfriend for nine years. For me, this is monumental—a loving relationship is something I have never, ever had in my life. She provides a view that is opposite to my depressive thoughts. She encourages me and reminds me that my depression is not me. It is a blessing to be loved and accepted; from this place we can grow.

As I have moved forward in my life, I have developed tools to combat my mental enemy. First of all, it takes constant vigilance to overcome the negative voices. I frequently check my thoughts, asking myself “Is this thought congruent with the healthy goals I pursue”, and I build my resolve by meditating and writing in a journal. I cannot say enough about how effective meditation has been in my life. The practice of stilling the mind goes a very long way in identifying who you truly are. Meditation, coupled with journal writing, has given me clarity and hope for the future.

I will need this clarity, as I have been diagnosed with stage four cancer. Now, more than ever before, I need my meditation. I cannot afford to have my precious days clouded by depressive voices. I am a survivor and I know I will overcome the challenges that this cancer will bring. I know this to be fact because I am able to still my mind and move forward with dignity and grace.


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