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.