Shared story from Elizabeth D.

 When you think of bipolar, you probably do not think of someone who has their Master’s degree and two additional certifications. You probably do not think of someone who has a successful career or is a mother of four. You probably assume a person with bipolar looks something like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or the iconic theatre faces with the smiley and frowny face. While aspects of each of those can be seen from time to time, it is not the norm with bipolar.

In fact, I bet you did not know 6.3 million adult Americans have bipolar. That is a little more than the population of Maryland (yes…the state). Can you imagine that many people running around like Mr. Hyde?! Even more shocking statistics show that 50% of people with bipolar will attempt suicide at some point in their lives; and unfortunately, about 15% will succeed. That means 945,000 people of 6.3 million will take their own life as a result of bipolar.

Also, please note, bipolar is not limited to the unsuccessful or even “normal” people. Some examples of famous people who have or had bipolar are Carrie Fisher, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kurt Cobain, Demi Lovato, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Russell Brand, Winston Churchill, Amy Winehouse, Mel Gibson, Ernest Hemingway, Kanye West, and Chester Bennington; and yes, some of these, unfortunately, fell into the 15%.

While I may be no Carrie Fisher, Winston Churchill, Amy Winehouse, or Chester Bennington, I am part of the 6.3 million adult Americans who have been diagnosed with bipolar and the 50% who attempted suicide. Luckily, I never became part of the 15%.

Like many people who are diagnosed with bipolar, my diagnosis did not come until I was 31 years old. My whole life, I have seen therapists on and off for what people thought was just a child experiencing trauma from parents divorcing, teenage angst, and a woman grieving a divorce. People always told me, especially my parents, I was soooo dramatic or to stop acting like a nut. I lost my first marriage and life-long friends not totally but in part to my drastic mood shifts.

It was not until I met my second husband that I sought help. My husband, who we will dub “C”, pointed out how severe my anxiety was and how my moods would suddenly shift unprovoked. I literally would go from laughing and smiling one minute to lying on the couch unwanting to move and sad for no rhyme or reason. When I went to the therapist, we spoke about typical things like childhood and current life events; but she noted my moods would be all over the place in her sessions. She recommended I see the psychiatrist and get tested to see if I had bad depression or if something else was going on.

Initially, my psychiatrist told me that I was showing severe depression with high anxiety. She said the results were not 100% accurate as a person can be experiencing something in that moment. The psychiatrist noted she would prescribe antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines and continue to meet with me to see how things worked. Our sessions continued and my depression was better, but it was still obvious something else was going on. She commented on how dramatic my mood would shift in our actual sessions and suggested I try a mood stabilizer. I question, “Isn’t that for bipolar people?”

Her reply was yes. She went on to explain the therapist and she discussed my interactions and moods. They both suspected bipolar II but wanted to make sure I was actually bipolar before putting it on paper due to the stigma other individuals put on the word “bipolar”. I asked what is bipolar II as I had no idea there was a type I or II. She answered bipolar II individuals have fewer moments of mania (extreme happiness that can result in risky behavior) and longer periods or more frequent periods of depression. She said if I am really bipolar like they believe, the medicine will work with maybe some minor dosage changes needed.

I picked up the medicine later that day and within a week, there was a change. People were commenting on how I appeared to be happier and not so all over the place. I felt happier and more in control of my moods and my day. The medicine helped me achieve what I had been missing, control over me.

Now the medicine is not failproof, as some days there is nothing that can stop the tidal wave that lurks in the shadows, but it helps to make those tidal waves not so frequent. Some people may wonder what causes bipolar or why can’t someone just snap out of it. While doctors and scientists are still studying the disorder, they do know that it appears as a malformation on a person’s genes. They also believe that bipolar can be passed down showing up in other family members, and lastly, they believe that bipolar can remain dormant in an individual but triggered with outside traumatic factors. In other words, people DO NOT CHOOSE to be bipolar. Bipolar is a disorder. A disorder that should be taken more seriously and not stigmatized so maybe that 15% will drop and keep dropping until 0%. That is my hope is writing this and sharing tidbits of my story.