Peer Supporter and Mom Living with Bipolar Disorder

In this week’s column, I’m interviewing Deidra, a 30-something woman living in the Midwest. Deidra lives with bipolar disorder, on top of balancing a husband, two children, and a career. She is a peer support specialist and dedicates her time and talents to helping others reach recovery from mental illness, addiction, and trauma. Meet Deidra! (She’s #awesomepotatoes!)

What was your life like before you were diagnosed with bipolar disorder? 

At first, I didn’t necessarily think something was up, but as I reached my 20s (I was 24 when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder), I started to know that something was off, and eventually sought treatment.  Looking back now, I can recognize that some of my feelings, thoughts, and behaviors may have been early warning signs, but at the time, as a younger teen, I didn’t think much about it.

Did anything specific happen to make you want to see a doctor? How were you diagnosed?

While I was in college, I was having occasional intense feelings that seemed to come from nowhere. I was in distress and angry Other times, I was on top of the world and nothing could stop me.  It was in the midst of feeling despair and grief that I decided I had to talk to someone in a professional capacity.

I began counseling sessions to deal with the things that were bothering me and to learn how to move on and cope.  I was also put on an antidepressant, which helped me to feel better, then even better, then so amazingly good that I felt I was untouchable from any type of negative consequences and could ultimately do anything I wanted with no repercussions.  I began engaging in behaviors that were uncharacteristic for me, alienating people who cared about me, not sleeping or eating much and just partying a lot.

Woman living with bipolar disorder interviewed Mother and Peer SupporterEventually, I met someone who would become a very important person in my life (he’s now my husband) and became “unexpectedly” pregnant.  This was such a shock to me (because I truly believed I didn’t have to deal with consequences for anything) and it changed my life.

Had I not gotten pregnant, I’m not sure what would have happened. Looking back, I see that it was such a blessing and see how it got me to (1) stop taking the antidepressants that were making me manic and (2) brought me back to reality, so to speak. However, my mood disorder wasn’t ready to just let go that fast, and eventually I suffered from postpartum depression and had a suicide attempt because I felt like I couldn’t live with that kind of suffering. I felt like I wasn’t good enough to be a parent.

That was the most painful and shameful moment of my life, but it got me hospitalized and a proper diagnosis and into treatment so that I could actually learn how to live my life and cope with a mental illness.

How did you feel about the bipolar diagnosis?

I felt relieved. Finally, this was a real thing that I was experiencing. It all made sense and now I could be proactive in treating it.  I had my moments of feeling weird about it. I didn’t think I knew anyone else with it. I’ve seen media portrayals and I felt alone before I started attending a support group in the community. But overall, I was relieved to be able to get proper treatment options.

In your own words, describe bipolar mania.

For me, bipolar mania is like some kind of glorious and amazing beast. It’s full of amazement and adventure and beauty and wonder, but it also has the potential to destroy you and the things you hold dear.

Sometimes it feels like everything is perfect and wonderful. I have plenty of energy to get lots of things done and I feel powerful and fun and creative.  Other times, it can take on a darker side, where I’m full of all this negative energy and pressure is building and I feel like exploding and I’m irritable and agitated.

What is life like for you now?

I’m still a positive and happy person. I have a wonderfully supportive family with my husband and two children, as well as extended family and friends.  I have a rewarding, full-time job at a drop–in center supporting others with issues regarding mental health, addictions, and/or trauma.  My employment allows me to focus on my own recovery while supporting others as they find their own way to their personal recovery. It’s a beautiful thing.  Outside of work, I try to keep a good balance between doing what’s needed to stay well and being the best mom and wife I can be.  It can be busy with a 13 and 11-year-old but it’s so worth it!

What Advice do you have for others managing bipolar disorder?

Trust yourself to know when something is wrong, and trust yourself to know when you’re right. Don’t let others say, “Oh, you’re fine” when you know you aren’t.

Also, if you believe you are doing the right thing and someone tries to tell you that you’re wrong, or tries to blame your thoughts and beliefs on your illness when in fact it’s not related to your illness, stand up for yourself and be your own advocate.

Don’t let anyone, yourself included, use your illness as a scapegoat or as an excuse to justify bad behavior.  Remember, lots of people have mental illness – and other difficult issues – but it doesn’t give anyone the right to treat others poorly.

Gabe is a writer and speaker living with bipolar and anxiety. Interact with him on Facebook, Twitter, or his website.