Life Unlimited Stories

Each month, 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 AllianceKrista Samimi

I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 24 years old. At that time, I was working as a pharmaceutical sales representative, was engaged and planning my dream wedding, and remodeling a fixer home. I lost sleep; waking up at 3 a.m. to call relatives. My mind raced and I had an exorbitant amount of energy. Along with grandiosity came a large purchase—a timeshare, which was later returned with the help of a lawyer. I experienced delusions that the FBI and CIA were after me. It was then that my parents took me to a psychiatrist. While the delusions went away, feelings of shame/stigma stayed, and my engagement fell apart. I went back to work feeling very awkward and out of place. I felt alone and different.

One year later, I questioned my diagnosis. I did little to educate myself on bipolar and began to tinker with my medications. Soon, the anxiety, paranoia, and delusions returned, with much greater intensity. That is when I got a glimpse inside the walls of a psychiatric facility. (No balloons and flowers here.) This stay only lasted 7 days, but recovery lasted months.

Upon discharge, a nurse recommended the DBSA Berkeley, CA support group. This group impacted me greatly—listening to others tell their stories, their struggles, I began to hear my own. Racing thoughts, spending sprees, direct contact with God…their experiences were mine too. I was in disbelief, but relieved. This was real. I wasn’t making it up. I was very healthy and stable for many years.

In 2009, stress from work affected my sleep and I didn’t have a plan to manage my symptoms. I was doing my best to stay above water, but over the course of two months, the symptoms were too intense, and I found myself in in-patient treatment again—this time for 72 days. By the grace of God, I recovered enough over the subsequent 15 months to return to a new, less stressful career. Since then I’ve also gotten married and started a family. I feel grateful that I could work closely with my ob/gyn and psychiatrist to have a safe pregnancy with medications.

I continue to stay well with the love and support of my husband, a daily yoga practice, and a collaborative relationship with my psychiatrist. I’m also helping to start a DBSA support group in my area. Some days are better than others, but I am grateful for recovery.

Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceCarrie Cantwell

I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder until my first depressive episode, which was triggered by my dad’s suicide. My dad had bipolar disorder too. Because of his illness, he was emotionally distant. Growing up, I was outgoing, productive and passionate. Sure, I engaged in some risky behaviors in college—like sexual promiscuity—but I just chalked that up to college. Then my first depressive episode knocked me down. It felt like I’d been dropped into a vat of cold molasses, and I was coated with a slimy film that covered my body and mind. I cried non-stop and I lost my appetite. I was unable to drive. All the things I knew how to do—even simple things like brushing my teeth—became foreign and difficult. I stayed with my mom (a psychotherapist) during my episode, and she took care of me—then aged twenty-eight—like I was her little girl again.

When I was given a diagnosis of Bipolar II, it seemed like a death sentence. I had the same illness that killed my dad. I started seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist. I tried antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers and anticonvulsants. I struggled with side effects. Weight gain, check. Weight loss, check. Sleeping too much, check. Feeling worse, check. Luckily, I found a cocktail of meds that works for me.

After a nasty argument with my husband, I took a bunch of pills and washed them down with red wine. Even though I knew how it felt to lose someone to suicide, there I was attempting to end my own life. I ended up in the emergency room, then to an inpatient mental hospital. Once I recovered, I promised myself I’d never go back.

It’s ironic that it took my dad’s death for me to understand this illness. By accepting my bipolar diagnosis, I’m able to make sense of my dad’s distance. He didn’t isolate himself from me and my mom because he didn’t love us, it was because he was mentally ill. And I see now that sleeping with dozens of strangers and attempting suicide were symptoms of my mental illness. My diagnosis taught me to forgive both my dad, and myself.

Someone once asked me whether I would get rid of my bipolar disorder if I could. My answer was (and still is) no. In spite of my illness, I’ve built a successful 13-year career in the film industry. I’ve also published articles about my struggle in several media outlets, and I have a blog in which I share my stories about living with bipolar disorder. I’m currently writing a book about my experiences called Daddy Issues: A Memoir. I have a strong support network of health care professionals, friends and family who support me in everything I do. I’ve made it through several major manic and depressive episodes, and I do my best to set healthy limits and avoid triggers. I’m living proof that a bipolar diagnosis is not a death sentence.

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Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceKatie Terry

Last April, I found myself in the office of a new therapist for the third time due to a homophobic comment made by my previous therapist. Mental illness had become my norm. I started having difficulties at seven years old. I feared leaving my house, going to school, interacting with people and had an overwhelming feeling that I was going to get in trouble for doing something wrong. Throughout the remainder of my childhood and college years, I was able to manage my symptoms with the help of family, friends, teachers, coaches and school psychologists.

Even though I had grown used to a life with mental illness, I knew things were different this past April. For a week at a time, I talked fast, slept less, took risks uncharacteristically and had difficulty focusing on one task at a time. Then, my mood would shift. The following two to three weeks would be filled with isolation, extended periods of sleep, crying and hopelessness. And then my mood would shift back again. Something was really wrong. I knew that I needed to find a new therapist immediately.

After describing my symptoms at the time, the therapist started to ask me in-depth follow-up questions. At the end of the questions, they stated my symptoms indicated I had bipolar disorder. My body got tense and my heart started pounding. I was scared of the possible effects a bipolar disorder diagnosis would have on my relationships with loved ones and my future. And fearful of how I would deal with the stigma. It took about a week of processing for me to accept my diagnosis and to feel relieved. Anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder—my previous diagnoses—were never correct. Bipolar disorder accurately addressed the entirety of my symptoms.

After almost two decades, I started to work towards a life of recovery with the correct diagnosis. For the greater part of the last year, I have made the intentional decision to focus on my physical and mental health. I see a therapist, acupuncturist, nutritionist and psychiatrist regularly. I do my best to sleep 8-9 hours a night, eat foods that meet my nutritional needs, exercise 4-5 times a week and maintain healthy relationships with my friends and family members. There are times when I find myself overwhelmed with managing bipolar disorder. I get frustrated that I am doing everything “correctly” and my symptoms continue to persist. I rely on friends, family members and myself to remind me that I am strong enough to deal with the rollercoaster of emotions associated with bipolar disorder.

I am 27 years old. I am in my final year of graduate school—earning my master’s degree in education. I work part-time at an elementary school as an instructional aide. I am a daughter, sister and soon-to-be aunt. I identify as a lesbian. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in April of 2018. And I am remaining hopeful as I continue on my road to recovery.

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Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceAmy Taylor

Despite my childhood years where I was diagnosed with ADHD, my struggle with mental illness began many years ago in high school during my sophomore year. Initially, I struggled with panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. As time went by, my symptoms became more severe and included mood swings, distorted perceptions, and paranoia. I was diagnosed with Bipolar I while attending college and responded favorably to treatment and medications, although it wasn’t always easy. I was hospitalized twice while in college and had periods where I decompensated which made working and school challenging to say the least!

The last decade of my life was overshadowed by certain challenging events (divorce, a family member’s addiction, and a difficult relationship), that initially derailed me, yet eventually set the stage for healing. These troubled times provided the opportunity to learn and to employ various coping skills to more effectively manage my illness. I learned the importance of setting boundaries and self care to minimize the impact my illness has on my life.

It has taken quite a bit of trial and error and many painful mistakes to ultimately learn that I needed to put myself in the center of my life and practice self-care and self-love. I still struggle from time to time with the symptoms of bipolar illness, but I am able to decrease the intensity of symptoms by leading a life where I not only put myself and my health first, I also have better boundaries that protect me from engaging with people that are harmful to me.

I have been fortunate to “push through” many difficult times in my life and was able to accomplish a MS degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in Therapeutic Recreation. I am registered as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) in the state of Washington. I have been taking a break this past year from working and hope to start my own business in time  as I feel it will be healthier for me in the end. I’m learning that in order for me to be successful while maintaining my health, I might need to do things differently than others and that is ok. I’m in the process of carefully constructing a small business model that allows for the flexibility and variety needed for me to excel while protecting my well being and energy.

Some of the activities I do to keep myself accountable to the process of healing are: mindfulness, walking in nature, blogging, singing on the SMULE app, attending weekly therapy & DBT skills group, and spending time with friends. Eliminating negative influences in my life has allowed more space to engage in activities that are healthier which minimizes symptoms.

I definitely feel I am a “work in progress”, but am hopeful now and am even excited about my future. I have always felt a little outside of the norm and in the past that made me feel insecure. I now embrace my differences and accept my limitations related to my illness rather than deny or fight them. The full acceptance of my illness has been a true gift in recovery as it has freed up a lot of energy that was used in fighting all the time and has allowed me to invest that energy into what is possible and what makes sense for me. What was once a dismal and bleak future is now full of joy and endless possibilities. Thanks for letting me share my experience with you. It’s healing to acknowledge that in the past I often felt my world was dark and now I see it in layers of color and possibilities. Being accountable and having better boundaries has been empowering and continues to bestow blessings in my life daily.

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Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceTerri Rimmer

Born into a dysfunctional family as the youngest of four girls, I experienced a childhood that shaped my future.

One of the earliest signs that I was having difficulties mentally was when I was 10 years old and my dad dropped me off at a house to spend the night with other people. I remember being hyper and obsessively recording all the songs from Casey Kasem’s Top 100 of the year, writing down each one.

When I was 12, I swung on a tire swing for five and a half hours straight—no bathroom breaks—at home with Mom and my step dad. 

At my worst, I was promiscuous in my 20s. I would also order items from catalogs that I didn’t remember ordering and write hot checks I didn’t remember writing. This was before I was diagnosed at 27 with bipolar disorder. Later, I found out through Mom in 2010 that I had been diagnosed at 14 but the doctors weren’t allowed to write that in a child’s chart.   

What helped me move from where I was then to where I am now was medication, therapy, sobriety, and work. Although I’ve had over 75 jobs and have worked since I was 12, only in the past seven years have I been able to hold the same job. I always knew I wanted to be a writer ever since the third grade, when I got an A+ on a story I wrote. I loved it and wrote every chance I got.

When I was eight, I was devastated to learn that my parents were divorcing. My older sister became my hero. She also became the surrogate mother in our newly formed mini-family. She fluffed my pajamas in the dryer before bed, sewed my scout badges on my uniform, comforted me when kids made fun of me, and read me stories. I concocted a fantasy world to counteract my childhood.

I’ve learned I can withstand a lot of pain.  I have judged people only to find out they’re dealing with a lot more than me. I can have a horrible, suicidal day, then have a great day and, with my gift of writing, I can give my daughter many words of comfort.

I stay on the right path by staying sober, taking my meds regularly, exercising, working with rescue animals, writing, pursuing my dream of being a writer again, working, making amends, keeping comedy in my life (since humor has gotten me through so much), helping others, and staying close to my sister.

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Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceJohn Budin

I am a psychiatrist with a practice in New York City and I have bipolar disorder.  My story is about the voices in my head.

For years, my bipolar closet door remained firmly shut. I think we all have such doors where we keep things that are painful, overwhelming, disturbing, and shameful. I was living in a castle with the drawbridge pulled up, wandering around by myself behind impregnable walls. Although I had been treating patients with depression and bipolar disorder for years, it had never occurred to me that I, too, was ill.

When I finally allowed myself to recognize this, I viewed myself as weak and pathological. My depressive periods would typically last a few months. It was a very physical illness for me, making me feel empty inside. Every aspect of my internal and external world seemed permanently dead. Although these periods were painful, my hypomanic periods caused me much more distress and have had profound consequences for me. When hypomanic, my brain is hijacked, taken over by a flood of neurotransmitters that transport me to places I haven't asked to go. I have thoughts I'd never have in my right mind, propelled into actions that my sane self would never do. It's like being taken, against my will, to a place of insanity where I lose my moral compass. No amount of effort, no amount of will, no amount of wishing or praying will stop this from happening, and it is deeply disturbing to be forced to surrender in this way.

And sex. I'm insatiable in my libidinous appetite. Although I am showing up for work and functioning every day when hypomanic, I am actually on fire. With the grossly impaired judgment that accompanied my hypomanic state, I was catapulted forward with severe consequences causing me to ask soul-searching questions. How can I ever forgive myself? How can I reconcile the guy who values decency, fidelity, health, and safety with the guy who has behaved contrary to all those basic traits? Will it ever be possible to reclaim my soul?

My journey toward acceptance and reconciliation began with the recognition that my health and safety, my marriage, and my career, were all at risk. I could no longer keep my bipolar closet door sealed shut. I began to wonder what healing might look like, and realized that I had to begin with the voices in my head. These voices give rise to two story lines: one true, one not. For me, there had been a loud and persistent shame narrative telling me that I was weak, sick, worthy of blame and contempt, cowardly, and immoral. This narrative was harsh, cruel, unfair and untrue. 

I believe that shame only survives in the dark. When we secret our truth away, when we are silent, we are confirming that we are worthy of shame. But what remains unspoken eventually becomes unspeakable. I have to claim a different narrative, one that is actually true. If I were treating a patient who told me a story like mine, what would I say? I think I'd be impressed that they had the bravery and strength to share it with me, and feel that they deserve understanding, kindness, respect, and decency. Rather than viewing them as weak, I'd see them as scared; rather than cowardly, as having taken missteps; rather than worthy of contempt, as being vulnerable. The conclusion I would draw, quite simply, is that they are human.

This narrative is both undeniable and freeing. So, can we step forward, find our voices, tell our stories, and reclaim our healthy narratives? Can we listen to kind, fair, reasonable, understanding, and decent voices in our heads?

These days, I am more persistent than the condemning voices, but I recognize that healing requires an ongoing effort. If we can just find our way to that fair and decent place, it's easier to find our way back when we are inevitably pulled toward secrecy and shame. If a blind man is given sight for a day and then becomes blind again, what he saw can't be unseen. Nor can we un-feel what we have felt.

I know that life can still sometimes carry me to places I'd rather not go. I now know that I hold no sway over my brain’s un-medicated neurotransmitters and the behaviors that occur when they rage. But my efforts to move in the direction of ownership, to come out of the shadows and embrace my story with compassion and respect, help me find solid footing. I'm trying hard not to be cut off from my internal emotional world and hide in the darkness. I'm no longer immersed in shame, living in silence behind castle walls. I'm telling my story and reclaiming my healthy narrative—and, in so doing, am both a care giver and a care receiver.

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Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceCarrie Hawes

My name is Carrie, and I've lived in Las Vegas my whole life. Since I was 5 years old, my life has felt like a constant roller coaster of chaos, although at an early age I gained some coping skills that helped me survive childhood trauma. I adapted to living in a constant state of “fight or flight,” and it affected everything from my parents’ nasty 10-year-long divorce process to my adapting to my mother’s and father’s opposite expectations about mental illness and substance abuse. I felt the immense pressure of trying to be an adult for my siblings while shielding them from the trauma that had affected me. At the time, I didn’t realize how much these childhood experiences would affect me as an adult, and I never recovered from them in a healthy way such as through therapy.

I was 14 years old when my mental health disorders developed. My behavior and thinking changed drastically around that time and, hoping to ease my intense pain, I made a series of decisions that were self-destructive. I developed a tendency to isolate myself; I was drinking every weekend. I couldn’t concentrate on anything: not school, not friendships, not even self-preservation. I battled daily my feelings of extreme stress, sadness, loneliness, and anxiety.

By 20, I was spiraling out of control because of self-destructive decisions and progressively scarier thoughts—symptoms of undiagnosed mental health disorders. Feeling completely out of control inside my own mind led me to the deepest depression I have ever had. I was scared and exhausted all at the same time. This wasn’t how I was going to live the rest of my life, so I sought more precise answers from a mental health facility.

It’s hard to ask for help, right?  But I am so glad I did: I had finally seen light at the end of the tunnel after 14 years. I talked with a doctor and was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder episodes, PTSD, and a severe form of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. But, after some time had passed, the treatment for these disorders wasn’t a great fit for me anymore. Again, I felt like I was stuck inside a body that I didn’t belong in, and I was terrified of my own brain. I had a no lack of control over my impulses, and my brain functioned at a rate of at least 100 mph. I always went to bed wondering what type of mood I’d wake up in. I wanted to give up, but that wasn’t an option.

Three months ago, I finally found the answer: I was told I’d been misdiagnosed, and that I actually have Bipolar 2. So, my journey continues—but in the meantime, I have become a wife and a mom, gone back to college, and am holding down a great full-time job.

I still have episodes and hard days, but the persistence to find answers and get help is what saved my life. I am in control of my symptoms now—not the other way around. I believe that all hard experiences can be turned into learning lessons. This one, in particular, has helped me stop comparing myself to others and to develop strong self-esteem. I have started to develop resilience to the adversities that come my way. I have hobbies again, I laugh with people, and I’m discovering who I am for the first time in what seems like forever! I was able to grow the most when I realized that happiness doesn’t start with a job or money: it starts with me. A resilient, positive mindset is a key to success, especially with mental health.

Bipolar, anxiety, depression, and PTSD are a huge part of me, but they don’t define me. They don’t define you. You will learn to manage your disorders once you receive proper treatment and have developed the skills, one by one, to love yourself. We all deserve that.

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Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceDr. Eleora Han

The best way I can describe my experience with bipolar is that it is like the movie A Beautiful Mind—minus the paranoid schizophrenia. The loss of insight and connection to reality were complete, and I found myself acting in ways that were unrecognizable to myself and those around me. I also began to experience extreme moods, some of which appeared beautiful, but which ultimately hid a vast darkness. 

The symptoms began innocently enough: although I wasn't getting much sleep, I began to feel as if I didn't need it anymore. My mind was “on” all the time and I was extremely productive in all manner of ways. Life held an incredible amount of meaning: colors seemed brighter, songs sweeter, and feelings of ease permeated my marrow. But soon, time began to move too quickly, as if I were on a crazy carousel. Ordinary encounters with predatory individuals I normally wouldn't have spoken to held strong cosmic significance. My emotional responses were at odds with those of loved ones around me. I began to experience symptoms of hypersexuality.

Left undiagnosed and untreated, bipolar will consume you alive. It destroyed my marriage, and I was left with the aftermath, alone. A year later, I discovered lithium. Taking it was like waking from a dream, only to find my identity, dreams, and everyone I had loved (and held dear) gone. I tried to restore relationships that had been broken, but I learned that sometimes they can't be. These are the brutal truths of bipolar: the dark point you must come back from. 

I came out of the darkness a different person, one with a renewed sense of purpose and hope. I was alone, and yet not alone. People who didn't know me walked with me through the darkness. Their kindness and compassion moved me. And although I had fallen, I learned how to pick myself back up.
Time reveals greater truths. It’s like flying a plane: when you’re close to the ground, all you can see are the immediate details. And yet the farther away you get, the broader your perspective is on what you see and understand. My own journey with bipolar has been like this. When I looked out at first, all that I saw was destruction. And yet as more time passed, I saw the greater truths of beauty and resilience. Of grace and forgiveness. Of love, what it is, what it means—and its power to restore and heal. 

It is with this spirit that I now write to share all that I have learned: that darkness will happen in life, that bipolar can be an awful monster to defeat (and one that must be continually fought back each day). But, through this process, something significant can be found—something life-giving, solid, and real. There is hope. Let’s walk through this life, and all the pain it can bring, together.

Dr. Eleora Han is a licensed clinical psychologist. Visit her at where she shares her perspectives as a clinician, patient, and individual with bipolar.

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Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceMark Sanford

I had a great childhood, playing sports and spending time with family. We lived near the beach in the South Coast of Massachusetts and I had access to all ocean activities growing up. I made a lot of friends and was very outgoing.

I graduated high school and had been very involved socially. It wasn’t until later in college that I started to show signs of anxiety and depression. I soon began to isolate.

After college, I got married and we had two children, but the stress of full-time work and the pressure of providing for my family became too much. I struggled to have important conversations without being confrontational and angry. I began using alcohol to numb myself and found it difficult to participate in life. In 2008, I got divorced, was hospitalized twice, and spent nine months in a psychiatric halfway house. I went bankrupt during that time, and then lived in the basements of family members for three long years while I was being treated for major depressive disorder. Due to the damage done to my relationships during the years of an undiagnosed and untreated mental health condition, I remain devastated that I have not seen nor spoken to my two beloved children for over 10 years.

In 2011, I went back into the halfway house and then went homeless in 2012, walking the streets of Boston and spending my nights on the cold basement floor of a homeless shelter. Also in 2012, I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder and PTSD. I was placed on the right medication and life has been a complete turnaround since then. I have my own apartment and car, and I’m grateful to have the means to meet my most important needs.

The pain of missing my children is excruciating. Not having any contact with them is a result of the divorce and an undiagnosed mental health condition.  I deal with the pain with positive distractions, meditating, working with a life coach and keeping in touch with family and friends. I have learned that psychotherapy, medication management, and having a strong support network are keys to my present-day dealings with bipolar disorder.

I have certainly had my struggles, but I feel I have overcome them through determination and perseverance. I now want to give back to others, show them that life is short and that we must be grateful for all that we do have. We need to take our mental health condition in hands and do what we can to take each day one at a time, step-by-step. My goal is to mentor people with bipolar disorder to help them avoid some of the same pain, struggle, and suffering that I have experienced. I want to live a life of joy and use my own personal experience to help others!

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Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceDave Asher

I was diagnosed with bipolar in 2006 after three years of psychotic behavior and multiple hospitalizations.  Drug use and manic behavior had been an issue, as in 2002 - 2005 when I lived in Amsterdam and then got fired, became depressed, and moved back to North Carolina to live with my parents.  In 2006, I finally accepted my bipolar diagnosis and got on the right medication. I began working full-time as a piano player and was able to maintain my position as musical director and teacher at a Chicago theater.

Music and improvisation have always played an important part in my personal discovery and healing. My song I'm Listening to You,” is a song about rediscovering life and “letting people in” after being hospitalized.

I was episode-free for about eight years until a few months ago.  Things were starting to get… well… TOO good. I began to decrease my medication and stopped sleeping.  Soon I was hearing voices again and behaving psychotically around my friends and coworkers.

Back to the hospital, but this time felt different. When I was released, I “came out” as bipolar to my friends on Facebook and shared with them my experiences around hospitalizations and learning more about myself and my path. My friends are now able to be supportive because they understand.

Below is are excerpts from messages I wrote on Facebook.

"When you show up at the hospital,” I wrote on Facebook, “the people admitting you are confused about what is going on. Furthermore, as a result of THEIR confusion, [you believe] they are trying to attack you: with needles, commands, instructions, and pills. As you first encounter the other patients, YOU believe that YOU shall save THEM too. YOU are the doctor, and the doctors/nurses/counselors have it wrong. But, over time, you start to feel that the hospital staff is starting to get it.... You start to have more normal conversations with the staff, who now seem genuinely interested in getting to know you.

Eventually, during meals and groups, you have a bird’s eye view of folks who are struggling inside their own minds and recognize that condition in yourself. By the time you are discharged, you get the sense that everyone, both inside and outside the hospital, inside or outside of a conversation, is playing both roles: doctor and patient.

No one has all the answers, but people do try to help others find their way.

My experience of readjusting, of getting my head and medications to a better place, has reminded me of the importance of listening, and of staying in touch with those who want to listen to you."

Now, I am determined to see my psychiatrist regularly, to stay on a better sleep schedule, and to NOT PLAY GAMES with my medication. That, and music, is my path to wellness.

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Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceAurita Apodaca

Even as a young child, I lacked impulse control and fear of consequences. If I wasn’t engaged and feeling like I was learning something new, I’d get bored very easily; I would start and quit things once I “mastered” them. I did this with the piano, the violin, acting, singing, writing, and as an adult college student. I dropped out of, then returned to, college more times than I care to admit. Jobs became an issue as well: I’m 45, and have had well over 30 jobs since I was 16.

As a teen, I was sexually promiscuous and engaged in other dangerous behaviors. I met my partner at the age of 14 and we are still together, despite the many separations I have caused. I have had many financial setbacks and done inexplicable things (waking people up at 2:00 a.m., making cookies and shoveling snow in the middle of the night, even disappearing for several days without telling anyone where I was).

After my diagnosis at 22, I started taking medications (due to a court order), then abruptly stopped the minute I completed my sentence. I remember being so sick that someone close to me said, “See, you are addicted. Bipolar isn’t real, it’s in your head. You’re fine, and the drugs make you weak.  You are a strong Latina woman.”

Twenty years later, I entered a manic state that almost led to a divorce. We were separated when my worst depression started. I somehow managed to get up and care for the kids, get them to school, and even go to work. I was in bed every night right after dinner, and often skipped showers to allow extra time for sleep. I lost my job and, as with past behavior, told no one. A year later I attempted suicide.

I talked myself out of a 72-hour hold when those close to me said it was an “accidental overdose” and that I’d be fine. For five more months I fought off the worsening depression, isolating myself and planning my next attempt. I became tired and admitted myself into an inpatient program. When I wrote about my experiences, I felt they were a family embarrassment that should not be shared outside the family.

Today I understand my boundaries and I maintain them. The people closest to me now accept my diagnosis, and I respect the boundaries of what they are comfortable discussing. I work in a mental health clinic as a peer specialist, and my clients keep me grounded. I have the best job in the world, a job I can retire from. At last I found a place where I can have a mental health condition and be accepted.

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Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceOlivia Eiler

I was very blessed growing up: my parents were happily married, I was never abused, and I never had to worry about where my next meal would come from or if I would have shoes to wear to school. I used to think there was no good reason for me to be diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety in eighth grade, but I now realize that mental health conditions do not discriminate.

I managed well throughout high school, where I was valedictorian and captain of the soccer team. When I moved away to college, two hours from home, in the fall of 2016, my depression hit the hardest it ever has. After my first semester, a suicide attempt resulted in a six-night hospital stay. I was terrified, but it was exactly what I needed. Isolation is among my most powerful symptoms of depression, but I found people in the hospital who could understand and relate to me. I returned to college for the spring semester with a new outlook. I had come out of my rock bottom; now I could survive anything.

In the summer of 2017, I started attending a DBSA Louisville support group, and I felt the same sense of connection I had felt in the hospital. I was afraid to leave my support system behind when I returned to school again in the fall, so I decided my best option was to start a chapter in my college town. This is how DBSA Bowling Green became the second DBSA chapter in the state of Kentucky.

I also discovered a passion for publicly speaking about mental health. Currently, I speak to members of college classes and Greek chapters about mental health issues, the potential consequences of not seeking treatment, and the resources available to them on campus.

Before my first few presentations, I was trembling at the podium; however, I soon realized that my message was much bigger than myself. If I could help just one person, my experience and efforts would be more than worthwhile. After my presentations, I’m often approached by individuals who are struggling or who have friends or family living with a mental health condition. These conversations continually reaffirm my belief in the power of both education and open, honest discussion. Besides, if I don’t share my story out of fear, I’m perpetuating the stigma that still surrounds mental illness.

My recovery hasn’t been a straight line, but it’s trending upwards. There are still days when I struggle, but the support of my chapter carries me through. As a sophomore in college, I have no idea what my future holds. My career goals evolve every week, and I don’t know what city I’ll settle down in. I do know one thing for sure: no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I’ll continue to speak out against stigma and fear of treatment. I believe these are the biggest barriers to wellness, and I want to be a part of the group that finally knocks them down.

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Depression and Bipolar Support AllianceNathaniel Hall

I believe I was born with a predisposition for mental health conditions and that substance use disorder triggered its onset. During my adolescence, there were several trips to the ER for substance overdoses. Soon I began to hear voices outside my bedroom door taunting me. I was so frightened that I would leave my room during the night and stay away for weeks at a time. I bathed in a nearby spring pool and slept in the back of my station wagon in a parking garage. I pawned all of my belongings to have money for food and gas. This went on for months until I voluntarily checked myself into a psychiatric hospital, which I did three times in a six-month period. I was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, a combination of a thought disorder and a mood disorder.

The emergence of my mental health condition was the first time in my life that my parents worked together as a team to help me with my problems. Their support led to treatment not long after the onset of my symptoms. The leader of the drop-in center was definitely an important member of my support system, and the center was a place for people with mental health conditions to go to find even an iota of meaning and purpose in their lives. It was a spark of hope for many of us, but when I arrived things were so bad that it was an accomplishment to simply play a game of Scrabble with a group of people.

For nearly 12 years since then I have been working in the field of wellness recovery. I have a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, received my Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP) certification two years ago, and am currently a certified Recovery Peer Specialist. When I feel overwhelmed by the mistakes I have made in my life, my feelings are quieted by the realization that I may have made a difference in someone else’s life today. There is a degree of irony in the work I do: many of the peers that I interact with through my employment are the same people I interacted with at the drop-in center years ago.

I have learned that I am a human being just like everyone else: I have real feelings and emotions, and I am a sensitive person. I know that I have the right to make mistakes, and I have the right to feel afraid and say, “I don’t know.” I know that if I keep working, utilize my support system, and always take my medication and avoid drugs and alcohol, I will stay on the recovery path.

Many people have to be in the darkness before they can truly know the significance of stepping into the light. Mental illness miracles emerge from delusions experienced in the darkness. I hold onto the hope that the unpleasant feelings and emotions can improve over time, and that darkness will become not just light but life.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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, 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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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