My name is Kathy. I’m 50 years old and I’ve been dealing with bipolar disorder 1 for quite some time. What can I say? Nobody is perfect.

I remember right before getting my official diagnosis that something wasn’t right. At first I thought I was just exhausted and miserable, stuck in a marriage that was going from bad to worse, and things were just taking a toll on me. I think for most part I have always been a well put together person and suddenly in a matter of days after what triggered all of this, everything changed. I was experiencing all these emotions, crying and sad, and at the same time behaving completely out of character. I just didn’t feel like me anymore. I was all over the place, going out every night , drinking, spending, staying up all night and still was able to function. I had a feeling of being unstoppable and basically could do whatever I wanted. I started feeling amazing, like I’ve never felt in my entire life. It was exactly what I needed to cope with the situation that got me to act like that in the first place.

I can honestly say I felt happy, capable, very smart, attractive and confident - everything I grew up thinking I was not. Little by little, things started changing. I was sleeping in my living room to avoid sharing the bedroom with my then husband. I was having trouble sleeping, I would wake up in the middle of the night hearing voices. I remember walking around the house thinking one of my kids had left the TV on, or just staying up late making noises, but it was not the case. I would go back to the sofa and try getting some sleep, and I just couldn’t. There were all sorts of thoughts going on in my head, like a merry-go-round going at 100 miles per hour, thinking about home, work, my kids, my bad marriage, my always full to do list - everything all at once and then on top of that , those whispering voices that would just not shut up.

After many nights of that, I started experiencing symptoms of paranoia. Every time I was at work, I felt like everyone was on to me, talking behind my back. I was just falling apart. I was a preschool teacher and I knew the way I was feeling was not something I wanted anyone to notice, especially my students or their parents. I kept it together well and confided in my classroom partner and my boss.

Things never got better, and the pattern continued until I started doing research. I realized I was dealing with symptoms of some kind of mental condition, so it was time to see a doctor. By then I was at my very bottom. The doctor said I was at the verge of a nervous breakdown, and I needed to see a therapist for further evaluation. I was prescribed pills to help me calm down. I remembered discussing this with my kids’ father and didn’t get much of the support I was desperately seeking. I started doing lots of research online, going to the library trying to understand why I was even taking meds. After finally meeting with the therapist for a few sessions, I went back to the psychiatrist who got the report from my therapist. Ready for this? I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder, major depressive disorder, and anxiety with psychotic tendencies. Me, suffering with psychosis? That was probably the hardest to assimilate.

I was immediately prescribed all kinds of medication. I remember walking out of the pharmacy with four different prescriptions - thank goodness for insurance! I was told it would take days until I felt a positive change and to keep track of my long list of side effects, with the possibility of making changes and adjustments. I was trying to keep a positive attitude, but after weeks and experiencing horrible side effects and not being able to even wake up in the morning, I simply stopped. In a few days I felt myself again, and I really thought this whole diagnosis was just a misdiagnosis. I started feeling better. I was normal again, but I wasn’t the same person I used to be. I was a much different person.

I have been in and out of treatment over the last 15 years. I think the best part during that time was the therapy. It helped me a great deal to cope. The hypomanic episodes helped me discover a much deeper creative side I didn’t know I had. But the struggles were awful. I have attempted suicide four times and have been institutionalized five. I gave up my teaching job out of fear of not being able to perform as the good teacher I’ve worked so hard to become. I didn’t want to face being let go. I lost a bunch of people in my life that obviously were not the friends I thought they were.

My manic episodes had gotten out of control. I even got into a car accident that could had been catastrophic, made a handful of careless decisions, completely destroyed any possibility of ever fixing my already bad marriage. I ended up staying home, unable to reconnect with society, for a whole year. I must say I experienced a great deal of losses. I think my last suicide attempt, being the worst one, changed my outlook on life. It made me realize that as much as I kept trying to be gone, to protect my kids from my illness, I was hurting them. All I wanted was to free them from the embarrassment of my condition. I got so much support and was asked by my daughter to promise never to attempt hurting or killing myself again - a promise that I have kept.

Nowadays, after putting my life together, getting divorced and finding myself responsible for my life for the first time, I have learned to be more accepting of my illness. I have found ways to make the best out of bipolar, and know that no matter how bad, my episodes are always temporary. Using tools to help me get through my episodes, I have learned that life is worth living. I’m still me, just with a few malfunctions, and my condition doesn’t run my life. Episodes come and go and I have learned to deal with them. I met my now husband who handles all my ups and downs and has been nothing but supportive and understanding within his capabilities. Most importantly, he has given me the emotional stability I never had.

I left home and moved back to my native country, choosing a very small community in the mountains that is my home now, where I can finally breathe, where I finally have found inner peace and my true purpose: to be a voice, a listening ear, to do the little I can to help anyone out there who needs support. I’m taking a look back at my life and I’m ready to share with the world my condition and hoping to inspire others not to give up, not to lose hope. There’s always room for improvement. A mental illness is not the real obstacle to overcome things , we are! Bipolar Disorder vs. Me. I’m still here!

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