My Bipolar Journey
- Having bipolar is an ongoing discovery process.I’m Sue. I have bipolar disorder. And this is my story. Living well with bipolar is about learning what works and what doesn’t. You’ve got to really understand yourself, and it’s an ongoing discovery process. I even find myself going back in time to piece the various parts of my journey together. You can actually trace the signs and symptoms of bipolar back to my childhood. Here’s a photo of me with my brother and sister. (I’m the terribly cute one in the middle.) To put it gently, I was a handful growing up. I mean, my mom will tell you I just had this overabundance of energy. I played sports and had tons of friends, and she still couldn’t find enough things for me to do! I was decidedly more hyperactive than my peers, and even I was able to notice it.
- At 27, I went to the doctor and said, “Doc, diagnose me.”I was 27 when I got diagnosed with bipolar. I’d been having these outrageous mood swings that lasted for days at a time. I’d spend an entire day crying (literally, an entire day), and then I’d have a laughing jag. I was sleeping about two hours a night. I couldn’t focus at work. I should also mention that I had an aunt with a severe case of bipolar (at the time she was diagnosed, they were still calling it manic depression), so I knew all the signs. I walked into the doctor’s office and said: “Doc, I know the signs. I know it’s genetic. Diagnose me.” She did an evaluation and then cracked up, ‘cause sure enough …
- Performing stand-up comedy became a creative outlet.At the time of my diagnosis, I had just started performing stand-up comedy. I got into it after I’d been fired from a job (which tends to happen to a lot of us in the early stages of bipolar). A friend had dared me to take the stage, and it turned out I wasn’t half bad! Whether you’re manic or depressive, humor is fantastic. It’s a great outlet for your emotions and those creative juices. Everything seemed to come out on stage, and that was a positive thing for me. I’d usually walk off the stage feeling better than when I’d walked on.
- I’d been managing – heck, thriving – for 14 years. And then I lost my job and had an episode.Since my initial diagnosis, I’ve had just one other “episode.” I was running my own repossession company, and the truck I used for work was stolen. We had to fold. Emotionally and financially, it took me a while to bounce back from the blow. (To be clear, I wouldn’t call this episode “bipolar depression.” I think anyone in my shoes could have slipped into depression.) It would have been even rougher had I not been managing so well to begin with. What’s critical for me is learning about myself. How do I feel today? What sets me off? When should I call up my doctor? The more mindful and aware I am, the less likely I’ll get caught off guard by something catastrophic.
- I adopted Sadie Mae. Every person with bipolar who can adopt a dog should!Since I rescued Sadie Mae, she has become my go-to “person.” (So what if she’s actually a dog?) I think anyone with bipolar or any mental illness should adopt a dog. They are highly sensitive creatures who pick up the nuances humans often miss. If I’ve had a bad day, Sadie knows it, and she knows what to do. She’ll come over and bury her head in my lap. And that’s when I remember that everything’s going to be okay.
- I saved a horse’s life, but he saved me, too.One year after I adopted Sadie, I met Buddy. I was at an auction and determined to buy a mustang. But Buddy came out looking so sad. He had been starved and beaten by his previous owner. He made me cry right there at the auction. So I raised my hand and bought him. As it turns out, horses are even more intuitive than dogs. Like Sadie, Buddy could sense when I was in a bad place. And he’d always lift my spirits. (It’s no wonder equine therapy is so effective.) It’s funny, you know – I saved Buddy from this terrible life, but he ended up saving me, too.
- Getting involved in a supportive community will improve your life, I promise you. I joined National Alliance on Mental Illness.I got involved with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), the biggest nonprofit group in the country for mental health. Through NAMI, people with mental illness help others with mental illness. It’s such a neat concept, and I’m inspired each day by these people who just want to help other people. I wish I would have known about NAMI when I was first diagnosed. Having this kind of supportive community is critical for any health condition, mental or otherwise.
- I set out to make a documentary about the Bipolar Babes.Through NAMI, I met the Bipolar Babes. Well, that’s what we started calling ourselves, anyway. (Cute, right?) We set out to make a documentary about bipolar disorder that would be both digestible and entertaining. These women became my soul sisters! They simply radiate beauty and strength, and I have so much love for them. Oh yeah, and the film was a pretty big hit. We showed it to a bunch of people and held a Q&A after. The movie lasted 40 minutes; the Q&A lasted two and a half hours. Clearly, there’s a hunger out there for knowledge, and we want to satiate it.
- Bipolar is just a label. I started writing a children’s book to prove it.Reading and writing have always been hugely important to me. Recently I started writing a children’s book (and it’s a fantastic little story if you ask me, but I’m biased). It stars my dog Sadie Mae and my horse Buddy, both of whom I always found kind of funny looking. Now I don’t want to spoil the ending here, but the moral of the story is that ‘funny looking’ doesn’t have to be bad. The book is an allegory and a reminder that “bipolar,” “obsessive-compulsive” or “schizoaffective” don’t reveal anything about who we actually are. And for those willing to take the time and effort to find out, the reward is truly great.
- I haven’t missed a dose of my meds since they were first prescribed.When I was first diagnosed, my doctor wrote me a prescription that I accepted reluctantly at first. In mania I could be creative and productive without even trying. I could take the stage without writing anything down, and I’d kill it! It was great! But the mania would peak me so high that the comedown was almost unbearable. I told my doctor I needed my sanity but I didn’t want to lose myself. She said: “These meds will keep you stable but you won’t lose your edge. I can’t picture you without your spark.” She was right. And I’ve never missed a dose.
- Bipolar is the beginning of a different way of life. And I’m open with my friends, family and colleagues about it.At work, bipolar offers me the ability to think outside the box without really trying. And I’m highly productive, even on meds. But there’s a downside to the upside, too. I sometimes struggle to focus and can grow irritable easily. So my words of wisdom: tell everyone you know that you’re bipolar. Sharing up front eliminates confusion over your sometimes erratic behavior. Plus you’ll have people keeping tabs if it seems like you’re heading for a break. Remember to track your triggers, and learn to avoid or manage them. (Stress, frustration and certain people send me flying.) Listen to your doctor, listen to your therapist, and join a health group. Most importantly, don’t think this diagnosis means your life is over. It’s not. It’s just the beginning of a different way of life.
My Bipolar Journey