Performance & Presentation Mentor, Amplify Your Voice; HR Program Manager, Bank of Montreal 
Living with ADHD and bipolar 2 disorder

Although she had been managing her symptoms of anxiety and depression for several years, it wasn’t until a major life change that Avra was diagnosed with Bipolar II. Now, she successfully manages her Bipolar disorder and ADHD through medication, a support network, and a healthy lifestyle. She hopes that by being open about her own experience, she can help combat the stigma associated with mental health conditions.

Avra’s Story

Briefly, how has your condition impacted your life?  When were you first aware of it?  What was your most difficult time?

I struggled with anxiety/depression for years that I managed somewhat successfully through medication, but I didn’t know that these symptoms were actually manifestations of Bipolar disorder. Separately I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. At the time of my diagnosis with Bipolar, I had hit the wall very hard due to several major life transitions happening at once: I got certified as a coach, got married, moved to a different country AND changed jobs, all within 3 months. I was diagnosed with Bipolar II shortly thereafter and had 6 really difficult months as I transitioned off all of my meds and then adjusted to new ones.

What help or specific strategies helped you to get well and move to stability?

I was lucky enough to be able to take time away from work and have the help and support of my husband and family to bridge the gap to recovery. Also, there was a LOT of work on my part: understanding exactly what my symptoms were, how they manifested, and how I could catch them and cut them off if they started creeping up again; learning to make behavioral choices that I knew would support me being stable and healthy; making sure I’m keeping on top of my mental, physical, and emotional health; and regularly checking in with myself to gauge how I’m doing at any given moment.

What do you do to manage your condition and stay healthy on an ongoing basis?

A combination of the correct medications to manage my symptoms, as well as developing strong and healthy mental, emotional and physical habits (physical activities such as rock climbing, curling and dancing; emotional/mental habits such as meditation, journaling, ensuring I take time to recharge regularly etc.) to consistently work toward being well. Successfully functioning and living well for me also means making sure I don’t take on too much, that I treat my body and mind well (exercise, eating right, meditation etc.), and leaning on my support system (my husband and family) when things get particularly tough.

Are there positives that have come from having a mental health condition?  If so, what?

I’ve gotten to know myself better and am confident that when issues come up, I have the capacity to deal with them. I’ve become more open about what’s really going on with me and helped those around me who may not have had any idea of what mental health conditions really look and feel like. I also feel like I’ve been able to help others by sharing my story and help to clear some of the stigma around mental health/stability. I feel like I’ve overcome the “naysayers” who didn’t think I’d be able to bounce back and really thrive since my diagnosis.

How has your condition impacted your work and your career?

Since I was able to take time off to recover from my initial diagnosis, I developed a whole new appreciation of what it means to have a supportive environment to heal within and how having resources at my disposal to allow me to get better was a critical part of my recovery. My condition also gave me the opportunity to take a step back and really examine my career timeline, next steps, and choices with clarity I didn’t have before.

What encouragement or advice would you give to someone suffering from a condition similar to yours?

Make sure you’re properly supported. Ensure your meds are correct (i.e. spend the time with your doctor actually figuring out what works for you), rely on family/friends/colleagues/whoever in your life can support you, AND support yourself. Support for yourself really means making sure your physical, mental and emotional health are as strong as they can be by creating and following through on healthy habits on a consistent basis.

Also, it’s HARD to have a mental health condition, so my advice/encouragement would also be to take it easy and be REALLY gentle on yourself if something doesn’t work, or if you slip up or you have a hard time with something. Forgive yourself and move on. Everything is a learning experience.

Are there resources (books, videos, websites) that helped and/or inspired you that you would recommend to others?

If you’re new to meditation, try headspace.com. For ADHD-ers, the book “Driven to Distraction” by Edward M. Hallowell is a key resource, as well as “You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!” by Kate Kelly & Peggy Ramundo. For Bipolar, try “Welcome to the Jungle” by Hilary Smith.