Peer Support Specialist
Living with bipolar disorder

Deborah Rosales-Elkins struggled with her mental health from an early age. When she lost a nephew to suicide, Deborah decided to redirect her own mental health journey. Now, she manages her bipolar disorder with a “toolkit of inspiration” and by being kind to herself. She says, “I embrace failing and think of it as my first attempt at trying something new. Perfection has no place in my world.” Deborah uses her lived experience as a peer support specialist on care teams at Dell Bipolar Clinic. Although at first it was difficult for her to speak up, now she says, “My power is in the difference I bring.”

Deborah’s Story

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

I was diagnosed in my 20’s and for years – ever since my teens – I struggled with my mental health. I went through this trajectory of getting on medication, feeling better, and then thinking, ‘I’m a bright, strong woman, I don’t need medication, I can navigate this on my own,” then going off medication, and getting sick again.

It wasn’t until I lost my nephew to suicide a couple of decades ago that I decided it was time to make a permanent change. As a mother of five kids approaching adolescence, I wanted to both protect myself and ensure my children could navigate the reality of mental health conditions in our family. I started looking into all the models I could learn about. In order to have a sense of control, I knew I had to “create a care team” of friends and colleagues to help me navigate the impactful things I’ve learned to maintain my health.

What is your life like now? What does success/living well look like for you?

Today, I am a peer support specialist at Integral Care and the University of Texas/Dell Bipolar Clinic. I am a part of others’ care teams. Working in the bipolar clinics, I support clients who are just beginning their journey to recovery, a path I both recognize and understand. Though I am not a medical expert, I am an expert on the impact of this disease. My role is to share the nonmedical side of maintaining recovery, because the way I look at it, the more tools you provide to people, the more they can pick and choose what works for them. My history – and my willingness to share it – sparks a relationship of mutuality. I tell new clients I am in bipolar recovery, happily married, and have raised five resilient, successful kids.  When I told one client this she burst into tears and asked, “Are you telling me I can have that too?” I responded, “Absolutely!”

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

Peers, others who have walked this path and shared strategies that have helped them.

Acceptance of the gifts and deficits of this diagnosis brings the understanding that no one heals me. I heal myself. I am the captain of my destiny and feeling empowered helps me to make the next right choice in moving forward.

Besides the obvious of diet, exercise, and partnering with medical professionals on my care, I practice feeding my mind inspiration from books video, art, music, and creating. I embrace an attitude of gratitude and get out of my head and try to think of others as much as I care for myself.

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

I have a toolkit of inspiration that is my go-to when darkness tries to take over. I immerse my mind into positive thought even when it feels inauthentic and fake. I have books I re-read, videos I re-watch and explore for new material to put into my toolkit.

I am kind to myself and talk to myself as I would to someone I love. I embrace failing and think of it as my first attempt at trying something new.

My favorite mantra I learned from the book “Kitchen Table Wisdom” by Rachel Naomi Redmen is “I EMBRACE DOING THINGS HALF ASS!” This always makes me smile.

Perfection has no place in my world.

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

So many. My sensitivity which I used to think was a deficit, I now know is my greatest strength. I just needed to learn to hone it and use it to my advantage.

The gift of learning how to reinvent myself when I am faced with challenges and get myself back up.

The beauty and compassion I find in myself and others who have had great obstacles to overcome.

How has your condition impacted your work and your career? 

I changed careers after losing my nephew and started working in children’s mental health as a trainer in the Systems of Care and Wraparound model. I got a fellowship from the Hogg Foundation as a Peer Policy Fellow to work on mental health policy at the Texas capitol with NAMI Texas for two years.

This is where I learned about a cutting-edge program at the University of Texas/Dell Bipolar Clinic and Integral Care using a team approach to help people with a bipolar diagnosis. I wanted to be a part of it and got hired as their peer specialist. We staff clients as a team: psychiatrist, therapist, pharmacist and a peer specialist.

I remember when I first started, I felt like a kid at the smart table and felt my voice shake when I forced myself to speak up. Then I remembered that I am the expert on living with this disease and MY POWER IS IN THE DIFFERENCE I BRING. 

What words of encouragement would you give to someone struggling with a condition similar to yours?  

I respect and I am grateful for the medical professionals and medications I use.

But they do not heal me, I heal myself.

I have navigated this system to find the tools to heal myself and I have looked to my doctors to provide those tools that I then pick and choose what is best for me. I am responsible to study research to make an informed decision on what tools I will use.

I am the one who does the work, takes the medication, and follows the advice to heal myself.


What motivated you to join The Stability Network? What do you hope to get from it?

The Stability Network highlights everything that is right with people living with a mental health challenge. We are fighting the stigma by showing we can live rich, resilient, wholehearted lives and overcome the challenges.

I am continuing to create a network of peers through the Stability Network who I can learn from to continue living a resilient life.

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

Anything by Brene Brown: Videos, Books, Ted talks and Netflix Specials

Johan Hari, Ted Talk

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel

Is there anything else you want to share?

Thank you to all who make the Stability Network a place of resilience and healing!