Behavioral Health Clinician
Living with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, CPTSD, and in recovery for substance use

As someone who has been through darkness and found light, Jess Fritz is living in recovery from substance use and multiple co-occurring mental health conditions. She believes that her tendency to feel emotions so deeply improves her ability to practice empathy and compassion towards others. She shared, “I know my brain works in unique ways and I love this about myself.” Jess says that the idea of recovery is progress not perfection.

Jess’s Story

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

I knew I experienced life differently from others at a young age, which used to feel very isolating. I lived through a traumatic childhood, surviving sexual abuse, and thought “maybe one day I won’t be so affected.” At age 12 I was taken to my first psychiatrist and put on medication. This was the beginning of taking at least four psychotropics at a time for the next 22 years straight. I started going in and out of inpatient hospitals at age 15 and utilized this treatment for crises until age 32. Living with mental health issues was always a challenge but it also pushed me to overcome obstacles with the constant hope for a day when I would feel “whole.” While I feel that some of life’s experiences (especially school and work) could have been easier if I had not been living with these conditions, I also whole-heartedly believe that the extra challenge has only made me stronger, more self-aware, and grateful for my life.

The most difficult time was one year ago when I attempted suicide. I fought for my life for four days in the ICU and since then I have lived with a restored respect for my life and new understanding for why I’m on this Earth. After getting appropriate treatment following the overdose, I have nothing but a “recovery is possible” mindset and determination to live each day taking care of myself and others.

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

Currently my life looks full of love and beauty. I am newly married and balancing a life of fur babies, work, and family. This past fall I tapered off my psychotropics and I am living prescription-free for the first time in my life. I am maintaining mental and emotional stability better than ever with the help of a supportive relationship, fulfilling work, self-care activities, hobbies, adventures, and healthcare as needed. I consider myself successful when I am able to take care of myself and others without pushing myself towards burnout. I am proud when I get through moments of distress or difficult times and I make sure to acknowledge my hard work. Past traumas and experiences can still pop up out of nowhere and try to rattle me, but I have become stronger and more prepared to handle these times each day.

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

My stability really took a huge shift in the right direction when I attended two months of residential treatment last summer. I completed two separate programs: one focused on Recovery from Substance Use and the other on full immersion into Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Before the decision to commit to residential treatment and learning new ways of coping, I had been admitted to inpatient hospital stays 18 times. These hospitalizations always focused on acute stabilization and kept me safe, but I rarely discharged with the ability to maintain stability for very long. I also underwent Electroconvulsive Therapy two separate times and I believe this was extremely effective despite the short-term challenges with the treatment. However, my goal now is stay stable without needing invasive treatments and intensive programs. Today I am armed with knowledge, tools, skills, and hope that keep me grounded in the present and drive me towards a bright future.

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

I am lucky to wake up every day excited to take on whatever comes my way. I stick to a routine that works for me as much as possible. This provides me with the ability to have a schedule with structure, which I find vital for stability. I practice a variety of methods to maintain my moods, emotions, anxieties, and times of struggle. These include mindfulness, exercise, self-soothing activities, and time with family and nature. I nourish my body with good food and supplements designed to restore optimal functioning. I arm myself with new tools and knowledge by learning through reading and researching. I also see my doctor and holistic providers for professional help that gives me feedback and reassurance. Additionally, I participate in the Recovery Community as much as possible through meetings and reading the literature. Though designed for maintaining sobriety from substances, these activities benefit my whole person. Reaching out for help and support from peers, friends, family, and professionals has become crucial. When I talk about my struggles with others, I find that transparency goes a long way.

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

I believe there are many positives and wonderful things to come out of living with mental health conditions. Thanks to my experiences with mental health conditions, I am able to see the beauty and the pain in the world around me. I have a perspective I would not otherwise have about getting through life’s hard times and the rewards of overcoming barriers.

How has your condition impacted your work and your career? 

My career path has been one of the most impacted areas of my life due to my mental health conditions. On one hand I work extremely hard to perform well and on the other hand, my increased need to be “good enough” leads to perfectionism and burnout. The stress of work demands has led me to take significant time off when I was not stable or requiring treatment. I was placed on state disability five times in my 20s and this contributed to my career path being different from that of my peers. I have come to accept that my journey is unique, and I make progress at my own pace. Each time I was placed on disability, it was easy to become discouraged and feel like I would not be able to return to functioning in a work environment. However, I went back each time, sometimes in a new job, and was able to work in new and improved ways. My goal today is to take care of myself well enough that I do not need lengthy breaks from employment. I do find myself overwhelmed, stressed, and striving for perfection at times, but I am able to shift my attachment away from my work in order to achieve balance.

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

Reading others’ stories has always been a mainstay in my recovery because it gives me the sense that I’m not alone. So, that’s the important thing to let others know. Especially if you find yourself repeatedly slipping into old, maladaptive behaviors and feeling like you’ll never figure out how to manage intense emotions, unstable moods, suicidal thoughts, or triggers from the past. This is not true. There is hope for every individual struggling with a mental health condition. Aside from getting help specific to your needs and learning skill that work for you, I’d say the most important thing is to “hang on.” I believe I survived two decades of self-injurious behavior and chronically suicidal thoughts because I never lost hope no matter how much pain I was experiencing. It is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel at times, but it is there if you look hard enough. Overcoming these challenges is not easy and it doesn’t happen overnight. You’ll get there because you are strong and worthy.

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

I have always dreamed of a day when professionals talk about this topic openly. It’s easy to think that successful people don’t struggle with things like mental ill-health but that’s not reality in the least. I have faced the stigma attached to mental health issues all of my life and it’s such a disservice to my recovery. I hope that being a part of a community that celebrates telling stories of experience and hope brings something to my life that I’ve been missing. It is crucial that mental health is talked about in open, transparent, and public ways. The power in sharing a collective experience is incredibly healing. I hope to connect with others who have faced the darkness and found the light.

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

In my younger years I was drawn towards quotes that inspired me and I would print them out, write them down, or save them to my phone. Now there are countless Pinterest boards, Instagram feeds, forums, and websites that make motivational material readily available. With the internet being where it is now, you can find almost anything that offers you a relatable experience and makes you feel less alone. I have no specific direction to point you towards, but there is great stuff out there to read for a boost and glimmer of hope. 

Is there anything else you want to say / share?

I want to include my experience with the “system” and some professionals out there. For 20 years I was fed the belief that I am “sick,” and that recovery would not be possible for me. I internalized these negative messages and it intensely affected me in dramatic ways. Once I broke free of other’s preconceived notions, labels, and black and white thinking about who I am, I was able to take charge of my recovery. It can be dangerous when the help you are trying to get is actually the thing keeping you stagnant in healing and overcoming struggles. You are the only expert on yourself and if you’re finding that the “professionals” do not work from this stance nor collaborate with you in treatment, then find one that will. No one should ever be given the message that things are hopeless from the very folks that have it made it their life’s work to help others recover. The mental health system is far from perfect and it’s up to us as consumers to hold it accountable.