Founder and Director of Building Community Capacity, LLC
Living with bipolar disorder with psychosis

Joanna’s journey has been impacted by loss and deep lows. After time, support, and learning to put herself first, Joanna began to recognize her journey as one of not only healing, but as a guiding story of ways to help others suffering from trauma. Today, Joanna describes her life as being full of faith, hope, and love.

Joanna’s Story

When were you first aware of your mental health condition?  What was your most difficult time? 

I first learned, officially, that I had bi-polar disorder in 1987, during my third year of undergraduate studies. I struggled to cope, while also dealing with ineffective medications. My most difficult times have been when I relapsed so badly that I fell into deep depressions and became suicidal. I have also experienced episodes of acute mania.

What is your life like now? 

My life is filled with faith, hope, and love. My spiritual practices have deepened and become a solid anchor such that I’m able to center and ground myself. I’m better able to tap into my resilience and intrinsic motivation to be and stay healthy. Living well means that I enjoy life such that the smallest things bring me joy.

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

It’s true that enough sleep, more movement, and nutritious food are the backbone of good health. We thrive when we do what’s best for us. What helps me is using my genius to write, work on creative idea projects, and nurture loving and kind relationships. These activities increase my peace of mind. They are part of being and staying well.

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

I journal to express my feelings and thoughts. I use apps that help me work on affirmations. I explore ideas in discussions with other change agent extraordinaires. I share information and resources that can help people reach their highest potential. Most of all, I make myself a priority and practice a higher level of self-care.

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

My core family, especially my children and I, have grown closer. We’re also stronger and more capable of successfully managing bipolar disorder. The other positive is the wellness plan I created to help us stay on track. We’ve learned how to use technology to stay in touch which is very important since my daughter lives on the west coast and my son lives in Australia.

How has your condition impacted your work and your career? 

Having bipolar disorder can be disruptive. Understanding my triggers helps me prepare for the ups and downs of my career by building in necessary systems to help me stay healthy. For example, I used to sacrifice sleep or take for granted that I needed it. I would burn the proverbial candle at both ends while working on a project. I’ve learned through failing that I need sleep in order to be healthy and productive. I’ve been able to eliminate Type A behaviors I’d taken on as a member of the baby boomer generation where stress was taken for granted. I’ve learned to treat stress with respect and give myself time to relax and rest. I’ve also learned to take naps – a huge shift for me.

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

The main words of encouragement I would give are about the importance of self-care and why we must make it a priority to take better care of ourselves. Putting ourselves first is a way to create positive energy and be part of the solution. It’s possible to increase collective well-being when we’re doing well individually – for example, my core family is healthier when I’m healthy.

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

I’m motivated to join The Stability Network because it’s a unique and viable way to unite with others and help create a better world; one where there’s less stigma. I’m also motivated because of the team-based leadership model that’s being used, one where Stability Leaders are nurtured and strengthened to reach our highest potential as mental health advocates and activists.

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

Is there anything else you want to say / share?

I’m grateful to be healthy, happy, and joyful after yet another relapse. My ability to thrive is augmented by my coping skills and resiliency. My journey has been difficult because of three key people in my life who tragically died: my little brother fell from a third story porch in 1970, and both my parents died by suicide in 1997. I had to learn that healing is a process and progress can be slow. What’s most important is my trust in The Creator. I began to understand that my journey to heal is an important story of ways to help others suffering from trauma.  We know a lot more about trauma in the 21st century and hopefully we have more tools to help others find their way to health, happiness, and joy…so that they can reach their highest potential.