Stability Leader headshot

Writer and Recovery Specialist at a mental health nonprofit
Living with bipolar 1 disorder, autism, and others

Marisa had quite a start to her first job out of college. After teaching middle school for a week, she began having delusions and paranoia, not recognizing and becoming suspicious of those around her. She later found out she was experiencing an episode of manic psychosis and received a diagnosis of bipolar I with psychotic features. That certainly wasn’t the only job that would be affected by her mental health. While Marisa lives a more balanced life today, she still has ups and downs, though she understands that a relapse won’t erase her success.

Marisa’s Story

When were you first aware of your conditions?

I’ve lived with bipolar, anxiety, OCD, and suicidal thoughts since age 12, which was when I asked to see a therapist, but that wasn’t something my family did. My parents came from families who didn’t believe in mental health treatment; however, they are both very supportive now.

What does recovery and living well look like for you? What is your life like now?

When I first started recovering, I couldn’t wait to get back to myself again. I didn’t know at the time, but that wasn’t going to happen. I never fully healed or returned completely to how I was before. I was in a weird in-between stage, not quite sick but not quite well, both but also neither. Eventually, I’d come to realize that’s how I would always be. This—having a chronic condition—became my new normal. My health was no longer black or white: I was in a gray area, what I now call recovery.

Discovering this, I had a feeling of loss, but it’s something I’ve learned to accept over time. There’s this narrative that all mental health conditions can be managed with medication and therapy. But finding what works for you is usually difficult, and life isn’t perfect once you start treatment. There are no magic pills or miracle cures. For many of us, a mental health condition is chronic, something we live with our entire lives.

I still have good days and bad days. Recovery isn’t a straight line with a fairytale ending. For me, it’s more like a staircase I constantly climb. Sometimes I get close, but I never reach the top. That doesn’t change my goal. It’s not about getting there—what matters is that I keep going. I’ll always go up a few steps and at some point trip and fall back, needing to climb up again. I’m okay with that. Or at least I’m learning to be okay with it.

What positives have come from having mental health conditions?

My experiences with mental health have made me more compassionate and understanding toward others, which allows me to have deeper relationships. It’s helped me not to assume what’s going on in someone else’s life. People sometimes hide behind a smile without expressing how they actually feel, just like a person’s behavior during an episode may not reflect who they are and how they want to act.

Being labeled with mental health diagnoses has made other people’s intentions transparent. It’s clear how much my family loves me by how empathetic and caring they are, even during my episodes. On the other hand, it’s easy to figure out whether I can or can’t trust new people in my life based on their reactions to these diagnoses.

How have your conditions impacted your work and your career? 

My mental health has impacted my work in so many ways, including completely disrupting and redirecting my career path more than once. If I didn’t have any of these struggles, right now I’d probably be a dentist who majored in chemistry. Instead, I write and work at a nonprofit organization, majored in Spanish language and literature, and earned a master’s in education that I don’t even use anymore.

I’ve dealt with discrimination both at work and at home, and by sharing my story, I hope to highlight the injustices people struggling with their mental health face in the workplace and in their personal lives every day. We need to start conversations about issues like these, even if they make people uncomfortable, otherwise changes won’t occur.

What words of encouragement would you give to someone struggling with similar conditions?  

I’ve learned again and again that I’m not alone. You’re not alone either.

What resources have helped you?

Honestly, my best resource has been talking with other people. Whether it’s in a support group or individually, we share strategies and ideas with each other, but I think what’s helped most has just been having someone there to listen.

Is there anything else you want to share?

You can read more about my story here:

This Is What a Manic Episode Feels Like, Women’s Health Magazine

What’s it Like to be Diagnosed With Autism as an Adult? New Research Takes a Closer Look, Very Well Mind