Associate Professor of Social Work
Living with bipolar disorder

Melissa first became aware of being “different” in sixth grade, experiencing symptoms of paranoia and depression. Stigma kept her family from seeking help for her and she endured years of depression before she finally got the treatment she needed to recover. Today, she is happily living with her partner of twelve years and finds deep satisfaction in engaging in work that “gives back” to the world.

Melissa’s Story

What was your most difficult time?

In the late-1990s, when I was experiencing episodes of depression, sometimes including terrifying psychotic symptoms—ideas of reference, messages from God and angels telling me to harm myself and others. During this time I had many hospitalizations and really struggled to stay connected to my community.

What helped you get well and move to stability?

I had support from wonderful psychiatrists and a fabulous psychologist who taught me how to use cognitive-behavioral therapy to transform my thinking. I have a good health care team and I receive maintenance ECT, journaling, meditation books, aromatherapy, and creative activities help. Having a cat also helped me to stay emotionally stable.

How do you manage your condition and stay healthy?

I eat healthily and get adequate sleep. I abstain from alcoholic beverages and illegal drugs. I have regular cognitive-behavioral therapy and undergo maintenance ECT every five weeks, which has greatly enhanced my mood stability and helped relieve the psychotic symptoms. I have a terrific partner and family. Self-help has also been important, through NAMI Connection and DBSA group. I try to smile and to maintain a positive attitude. I use a strength-based approach in my work, and I try to apply it to myself.

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

Stay hopeful about yourself! Keep an open mind— consider not only conventional treatments but holistic approaches as well. Medication alone will rarely make the symptoms go away completely. Expect respect and civility from health care providers, regardless of your diagnosis or presenting symptoms. Try to stay connected to the community in some way, whether through your faith, volunteer work, or employment.

If you could go back and do something over, what would it be?

I viewed myself as a victim for many years—a victim of family circumstances, of an unjust health care system, of my illness. This mindset ended up making my life harder. Once I adopted a more positive mindset, things really did start to change for me.