Writer & Speaker for Mental Health Advocacy
Living with bipolar 1 disorder

When her own mental health journey led her to recognize the lack of stories told by women of color struggling with a bipolar diagnosis, Michelle was inspired to write a memoir of her own. Her passion to comfort those experiencing challenges similar to her own eventually led Michelle to leave her career of nearly a decade in corporate America. Her story is one of triumph and resilience, in which she explores the intersections of race, age, gender, and mental health while providing a much-needed assurance that everything can work out. Moreover, she is a living example that you can still strive for your wildest dreams, even after receiving a mental health diagnosis.

Michelle’s Story

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

I immigrated to the US when I was nine years old and was forced to grow up pretty quickly. Because my parents made such a drastic change in their lives in hopes of a brighter future for my brother and me, failure was not an option. Starting in grade school, I suffered from severe anxiety, depression, and extended periods of insomnia. Looking back, my mental health got progressively worse as pressures mounted as I got older. Yet help was always out of reach because, on paper, I was thriving. My grades always landed me at the top and I excelled in extracurricular activities. No one wanted to acknowledge my mania or depression in the face of success.

There were many low points leading up to my diagnosis, including feeling suicidal. It’s hard to pinpoint when my most difficult time was… but I was 20 years old when I was first hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar disorder after my most severe and public episode with psychosis. But looking back, I’m also grateful for that time because it allowed me to access help. I’ve been in recovery ever since. It was much better to have awareness of what was wrong, of why I was struggling so much.

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

My life is wonderful and I’m immensely grateful for it. I am happily married with an energetic, adorable child. I earned my MBA in 2009 and have enjoyed a successful nonprofit and corporate career. But in early 2019, I quit my coveted corporate manager role to pursue writing and mental health advocacy full time. I finally realized how important it was to me to be in a position to comfort my 20-year-old self, who wanted desperately to know that everything could turn out okay – that I could still go after my dreams, even after my diagnosis. That’s my personal mission now, to let others in the beginning stages of their mental health journey know that there is light at the end. It’s been so freeing to come out with my diagnosis after hiding it for nearly twenty years. For the first time in my life, I have the privilege to pursue my own dreams, undefined by societal or cultural expectations.

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

I so desperately wanted to get better that I was never in denial about my condition – I never tried to refuse treatment or medication. I was so grateful for help from the moment I could access it, which I think helped me move to stability quickly.

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

Getting enough sleep, taking medication regularly, and having a routine are all key to my stability. I also avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can disrupt my sleep. In addition, getting outside for a walk daily and attending my bi-weekly bipolar peer support group has been instrumental to my mental health. I make a point to see both a therapist and a psychiatrist regularly to work through my past traumas and help manage current day-to-day anxieties.

How has your condition impacted your work and your career? 

So much of my corporate career was my way of fighting myself – of trying to prove to myself that I could do it; trying to prove to myself that I was as good, if not better, than the next person. That competitive spirit was conditioned into me from a young age and if I didn’t measure up, I wallowed in shame. I held a lot of internalized stigma; I saw my mental health condition as this great shortcoming that I had to hide at all costs. It’s difficult for me to say how my mental health condition impacted my career directly. On the one hand, I might have never entered the corporate world if it weren’t for my mental health condition, trying to prove myself worthy, but also, I might have never left the corporate world if it weren’t for my mental health advocacy, either.

Ultimately, I love writing on the intersection of Asian American identity, feminism, and mental health. I would never have arrived where I am today without the journey.

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

Mental illness does not define you! The suffering will not last forever. Please take care, pursue and accept treatment. All your dreams are still within reach.

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

I wanted to join a network of others thriving with a mental health condition so that we can join forces to change the societal narrative on mental illness.

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

When I was 20, I wished desperately for a book by someone who was living a normal life with bipolar disorder from an immigrant/person of color’s perspective. I still haven’t found one that fits this exactly, so I’ve written a memoir myself and am seeking publication.

The book that I did find when I was 20, which was of great comfort to me, was called Detour: My Bipolar Road Trip in 4-D by Lizzie Simon.