Peer Specialist, Peer Bridger Program, Harborview Medical Center
Living with bipolar disorder

When Nancy was a teen, she was misdiagnosed for depression, beginning a 20-year cycle of treatments that didn’t work and left her feeling increasingly despondent. Once she was diagnosed and treated for bipolar 2, everything changed. Today she works in the mental health field. “I won’t say I’m glad I live with bipolar disorder, but my life since I was diagnosed has been stable, successful and happy, and to some degree I know that’s because of my mental illness, not in spite of it.”

Nancy’s Story

When did you first become aware of your condition?

I started having episodes of depression when I was 16. I became depressed for two to eight months a year, every year for the next 20 years, usually in the spring and summer. I was prescribed antidepressants and therapy, but none of the treatments stopped or reduced the recurring depression. During the “up” side of my mood cycle I felt and appeared normal with an appropriate energy and mood level. Life became more chaotic and dysfunctional as this pattern continued.

What was your most difficult time?

The last five years of that 20-year period were particularly difficult. I became increasingly despondent, hopeless, anxious and suicidal.

What helped you get well and move to stability?

I gritted my teeth and held on. I never gave up trying to be well and I went to doctors until I found one who helped me. I attended support groups, did research, became an advocate and embraced recovery as soon as I was stable enough to begin my recovery journey.

How do you manage your condition and stay healthy?

I manage my sleep carefully because too much sleep will pull me down into depression. I see my medical and psychiatric providers regularly, stay active and spend time with people and activities that make me feel good about myself. I have a job I love that makes a difference in people’s lives. I’m single for the first time in my life and actually enjoy it. I’m proud my life is stable and I can take care of myself. Life isn’t perfect but that’s not how life is supposed to be anyway.

What is your advice to family members/friends who are worried about a loved one with mental illness?

Educate yourself about their condition. Share what you learn with the world and do what you can to reduce stigma and promote understanding. Honor and respect their wishes and basic human rights. And don’t be afraid to be honest with them.