Clinical Associate Professor
University of Southern California School of Social Work

Living with bipolar disorder

Although she wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder until her 40’s, Ruth had known she wasn’t okay since her early 20’s…she just didn’t have a name for it. She used her skills as a researcher to learn the latest science about her condition and strategies for managing it. Today, she feels “successful, happy and healthy.” She defines success as having months go by with no depression or mania — and the ability to perform at a “high level.”

Ruth’s Story

What was your most difficult time?

The year I ended up in a psychiatric hospital for a week because I was suicidal and was forced to go on medical leave the entire next semester. It took me an extra year to get tenure.

How has your illness impacted your life?

I have had to give up my independence at times and have friends help me manage my life. The medications I took negatively impacted my kidneys, heart and thyroid. I have had poor evaluations at work — due to both mania and depression.

What helped you get well and move to stability?

I did lots of research on brain functioning. I used my findings to adapt to new health behaviors based on neurological research findings. Regular exercise, healthy nutrition, good sleep hygiene and a focus on interpersonal relationships have reduced my symptoms, which in turn, reduced my dependence on medications and almost eliminated my need for psychiatric care.

How do you manage your condition and stay healthy?

I exercise regularly, eat “brain” foods, sleep as much as I need to and maintain strong connections with people I love and care about. I chose to “go digital” in my work — which means that I can connect with my loved ones for whenever I need to, wherever I am. This has changed my life in a very positive way.

What advice would you give to someone struggling with a condition similar to yours?

I would tell them that there is a lot of science about how the brain works that can be used to implement strategies to maximize brain functioning and significantly reduce the likelihood of depression or mania. I would tell them that remission and recovery is possible and can be maintained long-term. I would tell them that mental illness may be a lifetime diagnosis, but you can survive, heal and thrive.

Read About Ruth in Women’s Health Magazine