Novelist, Tutor, Teacher, Writer, and Editor
Living with bipolar disorder

Anorexic and suicidal at 16, Sarah was depressed and disconnected in college and a “general wreck” during her first year teaching high school. She finally sought help when depression set in after her second child’s birth. Today, she is happy, stable and grateful for the freedom to pay attention to the “silver linings of her illness” – the ability to view the world with sensitivity and compassion.

Sarah’s Story

What was your most difficult time?

After the birth of my daughter (when I already had a 20-month-old son) I had extreme depression. I couldn’t take care of myself. I was in constant panic, mostly joyless and had suicidal thoughts. I felt terribly guilty that I didn’t really love being a mom.

What helped you get well and maintain stability?

Medication saved my life. It is not a “happy pill” but a survival pill. I am on an SSRI and a mood stabilizer, and feel more “myself” than I have felt in decades. I am very fortunate in that medications do not numb me; rather, they allow me to be who I truly am: hopeful, humorous and connected.

I exercise regularly and focus on getting sufficient sleep. I say “no” to opportunities that add stress. I see an excellent psychiatrist regularly. My social community and church community are also supportive. While prayer does not make mental illness go away, it is a comfort to me. Speaking out and writing about my illness has also helped me connect with others.

I’ve learned my triggers and to know when I need to focus on self care and ask for help. I have a “rating system” created by my brilliant friend, Erica, to assess my moods. It’s perfect for those days when I know I feel crummy but it’s just too hard to explain the feelings. She’ll ask, “What’s your mood number?” If I am an 8, 9 or 10, she knows to get in the car immediately and come check on me. I don’t have to explain what an “8” feels like; she just knows it’s bad.

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

Don’t be afraid to share your story. I have been surprised by how compassionate others are when I speak about my illness. People don’t see it as weakness, but as strength. They may not understand it, but I have never felt judged. To my knowledge, not one friend, colleague or relative has been scared away by it. Sharing my story has reduced my shame and guilt. Vulnerability is the most underused and misunderstood emotion out there. For me, it has brought freedom, connection and an increase in compassion.

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

I wish I had known to get help when I was a teenager instead of waiting until I was 31. I wish I had been more honest about how I was feeling instead of being so worried about upsetting people.