A Balanced Life Achieved, Managing the Challenges of a Bipolar Disorder

In this episode, we will hear from Grace. She will lead a discussion focusing on her own journey in managing bipolar disorder.


Scott Webb (Host): On today's podcast, we're going to hear from Grace again, and today we're going to focus on her diagnosis of bipolar disorder and how the medication she was prescribed and the treatment she received at Sierra Tucson, saved her life.

This is My Miracle Radio, a podcast by Sierra Tucson, Alumni Relations. I'm Scott Webb.

Grace, it's so nice to speak with you today. Nice to meet you. Thanks for joining me.

Grace: Thank you so much for having me.

Host: Yeah, it's a pleasure to have you, and we're going to have a nice conversation today about you and your experiences. So as we get rolling, you know, did you know that you were bipolar before you went into treatment? Like what were you experiencing? You know, what were you feeling before you headed into treatment?

Grace: So before I went to Sierra Tucson, I was actually diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and PTSD by a therapist, that my parents had found for me to talk to because I was really depressed. And that therapist put me on a couple different SSRIs. And none of those had helped me, at all. And instead of helping me, I was actually like thrown into a medication induced manic state.

Host: Hmm.

Grace: So then once this happened, my therapist did actually diagnose me with bipolar II disorder. But that was just a couple of weeks before I went to Sierra Tucson.

Host: So in what you were experiencing, and then ultimately diagnosed, you know, bipolar, I'm sure there were some manic episodes, right? Some just true sort of mania. Maybe you can take us through that just a little bit. You know, what was that like? What were you experiencing? Because I think for a lot of us maybe who haven't experienced that, we've heard of it, but we don't know what it's like. Maybe you can share that part of your story.

Grace: When I went into a manic episode, it was right after the depressive one. And it was medication induced, but all of a sudden I was so happy I wanted to go back to school. My parents helped me re-enroll in school, and it just seemed like I did a complete 360 and I was like, better. But then pretty quickly everyone around me started realizing something was definitely wrong.

I was like almost euphoric. I was talking nonstop and not making sense a lot of the time. And before any of this had happened, the depression or the mania, I was a relatively quiet and like reserved person. So for me to be talking nonstop just did not make sense to my family and friends. And I was making like impulsive, risky decisions.

I was skipping class, buying a ton of clothes that I didn't need. And like communicating with strangers online, just doing things that I would never normally do. But with the depression, it was interesting because I knew when I was going through the depression that something was wrong and that I felt so sad and hopeless. But with the mania, I was like the last one to know that anything was wrong because I really did feel so good. So I'm really grateful that people around me saw it because I couldn't really see it for myself. And even now there's some like huge gaps in the mania that I don't remember happening at all that people tell me about.

Host: Whereas with the, remember that time you did this? Or remember that time you said that? And you're like, no, I, I really don't.

Grace: Yeah, that seems to happen all the time with the stuff I did in the manic episode. I really don't remember a lot of it at all. But whereas the depressive episode, I remember every single thing. So I think it's important too, to have people who can recognize signs of you changing, because if I go into another depressive episode, it would be really easy for me tell.

Host: Right.

Grace: But if I go into another manic episode, I don't know when I would figure it out because you feel so good and so like you're just on top of the world.

Host: Yeah. And you mentioned bipolar II, and I'm just going to jump ahead in the questions I put together for you, what is the difference between bipolar I and bipolar II in your experience?

Grace: So the main difference in my experience, is that people who have bipolar I, experience mania and people who have bipolar II experience hypomania. And hypomania is very similar to mania, and the symptoms are really similar, but it's been described as like a less severe or extreme version of mania. And another difference is that people who have bipolar II typically have more depressive episodes, or longer depressive episodes. And in order to be actually diagnosed with bipolar II, you have to have had a depressive episode and a hypomania episode, but you can be diagnosed with bipolar I if you haven't had a depressive episode. I. Even though some people do have depressive episodes with bipolar I, but you don't have to have them to be diagnosed.

Host: Gotcha. Okay. So what were your experiences like? You know, when we think about the highs and lows of being bipolar, what were you experiencing specifically?

Grace: It all started for me. I was in college and I experienced a it's a depressive episode and it came on like really suddenly. I just started feeling like I had basically no motivation for life. I didn't want to be in school, hang out with my friends. It was really unusual for me. So I called my parents to tell them to pick me up from school, and I decided to take a leave of absence.

And I remember when I was talking to my college advisor, she was like, are you sure you want to leave? You have a really high gpa. And it just didn't matter to me at all anymore. So I ended up going home and I stayed in bed and my parents tried to get me out of the house, but I would just like, I was so in fear and even going to like the grocery store.

I remember one time I was at the store with my mom and the cashier forgot to hand us our bag and I was trying to like speak and tell the cashier like, we need our bag. And I couldn't even say anything. I was just like frozen. So I basically, I went from being like perfectly functional too, not being able to get out of bed or eat or take a shower. I was just so sad and like, so hopeless and I would just cry all the time.

Host: So obviously it sounds like before this, before this sort of came on, you were this like positive, optimistic, you know, energetic person. Was there anything in particular that happened in your life that triggered this or did it just hit you one day you were just like you went from being, you know, the version of yourself that you were the day before, and then all of a sudden you just like had trouble getting out of bed and just facing the day and the challenges and so on.

I don't want to get too personal, but was there anything that triggered this?

Grace: Yeah. At the time I didn't think that there was anything that triggered it at all. But looking back and through like going to therapy now, I've realized I also have an issue with alcohol and there were some like traumatic experiences that I went through when I was drinking that seemed to kind of come back and I was having some like flashbacks of them and that was part of why I think I was so depressed because I was remembering these things from like blackouts, but I didn't remember happening to me, they were all like memories coming back.

Host: Sure. Things kind of coming back and sort of acting as triggers, uh, for what was ultimately diagnosed as bipolar. So you go to Sierra Tucson and you seek treatment there. How did they help you and what are you doing now to maintain a stable, positive, optimistic mood?

Grace: So I was prescribed medication at Sierra Tucson to help stabilize my mood. And I had been put on medication for bipolar before Sierra Tucson, but I was having a lot of side effects and it wasn't really helping me. So at Sierra Tucson they changed my medication and now I was put on Lithium and now I've been on it for the past three years and it's helped me so much with my mood and stabilizing me. And I haven't had a bipolar episode since I went to Sierra Tucson three years ago and I also learned there's so many things that I can do every day to make sure that my mood stays stable, and I can follow a schedule every day, clean out my week. I make sure I like, get enough sleep each night.

I make sure I drink enough water and I eat enough. Things like making sure I express my feelings to another person or just journaling about how I'm feeling, so that way I have an outlet and I'm not keeping everything inside. And now I use coping skills to deal with any stress that I have and try not to get too worked up over something when something goes wrong or I feel stressed and I didn't know how to do that before I went to Sierra Tucson.

Host: Right. So the right medication, coping skills, and I've done some other Sierra Tucsons and we've talked about some of the therapy options there, equine therapy, adventure therapy. I don't know if you were able to take advantage of any of those things, but it's a pretty amazing place and obviously was able to help you. So what do you do now, you know, in terms of taking care of yourself? You mentioned your approach and journaling, speaking up and not keeping things inside and to yourself. Just on a daily basis, you know, how are you doing? How are you getting through life? What's your approach?

Grace: So now, I try and listen to my psychiatrist very closely. And I take my medication every night and I have like an alarm on my phone for my medication every night because my psychiatrist says a lot of times with people who are bipolar, once you start feeling better, it almost feels like you're really not bipolar. And in my experience that's really true because now I'm not having any symptoms of the bipolar, so it feels like I'm just living a completely normal life again.

Host: Yeah.

Grace: So I know I have to keep taking the medication and me feeling better is just the medication working. It's, it doesn't mean stop taking it because ---

Host: Right, right. Yeah.

Grace: I know that's so important.

Host: And it's so common for folks, you know, we all have been prescribed different things over the years, and soon as you start to feel better, whether it's an antibiotic or lithium or whatever it might be, you start to feel a little better and you think, oh, well then I'm fine now and I don't, I don't need those pills anymore. But obviously in your experience, you know that the reason you're doing well, the reason you're feeling better is because of the medication, right?

Grace: Yes, definitely. And for a while it was hard for me to kind of accept that I'm ging ton have to take medication for the rest of my life, because I never took medication before this. But now I know it's just something I have to do to make sure that I'm healthy. So I've definitely accepted it and I've completely fine taking it for the rest of my life because it's saved my life. And I don't want to go back to the place I was in before.

Host: I mean, it's just so great. I love stories like this, just such human stories cause we're all humans, right? We're all in this together. And when you have an issue, something like a bipolar disorder being diagnosed properly, being prescribed the proper medication, then you doing your part, it, you know, it's a real sort of team effort, I'm sure still including your parents, which is awesome.

What would be your words of advice, for folks If they're experiencing things that are sort of unexplained or unexpected or alarming or whatever it might be, in terms of like really seeking out diagnosis, seeking out the proper treatment, medication, taking care of themselves, and so on. What would be your best advice?

Grace: Definitely be open to finding help. And if you do find help, you have to just be honest with how you're feeling. It can be so hard to tell someone, like a therapist that you've just met or a psychiatrist, you've just met, how you're feeling, but the only way that they're going to know how to treat you is if you're completely honest with them and if you're willing to listen to the suggestions that they're giving you.

Host: Yeah, that, that's been a common theme in some other podcasts that I've done. It's just about being sort of your authentic self, really, like taking off the masks and those protections that we all have and really sort of bearing yourself, bearing your soul as you say, can be difficult. You just met this person five minutes ago and now you're going to tell them, you know, all these feelings you have and what you're experiencing, but it's really important, right?

Grace: Oh, it's so important to make sure that you, just, it's your life and if you want to get better, then you have to be the one that does the work and be the one that is honest.

Host: Well, it's been great meeting you. Glad that you had your parents to lean on, to help you through this, Sierra Tucson. But you know, most importantly, you doing what is best for you to help yourself, what you know you need to do every day, taking your medication, journaling, whatever it might be. So, lovely meeting you. Thanks so much. And you stay well.

Grace: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me on.

Host: This has been My Miracle Radio by Sierra Tucson Alumni Relations. For more information, please visit sierratucson.com and thanks so much for listening. I'm Scott Webb. Stay well.