Not Only Surviving, but Thriving

Author: Natalia A. Beiser

I counter negativity about mental illness by acquiring and displaying survival skills. I do not let having bipolar disorder hold me back from completing anything. I strive to be a great example of how to live with mental illness.

I was a senior in high school in 1990 when I had my very first manic episode. I felt the silence and stares; people were so cold. They acted quiet and scared. I was alienated. The pain that I experienced has helped me to survive mental illness through many phases of life.

In 1994, I became manic on a college campus. There were a few people that shunned me, but I felt that in an academic environment people might have been more forgiving. Two of my three apartment mates and I never reconciled; however, those ladies did have to live through some torture while sharing an apartment with me. I get it though. They shared space with a manic person that screamed regularly and carried on conversations while sleepwalking.

At the hospital during the second manic episode, the psychosocial staff equipped me with education about bipolar disorder. They reinforced that people with bipolar disorder can live normal lives. I grabbed a mindset that I was going to do just that – and thrive.

After a period of time during the semester in the psych ward, I returned to campus and moved into my own apartment. I went back to class and to my job on campus. I endured the stares of some of those around me and decided not to care. I had been encouraged to quit college and return home. However, I had the mindset that I was going to survive this struggle and get back on track.

I confided in one of my supervisors at my campus job that I had bipolar disorder. She told me that I was going to have to fight like hell. She was not unkind, but was highly skeptical. I told her quietly that I would be fine as long as followed the prescription cocktail provided by my psychiatrist. When having that conversation with my supervisor that evening, a part of me said, “You are going to survive this. You are going to succeed.” It was as if the conversation sealed up a pact that I had made with myself, and my supervisor was my unofficial accountability partner.

At the time, I believed that all I needed to succeed with bipolar disorder was to take my prescribed medications, get eight hours of sleep, eat a healthful diet, and to not drink alcohol or caffeine. I believed that if I implemented this guidance, then I would survive. I have since learned that there are many more steps that can be taken that can lead to a successful bipolar existence. I now incorporate faith in God, cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, and medical massage.

My work supervisor stood by me and watched me flourish. She invited me into her home and invited me to lunch with her colleagues the week that I graduated. She told them that she thought that it was a shame that I was going to pursue a career in social work instead of going to graduate school and getting a degree in Library Science, like she had. She thought that career would suit me. This was a great compliment, especially since she had seen all that I had gone through.

Not only have I survived; I have strived to shine through my circumstances. I began a Facebook page about my experience with a chronic illness. This illness wraps itself around the bipolar disorder. When I publicly disclosed the mental illness, I expected those that did not know about it to shun me or treat me in an unfavorable way. I was delighted that it was able to be observed that while stigma has not evaporated, it has lessened in the last thirty three years.

I honestly say that I am a survivor and a role model with bipolar disorder. I know what needs to be in my toolbox to stay well, and I do not hesitate to utilize that equipment. Being an example to others is highly important to me, so being active in my parish and serving as a volunteer help me display my survival skills, as well as continuing to work part time. I am also a fierce advocate for myself and for others. How can you display your bipolar survival skills?


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