January 09, 2020

Thriving Despite Mental Illness: A guest post by my good friend Emily

I am so happy to finally share this story with you. First, a quick story of how I met Emily. Emily was/is a blog reader of mine, and one day a few years ago, I got an email from her asking if I'd like to get together for drinks or something because she was going to be in the general area. I had never spoken or heard a single word from her and knew nothing about her, but I said yes (perhaps I was hypomanic at the time!).

After I accepted her invitation, she emailed me a little about herself. Including the fact that she was bipolar.

I laugh at this now, because I remember thinking when I read that she was bipolar, "Oh no--should I cancel plans? What does this mean? How crazy is she really?" Because all I knew of bipolar was what they show in the movies and on TV.

However, I knew that would be a really crappy reason not to meet up, so I decided to go anyway. And I am so glad that I did! (It was only eight months later that I, myself, was diagnosed with bipolar.)

Emily was SO kind and funny and I couldn't believe how much we had in common. I knew that I wanted us to be friends. Here is a picture of the day we met:

At the time, Emily was the first person I'd ever known that had bipolar disorder. When I was diagnosed, she was the first person I told after Jerry. I was so shocked and unaccepting of the diagnosis at first, but as I came to terms with it, I felt better just talking to Emily and seeing that she was a "normal" person.

I had no idea at the time that I was meeting someone who was going to be a truly fantastic friend. Sometimes I go through periods where I just don't talk to people, because I'm going through episodes of depression or anxiety and I tend to close myself off from the world. But Emily is always my friend who checks in with me--I never have to ask. She's just there, anytime I need her.

Since we are two crazy peas in a crazier pod, I asked her to share her story here. As always, I like to bring awareness to mental illness to help get rid of the stigma surrounding it. (By the way, if anyone else has a story of mental illness--of any sort--that you'd like to share, please send me an email with a your suggestion for submitting a guest post.)

Anyway, here is Emily's "crazy" story, in her own words:

The psychiatrists say I'm bipolar. I have bipolar 1 and ADHD, inattentive type. And PTSD, but that’s a whole other story. Man--that’s a lot of labels for who I am: a 31-year-old social worker who just celebrated my first wedding anniversary and is loving life as a newlywed in her southwest corner of Michigan.

Loving life is a pretty strong and also quite a general description. Life has its ups and downs, no doubt.

My story began when I was 18 and a freshman in college. My previously “normal” self had turned warp speed. I became hyper-obsessed with boys, and--well, just plain hyper in general. I had far too much energy for anyone my age.

Shit hit the fan, proverbially, when I became obsessed with the idea this outlandish idea that I had Down’s syndrome and that my parents had never told me. I thought that they hid it from me for my entire life, and I was just sorting it out. (This is called a delusion, and is a strong indicator of type 1 bipolar during a manic phase. Delusions are beliefs that are persistently held despite all evidence to the contrary.)

Freshman year of college was not an easy one. And it didn’t get much easier.

After that manic phase, I became severely depressed. It was so bad, I didn’t even read the seventh Harry Potter book right away when it was released; and for those who know how incredible Harry Potter is, that is shows just how bad of a state I was in.

I refused to shower. I refused to go out in public. I refused to do anything but stay in bed. I became a recluse. I almost didn’t go back to college, but in order to keep health insurance to cover my meds, I had to stay a full time student. So back to school I went.

The next three years at undergrad felt like a zombified blur. My meds were too strong. I had a flat affect and no emotion. Granted, I wasn’t manic or depressed. But I really didn’t feel much of anything at all!

And on top of that, the meds caused me to gain 60 pounds in just a few months. So much for the freshman fifteen--I gained the sophomore 60! No one wants that. I’ve battled my weight ever since. Meds, depression, mania, and anxiety are the perfect cocktail for weight fluctuations and struggles. (As you may have noticed from Katie's blog!)

I have always been one who loved school and learning, so when mental health issues became a part of my life and my school work suffered, that was a huge blow. I lost my presidential scholarship and school became so much harder. But I did persevere.

After I graduated, I went on to grad school for my masters in social work. I think a big part of that (besides having an undergrad degree that likely wouldn’t get me a job anywhere) was the idea of wanting to help people who have been through the ringer like myself.

So I worked my way through grad school. By that point my meds were a bit better and I had more “real-life” emotion. But the stigma of the diagnosis of bipolar never left me. I had had the label of bipolar for six years at that point. I had earned my Master of Social Work and I still had not accepted my diagnosis.

So after I graduated, I sought out a second opinion from a different psychiatrist. And I think because I was so stable, or perhaps because she didn’t know me, or for whatever reason--I was “undiagnosed” bipolar. Then I was slowly taken off my meds… and that’s where the story gets interesting.

That was fall of 2012. I thought I was doing well. I was over the moon that I no longer had this heavy burden of bipolar. No longer had to pay $100+ a month on medication and wasn’t tied to this awful stigmatized diagnosis. But yet again, shit hit the fan.

I got a social work job working for the State of Michigan, third shift, answering calls of abuse and neglect for everyone and anyone who might be calling the hotline to report it. It was an extremely emotionally tolling and stressful job, not to mention that it was the third shift. (It's important to note that regular sleep patterns are crucial for controlling bipolar.)

I stopped sleeping. Stopped eating. And eventually, mania set back in. I didn’t realize it, but my friends certainly did. It really hit me when my boyfriend at the time was taking me home and the pillars of a local building next to my apartment complex appeared to be Nazi soldiers. And I said to him, “Those pillars look like soldiers, but I know they aren’t… right?”

My friends and family were godsends. I had a couple of friends from college who came over one night and told me that if I did not go to a psych hospital, they were going to have me committed. Let me tell you--I was furious. I was beyond mad.

I was an adult! I was a social worker! I knew myself better than that! I eventually called my counselor back home and she talked me through the decision and I went to the hospital “just for the evaluation.” I was immediately admitted.

I stayed at the psych hospital for one week. What an experience. I was first put in the more “crazy” wing. I had a female roommate around my age and when I was introduced to her, the first thing she said to me was “I’m a sex addict.” I knew I was in for a treat. She was actually just as “normal” as I was. Everyone there was just dealing with their own shit in their own beautifully crazy way.

Because of my lack of eating from the stress and poor sleep schedule, they thought I had an eating disorder. But no way, Jose. The food there was incredible. So fattening and such homemade goodness! And they always had such good desserts and man alive. Maybe I was just starved and it only tasted good in my memories. But I can’t change my memories. It was good food.

It felt a little like camp. There were group sessions and there was gym and art and outside time when the weather was nice.

I remember being in group one time and thinking that I needed to be excused to go to the bathroom. This was a pivotal moment for me… It was one of the first times I realized that I was an adult now. I didn’t need permission to go to the bathroom. I could just up and leave. I remember that moment quite vividly. It was pretty freeing. I don’t know why that sticks out so vividly.

There were some interesting people there, too. One guy, only a handful of years older than me, was married and he and his wife had several kids. He had tattoos all over his body. Both he and his wife had mental health issues. He told me his wife also had bipolar and she was in the psych ward during her whole pregnancy. Each and every one. That made me nervous. It still does, to be quite honest. I don’t have any kids, but I would like to someday.

One guy was a pastor who needed respite. He was depressed from listening to everyone else’s problems and issues. That was interesting to me; also a bit sad in a way. Perhaps he might need some coaching on how to help people with their burdens if it is driving him to such severe depression to help other people.

Anyway, I was there for seven days. Re-diagnosed with bipolar. Put on a new cocktail of medicine and eventually released. I then had 7 days of outpatient therapy where I came to the facility every morning for more classes but then got to go home at around three in the afternoon. I love classes and learning, so I enjoyed that too.

I lost my job through this whole experience. I hadn’t been there long enough to be gone from work that long. They were going to fire me, but I quit so that I wouldn’t have that in my work history. I think I would have quit eventually anyway, but it was just such a stressful time.

About a week after being released from the hospital, however, my boyfriend of about two years--the love of my life at the time, whom I thought was going to be my husband some day--ended things. Just broke it off. With no real reason. He blamed God actually. Perfect timing, right? Ha. So that brought me from a delightful manic phase to an awful depressive phase… and the shit just kept hitting the fan.

So, needless to say, about a month later, I was back at the psych ward because I was extremely depressed and suicidal. This time, I knew I needed to be there and I drove myself in. The experience was relatively the same. I wasn’t put on the “crazy” wing at all that time. I was put on the less crazy, girls’ only wing. Perhaps they view depression as less difficult to manage than mania. I’m not really sure.

I was there another seven days of inpatient, and followed up with another week of outpatient as well. When I was released from those, the depression didn’t seem to lift. I returned to life in my studio apartment in a large downtown area of Michigan and basically stayed on my couch binge-watching Netflix. It was not good.

I had to force myself to leave my house on occasion. I began looking for jobs. I would get a job, and eventually be fired because my brain wasn’t working well enough to perform anywhere or at anything. I worked for a while as a receptionist at a tech company. Got fired from there. I worked part-time as a social worker for a company and lost that job too. It was not a good season of my life.

Eventually I moved back home with my parents. I just could not cope with life without people around me and supporting me. All my life I thought I was this extreme introvert, but during this time, I realized how much I needed people in my life to love, support, and encourage me. Moving back with my parents was super hard and a very humbling choice, but it was the best thing for me. I eventually started working at a bagel shop and started to regain footing on life again. Well, sorta...

Slowly, but surely, color came back into my world. I got hired as an actual social worker for a job that I still hold today, a job that I love. I met, started dating, and am now recently married to a wonderful man who puts up with my crazy.

Yes. I am still crazy.

But... I have begun to embrace the crazy. I thank Katie for that. I had always been ashamed of bipolar and the word crazy. But it’s a part of me and my story and what makes me me.

There are good things to bipolar. Don’t worry--when I’m in the depths of despair, I Google it to remind myself… haha.

I’m more creative, empathetic, tenacious. But there are some very dark times. John (my husband) can attest to that. I have what I call spirals. My negative self-talk is through the roof and the spirals that get instigated by the negative self-talk are pretty incredible. And not in a good way. I definitely still have mood swings.

Mostly I deal with depression and anxiety, a little less mania. And the focus issue has been hard lately. Work has become a struggle related to my inability to focus. There’s still proverbial shit that hits the fan. But I have good days too. Most days are good.

Life has its ups and downs. But without the ups and downs, life would be pretty bland. And crazy is the perfect spice of life, right?

You can read more about Emily's adventures (and she has a lot of interesting ones!) on her blog, EmilyAlma.com.


  1. Thank you for sharing this! It helps so much to understand what people in my life who have this diagnosis are going through you are brave and beautiful

  2. Thank you to both of you, Emily and Katie for sharing your stories. The world needs to hear your stories!

  3. Thank you for sharing your story Emily.

  4. Thank you, ladies, for your honest and vulnerable stories of life with mental illness. I'm thankful you found each other and have your friends and family to help support you, too.

  5. Beautiful post! I was diagnosed with bipolar a few weeks ago and am eager to hear about other peoples' experiences!


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