Half the battle: My story of bipolar disorder in an already sober world

April 2011. It’s late afternoon, and my second day of the Partial Program at Beverly Hospital has wrapped up. I’m plowing down Route 128 with a song on the radio that I don’t remember. Everything has changed, but I’m not totally sure if that’s a good or bad thing. I pull over into the parking lot of the Liberty Tree Mall, just trying to absorb the information I’ve been given. I’ve spent so many years of my youth hanging out in this very location, and I can see the sign for Laser Quest over the highway, along with a cut-rate movie house. Traffic passes. It’s 4:00 p.m. and I call my wife with the news.

As it turns out, my official diagnosis of bipolar II wasn’t exactly a surprise to her. In fact, it was as if I suddenly announced I was right-handed. I presented the news to a test group of hand-picked familiars (a former supervisor, a friend of my son, coworkers from a side job I still do from time-to-time) and each reacted like I was telling them there would be a World Series in October. With a solid network of support in place, the big question was … now what?

I was already comfortably sober for some time and had no plans on going back. The AA community, sponsors, 12-Step Work, etc. were a fantastic resource, but this was a different animal. One of my favorite sayings is “You don’t connect the dots in the future”, and I can now see my road to this point was paved by a string of major life changes in a very short amount of time. Having some family history with the disorder added fuel to the fire, and it was gently suggested that my time before sobriety was most certainly self-medicating.

What you see isn’t necessarily what is there

After running the gauntlet on different prescribed pharmaceuticals, a nurse practitioner suggested Lithium, and it had an almost immediate effect. I began to feel better, even under some very challenging circumstances. As I still do now, I found solace and stability in the simple act of work. I’ve usually had some kind of side or second job, and I happened upon two that seem intentionally designed for someone like me. In a coincidental twist of career trajectory, I ended up in the Member Services Department at Beacon Health Options, my logic being who better to assist people with behavioral health and substance use disorders?

If I appear a little down, it’s not always depression. If I look like I’m lonely, that may be my introverted side showing. In short, look at the person, not the affliction.

In the meantime, it’s safely under control and manageable. Honestly, most of the time I forget I’m one of a massive population of Americans with the disorder. It can be deceptively tricky at times as I have to be aware of racing thoughts, obsessive searches for insignificant items, rapid speech, etc. On the flip side, if I appear a little down, it’s not always depression. If I look like I’m lonely, that may be my introverted side showing. In short, look at the person, not the affliction.

Of course, some have the disorder much worse than I; otherwise I wouldn’t be “outing” myself in such a sweeping gesture. I find strength in my family, loyal friends, like-minded social media people, colleges, and past and present advocates, ranging from Red Sox great Jimmy Piersal, Patty Duke, Richard Dreyfuss, Carrie Fisher, A.J. Lee and Russell Brand. Stamp out Stigma is also a fantastic source for mental illness support, and there have been several accurate and positive portrayals in film and television.

If someone asks me about it and I answer in the affirmative, I’ll usually joke that we’re out there, you just have to look. And never be afraid to ask for help.

Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Google Bookmarks

13 Comments. Leave new

Thank you for sharing your story and for taking care of yourself.

Reply

Thanks, Susan!

Reply

Thank you for sharing your story David. Would you have any recommendations for a parent of a young teen with this affliction? While raising my daughter, at age 13 she was diagnosed but was not truly helped in how to handle daily life with her. She has since grown and is out on her own, but I know that she still struggles. The lack of knowledge still weighs on my mind. Thank you again for any suggestions you may have.

Reply

Thanks for the kind words! I used to tell people that it’s not the meds that help, but the *right* meds that help. My son was also diagnosed in my mid-late teens and has managed a life similar to mine. Having been through several levels of behavioral health (from social workers on up), finding a good match for talk therapy is key. Wanting help is also major, but I feel like you’re in a good spot to assist, as we never stop being parents (or grandparents, ha ha). Just keep trying and I can almost guarantee something good will happen.

Reply

David, that’s so encouraging. Thanks for helping us understand what it’s like.

Reply

My pleasure! Thanks for the support!

Reply

Very insightful article. I think some people are afraid of the diagnosis and its stigma — so much so that they fail to get the treatment they need. The more open we all are about mental illness and the more we learn, the better we can serve those with the illness.

Reply

That was the goal, thanks! I appreciate the positive feedback!

Reply

I really appreciated your story. Thank you for sharing with us.

Reply

You bet! Thanks for the kind words!

Reply
Alison O'Connell
December 13, 2017 3:36 pm

Thank you David, great read!

Reply
Kristi Messana
December 13, 2017 7:15 pm

And this is why, from the moment you sat down in the chair across from me, I knew you were going to excel and make a real impact. So proud of you!

Reply

I wouldn’t have done so well in the interview if it wasn’t for you and Jenn. For anyone who has ever had to sweat through a line of tough questions, you know you how easier it is when the people on the other side are true professionals.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *