In this interview, Lena S. shares her story of having a manic episode, how she was diagnosed, and gives us insight into the struggles and blessings that come with having a mental illness. Lena is 27 years old and lives in Tel Aviv, Israel. I have known her for six years now and her friendship has brought me so much love, comfort, and joy. When we met, neither one of us knew the other had bipolar, but we instantly clicked. Over time in our friendship, Lena opened up to me about her diagnosis and later on when I was diagnosed I immediately had a friend to turn to who had gone through the same thing. We were naturally close from the start, but our ability to trust and have confidence to talk about the hard stuff helped us find tremendous support not only throughout our journeys with managing bipolar, but also in our everyday life. I am truly blessed to know her and I think you’ll find her words a blessing as well. Enjoy!
How old were you when you were diagnosed with bipolar I disorder?
I was diagnosed with bipolar I when I was 20 years old.
What were your symptoms upon diagnosis?
I was diagnosed with bipolar I after I experienced a manic episode. The mania began after I smoked weed on a vacation in the Caribbean. Usually a high from weed goes away after a couple hours but this “high” just kept getting more and more intense. I did not sleep for two days and felt very spiritually connected. I felt I could read people’s energies, mind read, tell the future and communicate with spirits. I lost touch with reality but the feeling felt very positive and grandiose. I felt as though I was awakened and more alive and in touch with the universe. Eventually this led me to the hospital where they diagnosed me with bipolar I and Mania.
At the time, did you know something was off balance or did you think your behavior and mental activity was simply you being you?
Looking back, I knew something was off balance because I never thought I was able to read minds before, however, since I am a spiritual person I thought anything was possible. Therefore, I did not want these mystical feelings of mania to go away and I falsely thought this was a positive experience. I told a spiritual mentor that I felt spiritually free, awake and in touch with a higher power. This person told me this is normal to feel because an enlightened person who is a believer and feels this type of connection with the universe is good. Because he told me it was normal to feel this way, I thought that anyone who becomes more spiritual feels these symptoms of mania. This might not be the case for everyone – it was bad luck that the person I turned to, to address my manic symptoms with was a spiritual healer and he did not understand what was in fact going on. Because he made me think my symptoms were normal I did not go to a doctor earlier. Seeing a doctor as soon as possible is what I advise anyone who is feeling off balance to do.
What was the most challenging part of receiving this diagnosis?
The most challenging part of receiving the bipolar I diagnosis was at first the disappointment that this spiritual journey I thought I was on was in fact not a spiritual awakening but rather a mental disorder. Today, I do feel more spiritually connected to my higher power and have faith, but at the time of mania I truly thought I was communicating with another dimension and it was hard to know it was not in fact real. After I was diagnosed it was hard to explain to people what had happened. I took a semester off of college afterwards and it was hard for me to explain to others what I experienced and why I was not coming back to school right away. It was also hard to return to a normal social life for a while because I was very afraid of alcohol and weed because they had put me in an alternate state which was clearly not good for my chemical balance.
What did you do after you were released from the hospital?
After I was released from the hospital I attended IOP (intensive outpatient program). I also found a psychiatrist and a therapist to see regularly to find the right medications that kept me stable and I worked with my therapist on ways to manage my diagnosis from an emotional standpoint and how to go back to living a normal life. After one semester off from school, I returned to college with the rest of my peers, graduated on time and found a job immediately after graduating.
How has having bipolar been a blessing in your life?
Having bipolar has been a blessing in my life because it has humbled me. I truly know now that we all struggle in our own ways. We all might seem like we have our stuff figured out from the outside, but mental illness can be hidden inside. Being diagnosed with a stigmatized illness has helped me be less judgmental – more open and accepting to all people and situations that often get stereotyped or misunderstood. It has made my heart grow and feel the pain for many others who are struggling too. It’s also been a blessing in my life because it gave me the ability to live more responsibly and mature quickly. It’s vital to take your medications accordingly, to get enough sleep, to exercise, to live a low stress life, to truly take care of your self physically and mentally in order to avoid an imbalance. This also means not doing drugs and partying all night. Being diagnosed has made me live more responsibly in my actions and has made me devoted to treating my body and mind the right way. One night of no sleep and experimenting with drugs can leave me in the hospital so it has made me play it safe to protect myself. Lastly, being diagnosed was a blessing because it showed me who I can truly trust and who loves me and accepts me for who I am. I was able to realize who would be there for me, support me, and help keep me healthy or who would reject me, or pressure me to do things that can risk another episode. Luckily, I’ve been pleasantly surprised a lot more often than disappointed.
What advice would you give any person on getting help when you aren’t feeling right?
The advice I would give any person on getting help when they aren’t feeling right is to speak up and call a doctor. Although speaking to a parent, friend, or loved one can help, a doctor can truly diagnose you and has much more experience and knowledge of this complex disorder. Today, bipolar is very common (2.6% of people in the USA have been diagnosed) and doctors have an in depth experience with putting the right treatment plan together. It’s better to see a doctor and for them to let you know that there is no need to take further action rather than slipping into unmanageable mania or depression and ending up in the hospital.
What advice would you give any person on accepting their diagnosis?
My advice to any person who is accepting a diagnosis of bipolar I is that it’s truly not as scary as it might sound or seem in the beginning. Once you are stable on the right medication you might not need medication changes or might not suffer from any mood imbalances for years and years or maybe ever again. Although they say it’s a life long illness, it does not mean it has to be an issue for the rest of your life. Although they say there is no cure, I believe that there are ways to truly not feel like you need a cure or that you have a sickness. If you take your medications everyday, you see a psychiatrist and a therapist, you exercise regularly, you eat right, get enough sleep, have a strong support system and stay away from mind altering substances you can live a wonderful happy healthy life – a life that without bipolar you wouldn’t have maybe been able to appreciate and experience in the same way. Having bipolar has made me a more open minded and accepting person, it has made me look at myself, my imperfections and struggles and still learn to see someone beautiful and I know you can do so as well.