Written by Cleaver Alvarez, as told by Stephanie Watson
Getting bipolar disorder hasn’t been easy. I’ve lived with her for 11 years now. Being diagnosed at 16 was heartbreaking for me. I didn’t know what was going on, and I remember feeling like I was about to die. Mostly what I remember is getting in and out of hospitals, the countless nights my parents were awake, praying for me to get back to normal.
The first time this happened, I thought I was having an asthma attack. I had shortness of breath. I could not sleep. Mom had to work – she worked in a factory. And she said, “Just take a break, I have to work tomorrow.” She ended up falling asleep. I walked to the hospital alone in the middle of the night.
When I got there I told them I had an asthma attack, because I have asthma. They gave me the steroid prednisone. The nurse gave me three pills. I remember asking her, “Do I take the three pills?” She didn’t say anything, so I ended up taking them all.
I didn’t know psychosis was a side effect of steroids. I don’t remember how I got home that night. It’s as if I fainted.
I got to the point where my mom was like, “Something’s wrong.” When I researched my symptoms online, I felt there must be something else going on. I didn’t sleep. I started to feel upset. I thought this could not be asthma.
Eventually, she took me to a psychiatrist who confirmed that I had bipolar disorder. “We have to put her medicine,” Mom said. There were no ifs, ands, or buts.
My psychiatrist put me on medication for my bipolar disorder, but I was young and didn’t accept my diagnosis. Lithium helped, but was just too strong – so strong that I slept through class, that my grades dropped so much. I did not stick to my treatment, which often drove me to the hospital.
I had one episode where my friend dropped me off at the bus station to go to my friend’s house. I told the bus driver, “Next stop.” When the bus driver asked me, “This stop or that?” For some reason, that seemed to me.
I got off the bus and was crossing the street when I heard a sound like it had come to a sudden stop – the screeching tires. I had the experience of the body. It felt like a car hit me. It’s as if I saw myself getting beaten up. In my opinion, I was in a panic.
When I was walking down the street, I felt like people were staring at me. I was very paranoid.
I called my friend and said, “Take me to the hospital. I don’t feel well. I don’t know what’s going on.”
When my eldest son appeared in the picture, that was when he began to feel responsible. I swore to take my medication as prescribed for the well-being of my son. It is no longer just about me. Now I had a goal. Things started looking up.
However, once I got married, all the stress of being a working mother and wife started to catch up to me. I wanted to be everything to everyone. She has endured so much, that she has become devastated. I stopped taking care of myself. I didn’t sleep, sometimes for days.
I was off my medication some days, and I relapsed. I got to the point where I became a very aggressive person, even psychotic. I spent a month in the hospital. I also received treatment by court order.
In 2018, when I was pregnant with my second child, I had to stop taking the medication again. My husband’s painting business was slow at the time and we were struggling financially. I decided to get a job, and I was under a lot of pressure.
I ended up in the hospital because I was so anxious. I took my son with me because I didn’t want to leave him at home alone. The hospital staff immediately noticed that I was not in a good condition to take care of my son. The Department of Children’s Services had to step in. They took my baby away for two days. My husband had to fight to get it back.
Knowing when to ask for help
Late in my second pregnancy, my doctor adjusted the dosage of the medication. I’ve been taking my current medication for two years. I’m in a good place now. My children are in good health. My husband and I are planning to buy a house. I feel like I’m learning to live a balanced life, prioritizing what’s important and enjoying my family.
The medication is working, but my doctors are on quick contact, and I’ve made a plan with them and my family. I have a team now. Because I’ve been through this so many times, I’ve prepared myself, but you can never be too prepared. It is always a good idea to have backup support. I’m learning to recognize when I need help.
The 11-year hospital stay, psychiatric appointments, and treatment have done a lot for me. I finally accepted and accepted bipolar disorder.
I am so grateful to the people who helped me through this – my mom, my husband, my therapist Elizabeth Sillary and all the people who pushed and gave me courage. Honestly, without them I wouldn’t be in this position.
I became a life coach because I wanted to help others overcome their suffering and live to their fullest potential, just as I did in changing my life. I basically help them put their lives in perspective and try to show what is possible. I help them change the way they think, so they think like the person they want to be.
I want others to see that if I do this with bipolar disorder, they can too. Many people with mental health issues suppress themselves or think they can’t do it. I want them to say, “I am worthy.”