By Clisver Alvarez, as Stephanie Watson was told
It wasn’t easy having bipolar disorder. I’ve lived with it for 11 years now. The diagnosis at the age of 16 was heartbreaking for me. I didn’t know what was going on and I remember feeling like I was going to die. What I remember most are hospital stays and the countless nights my parents lay awake praying that I would return to my normal self.
When it first happened I thought I was having an asthma attack. I was short of breath. I could not sleep. My mother had to work – she worked in a factory. So she said to me: “Just rest, I have to work tomorrow.” She fell asleep at the end. I went to the hospital alone in the middle of the night.
When I got there I told them that I had an asthma attack because I have asthma. They gave me the steroid drug prednisone. The nurse gave me three pills. I remember asking her, “Do I take all 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 evening. It’s like I’ve blacked out.
It got to the point where my mom said, “Something’s wrong.” When I looked up my symptoms online, I had a feeling there must be something else going on. I have not slept. I started getting irritable. I thought this can’t be asthma.
Eventually she took me to a psychiatrist who confirmed that I had bipolar disorder. My mother said, “We have to give her medication.” There were no ifs, ands or buts.
My psychiatrist prescribed medication to treat my bipolar disorder, but I was young and didn’t accept my diagnosis. Lithium helped, but it was very powerful—so powerful that I fell asleep during class, to the point where my grades plummeted. I didn’t stick to my treatment, which often ended up in the hospital.
I had an episode where my boyfriend dropped me off at the bus stop to go to my boyfriend’s house. I said to the bus driver, “Next stop.” When the bus driver asked me, “This stop or that stop?” for some reason that sounded off for me.
I got off the bus and was crossing the street when I heard a sound like a car suddenly stopping – the tires squealing. I had an out of body experience. I felt like the car had hit me. It’s like I saw myself get hit. In my mind I was in panic mode.
As I walked down the street, I felt like people were staring at me. I was very paranoid.
I called my friend and said to him, “Take me to the hospital. I do not feel good. I do not know what’s up.”
When my firstborn son came into play, the sense of responsibility kicked in. I swore I would take my medication as prescribed for my son’s benefit. It wasn’t just about me anymore. Now I had a goal. Things started to improve.
But when I got married, all the pressures of being a working mom and wife started to overwhelm me. I wanted to be everything for everyone. I took on too much to the point where it became destructive. I stopped taking care of myself. I didn’t sleep, sometimes for days.
Some days I skipped my meds and relapsed. It got to the point where I became a very aggressive person, even psychotic. I spent a month in the hospital. I also received court-ordered therapy.
In 2018, when I was pregnant with my second child, I had to stop taking my medication. 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 stress.
I ended up in the hospital because I was feeling very anxious. I took my son with me because I didn’t want to leave him at home alone. The hospital staff immediately saw that I was not in the right condition to take care of my son. The youth welfare office had to intervene. They took my child away for 2 days. My husband had to fight to get him back.
Late in my second pregnancy, my doctor adjusted my medication dose. I’ve been on my current medication for a few years. I’m in a good place now. my children are healthy My husband and I are planning to buy a house. I feel like I’m learning to live a balanced life, prioritize what’s important, and enjoy my family.
The drug is working, but my doctors are on speed dial 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, but you can never be too prepared. It’s always good to have backup support. I’m learning to recognize when I need help.
Those 11 years of hospitalizations, psychiatric appointments, and therapy have done a lot for me. I have finally accepted and embraced my bipolar disorder.
I am very grateful to the people who helped me through this – my mother, my husband, my therapist Elizabeth Sellari and all the people who pushed me and encouraged me. Honestly, I wouldn’t be in this position without her.
I became a Life Coach because I wanted to help other people overcome their struggles and reach their best potential the way I transformed my life. Basically, I help them to put their lives in the right light and try to show them what is possible. I help them change the way they think, so they think like the person they want to be.
I want other people to see that if I’ve done it with bipolar disorder, they can too. Many people with mental health problems suppress themselves or think they can’t. I want them to say, “I am worthy.”