Deb's Mental Health And Wellness Guide
My Personal Journey With Bipolar Disorder
A Roller Coaster Ride You Don't Want To Take
By Deborah Lynn Gilbert
Dedicated to my inner strength.Without it I would not be alive.
I never thought I would ever take the time to write a book about my journey with Bipolar Disorder. Why waste my time and your time to tell you it's an awful way to live one's life. But I want you to know what it's like being me as maybe you are living the same life I am.
Maybe you just want to hear that you are not alone in the fight to stay alive. Maybe you just want to be distracted from your own nightmare. Maybe you have reasons that even you don't understand.
But please know that I totally understand and I want to thank you for taking the time to read my story. It's not a pretty one but it does belong to me.
Now...it belongs to you.
I have a website. It's called debgilbert.com. I started it on Thanksgiving Day of 2011. It gives me great comfort to have it as writing in my blog has been great therapy for me. Also creating the site has given me back some passion and purpose that was robbed from me back in 1997 when I had my first real breakdown. I'm a passionate, creative entrepreneur that was robbed of my former life of creating due to that breakdown. My website gives me some of my creativity back and gives me a purpose to get out of bed each day. I am hopeful it helps the visitors that come to visit it.
I also had a live mental health support chat room on wireclub.com/chat for 3 years. I am proud to say that that room helped to save many lives and also empower hundreds of people to seek help for what ailed them..be it mental health issues, family issues, life issues, etc. We all need someone to talk to and I happened to be that person. I have wonderful memories of the great men and women who visited my chat room. I learned so much about them as well as about myself. It gave me great joy to do it and I was happy to help.
I am also a certified IOOV speaker for NAMI. Let me explain what that means. NAMI (nami.org) is a grass roots organization created by families for familes that have family members with a mental health diagnosis. I was so impressed by the organization that I found a way to commit to it. They have a division called IOOV (In Our Own Voice). Those of us that are certified IOOV speakers have a mental health diagnosis and speak in public to groups of people who are interested in hearing our story. I have been to psychiatric wards to speak to the patients or to the Family To Family sessions to talk to the family members. I share my story with them of what it is like to have Bipolar Disorder. It helps anyone I share my story with put a face on "mental illness" instead of a news headline of another murder. It brings the brain disorder to a healthy level of understanding and sharing. I'm proud to be a speaker for NAMI. It has helped me a great deal as well.
Well let's start at the beginning. I was born in 1963 in New Rochelle, New York...the first of 3 girls my parents would have. We didn't live their long as my parents wanted a change from that area. So off to Connecticut we went to start a new adventure.
My parents rented a cute place by the water when I was a toddler. They then decided an apartment would be a great next step as they wanted to continue to add to their family. My second sister was born during the time we were in our new apartment.
But the big decision was to buy their own home and they took the plunge in 1967. My third sister was born during our time in our new house.
What a great place to play and enjoy the pureness of life. This house was set in a neighborhood where nature abounded. There were lots of kids to play with, lots of sports to tackle and alot of exploring for me as I aged. I loved to walk. It was my passion and continues to be my passion still today. Walking a few miles has always refreshed my head and my soul. Funny how a walk can give you alot of answers to alot of problems churning away before the walk has begun.
We were lucky. The house was new and I had my own bedroom. My other two sisters had to share which I know was very hard on them as they both wanted their own space. But many children have to share rooms with their siblings. That is just how it went with us too.
There were alot of kids in my neighborhood so there was always something to do. Biking, hiking, hide & seek, roller skating, creating forts, walking in the woods, sliding down the creek rocks, playing sports, eating snacks and hanging out. We always played outside until we were called for dinner. Oh I can't forget our golden retriever dog Duffy. He helped to make the family complete. He and I enjoyed many walks together. I still miss him today.
So let's see, in the first dwelling I was a toddler and went off to pre-school. The second dwelling, the apartment, I was in elementary school. The third dwelling was our new house and I was in middle school and the beginning of high school there. We ended up moving to a new town the second semester of my freshman year in high school so I had to leave everyone I grew up with behind. I ended up graduating with new kids and from a new school.
It's hard to move when you are growing up. I moved at the age of 14 1/2 and my former home was several towns away so I couldn't ride my bike to see my old friends anymore. It was also a toll call to call my friends so as time moved by I couldn't make as many calls as I wanted to. It just became too expensive as I was on the phone all the time. I missed them deeply. They were all I knew.
So here I was in a new high school and it was sink or swim. I began the second semester of my freshman year in high school in my new town. I had to make new friends, start classes during the middle of the school year and try to figure out the town that was now my new home. Lucky for me it was right on the Boston Post Road which happens to be the main road that runs from Maine to Florida. It is usually called Route 1. That meant that there was alot of traffic passing our house every day but it also meant bike access to town and to the beach we lived near. The back of our house faced a golf course that sat right on the Long Island Sound. My walks were always great then. I could take our dog for a walk through the back yard, across the golf course and down to the water first then walk the road that follows the beach front. If anything was good about this move it was access to the beach and the water. I love the water. It is the most peaceful way to take a walk...walking by the water.
I think I will begin to say that Bipolar symptoms began to show themselves during my time in high school. As they say, hind sight is 20/20. Winters became hard for me which I attribute to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Not having that bright sunshine, gray days and cold temperatures really took its toll. That "down" feeling would stay with me until I hit Perimenopause at the age of 48. I am happy to say it finally went away. I am 53 now and in full Menopause and am totally thrilled about it. Having a menstrual cycle since the age of 12 truly ruined my life. I think hormonal imbalance should be taken into consideration when discussing mental health disorders. Women's bodies suffer greatly from puberty until Menopause. I hold my menstrual cycle partially responsible for my swings in my behaviors.
So off I went to tackle my new high school. I went to all of my classes through the years and had decent grades. I played basketball and softball but wasn't terribly good. There were other girls much better than I was in this new high school which made me feel inadequate. I ended up in the theater department which was the best place for me anyway.
I decided on a whim to become a Rotary Exchange student from my town. I passed all of the interviews and was sent to Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico. I lived there for 6 months of my junior year in high school with 3 families. I was one of 11 exchange students, went to school and learned how to speak, eat and drink the Mexican way. It was a heck of a time.
Now I can start to see fast decision making with no real thought as to the fall out of the decisions I would make. What I have learned about my Bipolar Mania is that things do not happen fast enough and then I "bail". It happens all the time still to this day. It happens in every aspect of my life, personally and professionally. I can swing like the wind. One moment yes and the next moment no. The first real sign of this was the gusto I felt about going to be an exchange student. The next thing I know I didn't want to go after all. Had I said yes and boarded a plane that moment I might have been fine. But the months between saying I would apply and finally getting on the plane were filled with agony. I was leaving my family, my new school, my new friends, my new life and going somewhere. I finally did board the airplane and landed in a crowded airport with people screaming for people getting off the plane. All I wanted to do was go back home. But there was no way I could back out now.
I ended up returning home due to a car accident and had to join my junior year with only 3 months left in the year. I had to plunge back in to school, friends and things to do. I found theater was my thing and began pursuing the school plays and boys. I missed all of my friends in Mexico and hated to leave. I wanted desperately to return but that was not an option. Back to high school I had to go and return to my family I hadn't seen in over 6 months.
So senior year was senior year. How I got voted Most Friendly for the yearbook I will never know. I'm an extremely friendly person but to win a place in the yearbook continues to surprise me to this day. I missed half of freshman year and most of my junior year. But I was voted in so there I was having my picture taken as Most Friendly. Now it was time to get ready for college.
Now I am feeling scattered. I looked at colleges but the process was overwhelming. Money was always an issue so I couldn't go to just any school I wanted to. The one dream regret I have is that I never went to Yale. Now let me tell you it was never on my radar at that time anyway. I never had the grades nor did we have the money to send me. Unfortunately for me, I ended up attending a state school down the street from Yale and was very unhappy there. I would take the bus just to be walking on Yale's campus. Sometimes I would even bring homework just so I could feel the energy that was there. The architecture alone made me drool with wanting.
I was about to swing out of this college thing very quickly.
I was miserable at my college. I just hated being there and still feel such negative feelings toward the school to this day. It just wasn't for me. My first year as a freshman in college I lived in the women's dorm. There were no men allowed to live there but they could visit of course. My classes were ok. But I was changing. I wasn't happy. What should have been an exciting part of my life was turning into an unhappy part of my life.
Things were also falling apart at home. My mother asked my father for a divorce. It was the best thing she ever did. Unfortunately for many of us, it took too long to get to that point. He was a very unwell man and we suffered deeply because of it.
So now arrives my sophmore year in college and I ended up being a roommate of someone I knew. My roommate my first year was a kind person but it didn't work out for me living with someone. And it didn't work out for me my sophmore year living with someone else...even if I knew her. It still doesn't work for me living with someone else. I get mean and nasty and know now that is my Bipolar Mania rearing its' ugly head. How I ever stayed married for 10 years I will never know. I can be a very nasty person.
By the end of the first semester of my sophmore year I had it living with someone and living on campus. I just hated the school but knew I had to finish college and get a degree. So I was able to move home for my second semester and commute 3 days a week still having a full-time schedule. I also worked three days. And that is the first clue I was now about to start riding the "mental illness" wave. I met Arlene.
I ended up working two days at a dress store located in the center of my town. A girl I knew in high school, who I didn't like then, was working in the coffee shop across the street. As it seemed we were the only ones still in town and not living at college, we became inseparable. She had money, a car and was hot to trot. I followed her lead.
I also dropped out of college. I finished that second semester of my sophmore year but with meeting Arlene we began to hatch new plans. I was off and running. Getting away from my town and that school were all I could think of. And getting a break from my family was also a good thing. I was ready to take off and go wherever she wanted to go.
We were going to head to Florida and transfer our college credits to a school down there. But my mother intervened and convinced me I should stay closer to home should something happen to my relationship with Arlene. Let me be clear this was a pure friendship and not a love relationship. She lived in the fast lane and my undiagnosed Bipolar Mania wanted to desperately be in the fast lane. So we settled on Westchester County, NY...White Plains. I ended up transferring to Pace University and got a job as a waitress. Arlene had convinced me during the summer before we left that I should join her at her new job and become a waitress. I knew I couldn't handle that pressure but said yes anyway. Give me a few people to make happy and serve not 10 tables and run like a crazy woman! Needless to say she thrived on that and the money. It wasn't the right field for me but when we moved to New York I didn't think I had any skills so I applied for waitressing jobs. A hotel restaurant hired me on the spot. I was to work the breakfast and lunch shifts on the weekends. Some of the details are fuzzy for me during this time. I just knew that we were running by the seat of our pants. The apartment we found was expensive and I barely made any money. I had to take 2 buses to work and all I remember is that it was a very chaotic existence.
Needless to say Arlene and I fell apart. Now what was I going to do? Thankfully there was a YWCA with housing for women in town that took me in. I had my own room and was away from Arlene. Packing up all of my belongings from my parents home and putting them in a back of a truck and driving to New York was one crazy thing to do. Now I'm stuck in New York on my own not knowing what the heck I am doing. Now I'm living at the YWCA, waitressing and who knows what else.
Now enters Bob and going back to college. I was accepted at Pace University and started back part-time.
Out of Arlene's world and into Bob's. Bob was a very strong man and dominant like Arlene. We ended up falling in love behind the scenes during our two years together. And yes he was my big boss. He ran the hotel I worked in.
He was 32 years my senior, played golf, ran the most successful hotel in the area, was very famous in his own right and swept me off my feet. Our first date was the Sheraton Square Center for martini's, a Broadway show (42nd Street) and dinner at the Rainbow Room. Ten years of living the fairy tale life, thanks to Bob, was about to begin. It was filled with alcohol, amazing times, hard times and swings of decisions and behaviors that I understand now belonged to my Bipolar diagnosis. I was going from one person to another without even thinking. I just kept on moving in a direction I never thought I would take.
I was 20 years old when I met him. I was 30 years old when I left. The hardest part was yet to come. At 34 I crashed into a debilitating breakdown which ended my personal and professional life. All of my choices and my running around broke my brain.