What did your life look like before your diagnosis of bipolar disorder? What does it look like now?
Before my diagnosis, I was doing drugs, including hallucinogens and methamphetamines. I was kicked out of high school and sent to alternative school. I was told to “stop it” and “behave.” By the time I was 16, I had a newborn baby boy. I quit meth but was still drinking heavily. I attempted suicide at 18 when my son was nearing two years old. At that point, I went to the mental hospital and received a diagnosis of (manic depression) bipolar 1 disorder. I did not take my medications upon my release. No one encouraged treatment, or even asked how I was doing. I went right back to work and felt like a leper.
Four months later I met my husband. We fell deeply in love, but the cycles of my bipolar disorder deeply impacted us. After six more years of suffering with symptoms of mania, extreme irritability, depression and sometimes a feeling that everyone was against me, I had an “episode” in which I was screaming and crying for help. My husband held me on the ground until I calmed down. I clawed at the earth and broke my fingernails. When I calmed down, he said, “Do you remember when you were 18 when we first got together, and you told me you have bipolar disorder?” With tears in my voice, I responded, “Yes!” My husband said something that I will never forget, “Let’s do something about it together.” And we did.
What does life look like now, several years after your diagnosis?
My life is everything I dreamed. I am a wife and a mother. I can sleep now. It took medication, family support, and support groups, such as NAMI, for me to find peace within myself. My husband and I are successful business owners. My son also lives with bipolar disorder, but I am confident in myself, as a mother, and feel equipped to support him.
Tell me a little bit about your work as a mental health advocate?
A group of us with the local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) organization are continuing to go into the high schools (locally), to teach the 9th-grade health students about mental illness. “Mental Health” is listed on the North Carolina Curriculum for 9th graders, something they were not offering. Through “In Our Voice” we educate and reduce stigma. At the end of IOOV, “Anonymous” questionnaires are filled out by the audience. The responses of these kids are what make me feel accomplished. “I feel the same way,” some say. “Now I can help my mom,” says another. “This class helps me to be more understanding towards my friends,” said one. Some students even gave us their emails so that we could send them more information. The best/worst response and the reason I believe so firmly in this program is “I have thought about killing myself too. I didn’t know anyone else felt like that.” I was very young when my sleeplessness and depression began. I am so grateful for my recovery and the chance to educate and help someone else.
What awards have you received as an advocate?
During my time as President of our local NAMI chapter, we received the NC NMAI Affiliate of the Year award. We also received the Recovery Champion award.
How has being a wife and a mother impacted your life?
I could write a book on this topic. The long and the short of it is; when I was a little girl, all I wanted was to be a mother, a “good,” and honest mother. This goal kept me focused in my chaotic life. Having a child, and a husband doesn’t just give me purpose, it is my purpose. I am truly blessed to have met my desires and to have achieved satisfaction, at my young age.
What problems are we facing regarding our mental health care system in the US?
This is an important question. It has been studied and theorized that early care is less costly than emergency care. The difficulty is that creating an early care system would require money up front. The $ savings, from the emergency room to the jail, would not be immediate. As a politician seeking reelection, every dollar is scrutinized. Individuals with mental health conditions are not a significant percentage of the population. It is important to educate yourself, and to vote, and to support organizations like NAMI that have paid lobbyists who research and fight for what is needed in the mental health community.
Another issue is our Veterans. In America every day, 22 Veterans take their own lives. Veterans make up 30% of our homeless population (keeping in mind that Veterans are less than 0.5% of the TOTAL population). I firmly believe the military budget has room for these brave men and women….. And as an American, I am appalled at these numbers.
Outside of the challenges you face living with bipolar disorder, what do you love about your bipolar mind if anything at all?
My bipolar mind is my mind. I am creative and empathetic, is this me or the condition? I love my whole self; this is how I thrive. I might not have survived the events of my childhood, without my bipolar. It kept me defensive and angry, inquisitive and awake and helped me define myself at a young age. My husband believes that bipolar may be a human adaptation; Bipolar individuals are the kings and queens of dealing with disaster.
What advice would give to someone who is struggling with their mental health?
You are not alone. Read! Read! Read! Get involved in peer support groups. See a doctor. Give any new coping skills or medications a proper trial run, before abandoning them. Fill your life with positive music, etc. Follow places like The Healthy Place, and other positive groups on Instagram, Youtube, etc., to see inspirational quotes on your feed… providing balance to online negativity. Identify behaviors that can make mental conditions worse, ie, drinking/doing drugs, choosing drama, not sleeping, etc. Identify your “triggers” to avoid mental health slips. It is OK to take care of yourself!!! Peace is real.
Donita’s Top Three Quotes:
I doubt sometimes whether a quiet and unagitated life would have suited me – yet I sometimes long for it. -George Gordon Byron
No one ever said life was fair, only eventful.-Carol Burnett
Information is the cure to fear. -Unknown
Donita’s Top Three Books to Read:
Love Is Letting Go Of Fear by Gerald G. Jampolsky
The Isaiah Effect by Gregg Braden
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg
Donita has been so kind to share her email for those of you who are interested in reaching out to her.
Contact her at Happydonita@gmail.com. Thank you Donita for being the beautiful gem you are and sharing part of your story with us today. You are such an inspiration.