Personal Stories

Learning to Manage My Bipolar Disorder

by Natalie Withrow

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After I displayed some erratic behavior throughout my childhood, my parents grew concerned about me, and scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist. At 18 years old, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The practitioner, who I still see today, prescribed medication that prevented frequent manic or depressive episodes. However, managing my mental health condition is a lifelong journey.

Throughout this journey, I’ve learned that you need to prioritize having a good treatment team, cultivating honest friendships and practicing self-care and acceptance.

My story is not without its setbacks. Recently, I had an ectopic pregnancy, followed by a major surgery to remove my gallbladder and appendix one week later. This series of traumatic events triggered a manic episode. During these episodes, the mania takes over my brain, and often, there is nothing I can do to stop it.

I found myself posting on social media every day and becoming obsessed with making TikTok videos back-to-back (which is normal behavior for some people, but certainly out of character for me). I began calling and texting various contacts and sharing overly personal information. I wanted to take apart my sectional couch and rearrange it in the living room — although I never completed this task because another fleeting thought came to me. I wanted to start my own Etsy shop, even though I have a full-time job as an operating room nurse.

Luckily, a friend picked up on these concerning behaviors and told me that I was manic. She showed me a text I sent her, and I was shocked. I do not remember sending the message at all, and in a better state of mind, I would never say the things I sent her. I am fortunate to have someone who can tell me, “Natalie, this isn’t you. You are manic.” I hope I will always have someone to tell me the truth and help me manage my symptoms.

Addressing the consequences of a manic episode can be emotionally draining. In the aftermath, I need to check my bank account to see if I made any financial decisions. I also need to acknowledge and address my fears of having another manic attack episode.

When dealing with a setback, I’ve learned I have to rest, but also find productive ways to keep myself occupied. I need to accept that a chemical imbalance is not my fault and be grateful for the support I have when these episodes take place.

Ultimately, I hope my story can help anyone experience something similar. If these behaviors are familiar to you, seek out a psychiatrist for evaluation or guidance. And if you notice that a loved one behaving out of character, check on them. Self-advocacy and support can be life-changing.