My Story: Life with Bipolar

Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Sara, I am 29 years old and I live just outside of Baltimore, Maryland. I am so glad you found my blog! Here is a little bit about my story of life with Bipolar Disorder.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of 15. I was initially given a misdiagnosis of clinical depression and was treated solely with an antidepressant. This course of treatment kicked me out of depression and right into the hands of full blown mania. A mania that ultimately landed me in the hospital after an intentional overdose of over the counter pain medication. I received the diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder while in the Emergency room. My trip to the ER was followed by a 2 week stay in a psychiatric unit at two different local hospitals. Howard County Hospital for a couple of days and Johns Hopkins Hospital for the remaining week and a half. Those 2 weeks were the very beginning of a journey that forever changed my life; the journey of living with and overcoming a mental illness! This is a lifelong journey for me and so many others!

I definitely did not leave the hospital at 15 thinking; “Great, I’ve got this mental illness and I’m going to take medication every day and everything will be alright.”  In fact, it was just the opposite. High school was a time of complete turmoil for me. The addition of the onset of bipolar symptoms to the already tumultuous time that high school brings did not bode well for me. I really can’t even begin to put into words how treacherous that time in my life was. It is a time that I don’t want to remember, and to be honest, I have trouble recalling a good portion of it which is definitely for the best. It was in my senior year that things began to turn around. At that point I was finally faithfully taking my medication as prescribed. The change in me that accompanied my medication compliance was truly phenomenal. It was like night and day, two totally different individuals. During my senior year in high school I was able to take half a day of classes in high school while taking a college course at the community college in the afternoon. I had hated school so much during these years and was able to discover through taking college courses how much I really do love learning. It was a fantastic discovery to have made during a point in which I thought I completed hated education; it gave me the desire to continue on to college.

Let’s fast forward 5 years from my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder to my 2nd psychiatric hospitalization at the age of 20. I was experiencing a very severe depressive episode during this time period and was feeling suicidal. I locked myself in the bathroom with the intentions of taking an overdose. My dad came to the rescue by literally banging the door down before this could fully occur; I had taken a few pills but not enough to cause any damage. I voluntarily admitted myself to Sheppard Pratt, a psychiatric hospital in the Baltimore area. I stayed inpatient for 6 days which was followed by a week in the day hospital. I took the semester off of college during which I was hospitalized and returned in the following fall semester.

I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in 2007 and went out into the full time workforce. Two months after graduating college I went through the scariest experience of my life. I made a suicide attempt that I am extremely lucky to have survived. After a extremely large overdose of tegretol, I woke up in ICU unable to walk or talk, remembering only small parts of what took place after I took the overdose. I spent quite a few very scary days in ICU with my family by my side. I managed to come through it all and am so thankful to be alive!

Since that event in 2007, I have been through a subpar marriage (which is an understatement), a divorce, a series of increasing intensity in my bipolar symptoms requiring medication adjustments and an onset of a psychosis like I’ve never experienced before, just to name a few.

On the other hand, since that scary event in 2007 I have overcome the psychiatric symptoms that I have dealt with on various occasions, I have changed my outlook on life and on mental illness, I have taken a stand to fight the stigma of mental illness, I have told me stories using various different avenues and a year ago, I graduated with my MBA degree!

In between the major events that I wrote about, I have experienced many other rough patches throughout my life. I have experienced times of severe mania and times of severe depression. I have also experienced times of mania and of depression that were much less severe yet lingered over time before I achieved a successful medication increase or change. Finding the right mix of medications hasn't always been easy. In fact it has often times been tiring and cumbersome; sometimes feeling like more trouble than it’s worth but I’ve always stuck it out. There have been obstacles to overcome through every step of the way as a result of my Bipolar and I am happy to say that I have successfully done so on each and every occasion. That's not to say I don't still have obstacles, I have plenty that I’m faced with at any given moment, which is a lifelong battle. However, Bipolar can’t and won’t stop me from anything! I proudly take the psychotropic medications I am prescribed and stand tall for all that I have accomplished despite having a mental illness!

Bipolar has knocked me down temporarily but I will never let it keep me down!  
The stigma of bipolar kept
me from ever discussing that I had an illness until recently. Last year, I went from hiding my bipolar in the back of a closet like a big dark secret to saying to the entire world that “I have Bipolar Disorder and I am just like you!” I started this blog, Kissing Stigma Goodbye to raise awareness to mental illness, fight the stigma attached to mental illness, and provide hope, encouragement and a sense of belonging to individuals living with a mental illness and their loved ones. It provides me with the chance to use my experiences to help others and to show others that they are not alone in this fight! My bipolar disorder and my experiences have given me the gift to help others who may be struggling. It took me many, many years to realize how strong I am for all that I have overcome. I hope that my blog can help others with a mental illness of any sort realize that they too are strong and that they are not alone in this battle. I am so glad you have found my blog, I hope that you will follow my journey and that my story helps you in some way.


Scott Little said...

I ran across your story trying to find out about Sheppard Pratts day hospital.My psychiatrist said that's where I need to be right now. Feeling really confused and lost.

Sara Breidenstein said...

If that is where your doctor thinks you need to be then it is probably where you should be right now. It's not a bad place to be at all and you get to go home at night! Way better than the hospital!

Chris Bowman said...

I was first diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Obsessive/Compulsive Personality Disorder and anxiety when I was thirty. I've been treated with many SSRI's, Abilify, Klonopin, Ativan for anxiety. I have "cycles" that repeat every 3-5 years. I "bottom out" with depression, usually am admitted in a psychiatric hospital. From the hospital I receive therapy, case management from my counties mental health dept. My symptoms lessen and I feel like I'm moving in a positive direction. Something then changes causing stress and the depression, anxiety come back and I then "check-out" because I haven't found a way to cope in a healthy way. The stress this last time I think came from overextending myself because I was feeling so good and wanting to keep pushing ahead, probably thinking I needed to make up for all the down time with the depression. Does any of this sound at all like anything you've ever experienced? I have talked to my therapist about having a discussion regarding a possible diagnosis of Bi-Polar Disorder. Am I just grasping at something that isn't there? Any insight you could provide would be greatly appreciated. By the way I applaud your courage for letting people know that you have a mental health condition and that you don't let it define you. Please keep up your valuable work to lessen stigma.

Sara Breidenstein said...

I don't really feel comfortable giving anyone my idea of what their diagnosis may be because I have no qualifications to do so and with only hearing a small piece of anyone's story my ideas are really just ideas that should probably never be spoken. What I do feel comfortable saying to you is that what you describe doesn't sound to me like there is any mania which is essential to Bipolar. You cannot have a diagnosis of bipolar with only depression and anxiety, there must be mania or hypomania. What you've gone through doesn't really sound like my own experiences as mania has been my worst nightmare not depression but it is important to know that the same illness can present differently in everyone. If you really doubt your diagnoses I would suggest finding a different psychiatrist who can give you a brand new evaluation without any influence of your past records prior to speaking with you. Have you spent time reading about what the diagnostic criteria for Bipolar is to help determine if you meet it or not?

This is a link I posted a few months back. There are various free and anonymous mental health screenings you can take on there. One of which is Bipolar. Hopefully this can help you answer some questions.

I wish there was more I could say to help but talk about diagnoses is certainly beyond my scope of expertise. I wish you luck! Feel free to e-mail me at or further the conversation here if you would like.

Chris Bowman said...

Thank you for your honesty and for not hesitating to let me know that you weren't comfortable going beyond what you feel you are qualified to comment on. I agree that the same illness can present differently in each person. I will follow your suggestion and examine if I meet any of the diagnostic criteria for Bipolar. You have done all that I requested and you need not think that you could do more. Thanks again for your suggestions and I wish you the best in continuing to providr this valuable service to those in need.

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