Alcohol became an issue for me at a very young age, and my behavior earned me the title “crazy girl” by my classmates. In my teenage years I began showing symptoms of bipolar disorder and it was difficult for my family to deal with; later on I started using narcotics. A big issue was my destructive behaviors; attention seeking behavior that felt necessary for survival.

At nineteen I realized that I was not ok and needed help; it was the first time I became clean from drugs. However, at 22, I tried committing suicide, convinced that death would solve everything. The following year I had my first round of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), which made all the hard work pay off; things started going well after that. I also participated in a 12-step fellowship for substance abuse, where they have been open minded and accepting of my mental health issues. Though the fellowship was to deal with substance abuse, I made friends there that I can talk to about my mental health. I also see a psychiatrist regularly, take medication, participate in different types of therapy, and exercise.

At 32, I was doing everything suggested by my family and doctor, living a great life. When everything seemed to be perfect, I fell ill and had another episode that required another round of ECT treatments. Realizing that my bipolar disorder would be a constant battle to stay healthy was enlightening and relieving. I had to accept that although I might do absolutely everything I can [to stay well], it wouldn’t always be easy and I would have to stay alert. What helped the most was having my husband, also in recovery, for support. We made an agreement with one another to stay in therapy. When I’m not doing well he is very supportive and understanding, [because he knows] what I’m going through and vice versa.

I experienced subtle stigma at one of my former jobs. It was a situation where over time the rest of my coworkers eventually learned about the drug abuse and mental health history. Though they didn’t openly criticize me, once I found another job the weight of the [stigmatizing situation] was lifted off of my shoulders. I hadn’t realized before how uncomfortable the situation made me and since then I’ve been very discriminating with regard to sharing my history

For me, recovery is a [fluid] process with the several key [components]; movement in a forward direction, staying connected with supportive people, [maintaining] a dialogue with a professional who understands my illness and understands my ability to succeed in life as well. My whole lifestyle is based on recovery, from having a healthy family and marriage life, reasonable sleep schedule and diet, getting exercise, picking up medications, and so on.

The biggest challenge I confronted was understanding the various parts of who I was and treating them together; in other words, treating both the addiction and bipolar disorder. It’s been difficult to [cope with] a mental illness because some medication only worked temporarily and it’s a repetitive pattern of varying medication. Some symptoms that are challenging are frightening hallucinations that make me feel disconnected from reality.

I became involved with Colorado Mental Wellness Network (CMWN) by taking their peer support specialist training. I was excited to find this training because nobody else does trainings like this for the general public. I appreciate that CMWN is a peer-run organization with a high level of professionalism. CMWN is a very well run charitable organization that is peer run which is very appealing. They have helped me through training and that has brought me closer to being able to look for part time positions for peer work. Also, CMWN has helped me get involved in the community as a peer specialist, and it makes me feel like I’m not alone.

Even though I had another episode this summer, it was a humbling experience because it reminded me that it’s something I can deal with, that it doesn’t have to ruin my life. The fact that I have remained employed in a career for the past 20 years is one of my biggest accomplishments and reminds me how hard I’ve worked and how far I’ve come. When I feel discouraged I hold on to this fact and keep going, taking it one day at a time.

Nora’s Story