To live successfully with bipolar, I’ve learned to be flexible. When I fall, when my journey is interrupted, I reassess and adapt. When I quit UCLA, I took a semester off and then went to community college before transferring to Berkeley. I had hoped to become a doctor, a neurosurgeon. That hope, that dream, that goal changed.
“I learned that I must take life as it comes, adjusting my goals as needed.”
When I fell into a deep depression, and later a week of mania, I couldn’t return to work right away. I decided not to return to my profession as a psychotherapist, took time off, and then worked in a temporary job, which led to a decade-long career in commercial real estate.
When recovering from my breakdown, at what would seem to be my lowest point, I met my future husband. We married and had a child. We’ve been together now twenty-five years, married for twenty-two years. My baby boy is now a 19-year-old young man. My greatest success has been being a loving wife and mother.
My mental health journey has led me here, now. I am a well-respected mental health advocate, active online and in my local community. My success includes publishing this book and the writing I’ve done online.
Writing is therapeutic, allowing me to organize my thoughts. When I speak in person (not as a public speaker, but in person socially), I lack impulse control and don’t always say the “right” or politic thing. I basically speak my mind with no filter. When I write, my words are honest, but more carefully chosen. The act of writing slows me down, giving my jumbled thoughts a place to go. Then I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. In rewriting, I organize, and I reframe those thoughts. It’s a cognitive exercise, retelling a story, reframing it, re-examining it.
“The story changes as we change, as our perception changes.”
Now I’m getting requests to speak about my mental health journey. I’ve always hoped to be a public speaker, which I’ve done through organizations like the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF). My training in high school as a drama geek, in seminary, and with NAMI has prepared me to realize this dream, this hope, this goal.
Right now, I’m living my dream by writing my story, by sharing it here in this book and on my blog, by telling my story aloud to others. I had hoped to be a published author and public speaker, and now I am. I have more to say. More to write. This is a beginning for me, yet another beginning.
My hopes and dreams for the future are continued public education about mental illness, overcoming stigma and discrimination, and better research and treatment for brain disorders. Much of my mental health advocacy is sharing information about the latest scientific research about brain health. I’m a science geek at heart. I will continue to share content about the latest brain research breakthroughs.
Kitt O’Malley is an author and mental health speaker and advocate who lives with bipolar. This article is adapted from her new publication Balancing Act: Writing Through a Bipolar Life.