By Jean M. Bradt, Ph. D.

Hi! I’m Jeanie. I’m 50 years old. I was born in the Rochester, New York, area. I didn’t know I had bipolar disorder or that the disease runs though my family. I graduated from college like anybody else and went out and got a job as an elementary school teacher. The principal fired me because I”acted funny.” Neither I nor my family knew what she was talking about.

Then began my search for a teaching career. I kept careful records. In the next eight years, I must have filled out 300 job applications, gradually moving further and further away from the teaching field. No luck. I especially wanted to work at the agencies that cared for developmentally disabled or orphaned children. Although I applied at these agencies over and over, they never even called me back.

I became a regular at the New York State Employment Office. After several years, I was even given a special counselor who worked with the tough cases. He told me one day that if I wanted to look for a job in some other state, New York State would keep sending me benefits as long as I needed them. I had been thinking of moving to Los Angeles, but I didn’t. Too scary.

By the time I was 30, I was so desperate I took a teaching job in a prison. One day one of the prisoners tried to rape me. I handled it all wrong, and the case was thrown out of court. I decided to move to L. A. afer all.

I drove to L. A., totally on my own, found a cheap apartment and applied at the city
schools. A ten‑minute interview and I was hired. I was a dynamite third grade teacher for three and one half years. I must have been manic for all my first three years in L. A. The people I met were so exciting! Most were trying to break into the arts or show business or both. But that’s another story.

The only fly in the ointment at the time was that I just couldn’t seem to find a husband. I even saw a few psychiatric professionals to try to find out what I was doing wrong. None of them could help me. None of them had any inkling that I might have a psychiatric disorder. I seemed to manifest mostly when I was alone. When even one other person was in the room, my brain covered up my symptoms with great finesse.

After three years in L.A., I swung into a depression more severe than I had ever been in. I tried to starve myself to death. After two days without food, I became almost paralyzed. I found out later that this sudden weakness was the result of a blood sugar level close to zero. I was slender and therefore my level had very little glycogen stored for such a sudden sugar deprivation. I was terrified. I panicked. I hyperventilated, and that caused total paralysis for a while. All I could do was lie there. I wanted to die of starvation, not boredom. When I could move again, I dialed 911.

There I was, lying in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. Sitting above me were a young woman paramedic and young man paramedic. The woman smiled at the man and said, “After we’re done here, let’s go out and get ice cream.” I wanted to push her right out of the ambulance! I wanted to be the paramedic dating the cute guy; let her be the troubled patient. So I set out, at least figuratively, to change places with her. I decided to move to Chicago and get a Ph. D. in psychology. And I did.

I still couldn’t find a husband, although I went to several more psychiatric professionals in Chicago. I was starting to hurt a great deal, even when I was manic. I guess I’m really good at internalizing pain.

By the age of 41, I finally accumulated so much knowledge about psychology that I was
able to figure out myself that I was bipolar and helped a psychiatrist to correctly diagnose me.

Finally I started taking the lithium I had needed for years. Within two months my mind ran through my entire belief system and threw out all the delusions. (I hope all of them! Very embarrassing now that I know how far off track my thinking was.)

I seem to be one of the lucky manic depressives who responds well to lithium. By 42 I was married and an adjunct college professor. Children? I could have had children before I was 30. Since tumors had been slowly growing inside me since puberty, it was too late. This upset my husband so much that he divorced me.

After the divorce, I moved back to Rochester. Unable to continue my psychology teaching career, I decided to get up on stage and try to sing and play keyboard. All my life I’ve been terrified of performing in front of anybody. Now I think, “This isn’t much more scary than standing in front of a college classroom.” I guess I systematically desensitized myself to performing by starting with kids and working up.

In fact, I think that performing is what I’m best at and that all those teaching jobs were training me to conquer my fears and put on good shows. (Hey, teaching is largely entertainment.) My goal now is to put on special shows and say, “Hi! I’m Jeanie. I’m a cute manic depressive.”

My goal is to sing for non‑consumers so that they won’t be so afraid of us and prejudiced against us.

I need your help. If you have read this much of my story, you must have been through
prejudice too, or care about those of us who have. Join me, and we’ll all get up on that stage together!

Anyway, back to my story. Since the lithium helped me so much, I tend to play a little game of “What If?” with myself. What if I’d started on it way back when I was fired for “acting funny?” I would have gotten help right then. Remember those agencies with the childcare jobs I couldn’t get? The main reason I couldn’t get them was that I was not in the system. Once you are getting help, you get help with employment too. If that had taken place, I’d have settled down with a job and a husband by 30. I would have been able to have children back then.

Did the professionals who couldn’t diagnose me deprive me of an idyllic life? Let’s
answer that later.

What if I’d started on lithium a little later, by the date of the prison rape attempt? I never would have moved to L. A. No employment counselor would even have given me the idea of moving. After all, we all know that if you have bipolar disorder as badly as I did, you couldn’t handle moving to another state alone, much less get a job right away when you got there. (Sure!)

I never would have worked through the levels of teaching and performing to get where I am now. At best I’d be a good elementary school teacher. If I’d been diagnosed by any of the professionals I saw, I probably wouldn’t make it to where I could perform on stage until I was at least 80.

I used to be very angry with the professionals who never diagnosed me, nor got me the
help I needed. I blamed them for my childlessness and my divorce. But, I just figured something out. We all need help. I have gotten hours of valuable help and I appreciate it.

Help places limits on people. Just being in a position of getting help makes a client more cautious, a bit more negative about what he or she can do. The only reasons I was able to pack up and move, alone, to LA, do a great job teaching, and get a PhD was: I didn’t know I couldn’t.

I didn’t know I had bipolar disorder. I had no stereotypes against myself, limiting myself.

You can look at my life either as a long series of unfortunate accidents causing
professionals to fail to get me the help I needed. Or you can see my life as one carefully planned by a higher power to cultivate me for a special kind of career. For 41 years I was left alone without help, charging into fire after fire, repeatedly getting burned until I was able to conquer my fears.

I’m not going to tell you I’m glad I did not get lithium until I was 41. More accurately, I now accept my life and the world as is. If my life worked out this way, then this must be the best way for it to have worked out.

If we all work together, we can lick the hideous stigma against us consumers of mental health services.

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on January 09, 2010

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