By Claysor Alvarez, as told to Stephanie Watson.
Having bipolar disorder wasn’t easy. I have been living with him for 11 years. Being diagnosed at 16 was heartbreaking for me. I didn’t know what was going on, and I remember feeling like I was dying. Most of what I remember is going in and out of hospitals, and the countless nights my parents lay awake, praying that I would return to normal.
The first time it happened, I thought I was having an asthma attack. I had shortness of breath. I couldn’t sleep. My mother had to work – she worked in a factory. So he said to me, “Just get some rest, I have to work tomorrow.” She finished and fell asleep. I went to the hospital alone in the middle of the night.
When I got there I told them I was having an asthma attack, because I have asthma. They gave me the steroid drug prednisone. The nurse gave me three pills. I remember asking him, “Do I take all three pills?” He didn’t say anything, so I took them all.
I didn’t know psychosis was a side effect of steroids. I don’t remember how I got home that night. It’s like I blacked out.
Something is happening.
It got to the point where my mom was like, “Something’s wrong.” When I looked up my symptoms on the Internet, I thought something else was going on. I was not sleeping. I started getting irritated. I thought, it can’t be asthma.
Finally, she took me to a psychiatrist, who confirmed that I had bipolar disorder. My mother said, “We have to put her on medication.” There were no ifs, ands, or buts.
My psychiatrist put me on medication for bipolar disorder, but I was young and didn’t accept my diagnosis. The lithium helped, but it was too strong — so strong that I was falling asleep in class, and my grades went way down. I did not comply with my treatment, which often led to me being taken to the hospital.
I had an incident where my boyfriend dropped me off at the bus stop to go to his friend’s house. I said to the bus driver, “Next stop.” When the bus driver asked me, “This stop or that stop?” For some reason, it seemed off to me.
I got off the bus and was crossing the road when I heard a sound like a car stopping suddenly — tires screeching. I had an out of body experience. I felt like a car hit me. It’s like I’ve seen myself killed. In my mind, I was in panic mode.
Walking down the street, I felt people staring at me. I was so stupid.
I called my boyfriend and said, “Take me to the hospital, I don’t feel good, I don’t know what’s going on.”
When my first son came into the picture, that’s when the sense of responsibility came. I vowed to take prescribed medicines for my son’s health. It wasn’t enough for me anymore. Now I had a goal. Things started looking up.
Yet once I got married, all the pressures of being a working mother and wife began to overwhelm me. I wanted to be everything to everyone. I took on too much work, until it became destructive. I stopped taking care of myself. I wasn’t sleeping, sometimes for days.
I went off my meds in a few days, and I broke out again. It got to the point where I became a very aggressive person, even psychotic. I spent a month in the hospital. I also got the treatment ordered by the court.
In 2018, when I was pregnant with my second child, I had to go off my medication again. My husband’s painting business was slow at the time and we were struggling financially. I decided to get a job, and I was very stressed.
I rushed to the hospital because I was feeling very anxious. I took my son with me because I didn’t want to leave him alone at home. The hospital staff immediately saw that I was not in the right state to care for my son. The Department of Child Services had to step in. They took my baby for 2 days. My husband had to fight to get her back.
Knowing when to ask for help.
At the end of my second pregnancy, my doctor adjusted my medication dosage. I have been on my current medication for a few years. I am in a good place now. My children are healthy. My husband and I are thinking of buying a house. I feel like I’m learning to live a balanced life, prioritizing the important things and enjoying my family.
The medicine is working, but my doctors are on speed dial, and I have set up a plan with them and my family. I have a team now. Because I’ve been through this so many times, I’ve prepared myself, but you can never be too prepared. It’s always good to have backup support. I’m learning how to recognize when I need help.
Those 11 years of hospital stays, psychiatric appointments and therapy have done a lot for me. I have finally accepted and embraced my bipolar disorder.
I am so grateful to the people who have helped me through this — my mother, my husband, my therapist Elizabeth Sellari, and all the people who have pushed me and given me courage. Honestly, without them, I wouldn’t be in this position.
I became a life coach because I wanted to help other people overcome their struggles and live to the best of their ability, just as I had turned my life around. I basically help put their lives into perspective and try to show them what is possible. I help them change their mindset, so they think like the person they want to be.
I want other people to see that if I’ve done it with bipolar disorder, they can too. Many people with mental health problems suppress themselves or think they can’t. I want them to say I’m worth it.