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Winter 2020 - Integrated Care

Bipolar Disorder: A Patient’s Perspective

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SURVIVOR IS the word that comes to mind when describing Nichole Howson. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 20 years old, Nichole overcame multiple setbacks and a suicide attempt, and today, she runs a social media marketing company and manages a team of freelancers. In her spare time, Nichole volunteers for nonprofits and teaches free workshops in her local community. She’s also the founder of Defying Shadows, a website for mental health bloggers.

BSTQ: How old were you when you suspected you had mental health issues?

Nichole: I was a preteen when it started to show, and I was between 14 years old and 16 years old when I was first diagnosed with anxiety (and depression a few years later). The rest we wrote off as being a “normal teenager.” Looking back on certain times of my life, I know I was dealing with a manic episode or severe depression. We cannot change what is in the past, but if we had known I was struggling with bipolar disorder at that time, we would have done many things differently.

BSTQ: At what age were you accurately diagnosed?

Nichole: I was diagnosed when I was 20.

BSTQ: How did living with bipolar disorder affect your relationships?

Nichole: Some of my most strained relationships were a result of my untreated condition. I have to own up for the decisions and actions I have taken, but we know this disorder caused a lot of problems between me and my siblings, family and friends. It still affects my relationships at times, but being self-aware really helps.

BSTQ: What was your original treatment plan, and how has it changed over the years?

Nichole: Medication was the first step. I went through a wellness program that taught me coping skills and techniques. I also went through counseling. My treatment plan is an ongoing process. Right now, it’s a combination of counseling, dialectical behavior therapy and medication.

BSTQ: How has counseling helped?

Nichole: I have been in counseling since I was a teen and continue to go on a monthly basis. Counseling doesn’t work for everyone, but I find it helpful to talk through my problems, feelings and thoughts. Counseling gives people an outlet to say whatever they need to say without damaging a relationship. It also helps build all sorts of skills such as communication, problem-solving, mindfulness, emotion management and so much more. Finding the right counselor for what a person is dealing with is crucial. I’ve been to six different counselors and each served a different purpose.

BSTQ: Tell us about when you hit rock bottom and attempted to take your own life. Was there a trigger?

Nichole: The only trigger was not understanding what was happening to me. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what, and I felt like it was my fault. I just wanted it to stop. I didn’t have the resources to get help, and I didn’t feel like I had any other options.

BSTQ: How did you get your life back on track?

Nichole: With a ton of support from my parents, and then my friends. They fought for me when I couldn’t fight for myself. I went through the programs and followed the treatment plan, and things started to fall back into place over time.

BSTQ: Do you feel there is still a stigma associated with bipolar disorder?

Nichole: One hundred percent! There are so many common misconceptions around it in the media, so it makes those difficult to debunk when music and movies being produced are inaccurately showcasing what it looks like.

BSTQ: What are your goals and hopes for the future?

Nichole: I just want to keep growing as a person. I want to continue growing my business. And, I want to continue to use my story to help others. If I can help one person, it makes it worth it.

BSTQ: What advice do you have for others?

Nichole: If you feel something is wrong, speak to a medical professional as soon as possible. There are crisis centers and phone helplines available 24/7. Do not feel ashamed of having these emotions or problems. Bottling them up or blowing them off won’t help you get better. Do not be afraid to speak out about your disorder. Know that it is not your fault, and nothing you did has caused this to happen to you.

Trudie Mitschang
Trudie Mitschang is a contributing writer for BioSupply Trends Quarterly magazine.