By Clisver Alvarez, as told to Stephanie Watson
Having bipolar disorder hasn't been easy. I've lived with it for 11 years now. Being diagnosed at age 16 was heartbreaking for me. I didn't know what was going on, and I remember feeling like I was dying. Mostly what I remember is being in and out of hospitals, and the countless nights my parents lay awake, praying that I'd return to my normal self.
The first time it happened, I thought I was having an asthma attack. I had shortness of breath. I couldn't sleep. My mom had to work -- she worked in a factory. So she told me, "Just get some rest, I have to work tomorrow." She ended up falling asleep. I walked 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 do have asthma. They gave me the steroid drug prednisone. The nurse gave me three pills. I remember asking her, "Do I take all three pills?" She didn't say anything, so I ended up taking all of them.
I didn't know that psychosis is a side effect of steroids. I don't remember how I got home that night. It's like I blacked out.
It got to the point where my mom was like, "There's something wrong." When I looked up my symptoms on the internet, I felt like there had to be something else going on. I wasn't sleeping. I started getting irritable. I thought, this can't be asthma.
Eventually, she took me to a psychiatrist, who confirmed that I had bipolar disorder. My mom said, "We have to put her on medication." There were no ifs, ands, or buts.
My psychiatrist put me on medicine to treat my bipolar disorder, but I was young and didn't accept my diagnosis. Lithium helped, but it was very strong -- so strong that I was sleeping through class, to the point where my grades went down a lot. I didn't comply with my treatment, which often landed me in the hospital.
I had one episode where my boyfriend dropped me off at the bus stop to go to my friend's house. I told the bus driver, "Next stop." When the bus driver asked me, "This stop or that stop?" for some reason, that sounded off to me.
I got off the bus and was crossing the street when I heard a sound like a car suddenly stopping -- the screeching tires. I had an out-of-body experience. I felt like the car had hit me. It's like I saw myself getting hit. In my mind, I was in panic mode.
As I walked down the street, I felt like people were staring at me. I was very paranoid.
I called my boyfriend and told him, "Take me to the hospital. I don't feel good. I don't know what's happening."
When my firstborn son came into the picture, that's when the sense of responsibility set in. I took an oath that I would take my medications as prescribed for my son's well-being. It was not just about me anymore. Now I had a purpose. Things started to look up.
Yet once I got married, all the pressures of being a working mom and wife started getting to me. I wanted to be everything to everybody. I took on too much, to the point where it became destructive. I stopped taking care of myself. I wasn't sleeping, sometimes for days.
I would skip my medication on some days, and I relapsed. It got to the point where I became a very aggressive person, even psychotic. I spent a month in the hospital. I also got court-ordered therapy.
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 under a lot of stress.
I ended up in 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 saw right away that I wasn't in the right condition to care for my son. The Department of Child Services had to step in. They took my child away for 2 days. My husband had to fight to get him back.
Knowing When to Ask for Help
Late in my second pregnancy, my doctor adjusted my medication dose. I've been on my current medication for a couple of years. I'm in a good place now. My kids are healthy. My husband and I are planning to buy a home. I feel like I'm learning to live a balanced life, prioritizing what's important and enjoying my family.
The medication is working, but my doctors are on speed dial, and I've set up a plan with them and with 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.
Having those 11 years of hospital stays, psychiatric appointments, and therapy have done a lot for me. I've finally accepted and embraced my bipolar disorder.
I'm very thankful for the people who have helped me through this -- my mom, my husband, my therapist Elizabeth Sellari, and all the people who have pushed me and given me courage. Honestly, without them, I would not be in this position.
I became a life coach because I wanted to help other people overcome their struggles and live to their best potential, just like I turned my life around. I basically help them put their life 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 did this with bipolar disorder, they can too. A lot of people with mental health issues suppress themselves or think that they can't do it. I want them to say, "I am worthy."