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Published on May 05, 2017

A Young Champion Beating Bipolar Disorder One Day at a Time

Beating Bipolar Disorder

Mary enjoys the outdoorsAfter years of struggling with depression, Mary was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 16. Now, as a psychology major in college, she is passionate about doing what she can to help the public recognize the signs of bipolar disorder and how it presents itself in adolescents. One of the ways she plans to do this is by telling her story.

Mary’s Journey to Diagnosis

Mary was 14 the first time she was admitted to Cone Health Behavioral Health Hospital. She was always anxious, yet lacked motivation to engage in daily activities. She had given up everything, including her hygiene, and she spent most of her time sleeping and isolated in her room. One day, when her mom asked Mary how her day was, she didn’t really answer. After more prompting, Mary’s mom asked if she felt suicidal. Mary said she wasn’t sure. Her mother immediately took Mary to Behavioral Health Hospital where she was treated for depression.

Mary remembers being aware that others her age had similar feelings, but they tried to fix it with drugs and alcohol. Mary never saw substance abuse was a way out. As a matter of fact, she didn’t really look for a way out. For Mary, life was just a matter of going through the motions.

Two years later, Mary came back to the hospital for mania and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Mary Discovers the Art of Coping

Mary appreciated her time at Behavioral Health Hospital. Once her body adjusted to being on medication, she felt better and began to work with her care team on the development of coping skills and a positive self-image. She began to realize there was more to life.

For a young person, fitting in and feeling ‘normal’ is important. She recalls playing basketball by herself at the hospital when one of the technicians asked to join her. She says that experience made all the difference. She felt normal and, importantly, realized that she could be normal.

The Importance of Loving a Little Bit Extra

Mary's artwork

Mary turned to painting to help with her recovery.
She sketched portraits of her care team members who
had the greatest impact during her stay at the hospital

Late one night, a nurse at Behavioral Health Hospital saw Mary pacing in her room and offered her a snack. She sat by Mary and just talked for a bit. Knowing Mary really needed to sleep, the nurse had Mary’s mattress brought to the nurses’ station so she could fall asleep near her. “It’s easy to believe you are alone when you’re feeling low,” Mary says.When you have difficulty loving yourself, it makes a big difference when others love you a little bit extra.”

Mary’s biggest struggle was shame. She thought people wouldn’t want anything to do with her.

As part of treatment, Mary had to learn to trust people and trust in herself. She also realized that she tends to be a perfectionist. She was afraid people wouldn’t love her if she wasn’t perfect. That if she didn’t do things right, she would be a failure.

Mary’s experience with bipolar disorder made her stronger and she feels better now that she has the diagnosis and knows how to manage her condition. She uses activities like painting, poetry and basketball to get away from the daily grind.

Today, Mary counsels herself and others to just be aware when you’re beating yourself up…and then let it go. “Embracing the truth about being bipolar is the first step toward living a life that is full of adventure and possibilities,” says Mary.

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