Many people living with mental illness can point to a time in their lives before struggle, before heartache … a time when it felt like everything was going their way and nothing could go wrong. For our client Laura, that “before” time included a marriage of nearly a decade to her high school sweetheart and being a stay-at-home mom to three beautiful children.
“If you would have asked me at the time, I would have said that my life was complete,” Laura says. “I wanted for nothing.”
When she was 29 years old, Laura was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Though she initially fought against the diagnosis, she says it helped explain how she saw the world around her.
“As far back as I can remember, I knew that there was something different about my emotions,” Laura says. “They always seemed bigger and at the surface, ready to break free at a moment’s notice. “My lows were deep valleys that would take months to climb out of, and in my highs, I could become anyone’s friend. I truly believed I could take on any problem.”
Like so many of our clients who receive an unexpected mental illness diagnosis in their adult years, Laura struggled initially to find the right balance of treatment for her bipolar disorder. And like so many who live with severe mental illness, there were times when she convinced herself she could get by on her own without any support at all. All of this came to a head when Laura was hospitalized in 2014. Her marriage couldn’t survive the ongoing strain of her mental illness, and when Laura was able to leave the hospital, her husband and children were gone. The next few years of her life were consumed by a fog of courtroom hearings, supervised visitations with her kids, intermittent couch-hopping and homelessness, time in jail, and additional hospitalizations for her mental illness.
“The Laura that I once was seemed to be lost forever,” she says. “In my manic episodes, I couldn’t recognize myself. I thought I was doing amazing things to change the world, while my family watched me risk my life again and again through my actions. [During depressive episodes], I had to muster all my strength to get out of bed each day. Days would pass away with no schedule or purpose. I felt completely alone with no sense of a future.”
Laura eventually moved to West Saint Paul, where she came across Guild and began working with one of our team members, a woman named Jenny.
“Jenny never saw me as less and was able to see things in me I couldn’t see myself,” Laura says. “Jenny would gently and constantly hold me accountable to the next step, showing up to make sure I would do something as simple as take a shower or eat a meal that day.”
It’s taken many years of hard work and determination, but with support from Guild, Laura has built a new life for herself, with systems and guardrails in place to protect her mental stability so she can focus her energy on her family and community. She now works with individuals in drug and alcohol recovery — a job she loves.
“Before coming to Guild, a manic episode would throw my structure out the window and create months of recovery to realign. With the help of Guild, I get to be Bobby, Joey and Emma’s mom. I have rebuilt a strong relationship with my parents. I’ve created a home that serves as a cozy and comfortable refuge that I can welcome others into.”
Looking back, Laura now realizes it wasn’t the diagnosis, the treatment, or the ongoing care that made living with bipolar disorder so difficult for so many years. It was the feeling that her mental illness had stripped her of her ability to choose.
“Your mental health doesn’t get to be a choice, and it wasn’t for me. I know I will forever be mentally ill,” she says. “My bipolar diagnosis has not gone away, but with Guild, I have been able to step into a life that fits me … in working with Guild, I’ve been reminded of my voice, and the choice I have to use it.”
We work with our clients to create support systems that fit their lives and needs. When you donate to Guild, you invest in our clients’ futures — clients like Laura. Please consider giving today.