By Michelle Lande Clark (aka Bipolar Bandit) | Featured Contributor
My name is Michelle Clark and I started suffering from severe depression at the age of 13. I would just cry and cry for no reason, could not concentrate or do simplest tasks like vacuuming. I would miss two weeks of school at a time. I had a severe manic episode at the age of 17 that resulted in a hospitalization. It was during the three-month stay at the hospital that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
I was always a good student and high achiever. After missing two weeks of school, I would make up all my work in 2-3 days. It is now thought that those were mini manic episodes that enabled me to do that.
I got mainly A’s in school, was the president of several clubs in high school, and graduated from college with a degree in elementary education. I was the manager of a movie theater, a trainer at Walt Disney World, and taught school for about ten years. I was even named Teacher of the Year in 2004. I am not telling you about these accomplishments to brag, but to make you realize that even though I had this mental illness, I still was able to achieve a lot.
My manic episodes were extreme. In the beginning, I thought I was Jesus and was here to save the world and would stay up for days doing odd things that worried my parents. One my worst manic episodes includes getting off the bus with a guy I did not know, buying a car with him and buying an engagement ring with my parent’s credit card. I was missing for almost two weeks until the FBI was able to track me down.
I have been hospitalized more times than I can count. Although most of the time it was for psychiatric reasons, I was also hospitalized several times for ailments that were thought to be caused by the medications I was on for bipolar disorder. I had pancreatitis, my gall bladder removed, numerous stomach problems severe enough for hospitalizations, tardive dyskinesia, heart problems bad enough to put me in the ICU, and dystonia. The worse being dystonia when my chin was “stuck” to my chest for about four months. I was really lucky that this was not permanent.
After being in the hospital for various reasons 16 times in one year, I was forced to stop teaching and go on disability. I did work for my father for a while part-time, but now mainly write my blog and try to enjoy life with my husband. I continue to learn coping mechanisms to deal with my mental illness. Over the years, I have gotten better and better at it, but still struggle.
I have always tried to fight for the rights of the mentally ill. I also am on a mission to fight the stigma of mental illness. I have written numerous letters to politicians trying to change the way those who have mental illnesses are treated.
I fight the battle every day. I mainly stay somewhat depressed, but am mostly worried about the manic episodes. I keep fighting the fight although some days it seems hopeless. I have a strong support system, a loving family, and a strong faith, and am determined to rise above this illness. These things help me every day.
Because of my illness and the way I saw the mentally ill being treated in the psychiatric hospitals, the failing mental health system, and the stigma attached to mental illness, I became a mental health advocate at a very young age. About ten years ago I founded Mental Health Advocates United where I aim to join mental health organizations around the world to join forces to make mental health a priority and to improve the lives of those struggling with mental illness. I also founded the group Advocates for People with Mental Illnesses.
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