A Family Affair with Bipolar

Yolande Fawcett, 43 years old, singer, DJ and administrative assistant, married, mother of two children, Zachary, age 12, and Sierra, age 11, in Stuart, FL

The Roots of Mental Illness

"Growing up I was the fifth of seven children, and as adults all of us have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. We're all incredibly creative and probably could have formed our own Partridge Family. My dad was an alcoholic and was diagnosed with manic depression, which was the term that was used for bipolar disorder back then. My mother was never diagnosed as bipolar, but we suspect that she had it, given the emotional roller coaster she was always on. I was diagnosed when I was 20, but I started having symptoms when I was about 15 and left home, which was the first of many rash decisions that I've made over my life during manic episodes."

Highs and Lows

"Most of the time, I love my mania because I can do what a "normal" person would do in a typical day. When I'm manic, I have energy and focus. I'm highly functional. I can do the laundry, the dishes and help the kids with their homework. That's normal for most people, but for me it's like climbing a mountain. It is so difficult. I've also made some regrettable rash decisions during manic periods, such as taking off for California on a whim and ending up $6,000 in debt a week later. As with most people with bipolar, my depressive episodes outnumber my manic episodes. When my children were younger, they didn't know what they would find when they came home from school. Sometimes I would be passed out on the floor just from sheer exhaustion and depression. They would get me a glass of juice and help me to bed, and I would be in bed for days. This year that hasn't happened. I can see that my kids are growing into responsible, compassionate people and their friends' parents tell me that all the time. I'm open about my illness, so if I don't come to the door at times the parents understand that I'm not doing well at that moment."

Gaining Control

"For the last year, I've documented my symptoms and tracked them with a bar graph. What I'm finding is that when I'm PMS-ing, I get very depressed. I just started a new part-time job. I had five weeks of mania and everything was great. Then my period was about to hit and I got really depressed. I turned in my keys and I told the owner of the company that I couldn't work for him anymore. I had mania and depression at the same time. That evening, my husband called the owner of the company who said he wanted me back, even if I needed to take a couple of days off every month. "I've finally found a cocktail of daily medications that seems to be working, after 20 years of feeling like a human guinea pig, going on and off medications and trying new things. I've learned that I can't go off of the medications just because I start to feel better. When I've done that in the past, it's made me much sicker. I know now that it's the medication that is making me feel better, and to stay better, I need to stay on my meds. Seeing my therapist once a month or more has really helped, too, and having a job and a regular daily schedule has helped me stay in a routine. As a bonus, there's a gym in the building where I work, so I exercise almost every day–something I never could have managed when I was depressed–and it's amazing how much better regular exercise makes me feel."

The Future

"I'm the happiest I've ever been, and thanks to my medication and the supportive people around me, I'm leading a very full, productive life. I'm not a worrywart, but I am concerned about the genetic factor–that my children could end up having the illness, too. It's a concern. I hope it skips their generation. I am watching them for signs. My depression hit early, age 15, and my son is just a couple of years away from that. He hasn't shown signs of depression or mania and I hope that it stays that way. They don't know that I'm monitoring it, but I am. So far, so good."

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