Bipolar Lurks Under the Surface Threatening All

The first time bipolar almost killed me was long before I knew I had bipolar. Living with it, surviving it, would become one of the greatest challenges in my life as it is for millions of others every day.

That time, way back when, I could barely get out of bed, my limbs were so heavy. I was compulsively picking at my fingers until they were bloody, burning, and painful. I was showing up for my life without really being there, dragging myself through every day. The idea of getting in the car to drive for 90 minutes to Boston in order to see a therapist—I had seen so many over the years—was overwhelming. I longed to sleep and never wake up, but I was too scared of what eternal hell might lay on the other side of suicide.

My friend Annette volunteered to drive. We arrived at Dr. Perlman’s office at 4:00 p.m. I immediately regretted being there. Stacks of books and piles of papers littered the floor. There was barely a place to sit. Dr. Perlman sat opposite us with his computer screen and Blackberry lit up. How could this guy think straight in a mess like this? He’s a slob and he’s distracted, I thought. He’s not even paying attention.

At six feet four inches, Dr. Perlman himself towered over us. He had silver hair, a trim beard, clear blue eyes, and tortoiseshell glasses. The only thing I liked about him was the silver hair. Maybe he had some experience.

He began his intake with a series of pointed, clear questions. All of a sudden, I wasn’t repeating the story I had told a thousand times before to a blank-faced medical professional. Instead, I was answering questions no one had ever asked me before. That 30-minute session would be the one that saved my life.

I’m Sara. I’m Bipolar II

My name is Sara Schley. Most people who’ve come to my website may not know me. You arrived here because of the topic or social media or something (the metrics tell my friends who know this stuff this is true and that 85 percent of you are first-time visitors. Welcome!). 

I am a successful, Ivy League-educated business trainer with corporate clients all over the world. I have a husband who adores me, two teens just launched to College, and a spacious, welcoming home on 10 acres of land in Western Massachusetts. People who have worked with me know me as an energetic, progressive-minded, forward-thinking, spiritually grounded visionary who is the founder and co-leader of WeTheChange, a movement of over 250 badass women CEOs of purpose-driven companies. 

What they don’t know is that at age 21, as a 4.0 Brown University student headed to medical school, I experienced my first major clinical depression and brain breakdown. I’ve kept the fact that I have suffered from mental illness most of my life hidden. 

Until now.

Depression and Anxiety

I have Bipolar II, which is distinctively different than Bipolar I, but the fact is the lessons I’ve learned from a lifetime of treating my illness is that I share many commonalities with the hundreds of millions of people who suffer depression and anxiety. It’s all part of the same set of maladies, something many of are genetically (and socially) vulnerable to experiencing. 

Depression is a common and devastating mental disorder. The World Health Organization estimates that 264 million people worldwide struggle with depression. In the United States, middle-aged women, between the ages of 40 and 59, have the highest rates of depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

We also know that in 2020 women have borne the brunt of the impact of Covid-19, from career disruption to suddenly becoming a homeschool teacher to economic stress and relationship loss. 

This is a historically difficult time. We are vulnerable to mental illness. And some, like me, know well how difficult that road can be. 

About Bipolar

Bipolar Disorder affects 46 million people worldwide

According to Dr. James Phelps, an internationally recognized expert and author of three highly acclaimed books on this subject, over 20 million Americans are suffering from Bipolar, including some 2 million people who have Bipolar II, as well as their family members, friends, and colleagues. 

Often people who love someone with a Bipolar condition are themselves desperate for solutions and insights. This disease can be so severe that it puts the lives of their loved ones at risk, and they will do virtually anything they can to save them.

But, as I mentioned, I am not Bipolar. I am Bipolar II. I was not successfully diagnosed as such until I was 46 years old, 25 years after that first collapse. Knowing the difference between Bipolar and Bipolar II is a matter of life and death.

Living with a broken brain, hour after hour after hour. The disease devastates every aspect of life: relationships, finance, career, sanity.  Unrelenting, merciless, and unseen force terrorizes every moment.

This disease almost killed me. Now that I am living fully with it well-managed through multiple strategies, I am passionate about helping people who are suffering from depression and mental illness.

Defeating Stigma

I am writing candidly about my mental illness because—and this has taken me decades to learn —it is an illness. Like any illness, we need to treat it. But if we carry the oppressive stigma around of “mental Illness”—as if somehow that’s our fault but “physical illness” is not —then we make it worse. 

As an article in World Psychiatry states, “Many people with serious mental illness are challenged doubly. On one hand, they struggle with the symptoms and disabilities that result from the disease. On the other, they are challenged by the stereotypes and prejudice that result from misconceptions about mental illness.”

Defeating stigma is a big part of why, after all this time with a mental illness, I am writing about it publically. If I don’t speak out, others will continue to struggle with the added pressure stigma about mental illness brings.

If we all don’t speak out, more people will continue to suffer.

Isn’t 264 million of us battling depression enough? 

I think we can find a different way forward.

Authentically Me. Authentically You

From depression and rising anxiety to several mental health threats like Bipolar II and a host of other illnesses, we know… we absolutely KNOW… that we are in a crisis. Not that we could see it on social media or most online platforms where people connect with all the filtered photos and #mybestlive cheery posts that make every want to believe that those crafted images are a true reflection of a better life.

Those are fiction. This is fact.

I am Sara. I’m writing here about depression, anxiety and serious illness threats like Bipolar II. But I’m also writing about my passions: sustainability, progressive politics, spirituality, and  transformative experiences that make us feel fully human.

I will be one thing on this site you can count on: I will be authentically me.

I invite you to be authentically you. 

Perhaps together we can live better.

Perhaps if we can start this conversation with a specific goal in mind: Save lives. 

And then we can improve the quality of our lives. We can help people connect and heal. 

If you haven’t already (but you’re still reading, “Thank you!”) go to the bottom of my webpage and do a simple math problem and sign up for my newsletter. I won’t spam you with products to buy or send you fake pictures of my wonderful life, I’ll just prove you from time to time helpful and inspiring insights into how you can truly live a healthier life. 

I’m glad you’re here. 

Tips for Depression and Anxiety:

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help—I wish I had done it sooner. Here are some other strategies that have helped me focus and remind myself it’s going to be ok.

    • Create a routine: I need order, I need things in place, and I need a schedule. Just knowing this helps me take steps to organize my life in ways I can control
    • Set small attainable goals: Say you want to plant a garden, break it up into doable tasks. Day 1, visit a nursery and see what you like. Day 2, plot the garden space. Day 3, buy dirt and seeds. Day 4, prep the space and add dirt. Day 5, plant the seeds. By having these smaller goals the larger task is not so overwhelming. To just say “today I’m going to plant a garden” and then you fail because you’ve never had a garden and didn’t realize how much work it is, will make you feel worse.
    • Reward your efforts: Positive reinforcement can help you feel good about yourself. Celebrating even the smallest goals is a great way to balance the negative weight depression can have
    • Focus on the positive: Oftentimes, we dwell on the things that went wrong—a client got mad at you or you fail a test in high school (yes, I used to wake up in a cold sweat feeling horrible about something that happened when I was 16). Instead of the millions of positive things that went right—the 50 clients that love your work and that you graduated top of your class in college. Let go of the past: No one else remembers that you failed a test 30 years ago. And that client, well she gets mad at everyone and you did nothing wrong. Time to move on.
    • Tomorrow is a new day: If something happened today, leave it in today, don’t let it affect tomorrow. And some days will be difficult, but don’t let that day turns into a week, month, or year.
  • Try these techniques when you are feeling anxious or stressed
    • Spend time in nature: Go for a walk and take in the beauty of the beauty of a fallen leaf. Research suggests that spending time in nature can benefit you both mentally and physically. And sun exposure is one of the best ways to get vitamin D which is a mood booster.
    • Take a few deep breaths: It really does help. Count to 10 and inhale/exhale. Stopping to focus on breathing gives your body a mini time-out and many other benefits. You can also try meditation and yoga.
    • Keep a journal: Writing down how you feel can help you feel better, it can also help you see if there is a pattern on what triggers you—do you find you’re more anxious after dealing with family, work, school, or that pile of laundry?
    • Listen to music: Music is powerful. Research shows it can affect our moods, change how we feel. When you’re depressed listen to your favorite music, or put on that playlist that always makes you dance around the kitchen. Do you play an instrument? Get some friends together and have a jam session once a week.
    • Volunteer: Making someone else happy makes us feel good. It also takes our mind off of us, and focuses it on other things.

Remember, you can’t control everything. And most importantly, you are amazing. You are worthy. And you can manage to be successful even with bipolar. I’m proof.

What other strategies help you when you’re feeling depressed or anxious?