Thanks to Beth Gadwa for being willing to share her story about her life and being bipolar. Being bipolar can be frustrating and challenging. It’s a journey that has bumps in the road as most people’s lives do. This one requires a bit more self-awareness and willingness to shift with the winds of this disease! But Beth Gadwa has a business and a life that she has learned to manage and deal with being bipolar!
Bipolar Beautiful (Part One of Three): “What It Feels Like”
by Beth Gadwa
I am a bipolar life coach. I work with adults with mood disorders. I also have a music and technology startup (early stage) that I think is the coolest thing ever. Because I am serious about winning both games, I use this pseudonym (Beth) when I coach.
Anybody who has lived with bipolar disorder for any length of time knows there are times when you feel like you have superpowers. At those times, I can attest, we are almost certainly wrong. But somehow, I now have a secret identity. Think Batman and Bruce Wayne, Mary Marvel before she says the magic word.
That’s how it feels, anyway. There are times when it feels like a lie, like you’re living this closeted daily life. There are times when you feel like a spy or a gangster.
I’m one of the lucky ones, I guess. I was diagnosed 18 years ago with Bipolar Type 1, at the age of 23. Lithium has done a number on my memory but otherwise left my personality and spirit intact. Am I a bipolar role model? I don’t know. I still drink (occasionally) and smoke pot (even less often). I ran a Massachusetts S-corporation for seven years. People are surprised when I tell them I’m bipolar. They say they never would have guessed.
Bipolar disorder affects about 5.7 million adults in the United States. (WebMD)
Look to your left. Look to your right. One out of every 23 people experiences bipolar disorder at some time in their lives. This means that somebody you’ve stood next to at a party is bipolar. This means your friends and coworkers. (National Institute of Mental Health)
My bipolar coaching clients are executives, entrepreneurs, and devoted parents. They defy every stereotype surrounding mental illness, but they often tell me that the hardest part of their diagnosis is feeling alone. It doesn’t have to be that way.
With treatment, bipolar disorder has an 80% recovery rate. (Mental Illness Policy Org.) Yet we remain closeted.
That makes it hard for people who are newly diagnosed to see that there is hope. I have this “crazy” idea that treating bipolar people with kindness, respect, and dignity could contribute to positive outcomes almost as much as drugs and therapy.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: even people who are high functioning still have episodes and bad days. This happened to me quite recently, in fact. I had a mild manic episode in mid-April 2019.
How long did it last?
About as long as a really good non-gel manicure.
What does it feel like?
Since I was able to be safe at home, it felt something like this:
–I listened to a lot of music.
–My friend Roni (aka Masta X-Kid) came over and talked a lot about his music and film projects. I was mostly quietly nodding, because the extra meds I was taking made it harder to speak.
–I took a Lyft to events and meetings I couldn’t get out of. Under no circumstances would I drive.
–Knowing I wasn’t going to be up to programming (for the music startup), I folded a lot of laundry and cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom.
–I postponed or canceled coaching sessions. I believe that work is the hardest thing I do, and I have a responsibility to be my best self when I coach.
–I got an extension on my taxes, then filed them one week late.
–I called my doctor. I didn’t get a reply back. I called again. This time I heard back right away.
–It’s like having the flu. Or not even the flu. Maybe it’s more like bronchitis.
–You keep waiting and waiting to feel better and then one day, just as the OPI nail polish on your fingers is beginning to chip, you start to feel like yourself again. It all clicks back. It’s such a relief.
These days don’t happen to me very often, but there’s always the fear that this time it won’t go away. I try not to let fear stop me from living my life.
I made this mix for a close friend, to try to explain, subjectively, what it feels like to live with this illness. I’m sharing it here for you.
In the next installment of Bipolar Beautiful, we’ll talk about friendship – how to set healthy boundaries, prevent burnout, and why it is actually a really, really awesome thing to have a bipolar best friend.
Bio for Beth Gadwa:
Beth Gadwa is a Certified Professional Coach and a Certified Peer Support Specialist through the Oregon Health Authority. Most of her career has been spent in technology: specifically in the fields of cryptocurrency, augmented reality, and the intersection of technology and the arts. She ran her own web development firm for seven years before selling it in late 2017. As a life and wellness coach, she works primarily with individuals diagnosed with bipolar illness or unipolar depression, in consultation with a licensed therapist and/or psychiatrist. She splits her time between Portland, Oregon, and Western Massachusetts, where her partner resides.
Learn more about her coaching practice at https://bipolarlifecoach.
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