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Ups and downs-Area woman shares struggle with bipolar disorder

Athens Daily Review - 2/1/2020

Feb. 1--Editor's Note: The following is the first in a series of articles on mental health issues, told from a local point of view.

Tiffany Sanders is a wife, mother and contributing member of society. When she was sexually assaulted in May something snapped.

"It was hell. I hid it," she said. "When you suffer any kind of trauma that isn't dealt with, it makes it worse."

After a visit to the doctor for what she assumed was post-partum depression, nothing was done, but she was crying all the time. It took a mental breakdown for her to insist something was done. It seemed to Tiffany that she had gone from being the perfect mom to the complete opposite.

"All my life I knew I needed help and refused it," Sanders said.

She was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that causes extreme mood swings (manic), with euphoric highs associated with a feeling of "I can do anything!" followed by gut-wrenching depression (hypo-manic) associated with insecurity, feeling judged, paranoia, suicidal thoughts. and crippling sadness. When those thoughts emerge Sanders reminds herself she has gotten through it before.

"I process things a little differently than others do," Sanders said. "I know I'm overreacting, control is something you don't have, but have to develop. It's hard to react in an expected way."

Bipolar disorder is something she deals with daily.

"Everyday I think about it, When I go to bed I worry about tomorrow, when I wake up, I think what is going to happen today? That is my everyday routine, anxiety starts it," she said.

Sanders said sometimes the feelings of being unloved and isolated are overwhelming. People facing bipolar disorder fight the stigma of being called "crazy" or "lazy." They face extreme guilt for past mistakes and are generally more sensitive to criticism.

"All day there is nagging depression even when you feel happy you are suppressing the depression. If the smallest thing happens it overwhelms," she said. "Everyday you try not to fall apart."

One thing she said helps is when you wake up and have a plan in place for the day. Unfortunately when something alters that plan or the persons perceived control, it feels like the end of the world. She removes herself from the places that trigger her and tries to stay busy. Sanders also says people assume people with mental health issues should look disheveled, even though some days you may not even think about it, make a point to shower and take care of your appearance. Ask yourself, what can I do with my future to be happy and successful? Strive for confidence.

"One of our deepest needs is for validation and connection, but most neuro-typical people don't understand, which is another form of rejection," she said.

Sanders said she feels best about herself when her family is happy. So she has followed the steps to cope with this illness in a constructive way and give them the best version of herself. She encourages people to seek help. "Therapy helps, be consistent with medication, missing even one day can throw you into a manic episode," she says. "Untreated bipolar disorder can progress to Schizophrenia, so it is very important to seek help early."

Fortunately, there are groups and organizations fighting to remove the stigma of mental illness and treating it as any other illness is, with treatment options. Just because it is in the mind, doesn't mean it is all in their head.

Groups like National Alliance on Mental Illness Tyler offer both support and therapy groups for individuals facing the disorders and their families. Support and therapy groups which help the person feel supported by peers and validated through acceptance.

"Relationships are so hard to maintain with these behaviors, even a stable life. There is a lot of spending , bad judgement, that can turn into trouble, it is so hard to live with this," said Mildred Witte, director of NAMI Tyler.

Witte has been teaching classes since 2011.

"We are growing," she said. "You feel like you can't talk to people who don't understand this. Mental illness can appear beginning at age 14, yet routinely goes undiagnosed for 10 years."

Mental illness is commonly misconstrued as hormones and rebellious teen year behavioral issues. The extreme outcome of suicide occurs just for lack of recognition. The child may be kicked out of school or the house for defiance, when in fact they have been battling something out of their control. NAMI educational classes help families facing these issues and assures they will not go through it alone.

Witte went on to explain how diagnosis and therapies such as medication or support groups help most people. There are cases resistant to medication, but there are other things that can be done to help.

"Ideally you find the right medication and they can enjoy stable emotions for years and years. Occasionally you have to make a switch or adjust the medication," she said. "You can recover from this, and maintain wellness with medication and Dr. supervision."

Seeking help is vital to recovery. If you suspect you or someone you love may be suffering from Bipolar, consult your local physician and get a referral to a mental health authority in your area such as the Andrews Center at 903-597-1351. You can also contact NAMI Tyler at 903-308-0200

Andrews Center has a support group exclusively for people with Bipolar Illness.

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