Both the Consumer and the Provider - Bipolar is not for the Weak
By Abigail E. Fliege

My story began when I was fourteen years old. I was sexually violated and I spun into a clinical depression. I was given an antidepressant and later became manic. Most people with bipolar disorder cannot be given an antidepressant without a mood stabilizer, but nobody knew. Bipolar is not for the weak.


I don’t remember much about the mania, but I will always remember my very first hospitalization at age 17. When I became sick, all men became evil. Just as they had when I was fourteen because of the violation.

I remember one boy, younger and smaller than me, who was running around like a wild animal. A lady came in the classroom at the hospital, regained control and tended to my tears. When I looked up I saw on her name tag that she was a social worker. In that moment, I decided that was what I would become, and I did … for five years (not including graduate school).

My fighting spirit

Graduating from graduate school was the second hardest accomplishment I have ever achieved. Case Western Reserve was notorious for its MSSA (Master of Science in Social Administration). Even those close to me didn’t think I would be accepted. I wrote my essay, I was honest about my disorder and they accepted me. That doesn’t mean it didn’t come up at several different occasions, because it did.

Teachers told me to take lighter loads or even semesters off, but they were unaware of my fighting spirit. I graduated in December of 2008 and accepted my first job as a child and adolescent mental health therapist in Cincinnati.

Fat lama make money from the things you own

I had some large shoes to fill. My predecessor had a brain tumor and was beloved. One of the staff members at the school I worked at made a substantial pass at me. When I reported it, I was basically called a liar by the school principal. My boss had no option but to move me within the company. I then became a partial hospital clinical specialist, and that is where I achieved my greatest accomplishment.

Social work to insurance

When I first started, my clients, aged 10-15, accused me of taking the job for money. Little did they know I was making about $30,000 – which was nothing compared to the student loan that I had accumulated. They accused me of being racist. I was called every name in the book, some I didn’t even know. They had me on trial. But near the end of my time spent there they were fighting to see me. I proved that love, compassion and respect can bridge all mental health and race gaps.

My position was eliminated. I left Ohio for Montana. I could tell you horror story after horror story, but that is not the point of this article. Montana did not work out, I moved back to Ohio, eventually got sick and had to move back home to Illinois with my parents. Once I moved home, I never returned to social work. I started working for my dad in insurance.

Bipolar is not for the weak

I am 35 now. It took me six years to get my co-workers to ‘kind of’ understand my struggles. People think that my moods are a choice. While I do believe there are things that I can do to enhance positive thinking, I also understand as a former therapist that there are chemicals in my brain that prevent me from doing so.

Just several weeks ago I went through yet another medicine change. I switched from Wellbutrin to Effexor. Luckily for me the Effexor is working. But previously with one med change, I experienced tardive dyskinesia and ended up going to the ER.

Bipolar is not for the weak. On top of having bipolar disorder, I also have seasonal affective disorder and general anxiety disorder. Nothing about my life has been easy since I was 14, but I will tell you this. I set out to become a social worker and I did. My message is not one of defeat, it is one of hope. I have the unique perspective of what it’s like to be both a social worker and someone who is mentally ill. What I learned is that even in the world of mental health, we still have a long way to go when it comes to treatment, understanding and mutual respect.

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