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Finding My Way Through Bipolar, BPD, and PTSD With Therapy and Medication

“Something that I wish I had known earlier in my mental health journey is that my mental illness does not need to define me. I stopped using the phrase ‘I am Bipolar/BPD’ and instead I say, ‘I have…’ I did this when I noticed how overidentifying with my diagnosis was hindering rather than helping me.”

Hello! Who are you?

My name is Tatyana Frost and I live in Manchester New Hampshire. I work in social work and have worked as a clinical mental health case manager, but recently accepted a new position as an inpatient mental health counselor.

It can be a challenge to work in mental health while struggling with your own, but it has provided me with copious amounts of perspective and knowledge which not only allows me to help others, but also myself.

I am currently engaged to my amazing partner and we are planning our wedding for October of next year. We have two kitty cats together, Kimchi and Frittata and they are my whole world!

Most days I would say I consider myself to be satisfied and pleased with my life, but I would say this is a fairly recent development. I have always struggled with what I call my “deep down sadness” which often interrupts my ability to feel secure and joyful in life.

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

I began to struggle with my mental health when I was really young. I’ve kept diaries my whole life and the first record I have of wanting to kill myself was when I was about 9 years old.

I have a trauma history dating back to before I could speak when I was taken out of my home in Ulyanovsk, Russia due to neglect and suspected abuse.

I was adopted by my new family when I was about 3 years old and taken to the States. I struggled with being adopted a lot; I felt like I was an unwanted, unlovable, and undeserving child.

My adoptive family provided me with a great life but could be very emotionally, verbally, and at times physically abusive. I grew up chronically invalidated and gaslit, being told that my feelings were unimportant or wrong.

My mother made me feel as though nothing I did was ever enough to please her and pushed shame onto me when she was feeling insecure. I always felt as though I was responsible for my parent’s inability to manage their emotions and that I was the problem. 

As a teenager, my depression worsened but I struggled to speak up since mental health was a taboo topic of discussion in my family. Besides, at the time I thought that everyone was feeling the way I did inside.

That was when I began self-harming for the first time. I had heard about it and thought that since that’s what others did to feel better, it would make me feel better too. Self-harming became a regular coping skill I would utilize whenever my mom and I would fight, which was often.

My first episode of mania was when I was about 17. I had never been manic before, and my naturally hyperactive personality created an easy-to-wear mask for this symptom.

I began staying up for days, experiencing rapid speech, and most notably, delusions and paranoia. I would hide when I thought there were people watching me outside, and at one point believed I could fly.

The delusions got worse as the mania increased, but seemingly out of nowhere, the mania would turn into severe depression. I struggled to get out of bed and watched myself fail a test for the first time. These vicious cycles went on uninterrupted for months, causing daily struggles.

I tried to talk to my mom about what was going on, but she told me that I was just lonely and my iron was low. She refused to let me see a therapist and eventually, my school counselor had to step in for me to get any help. 

The summer before my senior year I checked myself into a psychiatric hospital for suicidal ideation with plan, means, and intent. After about a one-month stay I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder type 1 with psychotic features.

I was hospitalized two times again after that, the second time for symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and the third time for symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I was assaulted in February of 2023 by my self-defense instructor and it made my BPD and PTSD symptoms significantly worse than they had been in a very long time.

Almost daily I would have horrible nightmares, flashbacks, episodes of dissociation, and blind rage where I would self-harm and damage things in my home. It became very scary and overwhelming for my partner to see me going through something that neither he nor I knew how to control.

More than anything impacted my ability to work as a mental health professional. I had to reduce from full-time to part-time at work which caused even more internal shame. 

These days my Bipolar Disorder is mainly managed through medication which I take daily. I still experience minor episodes of mania and depression but not to the same extreme as without my medication.

My BPD and PTSD symptoms are still a daily struggle, but my weekly sessions with a trauma therapist doing Internal Family Systems (IFS), Eye Movement Rapid Desensitization (EMDR), and Polyvagal Theory help to keep some of my symptoms in check. I still struggle daily with emotional dysregulation and occasional dissociative symptoms. 

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

Before my diagnosis, these illnesses provided me with nothing but confusion and stigma. I knew something was wrong, but didn’t know what. It was draining to be fighting an illness with no support, and felt defeated for every day was a challenge that felt impossible to win.

I think I did try to hide it in the beginning because I was in denial myself, but eventually, I knew that hiding it was only hurting me. I was rejected by my family when I reached out for support, and that only caused more internal shame. I felt alone and depressed simply knowing that others were not seeing my struggle and not listening to my desperate cries for help.

When I was eventually diagnosed, I had to grieve the life I thought I would have. After each of my diagnoses, I felt as though my life would never be what I always imagined it to be. And in a lot of ways, it wasn’t.

In a lot of ways, it was better. My diagnosis gave my healthcare providers and myself direction for my treatment. In 2022 I was in a place of maintenance with my treatment. 

After being assaulted in February 2023 I felt like a completely different person. My symptoms of PTSD and BPD were completely unmanageable. I felt like a completely different person and had no idea how to go through life.

These struggles were very obvious to my fiancé, but neither of us knew what to do about it. These symptoms I could not hide no matter how badly I wanted to. When I wasn’t working I was self-medicating, and even at work there were many times where I broke down emotionally.

I felt a lot of pressure from myself to hide these symptoms, to pretend as if that event didn’t change me. Even now, I haven’t completely processed it and still feel as though I haven’t gotten myself back. 

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

I think the first time that I noticed things turning around was probably when I went to college. For the first time, I was able to find myself away from the judgment and control of my parents.

I had taken control over aspects of my life that I had, up until that point, felt uncontrollable: my eating, my routine, and exercise, and my social circles. All of which positively impacted my mental health. I would say 70% of circumstances and 30% of actions resulted in the bettering of my mental health.

However, it wasn’t perfect, and I quickly learned that relapse is a part of recovery. During my second semester in college, I was hospitalized again and that stay was another turning point for me.

Each hospitalization taught me something new and reminded me that improving your mental health is a lifelong project. I had a few months period of stability before COVID hit and I had to move back into my parents’ house.

After moving back in with my parents, I learned that living in that toxic environment took a huge toll on my mental health and I decided to move out and into my aunt’s house. This was another time in my life where I had relapsed in my mental health symptoms and it took me months to get to a more stable place. 

After about a year of living with my aunt and desperately trying to salvage my relationship with my parents, I moved to New Hampshire with my then-boyfriend, now fiance’, in 2021.

I really struggled with that transition and my relationship with my parents since moving out was still extremely strained. I once again fell back into unhealthy habits and patterns – self-medicating, isolating, self-harming. It wasn’t until a year after moving to New Hampshire that I felt as though I found my footing.

A combination of medication, time, regular exercise, and intentional efforts in therapy brought me to a place of maintenance with my mental health struggles. My mental health has continued to have ups and downs since then, especially after my assault in February of this year.

It spent several months living in a reactive state after the assault and struggling to get back to a place of good physical and mental health. I am still recovering from that experience and I know that I will throughout the rest of my life have consistent periods of relapse and recovery – but to think that recovery is simple and happens all at once would be naive. 

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

Over the years there have been countless things I have learned from my mental health treatment. One of the biggest things that has continued to help me along my journey with mental health is education.

After being diagnosed with Bipolar, BPD, and PTSD the first thing I would always do is buy a book, watch a video, read an article, etc. Working in the field now and being an advocate online, this is the first thing I always recommend people do after any diagnosis.

It’s hard to help yourself or know what you need without understanding first what beat you’re dealing with. It can be helpful to look at the DSM 5 diagnostic criteria, however, I personally think it’s more helpful to read testimonials and find people online or in your own life with the same diagnosis.

Keep in mind that everyone’s experience with mental illness is different, even if you have the same diagnosis. When I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1, I loved Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir An Unquiet Mind. That particular author has written a couple of books on the subject and as a psychologist herself shares her story very openly.

To this day, it is my favorite memoir of someone with Bipolar 1. I spent a lot of time watching educational documentaries and first-hand accounts of others with the same diagnosis. It helped me to feel less alone and also to educate myself.

After my BPD diagnosis, I really struggled to understand what BPD was and how it impacted me. The book, I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me provided me with the diagnostic criteria, case studies, and tips and tricks for managing my symptoms.

The value in doing this is not only so that you yourself know what you’re dealing with, but also so that you can help others in your life better understand. 

One of the best things I did for my Bipolar Disorder was to track my symptoms and episodes. I used the eMoods app for this. I started doing it after being given the suggestion myself and found that it was invaluably helpful.

Once I began tracking my symptoms in relation to sleep, irritability, mania, depression, whether I took my meds, and whether I had therapy, it helped me see my own cycles.

Not only did it give me an idea of when I would cycle into a depression or mania and how long it would last, but it also was helpful to share with my providers so that they knew what was coming and how they could help me.

I learned that my cycles usually last about a month or so and that not sleeping or taking my meds can be a huge trigger. In the app, I was also able to add notes. I would track my self-harming habits, whether I was menstruating, or if there were any additional psychological stressors going on at the time. 

I also found that having routines did wonders. A consistent sleep and exercise routine kept me on a positive track with my symptoms. Sleep has always been a huge trigger for me – without sleep, I am more likely to enter a manic episode.

Working a job kept me on a stable sleep routine and also gave me a daily routine to adhere to. Exercise has always been something I have struggled with but once I found a way to exercise that was good for me, it was amazing how it lifted my energy and self-confidence.

I have always found that yoga was a great practice for me as it has a mind and body effect to it. Outlets for your daily stressors that can also better your physical health can be an important part of mental wellness.

However, for those who don’t like exercising, having any outlet is helpful. I also like to unleash my creativity through music, art, journaling, and theater. 

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

In the beginning, I held a lot of inner shame and stigma about my diagnosis. I had a hard time talking to those who I knew were not understanding, such as family members.

However, I have always cared about being the change you want to see in the world. After my first hospitalization at 17, I returned to high school late that summer due to being in treatment. It was a tradition at my school to share a presentation about how your summer went and what you did.

I spent most of my summer in a mental hospital recovering from severe depression and mania. I felt very conflicted about sharing this, and for a while, I tried to decide if I would instead create an elaborate lie for my presentation. No one in my school knew, and I wasn’t sure I wanted them to.

After an internal battle for a few weeks, I made the decision to share my hospital experience in the presentation. I realized that the shame and stigma I felt were residue of the stigma that society told me I should be feeling, and I wanted to do better. I focused my entire presentation on my hospital stay, and while I didn’t go into too many details, I was proud of myself for not adding to the shame. 

It was hard in the beginning, and I had experiences where I thought I was safe to share and ended up realizing I wasn’t. There was a girl I met at a pre-college event that I told about my diagnosis and I ended up regretting her response which was shrouded in miseducation.

She told me that she, too, had mood swings and maybe she was Bipolar. It made me feel as though she wasn’t taking it seriously and invalidated the very real symptoms I was experiencing.

Mood swings are a normal part of life that everyone has. Bipolar Disorder is more than mood swings. While I have always cared about advocacy, I also recognized that I am not responsible for educating everyone in the world; I am not the sole spokesperson for the illness, and I wasn’t open with everyone even when I wished I could be.

Later in life I started casually dating a guy who I planned to tell about my diagnosis, but ended up changing my mind when he shared previous negative experiences with someone in his life who also had Bipolar.

I wonder now if it would have been okay, but at the time I was worried that his negative point of view on the illness would have a ripple effect on me. I never told him and didn’t end up seeing him anymore after that. 

As someone who works full-time, it was always a challenge to decide whether I should or shouldn’t share my disorders with my employers and colleagues at work.

So far, I have. The biggest reason is that I have had numerous times in my life where I have had to take time off of work and school in order to focus on my mental health. I am also fortunate to work in the mental health system and have had very understanding and non-judgmental coworkers.

I am always the most worried about sharing my BPD diagnosis since, out of them all, that one tends to have the harshest stigma. At this point, I have not had a boss or coworker who has been unkind about my struggles, and my current boss has been very receptive to my limitations at work.

In these ways, I am very lucky, as I know this is not everyone’s experience. Whether I do or don’t decide to share my disorder with my workplace, I always check the box during hiring that inquires about disabilities, as mental health disorders such as Bipolar and BPD are considered such.  

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

Something that I wish I had known earlier in my mental health journey is that my mental illness does not need to define me. Looking back, I see now that while I was processing and educating myself on my Bipolar diagnosis, I overidentified with the label.

I let it become too much of me and who I thought I was. While this is controversial in the mental health world and everyone has their own preferences, I stopped using the phrase “I am Bipolar/BPD” and instead I say, “I have…” I did this when I noticed how overidentifying with my diagnosis was hindering rather than helping me.

No one would say you are PTSD or you are Cancer. It helped me remember that my mental illnesses are a part of me, not who I am. I am so much more than what label I have been given. 

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can learn more about me on Instagram @havingbipolar. There you will find access to the podcasts I have spoken on and my own self-help book I wrote about a year ago designed for those with Bipolar Disorder. 

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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