As a mother, you want the best for your kids and you want to be present and supportive in any way that you can. When it comes to living with bipolar disorder though, it can be a difficult terrain to traverse – wondering if your disorder is affecting your parenting, how it’s affecting your kids, and if living with bipolar disorder will have any lingering effects on them.
Michelle is a mother who is not only living with and managing her bipolar disorder but is also thriving! She has used tools and techniques on herself to make her journey an enjoyable one and is now teaching mothers all over the world how they can do the same. Her support is not a replacement for doctors or therapy, but rather another tool to have in your arsenal to use alongside medical treatments.
You can learn more about Michelle, her story, and her work here:
Michelle’s Story and Background:
I have a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Utah. Although this gave me a basic educational foundation, the experience that prepared me to advise mothers with bipolar disorder is entirely personal.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 2 one month before graduating from college in 1998. Before my diagnosis, I had no personal experience or understanding of mental illness. I was entirely dependent on doctors for guidance and direction, which led to over a decade of suffering.
I didn’t tolerate the medication well and my disorder grew progressively worse over the first ten years after my diagnosis culminating in 2008 with multiple hospitalizations, electroconvulsive therapy, and two suicide attempts. My diagnosis was also changed to bipolar 1 after suffering my first psychotic episode.
Finally, in 2010 my doctor and I found a micronutrient treatment option that helped my brain begin to heal and be more balanced. Over the next decade, I began to learn the tools necessary to live well with bipolar disorder and I developed an integrated approach that enabled me to live a healthy, balanced, productive life.
In 2020 I began my blog and then I developed an online, self-guided program called the Upsiders’ Tribe to teach the integrated method I developed to others with bipolar disorder.
What made Michelle get into this field:
When I was a young mother with bipolar disorder I felt alone, lost, and hopeless. I struggled with a disorder I didn’t understand and I saw a major disconnect in the resources available to me. I didn’t know how to advocate for myself, I struggled to find anyone who understood what I was going through, and I felt no hope of ever getting any better.
Over the past 12 years, I have worked to learn the tools for wellness and how to utilize those tools in an integrated way to live a healthy, balanced, productive life. I have often wondered why this couldn’t have been shown to me initially when I was first diagnosed as a treatment plan. None of the tools and resources I use are novel or unique, but I had to discover them on my own and figure out how to apply them to my life and my disorder.
I started my blog and the Upsiders’ Tribe program to shorten the learning curve for others with bipolar and help create a community that provides hope, support, and encouragement on the journey to wellness.
How Michelle helps moms living with bipolar disorder:
I love providing hope and encouragement to others with bipolar disorder. When I first began writing my blog posts I wrote them to my younger self. I felt lonely and isolated in my suffering and I share the things that would have helped me during that difficult time.
The moms living with bipolar disorder struggle with feelings of discouragement and isolation. There is a lot of anxiety about ruining their children’s lives and the damaging effect their disorder has on those they love. There is uncertainty about managing their disorder and growing hopelessness about whether they will ever successfully learn to live well.
The support I offer is not the same as a doctor or therapist. I teach those with bipolar disorder how to take greater personal responsibility, empowering them by teaching them the tools they need, in the order that they need them, and how to use the tools effectively together. I strongly advocate for therapy and teach them how to utilize this very important tool more productively.
When someone joins the Upsiders’ Tribe program they are first asked to develop a Mental Health Emergency Response Plan (ERP). This is a necessary prerequisite because it takes time to learn to live well with bipolar disorder. During the process, they will experience mood cycles and need to learn how to manage them proactively. The ERP is a plan to help the participant anticipate the mood cycle and create a plan that will lessen its impact on them and those they love and shorten the duration of the cycle.
Once they have worked with their therapist to develop their ERP they will begin working through the modules that teach them how to effectively use each of the tools and how to integrate them into a cohesive self-care plan. The ultimate goal is to enable the person to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar disorder.
Why it’s beneficial to work with someone like Michelle:
The support I provide is all online. This is intentional because it is not meant to take the place of professional support. The Upsiders’ Tribe program is designed to guide the participant through each of the tools, but the person still needs to take the steps and apply the tools in their own life.
This can be challenging because self-discipline and consistency are generally difficult for those struggling with bipolar disorder. This is why there is a private Facebook group as part of the program to provide a place for accountability, encouragement, and support through the modules.
One of the most challenging aspects of living with bipolar for me was feeling like I was never going to get better. I began to struggle to trust my doctors because as my disorder got progressively worse I questioned what the ultimate goal of treatment was if I was going to continue living with major mood cycles. I knew my doctors had a lot of training, but they didn’t know what I was going through or what it felt like to live like I lived every day.
I wish there had been someone like me to show me the way. Someone who knew what I was experiencing and could tell me it would be ok and how to live well with my disorder.
Everything I share comes from my personal experience of living with bipolar disorder for over 24 years. I know what it feels like to not be able to trust your mind, to lose hope, and feel like death was the only option. I also know how to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar disorder. I speak from experience.
The first thing that I teach everyone is to develop a Mental Health Emergency Response Plan (ERP). This is a plan I developed for myself to help me proactively manage my mood cycles. This is the first step in learning to live well because the reality is that it takes time to learn each of the tools necessary to effectively manage bipolar disorder, and in the meantime, you will continue to experience mood cycles. An ERP is designed to help you be proactive rather than reactive in managing mood cycles to:
- lessen the impact of the cycle on you and your family, and
- shorten the duration of the cycle.
From the patient’s point of view:
The first step is developing and learning how to utilize the ERP. Then as the participant begins to learn and apply each of the tools necessary to live well they begin to experience longer periods of balance–also referred to as “maintenance mode”. When mood cycles do occur they can implement the ERP and learn how to manage them more effectively.
When mood cycles occur it can often make the person feel discouraged or like they have failed in some way. I have shared that the path to wellness is not linear. It is not a failure to experience a mood cycle, and as the person learns how to utilize the ERP they begin to gain confidence in their ability to manage their disorder and live well.
Learning to apply the tools to live well with bipolar disorder takes time. It is important to remain active in the online support group to be accountable and receive guidance, support, and encouragement.
If you’re skeptical:
What I provide is a roadmap. It is the guidance that I wish had been provided to me when I was struggling to understand how to manage my disorder. What I teach is what I have learned through years of struggle and effort and my goal is to shorten the learning curve for those struggling with bipolar.
I do not replace a doctor and therapist in their treatment, in fact, I help them understand how to utilize those resources more productively. The Upsiders’ Tribe program provides a roadmap to wellness that helps them learn what the tools for wellness are and how to use them more effectively.
Michelle’s universal wellness tips:
Mental illness is to mental health what physical illness is to physical health. It is critical to take steps to care for your mental health to maintain a healthy mind to prevent mental illness.
- Develop a simple, consistent self-care routine:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Simple, accessible exercise
- Cultivate a support system that includes:
- Explore therapy if appropriate
- Be careful about the media you consume–especially social media. Place reasonable limits on media and social media exposure, and pay attention to how you feel after consuming any form of media if you find it hurts your well-being eliminate it from your life. Take regular, prolonged breaks from social media.
Michelle’s number one piece of advice:
Ask for help. There is no shame in having a mental illness any more than there is shame in having a physical illness. Mental illness thrives in secret. Ask for help, there is hope and there is help.
- Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams, Danny Penman
- The Better Brain: Overcome Anxiety, Combat Depression, and Reduce ADHD and Stress with Nutrition by Bonnie J. Kaplan, Julia J. Rucklidge
- Live Well Bipolar Podcast with Paris Prynkiewicz
- Link to a free guide to creating a Mental Health Emergency Response Plan (ERP).
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If you are a mother living with bipolar disorder, you do not have to go through this journey alone! There are women just like you all over the world who are taking control of their lives and providing the best support they can to their children while managing their disorders.
Michelle has formed a community of women just like you and offers her knowledge to those who need extra support. All of Michelle’s support is intended to be used alongside medical treatment and therapy. You can learn more about Michelle, her story, and her work here:
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