For the first three decades of Julie Kraft’s life, every day was a struggle. “From the minute I woke up to the moment my head hit the pillow each night, my mind would spin with worries and fears—most of them irrational—about the past, present and the future,” Kraft said.
“I was anxious over every aspect of normal daily life—showering, driving, shopping, paying bills, answering the phone, school drop-offs, birthday parties. There was rarely a waking moment when my mind was quiet.”
Outside of her home, Kraft did her best to hide these struggles, which only exhausted and frustrated her more. Inside, however, the pent-up emotions would escape. “I became short-fused, cruel, impatient, and distant with the people I loved the very most—my husband and children.”
Eventually, Kraft sought help and was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder at 36 years old. It took time for Kraft to accept her diagnosis and stop seeing taking medication as a sign of weakness. Initially, she was also terrified of telling anyone about her diagnosis (let alone the entire world).
Today, Kraft is a mental health advocate and author of the book The Other Side of Me: Memoir of a Bipolar Mind.
“I am, without a doubt, the most stable I’ve been thus far,” Kraft said. “Life isn’t perfect. I still have good and bad days, but it’s much more manageable than ever before.”
And that is thanks to treatment. Kraft is committed to managing her bipolar disorder. She made a promise to her husband, their kids, and to herself to stay well and be the best wife and mom she can be. “They deserve nothing less.”
Bipolar II disorder can be a devastating illness. However, when it’s accurately diagnosed, “it can be safely and effectively treated and well-managed over the individual’s lifetime,” said Michael Pipich, MS, LMFT, a psychotherapist who specializes in mood disorders in Denver, Colo., and author of Owning Bipolar: How Patients and Families Can Take Control of Bipolar Disorder.
The foundation of effective treatment is mood-stabilizing medication. Kraft noted that her medication helps to “shave off the ‘highs’ and bring up my ‘lows.’”
Shaley Hoogendoorn, a speaker, vlogger and mental health advocate, described her medication as “life changing,” after her doctors found the right combination for her. “The medicine has been amazing especially for the depression. I have little to no symptoms in the winter.” The medication has muted Hoogendoorn’s hypomania and helps her to sleep.
What’s also been life changing for Hoogendoorn is her “amazing support system of family and friends that understand and are able to help me when I need it. “
For Kraft, in addition to medication, recognizing the early warning signs has been critical in helping her manage and minimize the ups and downs. “When I have a ‘down’ day, I can rationalize it, try to get to the root cause, and eliminate triggers and stressors that would make me continue to spiral downward.”
Her family’s love and support are especially pivotal during the darker times. Today, they have a deeper understanding of what Kraft is going through. “My diagnosis gave my struggles and chaos a name and a reason (not an excuse!). Finally knowing what we were actually dealing with helped us all to move forward, educate ourselves and take control.”
What’s also been tremendously helpful is attending a peer therapy group and giving herself permission to set boundaries and take it easy—whether that’s having groceries delivered, taking a guilt-free nap, or declining an opportunity.
When she became ill in high school, Lisa Rumpel, a writer, speaker and mental health advocate, became involved with the Early Psychosis Intervention Program, which was invaluable. “I was able to go on volunteer trips, join a peer support group and become a peer support buddy myself.”
Reading Mental Health through Will Training by Dr. Abraham Low and attending Recovery International Meetings have had a significant influence on Rumpel’s recovery. “It gave me tools to help manage stress, work on my emotional health and to be mindful of the present moment.”
Rumpel also attends therapy, exercises, meditates and makes sure to get 8 hours of sleep every night. She reads, sings, plays the ukulele, and takes salsa, Zumba, flamenco and ballet classes. She finds it helpful to listen to podcasts, too, including: “The Place We Find Ourselves,” “Jen Gotch is OK…Sometimes,” and “Live Inspired with John O’Leary,” which have provided inspiration and great insights.
Rumpel’s family and friends—“encouragers, helpers, challengers, and motivators”—have been essential. “Like a sick tree in a forest receiving nutrients from the trees around it, the gift of wellness has been nourished through the help of my kind community.”
Both Rumpel and Hoogendoorn stressed the importance of their faiths. “[M]y church community and my faith has kept me alive and hopeful,” Hoogendoorn said. “My faith gave me the hope to keep going. I find daily prayer to fill me with inner peace and feel grounded,” Rumpel said.
“Bipolar II is like riding a roller coaster,” Rumpel said. “Sometimes, it feels like I am out of control and with the help of medication, therapy, loving individuals, etc., I don’t feel alone and can accept that I am going for a ride.”
“People so desperately need proof that it’s possible to successfully manage bipolar disorder,” Kraft said. “It’s not easy, but it’s absolutely possible…Yes, there can be a vibrant and beautiful future on the other side of a bipolar diagnosis, and others need to read it, see it and believe it.”