Say hello to Laura (thisdiva99), another member of your 2016-2017 Team of Advisors. Laura chatted with us about what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder and why she thinks it’s essential to find and connect with others who live with the same condition: “It is of the utmost importance to connect with other Bipolar Warriors. Mental illness can be very isolating.”
Laura also shared some details about her background as a professional opera singer. She’s performed all over the world and has even won a Grammy! Get to know Laura and read her advice for others who are living with chronic conditions.
What gives you the greatest joy and puts a smile on your face?
Hearing the laughter of my husband, my nieces, and my nephews brings me ultimate joy.
What has been your greatest obstacle living with your condition, and what societal shifts do you think need to happen so that we’re more compassionate or understanding of these challenges?
My greatest obstacle in living with bipolar disorder is having to pretend that I am “OK” all the time. People with mental illness often find that they must hide their symptoms, and live in a quiet kind of agony of the mind, so that their friends won’t leave them, or so that they can keep their jobs. Living with bipolar disorder means constantly proving to the world that I am capable and worthy, that I am more than a bag of symptoms I constantly try to keep behind my back. I have been pretending to be OK for so long now that sometimes I don’t know where the pretending ends and my true self begins. I believe that education is KEY in bringing an end to stigma. Speaking openly about something lessens the fear and misinformation surrounding that thing.
How would you describe your condition to someone who isn’t living with it and doesn’t understand what it’s like?
Bipolar disorder is an illness of opposites. I can go through weeks or months of crying constantly, sleeping all the time, and then escalate to feeling nothing at all. I want to die just so that the sadness and nothingness will stop. Then I swing up into mania, where I need very little sleep, I over-schedule myself and include myself in too many projects, and get more angry and frustrated. Eventually I want to smash everything around me, including my own head. When I’m lucky, I have brief periods of stability between depression and mania.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic condition, what would it be?
You are worthy of love. You are worthy of feeling better. You did nothing wrong. You do not “deserve this.” You are not being punished. You just need to work with your family, friends, and treaters to find love and peace in yourself again.
How important has it been to you to find other people with your condition who understand what you’re going through?
It is of the utmost importance to connect with other Bipolar Warriors. Mental illness can be very isolating. Even though I have many friends and family who want to help (and often do!), sometimes you just need to speak with someone who knows what the bipolar roller coaster is like.
Recount a time when you’ve had to advocate for yourself with your provider, caregiver, insurer, or someone else.
Not too long ago, I had to advocate for myself with my mother. My parents are my greatest allies and have been through everything with me. But my parents have also instilled in me the need to “pull myself together,” because “the show must go on” (we are a family of performers). Recently, my mother became exasperated with how I was feeling, and how I was reacting to my illness. I had to stop and tell her that even though I love her more than anything, bipolar disorder is not something that can be shoved to the side. It is not an illness that can be put in a box and left until it is more convenient. It infiltrates my brain every second of every day, and I will never stop working with it, and trying to live with it. Advocacy is really just about education, and I think that that is something that we can do every day of our lives.
How has PatientsLikeMe (or other members of the PatientsLikeMe community) impacted how you cope with your condition?
PatientsLikeMe has shown me that I am capable of far more than I truly believe. It is so incredible to me that while other members of the community deal with horrible circumstances throughout their day, they can still take the time to offer me comfort or encouragement if I need it. PatientsLikeMe reminds me that I am allowed to be vulnerable or fragile at times, but that does not define me. It is part of the greater scheme and strength of having a chronic illness.
What are three things that we would be surprised to know about you?
- I am a professional opera singer. I have performed all over the world, recorded film scores, sung backup for James Taylor, sung at Superbowls and Red Sox games, and I am a Grammy award winner.
- I started reading when I was three years old, and I never stopped! I love the written word…especially Victorian Literature.
- I am a total geek…I love all things Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, and on and on and on!
What made you want to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors?
I love PatientsLikeMe, and I love helping people. When I was given the opportunity to combine those two things through the Team of Advisors, I jumped at the chance! It is so humbling and fulfilling when people bring you into their lives, and every encounter teaches me great lessons. My mother likes to say to me, “You have a big mouth; use it for good!” I hope that being a member of the Team of Advisors is doing just that.
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