Struggling with mental illness is one of the most difficult challenges a person can face. In addition to getting the right diagnosis and pursuing treatment, victims of mental illness also face public ridicule. Since they don’t “look sick,” people assume they’re just trying to get attention or simply devalue their complaints. That’s the struggle Clare Hasbrouck faced, when she first developed bipolar disorder.
Clare recalls that she first began developing her illness in 2010, while she was still in school. Up until that point, she was an eager student, always studying or reading one of her favorite books. Suddenly, things changed for her and she found it harder to learn new things or to concentrate on what she was reading. Even though she was putting in the effort, her grades were dropping and her teachers told her parents that she lacked proper motivation. Even Clare’s father believed she had just gotten lazy.
Later, one of Clare’s teachers observed her inattentiveness in class and recommended getting tested for ADHD. When her parents took the suggestion and had her tested by a professional, it was determined that Clare had ADHD Inattentive. The medication she was prescribed for that condition took effect almost immediately, allowing her to concentrate better in class. Within a brief time, Clare’s grades improved and she regained her self-confidence.
Over time, Ms. Hasbrouck developed a number of other conditions. By the time she was in her later years of high school, she had developed an eating disorder. Her poor eating habits combined with the side effects of her ADHD medication caused her to lose weight, when she was already too thin. Adding to that, her efforts to get into a good college increased the stress in her life. She recalls visiting 46 schools and applying to more than 10 of them, yet only getting accepted into three. This lowered her feelings of self-worth and she soon developed depression as well.
When therapy didn’t work, Clare decided a change of pace was in order. She abandoned the big southern city in which she was raised and enrolled in a small college in a sleepy Maine town. Everything seemed better, until the winter of 2015, when the snow hit hard and the sun was rarely seen. Even when the sun was shining bright, Clare was stuck in classes. When she told her mother how the lack of sunlight was affecting her, her mom sent her a bright mood light and some vitamin D supplements. Clare admits that nothing really helped and, before long, her grades were again dropping and she had started to skip classes.
By the end of the semester, Clare had gotten to the point at which she rarely left her room and spent most days in bed. Her GPA dropped to a 1.54 and the school suggested that she take a mental health leave of absence. She returned home and again sought help from mental health professionals. Clare was startled to learn that all of the various mental illnesses she thought affected her were merely symptoms of one single disorder. Her new doctor diagnosed her with bipolar II disorder.
Clare describes her condition as a series of hills and valleys with episodes of major depression followed by episodes of hypomania. She says the valleys, representing the depression, are much deeper than in bipolar I and, in comparison, that can make her manic episodes seem like ADHD. Ms. Hasbrouck says it was her excessive spending habits, which she indulged in during her hypomanic episodes, that helped her doctor identify the true nature of her condition.
Today, Clare Hasbrouck is doing much better. She attends two therapy sessions per week: one group therapy session and one session individually with her therapist. She takes more medications, but she says they’re targeted to treat her condition more effectively. She’s happy to report that she seems more stable to her family and friends, adding that she feels more like herself, as well. Clare adds that’s she’s grateful to the caregivers who have taken the time to help her identify and treat her problem.