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There is life beyond bipolar diagnosis

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Thousands of Utahns live with mental illness. But most experts in the field and individuals who have been diagnosed say it remains misunderstood.

Maxfield family time revolves around 9-month-old Evan. This is happiness, they say. But just a few years ago, Lindsay could never have imagined it.

She wrote in her journal, "It doesn't matter how old I am or what has or has not happened in my life; whether 12 or 22 years old, I still feel the same: lonely, beaten down, weary, exhausted."

She knew her childhood ups and downs were unusual. By high school, the highs brought the energy to participate in pageants, the debate and tennis teams, and the school literary magazine.

Her parents were concerned about the lows. A doctor diagnosed depression and put her on Prozac when she was 16.

"I didn't have any emotions whatsoever," she recalled, "and it really started to build a wall between myself and my parents and, really, any authority figures."

She escaped both the medication and home when she went to college, and the highs returned. She was the life of the party.

More than 4 percent of Americans have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness. Females and adults ages 18-25 are most affected by these disorders.

"I'm the sober one in the room and I'm dancing on the table? That's probably not very normal," she said.

She said in the back of her mind she knew it wasn't entirely right, but she didn't care.

"After you've had years and years and years of depression, you don't want to think that this happiness is wrong," she explained." I literally thought this is my reward because I fought through this for years and now I finally get to be happy."

She said what tipped it off was a fight with a best friend.


"It's really sad to me to think that I had so many people around me, even roommates in my same house … There was clearly something wrong," she said. "I had clearly gone off the deep end and not a single person in my life ever stood up for me and said, ‘Hey, you need some help, I want to help you.' They just let me retreat into myself."

Eventually, she suffered a breakdown and dropped out of school.

She didn't find out until a while later that an ex- boyfriend had contacted her parents and told them what was going on. He told her parents that she needed help; even though she was going to keep pushing them away, she needed help. She said while she doesn't know where he is now, he probably saved her life.

Her parents made her come back home. She got back into therapy, and then about five months later came the bipolar diagnosis.

"This is about 10 years since my first depressive episode," she said. "So, that just shows how long it can fly under the radar or how long you can willfully ignore it until the worst happens."

She wrote in her journal, "I don't know how but I have got to find a way to change my thinking, or I am going to die."

By the numbers
  • 2.3 million Americans have bipolar disorder.
  • 25 percent of consumers (people with a mental illness) experience onset before age 20.
  • 7 out of 10 people with bipolar disorder receive one misdiagnosis.
  • 50 percent of bipolar consumers abuse alcohol or drugs in part because of a delayed diagnosis.
  • 10 years is the average length of time from onset of symptoms to diagnosis.

She controlled the darkness and medication helped. She was able to finish her college courses and earn her bachelor's degree. Then she met Aaron Maxfield -- one of the good guys, she says -- and they married.

"I started to see my illness as a blessing because of the way it rerouted my life," she said. "I did get to meet this amazing man. I did get to reconnect with my parents. I got to heal all of these things I thought I would carry with me for the rest of my life."

With a new beginning, she started her career as a writer for Children's Miracle Network, and now is an editor for the Happy Living section on Then, Lindsay and Aaron found out they were expecting.

"When I became pregnant last year, I was able to be unmedicated my entire pregnancy," she said. "Let me just tell you what a blessing that was."

With a great therapist and the right medication, Lindsay wants those who live with this disorder to know they are not damaged for life.

"I want people to know what is possible, what a middle-of- the-road experience is and what you can do with a lot of determination," she said.

Lindsay says there is hope. She said, "I sometimes don't believe that I have this wonderful life."

You can do more than you think you can. She hopes someday to use her journals to write a book about bipolar disorder.


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Carole Mikita


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