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How I became mentally well: Holly Fedele, licensed master social worker

My mental health struggle

For years, I kept a blog where I spoke about “a girl” with mental illness. Back then, I was too ashamed to admit how sick I was to anyone other than my psychiatrist and therapist. Even my husband and children, who saw me daily, did not know the true hurricane in my brain.

How I knew I needed help

From an early age, I had thoughts of suicide. I knew even then something was wrong, but I did not see a professional until I was 18 and on my own. By then, I already had lost my mom and couldn’t seem to move through the grief. The therapist I saw diagnosed me with major depressive disorder, and my doctor prescribed an antidepressant. Each and every antidepressant immediately made me feel better, but then it stopped working after several months — even with changes in dosage. Throughout a decade, I slept too much, cried excessively, had episodes of severe anger, couldn’t hold a job and frequently contemplated suicide.

After the birth of my first child, my postpartum depression got so severe that I had a break from reality and thought he was no longer my baby. I was not a great wife or parent no matter how much I participated in therapy or how much medicine I took. Somehow, my husband and children still loved me.
I don’t mean to imply that there were never happy moments, because there were, but so much of my life was filled with pain. I was terribly unstable, and stability, in the world of mental illness, is everything.

What I did to get better

After years of so little success, I tried a new psychiatrist. He listened when I explained that medications never seemed to work for a long period of time. At the end of the appointment, he ordered me to track my mood for six months. After that period, my diagnosis was changed to bipolar II disorder, and I was placed on an antipsychotic medication.

My husband was the first to notice the change in me, and although my kids couldn’t verbalize how different I was, they became more calm around me. For the first time in my life, I felt stable.
Getting the correct diagnosis and right medication was the magic. I even earned a master’s degree in social work and become a therapist myself. Although I still have bouts of depression and hypomania, they are mild, manageable and infrequent.

How I am today

I’m very honest with my kids and husband about my diagnosis, and I’ve apologized to them for the pain I’ve caused them. After my brother, who also was mentally ill, committed suicide, I managed to navigate grief in a much healthier way. There is no single, right way to obtain and maintain stability, but for me, the correct medication and therapy have worked.
These days, I’m not ashamed, and one of my missions is to de-stigmatize mental illness. Each time I admit it, the lighter it all becomes. I could be your neighbor, relative, best friend or even your therapist. I could be anyone because mental illness does not discriminate.
Thank you for reading. I’m Holly Fedele, and I have bipolar II disorder.

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