This story is part of a series to raise the visibility of people living with a disability at UCSF and to share resources available at UCSF to serve and support this community. Join us as we share their stories.

Terrifying. That’s how one UCSF staff member, who prefers to remain anonymous, describes her mental illness, severe bipolar disorder.

“Fortunately, I found a great group of people who are professional, fair, and most importantly kind and peaceful. They create a safe environment within IT that allows me to work productively,” she said. “They are so kind and understanding.”

Hoping to work in IT for a year or two to improve her retirement account, the woman has now been part of the IT team for nearly nine years. “In general, UCSF is the kindest place I have ever worked and the past 14 years since I started have been the best years of my life,” she said.

Those struggling with the mental health condition known as bipolar disorder experience extreme mood swings from emotional highs to the lows of depression. When depressed, those with bipolar disorder feel sad or hopeless and lose interest or pleasure in activities. These fluctuating feelings can affect sleep, energy, activity, judgment, behavior, and the ability to think clearly.

Today, she keeps her condition in check by taking medication, living a healthy lifestyle, and getting plenty of rest.

“Sleep is super important for people who suffer from mental illness as is living in a peaceful place. When it’s chaotic, I feel like I am on a rollercoaster on a boat.”

After living with mental illness for decades, she now understands the importance of self-care.

“I have to be my own advocate and take care of myself. Getting exercise, nutrition, sleep, and meditation helps clear the cobwebs out and greatly reduces the risk of recurring episodes.”

That seems intuitive but when she was young and feeling invincible, she pushed her limits. “I would keep going until I had to be taken out on a stretcher.”

One of the reasons she prefers to maintain her confidentiality publicly is the misperception people have about those who are mentally ill. “In the right environment, there is nothing wrong with me intellectually, but there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness.”

She agreed to tell her story so that others can find hope that even if they have a mental illness, they can be productive and happy.

“Working is a privilege for me, and something doctors thought I might not be able to do. It has been a long and exceedingly difficult journey, but I am glad to now be part of UCSF and a productive member of society. The importance of everyone being kind and inclusive cannot be overstated.”

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