A life of bipolar disorder, years of struggle — and, eventually, happiness

It took Emily Grossman years to find a combination of therapy, medication, and meditation that would help her manage her bipolar disorder. She wants others to know – with the right care, those who often face serious mental health issues can lead very productive lives and find happiness. (courtesy Emily Grossman)


Emily Grossman She lives with bipolar disorder most of her life.

Grossman is a Montclair resident, as well as the director of New York-based nonprofit Coordinating Behavioral Care, which focuses on better outcomes for Medicaid beneficiaries with serious mental illnesses, chronic health conditions, or addiction disorders.

I’ve always been keen on getting her diagnosed, her struggle with this disorder and the path to managing it. She hopes that by speaking openly about her own journey, she can help more people understand mental health disorders that don’t necessarily need to prevent those who encounter them from being productive, achieving goals, or being happy.

Grossman said the symptoms started showing up in high school. She struggled with anxiety and depression, but did not see a therapist and did not get treatment until she entered college, where her symptoms increased. Grossman said she began experiencing panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. Her family was worried about her, and saw that the treatment she was receiving at school was not enough.

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“I had more and more suicidal thoughts,” Grossman said. “A month later, my family decided I needed to go home in New Jersey for treatment.”

After returning home, Grossman underwent her first in a psychiatric hospital. Grossman said the experience was scary, but she felt ready to go back to school after she was laid off.

Then she had her first frenzy.

“I could see and hear things that weren’t there, and I couldn’t sleep for a few days. It was a very scary experience,” Grossman said. “Once that happened, my family and I decided not to go back to college because I needed more support. I was hospitalized again, and I needed a lot more support than I can get away with from my parents.”

Grossman said the additional treatment helped. She was put on medication that stabilized her mood. I went to school again, but things started to get out of hand again. Grossman said that during her junior and senior years in college, and a year after her graduation, she was hospitalized 12 times.

“I graduated from college when I had psychosis, and I think it’s important to note because often people don’t think that people with psychosis can still get things done with their lives,” Grossman said. “And that’s not true. I somehow managed to focus on my papers.”

Once Grossman graduated from college, she tried to apply for jobs and go to interviews. She said because she was internally preoccupied with her thoughts, and because she didn’t have the structure that ongoing professional care could provide her, she didn’t appear well in interviews.

After she was hospitalized again, her doctors considered sending her to a state psychiatric hospital without a discharge date.

“I was very, very scared because deep down I always felt that I could contribute to the world in some way. I wanted to make a difference in the world. I didn’t know how, but I knew that once the government psychiatric facility closed behind me, I wouldn’t be in I am in a position to do so.”

In the end, she was not sent to the state hospital. But Grossman said she has had difficulties finding a job and finding a place to live. When she turned 23, Grossman was placed in supportive housing, where she lived with people in their 60s and 70s who had schizophrenia.

“I felt like my life had really bottomed out because I wasn’t working out. I was just on a mental illness program, a day therapy program,” Grossman said. “Then, little by little, I learned therapy.”

Grossman found a therapist who trained her in dialectical behavior therapy, which she describes as “a therapy where people are able to learn to manage intense emotions and difficult personal situations.” It is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help an individual identify and change destructive thought patterns.

“Although I learned it a little bit in college, I didn’t really start applying the skills until that time when I was in rock bottom,” Grossman said. “I decided that I really wanted to get a job and live on my own. Little by little I was able to do it.”

Thanks to the skills she learned, Grossman was able to get her first job and move into an apartment, living with people her same age. She found medications that worked for her, including antipsychotic drugs. She said it took seven years to find the right doses.

Although her first job only lasted nine months, Grossman said she was able to find another job soon after, and decided to continue her education. I applied to Teachers College at Columbia University and made further progress.

In graduate school, Grossman discovered Buddhism which she found changed her life. I learned to meditate, and continued to practice it for 15 years.

“I learned that I can use a very difficult situation, like struggling with bipolar disorder and trying to recover, as a stepping stone to my higher self,” Grossman said. “Because if I didn’t have bipolar disorder, I wouldn’t have gone on a spiritual journey. I desperately needed anything that would get me to a place of stability. And so bipolar disorder is what really led me to a higher form of spiritual life as well.”

After working for three years as a teacher, Grossman decided she wanted to make an impact in the field of mental health.

“A lot of my students have been coming to me with mental health difficulties, and as a teacher, you are not in a position to help students in this way,” Grossman said. “I actually found a program in New Jersey that trains people to become a peer provider, a person with a mental illness who recovers and helps others recover.”

For four years, Grossman has provided individualized care to individuals with mental health issues, helping them get jobs and running support groups. She then became a coach for mental health providers upon recovery, and has continued in that profession ever since.

Grossman is working on publishing a book about her mental health journey. She said speaking openly about it helped combat the stigma surrounding mental illness. She hopes this new project will continue to get more people to speak up about mental illness, realizing that they don’t need to be shy about asking for help.

“And it’s not just that people can live a happy life with them [mental illness]She said. “People can rewire their brains through the kinds of therapy, spirituality, and therapies we have so that they can live relatively symptom-free lives.”

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