A photo of podcast guest Genevieve, who discusses her complicated feelings about her bipolar advocacy as a teenager.

As a senior in high school, Genevieve won an essay contest writing about the changes she’d like to see with the stigma surrounding bipolar disorder. This brought her to the attention of a foundation aimed at raising bipolar awareness, and at 19 years old she began touring with a state funded program to speak about her disease. She found herself put on a pedestal as a bipolar success story, although her journey with this disease had been extremely rocky throughout her teenage years.

Genevieve was diagnosed as an adolescent case of type II bipolar disorder around 13 or 14 years old, having already been diagnosed with ADHD earlier in elementary school. She oscillated between periods of depression and hypomania, with so many thoughts in her head it was hard to focus on the present. Her depressive episodes featured low motivation, low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness, while her periods of mania brought feelings of elation, intense creativity and obsessive focus on certain activities. Genevieve equates hypomania to speeding down the freeway in a fast car. At first it was thrilling, but over time it began to feel like a brick was holding her foot down on the gas, making it impossible to slow down.

Genevieve started trying different medications to see what might provide benefit shortly after her bipolar diagnosis. This process was deeply painful, and forced Genevieve to spend many of her teenage years in a blur of destabilization, as if she was being swallowed by a turbulent sea. At 18 years old she was allowed to try lamictal, a medication reserved for older patients since it can cause a life-threatening reaction and serious side effects. For Genevieve this medication was like magic, finally allowing her to focus on life and the future. Shortly after this revelation she found herself on a state sponsored tour, telling others there was hope in their bipolar journey.

Looking back, Genevieve has extremely complex feelings about her tenure as a spokesperson for a bipolar foundation. People would constantly ask how to be as successful as her or what to do for their struggling children. This was too much pressure for a 19 year old, especially since the narrative she was asked to share was not entirely in her control, and she had just started doing better herself. She feels guilt around peddling the superhero narrative, in which disabled individuals are often propped up for their remarkable ability to overcome their condition, rather than educate about the reality of their struggle. She also wishes more voices than hers had been featured, to add diversity to a discussion that cannot possibly be represented by one voice.

In this episode of the Major Pain podcast, Genevieve shares her experiences learning to cope with bipolar disorder and her complicated feelings around her media involvement. She also discusses developing ulcerative colitis in her late 20s, and the extremely overwhelming feeling of needing to adapt to a new chronic illness on top of what she was already managing. She is currently putting together a radio show for Hollow Earth Radio in Seattle called the Access Hour, featuring the work of artists with disabilities, chronic illnesses, invisible illnesses and chronic pain. If you are such an artist and would like to inquire about having your work featured, reach out to Genevieve at djazaleaher@gmail.com. Listen to Access Hour when it premieres on January 29th, available on KHUH 104.9 FM in Seattle or in your web browser at https://www.hollowearthradio.org/listen.

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