Windsor woman surviving through the ups and downs of bipolar disorder

March Ren
By March Ren April 21, 2018 19:09

Natalie Cooper, a brave Windsor woman who has been fighting with mental illness for 10 years. (Photo by March Ren)

By March Ren

Shocked.

Sad.

This is how Natalie Cooper remembers her high school friend who committed suicide.

It was a terrible time that would come as she was dealing her own mental health struggles, which had already started much earlier.

It was 10 years ago when Cooper, now 27, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is a mental condition in which people have low moods called depression and high moods called mania. Statistics show that two per cent of people in Canada live with bipolar disorder at some point in their lives. Most people either don’t realize they have this disorder, or they ignore it.

Bipolar disorder can be very difficult to diagnose.

People often ask for help for their depressive states and mistakenly think their manic states are a good mood.

Cooper originally was diagnosed with just depression, because she only asked for help during those times.

“My parents got divorced when I was 12,” says Cooper, as she sits on her new couch surrounded by soft pillows. She hugs her favourite pillow as she talks.

Her parent’s divorce was what Cooper calls “nasty,” and as 12-year-old, she felt pain and confusion.

“Divorce isn’t easy for any age, but that age was really hard because that was just when I becoming a woman, and it was just really hard. I needed my mom.”

Bipolar disorder can be hereditary; Cooper’s dad has it as well. But not all bipolar disorder needs to be inherited and some experts say most of the time mental illness needs a trigger.

“My parent’s divorce triggered my mental illness,” says Cooper. “That’s what happened to me.”

After the divorce, Cooper’s mother left, and Cooper and her father supported each other. As the child, Cooper should be the one cared for, but sometimes she used her small shoulders to hold up her father.

Natalie’s father Ron Cooper is very humorous and likes to make people laugh. (Photo by March Ren)

“He had an episode when he had a break down, and I had to be the parent in the relationship,” says Cooper. “We have been through a lot together.”

At that time, Cooper felt like everything was difficult. She tried her best to be a supporter of others even when she needed support herself. When she found out her friend committed suicide because she had no support, Cooper felt both pity and panic.

“If she had had support, then she would still be here,” says Cooper, her sadness evident as she frowns thinking about it. “She would work through it and maybe she would be married right now, have kids. It is kind of sad.”

Cooper began to feel depressed after her friend’s suicide.

“I went to the doctor, because things were hard to live day to day.”

Cooper’s decision to see a doctor was smart, but she felt like the doctor did not give her real help.

“He had a textbook, and he was basically like, ‘Yes, this is what you have,'” says Cooper. “It was really impersonal. I find a lot of people that have mental illness, they go for help and they are not helped. A lot of things could be better if they got the help (they needed). Their lives could be better.”

Without the right help, Cooper started to take medication for depression, which became a trigger for mental illness again. She says when she was 20, the depression medication triggered a manic episode.

Mania is part of bipolar disorder. Tara Payne from Canadian Mental Health Association says the mania period is more dangerous than people know.

“They have a lot of energy. They may think they don’t need sleep, they may feel over confident and they may be engaging in a lot of activities,” says Payne. “Some individuals experience thoughts of death or don’t want to be here any longer.”

Cooper says she is not herself when she in a manic state.

“Basically, what happens is you do things that you normally wouldn’t do and maybe hurt yourself or other people,” says Cooper.

She really put herself in a wrong spot and did things she never thought she would.

“I did something that I normally won’t do, like I lost a lot of weight, or I would wear one of the dresses that I had when I was younger in grade school, and I would wear a slip underneath, and then go around the city trying to pass (around her) resume. And I have this wallet that I painted with nail polish and totally ruined the wallet. And I re-decorated my whole house just by putting the paintings all over. It was just really not like me.”

At the time, Cooper had a hard time realizing what things were right and what were wrong. She thought she could handle anything.

“I think I can do anything, you put yourself on the top. You really think you are amazing, your confidence is just like through the roof, so it sounds like a good thing, but it’s not, it’s terrible. I think I can do anything but I actually can’t because I am just human,” says Cooper. She pauses and thinks before continuing.

“When you are in the manic episode, you don’t think about what is safe or not safe.”

Her family and friends realized Cooper was no longer her old self. They took her to see a doctor.

This time, the doctor told Cooper to go to the psychiatric unit of the hospital.

For Cooper, it was like standing on the edge of a cliff, the howling wind threatening to blow her over. It was like knowing she needed to get away from danger but being unable to move. Then a doctor appeared and pulled her back to safety.

“I actually hugged him, and at that time he was like, ‘No, you have to go to the hospital.’ That was not expected. I never hugged a doctor before or since then.”

Cooper finally felt safe in the hospital. She was there for two weeks and said she felt like she was in a hotel.

“I have a journal about that during my stay, and I talked with people, and I had my psychiatrist come in, and he will talk to me and everything. We did class as well like yoga, and movies or everything,” Cooper now admits easily. “I didn’t realize I need help, and I thought that was just fun.”

That is where Cooper was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

“I am bipolar,” Cooper says sadly. “That is me.”

“When I was first diagnosed, it was kind scary, because it has such a big definition,” says Cooper, adding she never thought she could be defined by anything. She always lived in her own way. But when she knew she had bipolar disorder, she felt that her life was no longer her life, “I felt it was such a big thing that is going to be a part of my life forever.”

When she was discharged from the hospital, Cooper was no longer in a manic state. But bipolar disorder began to shroud her. She didn’t know how to deal with it. She even began to doubt herself.

“(It) makes me feel terrible,” says her father Ron. “It’s a helpless feeling, because really there’s nothing you can do. For a guy, for a father, we wanna fix things and when Natalie is unstable I cannot fix it.”

Ron knows how hard the struggle with mental health is.

Natalie and her father Ron.
(Photo by March Ren)

“I deal with my illness differently from Natalie, which makes me more frustrated, because I made a mistake of saying something to her, like ‘Pull up your socks,’” he remembers. “Apparently, that was the wrong thing to say to somebody.”

But his daughter seems to have moved on quickly because she knows everything her father did was for her sake.

“He always be with me, we are on the same page with each other,” she says.

When talking about her father she smiles and blinks her brown eyes. Her father’s eyes are the same colour.

“With the nature of her illness, sometimes just saying nothing is the best, just to let it takes its course until it turns the corner and gets better,” he says. “I only can encourage her to get through it.”

Cooper is grateful for her father’s support, but she knew that she needed her own efforts to win against bipolar disorder.

“It is a learning progress. You have to learn how to cope with what life throws at you. I basically fight as best as I can,” says Cooper. “I think it is kind of like a journey, and l have grown along with it. I think I learned how to deal with things, how to cope with things.”

Her father says reaching out for support from others has helped her quite a lot.

“She reached out and got support from people, whereas that was totally different for me. Natalie kind of reached out and even helped other people, so that’s the way she deals with it, and it helps quite a lot,” says Ron.

“Remember that we all have mental health and we all have to take care of it, just like we all have to take care of our physical health,” says Tara Payne from Canadian Mental Health Association. “Having concerns with mental health is nothing to be ashamed of.”

Nowadays, there are a lot of treatments for mental health disorders, whether it is psychological counseling or medication. But the person needs to realize they have a problem before they can begin the long road to recovery.

Both Cooper and her dad did a new therapy called brain wave technology this year, and he says it is really worked.

“My goal as a father is that I want her to get to point of her life where she can live the life that she wants and not be dragged down by mental health,” he says.

In Cooper’s years of fighting with mental illness, she has seen many people who have been beaten by mental illness, even devoured. She has also experienced the pain of suffering from mental illness.

Natalie likes to use her art work to express herself. (Photo by March Ren)

But she refuses to be beaten.

She is someone who suffers with bipolar disorder.

But she is also so much more.

 

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St. Clair College’s international students at the Mediaplex (most of whom do not speak English as a first language) took on the enormous task of researching and writing feature-length stories. For their final projects ─ we call them capstones ─ they explored topics that intrigued them. They all brought unique perspectives to their stories. We hope you enjoy reading their work and seeing Windsor through their eyes.

 

March Ren
By March Ren April 21, 2018 19:09

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CAPSTONE PROJECTS 2017-2018