Where did you grow up?

“I grew up in a military family, so I grew up in a lot of places. I was born in Cali, and then I lived in Germany for three years, but I don’t remember any of that. Then, I moved back to California for like, six years. After that, we moved to Portugal for a couple of years. We lived on this tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It was called the Azores. It was beautiful and it was definitely an experience, but it was very confining as well. There wasn’t a whole lot going on. Then, we came back to the States and I lived in New Mexico. My dad retired there, so we got to actually stay there and I finished high school.”

What was it like constantly moving around as a kid?

“I don’t feel like I’m a very social person. I kind of keep to myself. It’s hard to make friendships when you’re constantly moving like that. We didn’t spend a lot of time with our extended family, so I just had my immediate family unit and that was what I knew. We came back to the States after being in Portugal and moving around so much, so I just wasn’t very emotionally attached to my extended family. I did that for like, the first 13 years of my life, so it’s like when you learn social expectations. Then, I moved here to Pennsylvania after high school. I’ve been here since and I got my job at Starbucks.”

How was your move from New Mexico to Pennsylvania?

“I was living with a boyfriend and we broke up. I just knew in my head, ‘I’m not moving back in with my parents. That’s not an option.’ I had a friend who was a student here [Penn State], so I called her and was just telling her what was going on. She offered to let me live with her. So, literally, she bought a plane ticket for me for four days after I spoke to her. I went and informed my parents that I would be moving to Pennsylvania. Then, I was here four days later.

It was definitely not what I expected. It was definitely an impulse move on my part. I was very emotional. I lived with her for a little while and that didn’t go very well. She had changed a lot. She was doing a lot of drugs and she wasn’t doing very well. So, I ended up moving out after six months and actually lived in a homeless shelter for a month.”

What was it like living in a homeless shelter?

“It was the women’s resource center here in town, so it was mostly women and children. It was intense. Everybody was having crazy life experiences. It was a very emotional time.

We weren’t allowed to leave, especially at night. It was just for safety reasons. So, a lot of the women that were there, their ex’s were looking for them and they were abusive. So, for their safety, we were asked not to leave. They would let us smoke cigarettes in the laundry room.

One night, I went in there to have a quick smoke and there was a lady in there crying. I actually sat there with her for four hours. She told me her entire life story. I just felt like I absorbed it. It was really intense. I remember going up to my room afterwards and just crying; just feeling everything that she went through.”

Did that experience put things into perspective for you?

“Yeah. I was working here at Starbucks and I mean, I know we’re not supposed to, but we throw away a lot of pastries at night. I was taking those pastries to the women at the resource center to share with them. I would bring them my markouts. Even after I left, I was still bringing my markouts to them. I remember it just made everybody so happy. Just that little bit of luxury. Having Starbucks Coffee instead of Folgers. Normally, we would just be having whatever the resource center provided. It was nice; it was like a treat. I enjoyed doing that. I felt like I was donating. Those were people who were definitely in need. That was definitely a huge life experience for me here in State College. They helped me a lot. Got me on my feet.”

How was the atmosphere at Starbucks for your transition? 

“It was wondeful. All the people that worked here when I started, were like, three year-plus tenured partners. I was hired with one other person. We were like, the first people to be hired in a year. At the time, it was a very secure group of people who had been here and worked together for a long time. I felt like I just got world-class training.

A lot of those people, after a while, just kind of moved on with their lives. They got jobs in their degrees, moved away. Since then, it’s been a lot of college students in this area, so we have a lot of turnover when they finish school and they move on. It’s actually a lot different than it used to be. I think it’s just the nature of the town we’re in.”

Would you say the atmosphere at Starbucks is different compared to other customer service jobs you’ve had? 

“Oh, yeah. Definitely. I’ve had very few experiences with customers being not-so-friendly. Generally, like I said, it’s a college town, so it’s a very open environment in this area. Everybody’s all about that change. I definitely don’t feel ike I got to know my co-workers [at other customer service jobs] like I do here.

Definitely, at other places, you’re there to do a job and then you go home. Here, I feel like even us partners talk about things going on in our lives and you just know what’s happening. Even the students that only work, like, ten hours a week; it’s a lot different. I remember being just so awed [by the experience] when I got here.”

Have you ever had a customer that’s made you cry?

“Yeah. This was actually kind of recent. I had a woman come in who insisted her drink didn’t taste right. So, I remade it for her a couple of times and she was not happy. She felt like I was giving her an attitude about it. After the second time I remade it, she refused to let me remake it and walked out the door and threw the drink at the door.

So, I went over there and I cleaned up the mess. I was pretty shaken. I came back and she comes like 20 minutes later. She walks up to the register and tells me that she has called corporate and she’s going to call my manger and I better make sure I stop giving her attitude. So, I just looked at her and I was like, ‘Would you like me to remake your drink now?’ And I did. And she left.

Customers in the lobby even came up to me and they were like, ‘Oh my gosh. That was nuts.’ I think that was a night somebody had called out, so I only had three people, so I had to be on the floor. I was on the bar sobbing. Like, it just hit me really hard to be treated like that. She hasn’t come back since but she did call corporate. I didn’t get in any trouble for it.

I even had a guy call corporate on me before because I put the drink on the hand-off plane and it wasn’t all the way out, so he had to reach for it. My manager didn’t even mention that to me for like, three months because it was so outrageous.”

When did you start thinking that you may have bipolar disorder?

“When I was growing up. I had two different doctors before I was 18 suggest it. At the time, nobody wants to diagnose a kid, or even a teenager, with bipolar disorder. The medications to treat it aren’t safe. They have to be heavily monitored. So, on a body that’s still developing, they don’t want to give you that. So, it was suggested a couple of times, but nothing was ever done about it. I just saw different therapists off and on.

When I moved here [Pennsylvania], initially, my therapist kind of asked me about it but at the time, I told her I didn’t believe in bipolar disorder. But yeah, I had a hypomanic episode about two years ago. That was the first time it ever happened. It’s like an elevated mood but the thing about it is that it has to be an elevated mood for that person.

Our one partner, for instance, is always really happy and bubbly, but I’m not. So, if I’m happy and bubbly, something’s going on.

Growing up, I had problems with depression a lot. So, they would just say, ‘You have depression. That’s your diagnosis.’ That’s what it stays until a manic episode shows itself. And that typically happens around 24/25. It could also be misdiagnosed. Some people don’t even go and talk to somebody, especially if their main issue is manic episodes because it feels great. It feels good to feel manic. You’re not going to go see a doctor because you feel good.

After the manic episode ended, I crashed. I had a very serious depressive episode. I was suicidal, I was hurting myself – it was not OK. I had actually stopped seeing my therapist for about a year. I was doing all these things and I didn’t know why. I sought out a psychiatrist because they have to make that kind of diagnosis. I had to wait four months to see a psychiatrist.

I ended up stepping down as a supervisor because I didn’t feel like I was in a good place to be in charge of other people. I wasn’t doing a very good job taking care of myself. I saw the psychiatrist and he diagnosed me with bipolar II disorder.

The main types are I and II. The main difference is the manic episode. If I have a manic episode, it’s only a hypomanic episode. It’s not even a full manic episode. With bipolar I, the manic episodes are more serious. You can become delusional and a threat to yourself and others. You’re not in control of yourself.”

What is it like to live with bipolar disorder every day?

“It’s a struggle. You have to keep yourself in a routine. Something small and different in your day could throw your whole mood. You’re just so sensitive.

The medication I’m currently on, I have to get blood levels taken regularly to make sure I don’t overdose. One more pill could put me into overdose. It took almost a year to get me to that dose I needed to be on, to actually find that medication that was going to work.

I’m still struggling with my moods. It causes problems here at work. And you have to deal with that. So, I didn’t step back up [to shift supervisor] until I was like, three years into seeing a psychiatrist. I did also start seeing a case manager. She comes to my home and visits me once a month. We just sit and talk about things going on.”

What would you say is one of the biggest misconceptions about bipolar disorder in American society today?

“The biggest misconception I think is that people think we are in control and that we can just like, stop acting like that. To a certain extent, yes, but it takes a lot of work.

You have to know how to do it. You have to learn how to do it. It’s not something like, ‘Oh, OK. I’ll just stop.’ It doesn’t work like that. It takes practice and you have to be very self-aware.

You can’t do it alone. Ever. You shouldn’t try. It’s just not healthy. You have to have a good support system.”

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