Managing Bipolar Disorder and CF

I'm glad I finally got diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It doesn't mean I'm “crazy.” Sometimes, your brain gets sick just like your lungs do.

| 5 min read
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Corrine Liell
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As many of you know, cystic fibrosis is an isolating and lonely way to live, especially for a child. I remember harrowing sadness building up in my chest as I watched my “normal” brother play outside while I stood behind the screen door because it was time for me to do treatments or start my home IVs for the night. It's no surprise that any child growing up with CF would feel very alone. I remember feeling extremely depressed at age 8. I felt like nobody understood me, and I couldn't be around anyone else like myself. Growing up, I continued to drown and suffocate from my own lungs. Cystic fibrosis could have honestly infiltrated my brain with sticky mucus because it truly felt like my brain was clogged with horrible thoughts and fears.

Living with a mental illness was like being on a high-speed swinging chair ride that could not slow down or turn off. This way of thinking and behavior became quite normal to me over the years because it was so constant. I thought it was the way every person lived.

I was 17 when my friend took his own life. Around the same time, my high school dean told me I was a failure because I was going to community college, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. It was a really hard time for me, but I talked it out with my best friend and it helped so much. Someone finally noticed I was lost, and I felt seen. Thankfully, music was therapeutic enough for me to push through those negative thoughts, but my mental health problems did not end there.

In college I decided to take advantage of the counseling program offered and got help for social anxiety. I had a lot of issues with asking for help at a store or ordering food from a menu at places like Chipotle. My CF team and I had discussed these issues with anxiety, and they helped me link with a psychiatrist who worked in the same hospital as the CF center.

Yet, it wasn't until 2018 that I got my official diagnosis of Bipolar Type 1 because the year before I suffered through mania for five months -- it was more than just depression. My symptoms were irritability and impulsiveness. I would be crying and laughing at the same time.

I isolated myself from friends as they distanced themselves from me.

Mania had also given me so much energy. After four-and-a-half months, I realized I was not in the right state of mind -- a hard realization to grasp while suffering from mania. I decided to call my health insurer and ask them for places I could go get help.

I ended up at an intensive outpatient clinic in New Jersey that changed me for the better. I was officially diagnosed with bipolar, and I could take the steps I needed to slow down the swinging chair ride. For at least two months, I was in group therapy five days a week for six hours a day. I was put on Trileptal®, and I was taught how to deal with my emotions in a healthier way. I was also informed that antidepressants were most likely enhancing my mania and the better medications for my body chemistry were mood stabilizers.

Through this whole process, I was scared of what others would think of me, but in the end there is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to getting treatment for mental health.

I still get shamed by people, but I am living my happiest life because I got the help I wanted and needed. I advocate for my feelings and listen to what my head is telling me. Nobody can tell me I'm “crazy” because I know I am not. The brain gets sick just like our lungs get sick.

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I am open with my CF care team, and they are supportive of me taking care of myself. They continue to work with me, figuring out what medications do and don't work with mood stabilizers. They check in on my feelings and let me cry about whatever I am going through. I am so thankful I continue to have CF teams that are super supportive from my time living in New York and in Arizona.

Humans need to realize that it is very much OK to get help for your mind because the brain controls your entire body. Helping your brain is the bravest thing one can do. Getting help is the only way to fix your issues and live a healthier life. There is nothing to be ashamed of. CFers are not only resilient physically, but also the toughest mentally. We can prevail through so much. Because I got help, I am now on a very relaxing, slow, swinging chair ride with a nice subtle breeze, enjoying a vanilla cone with sprinkles. And when the ride is out of order again, I know when and how to call maintenance. I hope you can enjoy the ride you are on.

Interested in sharing your story? The CF Community Blog wants to hear from you.

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Emotional Wellness
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Corrine graduated from the College of Staten Island in Staten Island, New York, with a bachelor's degree in English writing and a minor in psychology. Corrine plans to go back to school to obtain a master's degree in social work, which is something she will be able to do now that she takes Trikafta®. She enjoys working out, playing and training with her new puppy, and reading. She is very interested in politics and trying to figure out how she can make the world a better place with compassion and radical love. Corrine also has been sharing her journey through the pandemic on a new podcast called, “The Rin_y0 Show: Cystic Fibrosis Through a Pandemic,” which can be found on Podbean, Spotify, and iTunes, and she also has been sharing on Instagram. Corrine and her family have been hosting a fundraiser twice a year for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation called Corrine's Pride, which was originally a 5K that is now a “Thirsty Thursday.” She plans to eventually take over the fundraiser and return to raising funds via a 5K.

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This site contains general information about cystic fibrosis, as well as personal insight from the CF community. Opinions and experiences shared by members of our community, including but not limited to people with CF and their families, belong solely to the blog post author and do not represent those of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, unless explicitly stated. In addition, the site is not intended as a substitute for treatment advice from a medical professional. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your treatment.