38 → Louisville, Kentucky, USA → Mother & Mental Health Advocate → Bipolar → Medication, Psychotherapy, Meditation.
R: Hey Krista, please tell us a little bit about yourself...
K: My name is Krista-Lee-Pfeiffer. I’m 38 years old. I’ve been married to the most generous man for 18 years and we have two teenage daughters.
R: Where do you live?
K: Louisville, KY. (US)
R: What do you do?
K: I’m a stay-at-home mom, caregiver to my mom, and I run a self-growth and mental health blog called The Sunny Shadow
R: Did you study?
K: I have an Associate’s Degree in interior design that I barely used and am still paying on. Thanks to bipolar, I was only able to work in the field for four years.
R: When were you diagnosed?
K: About 13 years ago, after the birth of my youngest daughter. I had peripartum onset. It was her birth that triggered my bipolar symptoms, or caused my disorder to “blossom.”
R: How did you realise you had Bipolar?
K: My psychiatrist and psychotherapist worked together to reach the diagnosis of Bipolar II disorder.
“Miraculously, my family and I made it back together. Stronger and healthier than before.”
R: What made you see a doctor?
K: I’d always battled anxiety, but after my daughter’s birth it became more intense and mixed with a deep sadness. I assumed it was postpartum depression. I also had an inexplicable obsession with her safety, which is still somewhat present. I self-medicated with alcohol. By the time my diagnosis was reached, I’d already become a full-blown alcoholic. Mania and alcoholism eventually tore my family apart. It took me about four more years after my diagnosis to sober up and gain stability. Miraculously, my family and I made it back together. Stronger and healthier than before.
— The Sunny Shadow (@KristaPfr) March 8, 2016
R: Were there symptoms earlier in life? And, have they it got worse over time, or better?
K: Yes. I had awful anxiety in elementary school. And in middle school I got depressed and experienced what I now believe to be bipolar mixed states. That’s when I first self-injured. Mixed states are still my biggest trigger. Overall, the anxiety has gotten better, but I feel that my bipolar as a whole has gotten worse.
“And obviously, I enjoy hypomania. I wish I could live there! My husband? Not so much.”
R: How would you describe having Bipolar in your own words?
K: The Sunny Shadow was kind of named after this description: I have bipolar II, so my “normal” is moderately depressed. But even when I’m above that or hypomanic (sunny), it feels as though there’s always a dark shadow following me. And it’s just waiting to pounce. I know it’s coming, it’s inevitable. Bipolar is frustrating and exhausting. Brilliant yet dreary. Sometimes I feel as though I’m running into the same wall over and over again. Me: “I think I can!” Bipolar: “No you can’t, and I’ll make sure of it.” Yet I keep trying. I make progress, but it’s slow. And sometimes I wonder if I’m kidding myself for trying. But there are parts of it that I cherish. The ability to see things differently. The creativity. I know not ALL people with bipolar are creative, but many are in one way or another. It’s taught me not to take my thoughts so seriously. And obviously, I enjoy hypomania. I wish I could live there! My husband? Not so much.
R: How does bipolar affect a normal day?
K: This is the part that’s gotten worse. I never know how I’m going to feel. I’m learning not to announce my plans because there’s a chance that I may not follow through with them. One day I may feel great, but the next I may struggle to get out of bed. And thank goodness I have people who depend on me, or I likely wouldn’t make it out at all. It didn’t used to be a day-to-day thing like this. And recently my sleep/wake schedule has become more of an issue. Maybe it’s just part of getting older and making the necessary adjustments?
R: If you had the option to lose your bipolar, would you?
— The Sunny Shadow (@KristaPfr) March 7, 2016
R: Do friends or colleagues notice you’re anxious?
K: I don’t think anyone but my husband really notices when I’m anxious.
“Eventually the invitations just stop because they know I’m likely going to say no anyhow.”
R: Does it affect your relationship with them?
K: Yes. It has kept me from participating in many social events. Eventually the invitations just stop because they know I’m likely going to say no anyhow.
R: Do you think your life would be different without Anxiety?
K: Yes, I’d be more outgoing. To a point. I’m an introvert, so there’s a line that would never get crossed. But I’d at least be able to hold down a regular job and social events wouldn’t be a big deal.
R: What is The Sunny Shadow?
K: TheSunnyShadow.com is a blog about self-growth and mental health, primarily bipolar disorder. There I share my experiences with bipolar and alcoholism. I also share self-growth tips and coping tools I’ve picked- up along my 13 years of recovery work, and as I continue to learn them today. My hope is to help raise awareness and eliminate stigma. But also to let others know they’re not alone. This disorder can be painfully isolating.
R: How long has it been active?
K: Since December 2014.
R: Is it your main job?
R: What was your inspiration for launching it?
K: With my daughters getting older and heading off to college soon (I hope), I needed to find something for myself. Otherwise, my mind would likely take me places I don’t want to go. One day my oldest daughter said, “You look like a blogger!” Whatever that means. Of course I didn’t pay her any attention at the time. But apparently, it stuck in the back of my mind. And a few months later it popped into the front of my mind. So I began my research. And several months after that, I started a blog. No one thought I would carry through with it. They all thought it was another one of my half-baked, hypomanic ideas.
“The blog has opened up other doors as well, freelance writing opportunities and social media consulting.”
R: Have you received any great feedback / response?
K: Yes! I’ve been pleasantly surprised, as I’d prepared for the worst. I’ve had several readers e-mail me directly. One this month thanking me for sharing about dual diagnoses. On the other hand, in a reader survey someone specifically asked for content not related to that. It’s difficult to make everyone happy. People also direct message me from time-to-time through my Facebook page. The blog has opened up other doors as well, freelance writing opportunities and social media consulting.
R: Have you been officially diagnosed by a health professional?
K: Yes, I was diagnosed by my psychiatrist, a medical doctor, about 13 years ago.
R: Did they prescribe medication?
K: Yes, I was prescribed medication.
R: Do you / Did you take medication?
K: Yes, I still take medication today.
R: Have you tried DRT? what is it and how Does it work?
K: No, I have not tried DRT yet. But I hope to find a therapist locally who specialises in DRT and is covered by my insurance. Dynamic Running Therapy is a client-led integrative psychotherapy that’s conducted outdoors. But it’s not all about running, if it were, I sure wouldn’t be interested. It’s just as much about sitting and walking.
“I practice gratitude and read daily meditations. I need to get back to exercise. And though I’m not actively going to A.A. meetings (it’s complicated) I still practice the principles in my daily life. They’ve become a part of me.”
R: How do you best manage bipolar otherwise? (medication, meditation, yoga, alternative medicines, or something else)
K: Primarily with medication and psychotherapy. I practice gratitude and read daily meditations. I need to get back to exercise. And though I’m not actively going to A.A. meetings (it’s complicated) I still practice the principles in my daily life. They’ve become a part of me.
R: Did any treatments work?
K: I’ve never tried any treatments.
R: Do you feel as if you’re in control now?
K: I feel that I currently have a lot of room for self-improvement, but I’m stable.
R: Have you seen a therapist?
K: Yes, I’ve seen a therapist regularly for the past thirteen years. But she closed her practice and I’ve been in between therapists for some time now. It’s awful. I tried one, but it wasn’t a good fit. Now hoping to find one specialising in DRT, especially with the weather getting warmer and exercise being something I need to get back to.
R: Did any health professionals explain where your bipolar might stem from?
K: My psychiatrist probed me for answers upon my diagnosis but unfortunately, I didn’t know my family’s history of mental illness until long after my diagnosis. Clearly mental illness runs on at least one side of my family, as my psychiatrist suspected. And alcoholism runs on both sides for sure.
R: Do family members have Bipolar?
K: Only one other person has been diagnosed that I’m aware of, but I suspect that it’s under-diagnosed in my family.
R: Do you tell friends, family and colleagues that you have Bipolar?
K: This question made me laugh. If you know my story, then you know that I didn’t have to tell anyone. My disorder manifested as an F4 tornado. There was no keeping it from my family and friends. But no, I don’t go out of my way to share it with people. Nor do I keep it from people. I allow it to come up naturally. Or I might say, “Hey, go check out my blog.”
— The Sunny Shadow (@KristaPfr) March 8, 2016
R: How did they react?
K: Since starting my blog, it’s been interesting to see people’s reactions. You know, Facebook friends and parents of your children’s friends. Overall the response has been okay. I think that a lot of people don’t know what to say, so they don’t say anything at all. I think it makes them uncomfortable to talk about it, which is exactly why we’re talking about it right now. To make it less uncomfortable. To make them realise that there’s nothing scary or wrong about it. And that we’re still the same people they thought we were before they found out about our diagnoses.
“Since starting my blog there have been a few people that treat me a little different. You know, whereas before they were like ‘Miss Chatty Kathy’ now they’re standoffish. Whatever, the world will keep turning.”
R: Have you experienced stigma in regards to your mental health?
K: Not outright. Since starting my blog there have been a few people that treat me a little different. You know, whereas before they were like “Miss Chatty Kathy,” now they’re standoffish. Whatever, the world will keep turning.
R: Do you know others with mental health complications ?
K: Of course.
R: How do you educate yourself on management and resources? Do you read specific blogs, magazines or news articles?
K: I’m always reading something. I like Flipboard because you can follow specific topics. And I create Twitter lists by topic. There are too many great blogs out there to only name a few here. I’d like to start a Pinterest board specifically dedicated to bipolar-related blogs.
R: Have you read any great books about Bipolar?
K: I recently did a book review/ interview for Rebecca Lombardo’s memoir about her experience with bipolar disorder, It’s Not Your Journey. Her book is incredibly relatable. She describes certain things in a way I thought no one else understood.
R: Or seen any movies?
R: Can you recommend any therapists / doctors / specialists / coaches / mentors / clinics / foundations?
K: My psychiatrist, who I partially credit with saving my life, is Dr. Christopher Schrodt, (502) 327-7701. And the co-occurring illnesses rehab facility I stayed at in Memphis, TN is The Oaks at La Paloma.
R: What’s on your horizon for 2016?
K: Lots of fast-pitch softball. My oldest is a pitcher for her high school varsity team. This summer I’ll be doing lots of planning to homeschool my youngest for high school next year. Looking forward to a trip to Vegas with my husband this summer. I hope to continue growing The Sunny Shadow. And I have plans for another blog about blogging and social media!
— The Sunny Shadow (@KristaPfr) March 9, 2016
R: What next for your mental health?
K: I’m going to get on a routine and find a therapist already!
R: Any thing else you’d like to add?
K: Thank you so much, Rodger, for this opportunity. I appreciate it.
R: Thank you, Krista!
Rodger Hoefel in conversation with Krista-Lee-Pfeiffer
Cover Photo and other images supplied by Krista-Lee-Pfeiffer