Jessica Groff

Invisible Illness Contributor

By Jessica Groff

Invisible Illness Contributor

Jessica Groff is a mother, a writer, an educator, and a mental health warrior.

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Image by mbg creative x jessica groff

June 10, 2023

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While some health issues are visible to the outside world, many people face chronic conditions that don’t have externally visible signs or symptoms—also known as invisible illnesses. In mindbodygreen’s series, we’re giving individuals with invisible illnesses a platform to share their personal experiences. Our hope is their stories will shed light on these conditions and offer solidarity to others facing similar situations.


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It comes like a wave.

Sometimes it’s a gentle lapping on the shores of my life.

Other times it’s a freaking tsunami, taking out everything in its path, the underwater explosions invisible to the people around me who only see the destruction that’s been left as the waters recede.

This is what it’s like living with bipolar disorder.

The path to my diagnosis

My mental health journey began when I was eleven years old. It was 1991, and Kurt Cobain hadn’t stepped up to the mic to sing “All Apologies” yet. He hadn’t smashed one guitar out of rage in public. Hadn’t yet dyed his hair purple in a fit of mania for all to see.

At eleven years old I was supposed to be all bubblegum and board games. Riding my bike and laughing with friends.

Instead, I spent most of my days stuck in some purgatory—caught between the rush of tween hormones and something that felt more sinister broiling beneath the surface.

When a psychiatrist finally said the word “bipolar” to my mother and suggested a dose of lithium, she was terrified. Mental health was not a buzzword. There was a stigma attached to the diagnosis and an implication that my mother had done something wrong.

So we moved on.

We would keep moving on to new therapists throughout my teen years. Making attempts at talk therapy—only to discover that there were some secrets that my mother didn’t want to be disclosed. Trying different cocktails of medications. Maybe Zoloft. Maybe Ritalin. Maybe the new wonder drug at the time, Prozac.

None of these worked. Everything just made my world more foggy and confusing.

By the time I hit my “rebellious” teenage years, I was crawling out of my skin. I could not escape myself, so I started self-medicating. Weed and booze were my drugs of choice, and I spent a lot of time experimenting with different mixtures to see which one could take me the farthest outside of myself. Of course, this just made my mood swings more erratic and severe, and I pushed down my real emotions until I was a shell of myself.

I rock-bottomed in my 20s. I vacillated between sorority president and black-out drunk. During my upswings, I was an A student, making the dean’s list and planning food drives for battered women’s shelters. In my downswings, I would binge drink and wake up on the floor of a frat house, wondering where my friends had gone and what I had done to make them leave me.


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I’ve made a lot of progress, but my journey isn’t over

I have spent a lot of time apologizing. For most of my life, I’ve felt like it’s better to ask for forgiveness than to use my diagnosis as a crutch. Most people look at me and see:

  • A devoted wife
  • A mom who has it together
  • Someone who makes friends easily and is fun to be around


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What you don’t see, and what I try to hide, is that most days my mood is like the tide. Sometimes it’s calm and peaceful—a perfect beach day. On other days it feels dark and stormy, and no matter how I try to fight to the surface, the tide pulls me under and I get sucked out to sea. 

On days like these, I feel like the people in my life would be better off without me in it. I am grateful to have a few close people in my life who can talk me down off of that ledge. I know that some of my bipolar brothers and sisters out there do not.

Today, I am healthy-ish. I try to work out regularly to keep the feel-good endorphins pumping. I fill my days with activities that feel like I’m making an impact. I eat healthy foods and try to stay away from over-processed foods, but I still indulge once in a while. I limit my caffeine. I meditate. I hug my children and tell my loved ones that I love them, often. I see a therapist. I offer myself grace.

These actions are my life vest, keeping me afloat on even the roughest waters. I do what I can to stay as healthy as I can, and I hope for the best.

What I want people to understand about living with bipolar

To this day I still can’t tell you much about bipolar disorder. I know that there are different designations now. I have only ever had one meaningful conversation with a person with the same diagnosis. His name is Adam Sud, and he survived a suicide attempt. I know that some days it can feel that dark.

I also know that people use the term “bipolar” to explain away some erratic behavior in a person that they do not understand. “Oh she’s so bipolar,” someone will quip. And yes, even in today’s world it is mainly used to describe a woman. I stopped being sensitive about this a long time ago. If people want to be ignorant and say ignorant things, I don’t feel obligated to be their token bipolar friend there to educate them.

I am fully aware that I have lost many friends because of my behavior. I don’t go around advertising it. Usually, by the time I realize that I’m having a manic depressive episode, I am in the throes of it, and the damage has been done. Going back to ask someone for forgiveness and trying to explain my behavior away by providing them with my diagnosis feels like a cop-out. Why should I get off the hook for hurting someone just because I have bipolar disorder? The answer is that I shouldn’t, and so most of the time I apologize, hope they’ll forgive me, and keep it moving.

At the end of the day, I have bipolar disorder, but bipolar disorder can’t have me. Tides change, but I have my lifeboat. And I plan to keep on paddling for as long as my arms can take me.


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