Personal Stories

I Took Charge of my Mental Health to Live the Life I Wanted

by Allison Ziegler

There were times when I thought I would never recover from my manic episode. It happened in December 2018, and I lost everything in the aftermath, including myself. I had quit my job, and with no income to pay rent, I traded in my dream apartment in downtown Chicago for a spare bedroom in my father’s house in Waxhaw, NC.

I was no stranger to mental health treatment, and I had been medicated for plenty of different mental health conditions over the years: ADHD, anxiety, depression, to name a few. In my family, being medicated was normal. But even with this background, what came next was a shock.

Being misdiagnosed as bipolar was different. The first six months of 2019 marked the hardest time in my life. The medication turned me into a zombie, and I faced overwhelming anxiety every single day. I worked out twice a day to try and clear the unpleasant physical sensation, but nothing seemed to help. The only time I looked forward to was 9 p.m., because it meant I could go to bed. I was genuinely worried that I was never going to be happy again.

The turning point for me happened in a conversation with my sister. I had been visiting her in Philadelphia and started crying about how much I didn’t want to go back to North Carolina. “You aren’t a victim, Allison,” she reminded me. Her words struck me. I knew I had the power to fix what had been lost. I called my doctor the next day and got a prescription for an antidepressant.

Slowly but surely, I started to regain faith in myself. I worked out regularly, adopted a meditation practice and started my own business. Day by day, I began working on building something, and I became more excited about the future than I was upset about the past. As I worked on myself, my circumstances continued to improve, and eventually I got a job that enabled me to move out of my dad’s house.

I moved to Philadelphia, where I lived near my sister and friends from college. It took me one full year, but, with my doctors’ support, I was able to go off of the bipolar medication and, eventually, the antidepressant. I have been medication free since March 2020. As someone who had been medicated in some form for over seven years, I never thought this was possible. I have since adapted a lifestyle of meditation and mindfulness, and I am open about my struggles with mental health in hopes that other people who are facing current challenges know that it truly does get better.

Now, I live in my dream apartment in the West Village in New York City. I have an amazing job for a technology start up, I run a successful life coaching business and I am writing my first book. I am surrounded by an amazing network of friends and went on a solo trip to Italy last year. I have a two-week solo vacation planned this summer to London, Paris and Lisbon. I am the happiest, healthiest, most vibrant version of myself, and I know for certain I wouldn’t be who I am today without what I went through in 2019.

My advice for anyone going through a mental health challenge right now is to know that a diagnosis is not a death sentence, and you get to decide what your life looks like from here on out. It gets better, and receiving help is a sign of strength.