IN THE NEWS
Hanover mother opens up about depression, bipolar disorder to help others
Posted: Sunday, November 27, 2016 - 10:15 pm
By SARAH KLEINER - Richmond Times-Dispatch
It took a long time for Hanover County resident Maria Mansfield and her husband to come to the realization that they weren’t going to be able to solve her problems on their own.
Maria was crying for hours each day, and their house resembled “a war zone” as she coped with undiagnosed bipolar mood swings.
At some point in the fall of 2012, it became too much.
“We are done talking,” James Mansfield told his wife one Sunday afternoon.
It was a stinging declaration that James was no longer able to give Maria the help she needed on his own. In retrospect, Maria believes it was the push she needed to seek professional treatment after more than a decade of coping with depression and anxiety.
On the other side of treatment that took 18 months, Maria has written a book called “Life Is Worth Getting Better: A Faith-Based Journey of Recovery From Depression, Anxiety and Bipolar II Disorder.” It was published this year by iUniverse, a self-publishing company based in Bloomington, Ind.
Maria Mansfield is the pen name she used to write the book. She asked the Richmond Times-Dispatch to use it — and the name she used for her husband in the book, James — in this article to protect the privacy of their two teenage sons, who attend school in the Richmond area.
Maria hopes that by opening up about her struggles, she will be able to help others suffering from mental illnesses.
The couple were from Argentina but moved to New Jersey in 2000 when she was pregnant with their first son.
Their second son, born in 2002, did not sleep through the night until he was 11 months old, and Maria’s struggles began to take shape.
“If you don’t sleep for a year, of course you’re going to feel weepy and sad and exhausted,” Maria said. “I thought, ‘We’re from Argentina. Nobody used to go to the doctor just to say that they were crying.’”
It took her a year to get to the doctor. She was diagnosed with a chemical imbalance and given medication to treat postpartum depression.
For years, her mental illness simmered just below the surface, but it began to manifest in disastrous ways in 2012, when the family moved to England for the second time. James had been climbing the professional ladder in human resources, and he landed his dream job overseas.
“I didn’t have the heart to tell my husband that I didn’t want to move, because he had worked so hard for that job,” Maria said. “I adore my husband, so anything he says is fine, and that was part of my problem. ... I used to prioritize everybody else instead of looking to see what was going on with me.”
After the family moved, everything started to weigh on her: the rainy weather, cultural differences, isolation, the pain of leaving behind her job, the stress her husband felt as he started a new position, and the frustration felt by her boys, who weren’t happy about moving in the middle of the school year.
“I think that when you sit and cry all day for, I don’t know, eight hours a day and you don’t even know why, can you imagine?” Maria said. “The only thing we did was move. I mean, how? I couldn’t figure it out.”
James said he called Maria throughout the day to make sure she was not slumping into an emotional hole. He could detect her mood easily by the sound of her voice and, if he felt she was having an especially bad day, he would leave work and go home.
It started to take a major toll on everyone in the house.
When James told her he could not help her by himself, he found an outpatient treatment center where she could spend days with others battling mental illness and with therapists.
Maria did not want to go initially but finally agreed she needed help.
“I could not keep my hands from shaking, and I thought, ‘What kind of people am I going to meet in there?’” Maria said. “I walked in and sat down and I’m looking at the floor because I’m so embarrassed just to be there.”
But when she finally mustered the courage to look around, “everybody seemed so normal,” she said. “I was surprised how easily we can cover things up.”
One of the biggest problems with mental illness is that it’s hidden, Maria said. It’s not like a broken leg that’s easily detected and understood by outsiders.
She was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder — a less serious variation of bipolar disorder — after she started treatment at the center. She spent six hours there every weekday for 18 months.
She said that if she had known it would take that long, she probably wouldn’t have gone — but getting treatment saved her life.
The Mansfields decided they needed to return to the U.S. and picked the Richmond area after James was offered a job here.
Maria decided she would write a book about her experiences only if she could stop taking her medications. She did, and it took her a year to finish writing.
She intentionally wrote it in short paragraphs and in simple words — English is her second language — so that it would be digestible for people suffering from depression or other mental illnesses. Depression and anxiety make it difficult to concentrate for long periods, and Maria wanted to make sure she reached them.
“I know this message is powerful because I made it onto the other side, and I can tell you that it’s hard and it’s horrible and you feel like you’re ... going to collapse in the process, but you can do it,” Maria said. “Everybody has the potential to get better. Everybody.”
James encourages others to be aware of mental illness in their loved ones.
“Inaction is the worst thing you can do,” he said. “Just waiting and doing nothing is very dangerous. It’s not an easy battle, but it’s a battle that can be won if everybody works together.”