10 Jan Thriving with bipolar disorder: an interview with NAMI Seattle board member Rachel Bravmann
By Marwan Alqaysi
Contributors: Isabel Cyr, Katie Garrett, Jason Aleta, and Jonathan Prayogo
(Rachel Bravmann – Photo credit: Rachel Bravmann)
Sitting at my dining table, I was bundled in my fuzzy jacket; the smell of my apple cider filled the room. I logged in to the Zoom call and was surprised to find Rachel already logged in and waiting. Awkward greetings began our conversation just as my cat walked across my keyboard, easing my nerves. Rachel, wearing black, round glasses and a tan sweater, commented on my cat and I asked if she had any pets as well. Rachel told me that she has two cats named Jake and Charley whom she has owned for about 10 years. Rachel got Charley at an animal shelter. She said, “He (Charley) was very moody, and I said, “that’s the cat for me!”” Her joke helped ease my tension and allow conversation to flow more easily.
Rachel describes her diagnosis and ECT treatment
Rachel explained, “In my teens. I was really depressed but there wasn’t an official diagnosis.” Rachel’s depression as a teenager masked her symptoms of bipolar disorder.
When she was 25 years old, she was in a near-fatal car accident, which she feels was when her mental health issues really began in earnest. The accident resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and around that time she also received her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Rachel stated, ”The car accident didn’t cause the bipolar, but I thing everything destabilized around the same time. After the accident there was an extended period of mania and depression.” During this period, Rachel’s parents helped while she went through treatment. “I was living in Colorado at the time, and it made a lot more sense to come back here and take care of business,” Rachel explained when telling us about her move back to Washington to be with her family.
One of the treatments that Rachel received that made a significant difference was electroconvulsive shock therapy (ECT). “One of the things I tried when I was really depressed and suicidal was ECT, which I didn’t think was really common for a lot of people. Other than close family and friends, there was nothing for me (like support groups) at all,” Rachel explained. She believes support groups can really help when dealing with mental illness and going through treatment. She recognizes that ECT treatment is not for everyone but wants it to be known that ECT treatment is not like how it was many years ago. She said, “I had been depressed for over a year, I was completely suicidal and couldn’t go out of the house, ECT literally saved my life.”
When asked about the process of ECT, Rachel said, “Basically, and it isn’t this way for everyone, within 24 hours I was no longer suicidally depressed.” However, she said about her initial worries of receiving ECT, “If the NAMI support group that we have now had existed when I did it in 2003, that would have been really helpful for me.
Rachel living with mental illness today
Now at 52 years old, stabilized on medication, and working with a therapist weekly, it’s been over 15 years since her last major manic episode. Rachel shared, “Most of what I deal with now is major anxiety, some depression and lingering PTSD.” Rachel mentioned a few ways she copes with her mental challenges, though acknowledges that self-care is different for everyone.
In addition to therapy, keeping a consistent sleep schedule, and taking her medications regularly, she lately is trying to focus on physical activity to help manage her anxiety. Rachel is currently in a strength training camp 5 days a week at 7:00 AM. She believes this to be a “huge help, just to expend a lot of anxious energy.” Rachel jokes, “I’ve tried to meditate and fail miserably. It’s just not my thing. Instead, I just breathe in and out,” also “I try to be kind to myself which is really hard because I tend to be really hard on myself. I spend time practicing gratitude. And I try to focus on what’s right in front of me.”
Getting involved with NAMI
Rachel became involved with NAMI, and then became a board member, to advocate for mental health awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. She has found that support groups are an excellent resource when dealing with mental health issues. Rachel also had an excellent support system in both her parents, and hopes other families will get involved with NAMI and their Family-To-Family program.
This article is a collaborative piece created by a group of University of Washington Bothell School of Business students from Professor Laura Umetsu’s Business Writing course. A special thank you to Tony Nabors and Jasmine Bager for their assistance. Their suggestions, advice, and support were invaluable and instrumental in bringing Rachel’s interview to life.