My Story: Mental Illness to Recovery
Updated: Apr 3, 2021
Hello! My name is Jesse Liu and I am an alum of Georgetown University, while also having attended the University of Notre Dame for a year. I am starting this blog site about mental health and fitness because I want to positively impact the lives of others, hopefully mitigate or even prevent the difficult experiences of mental illness that I had from happening again for anybody else, and to emphasize that mental health and fitness are positively correlated to a great extent.
I also want to mention, before I explain my mental health story and my road to recovery, that my mental health is in good condition. Although I have bipolar disorder, I have not been hospitalized in almost three years to this date. I take my medications on a daily basis, attend all of my scheduled doctor appointments, and stay in good physical shape as well. Therefore, I believe I am in a very good position to help others who are struggling with their mental health in particular. My physical condition is strong as well, as I exercise daily. As a result, I believe that I can also provide helpful tips in fitness.
My mental health story started during my undergraduate career, which was spent at Notre Dame and Georgetown. During the second semester of my freshman year at Notre Dame, I was hospitalized for about a week for major depression. Although my medical treatment helped my mood, and I was no longer depressed, I experienced plenty of negative side effects from the medication, such as memory loss, weight gain, lethargy, and drowsiness. As a result, my grades suffered during my second semester at Notre Dame. I ultimately decided to leave Notre Dame for Georgetown to be closer to home on the East Coast, where I’m from.
My time at Georgetown was not "smooth sailing" as well. During my first semester at Georgetown (sophomore fall) , I was hospitalized for about a week for a psychotic episode. The medications that I ended up taking for treatment really gave me severe memory loss. I had other negative physical side effects from those medications that forced me to take the next semester off for medical leave.
Before my return from medical leave to Georgetown, I experienced a severe manic episode and was hospitalized for the third time in a psychiatric ward. But I was finally given a conclusive diagnosis: bipolar disorder (type 1). Knowing that I had a chronic condition was very discouraging, but at least I could receive the correct treatment to manage my mental health.
Unfortunately, like almost all medications, the ones that I took for bipolar disorder (lithium and abilify specifically) also resulted in negative side effects. Personally, I experienced weight gain, memory loss, minor cognitive impairment, and drowsiness. My side effects did diminish over time as my body adapted to them, as I eventually lost most of the extra weight that I gained and became less drowsy. In addition, I finished my last two years at Georgetown on a high note despite having lower grades due to the medication's side effects by earning a dean’s list with honors recognition for my last semester while taking 18 credits. Furthermore, I graduated college on time, with 150 credits to sit for the CPA exam, despite taking a semester off - I’m very proud and thankful (thankful for the financial and emotional support from my parents and emotional support from my friends) for this accomplishment.
What kept me in high spirits and good mental health following my bipolar disorder diagnosis was a combination of taking my medications on a daily basis, going to doctor appointments, and being in physical shape. Since I swam for varsity and club swim teams in high school, I stuck to swimming as my main cardio workout in college. I also was a big weightlifter, so I lifted every other day. Also, I would walk or run outside and bring myself to the beautiful Washington, D.C. monuments as often as possible during my time at Georgetown.
In short, this is a brief summary of my mental health story. Please be aware that I am not a licensed psychiatrist, licensed therapist, or fitness trainer, but I am here to provide guidance and support for my audience and to anybody with a history of mental illness and an interest in fitness. Thank you, and I hope you enjoy my blog posts! Please subscribe to my blog and share my posts with friends and family!