Living in the eye of the storm
An estimated one in four Americans suffer from mental illness, but many never seek help because of the stigma. Via Christi provides inpatient and outpatient behavioral health care for patients of almost every age, and doctors say it's important to seek help early.
Heidi Iwig, a patient of Via Christi Psychiatric Clinic, successfully manages her bipolar disorder with medication and talk therapy, but still experiences occasional mild episodes of mania. She paints a vivid word picture of a recent manic episode.
"My head was basically spinning with racing thoughts. There are so many thoughts that you can't see them. You just see this whirlwind. You want to be able to reach in and pull one out to look at it, but they're moving so fast you can't reach in and pick one out. Much like a tornado, this whirlwind creates pressure. I felt like this pressure was leaking out of my ears and I started to feel anxious."
During these times, Heidi channels her excess energy into productive work or calms herself by listening to music. "Normally when I sleep everything resets and I'm OK the next morning," she says.
Heidi has a college degree and a career as a CPR instructor for the American Red Cross. She's happily married and has a beautiful 1-year-old daughter.
She leads a full life and manages her illness under the care of Matthew Macaluso, DO, medical director of the Psychiatric Clinic.
"Initially, I didn't want people to know that I had bipolar because there is a huge stigma out there," says Heidi, 33. "People are scared because they don't understand it. I'm tired of the stigma."
Heidi's mental illness did not surface until she was in college. After an active, successful student career at Wichita's Northwest High School, Heidi struggled with procrastination in college and was first diagnosed with ADHD. When her academic challenges continued and she was not feeling right, she underwent further testing in 2007 and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
A bipolar mania
In 2008, while attending college in Tennessee, she experienced "a bipolar high" or mania that lasted for about a month, followed by a deep slide into depression. "With bipolar disorder, it's kind of like a roller coaster — you have your highs and your lows. I ended up coming off of the high and I dipped really low — the lowest I've ever been."
She remembers a feeling of standing outside her body, watching two sides of her inner self arguing over whether to commit suicide or seek help. Her will to live won the argument and she sought help, spending 10 days as an inpatient in a behavioral health center.
Therapy and a new regimen of medication helped her manage her bipolar disorder well for the next two years. She moved back to Wichita in 2009 to be closer to her parents and, based on a recommendation, she began receiving psychiatric care from Dr. Macaluso.
In February 2010, she began dating Scott Iwig — who became her husband and today is the "anchor" that helps her manage the peaks and valleys of her illness. "Family support is key," Scott says. "I'm there to tell her everything's OK when she has her manic moments and to hold her to keep her from going too far down when she dips."
In June 2010, a month after she and Scott became engaged, Heidi plunged into another episode of anxiety-laced mania and depression. She spent several days as an inpatient at Via Christi Behavioral Health Center, participating in group and individual therapy. "I felt Via Christi's inpatient program worked better and I saw a difference in how I recovered," she says.
Dr. Macaluso adjusted her medications and she did well. She and Scott were married a year later.
They began trying to have a child and Heidi became pregnant. On Nov. 3, 2012, she gave birth to their daughter, Lydia. Scott was supportive and helped her care for Lydia.
During pregnancy, however, Heidi had stopped taking one of her medications because of the chance it would harm the baby. As a result, she battled a difficult postpartum depression.
"We just kept at it with the therapy and the postpartum depression eventually went away," she says.
Scott says Heidi is an excellent mother. "She takes care of Lydia really well. It keeps her going," he says.
Today, Heidi is thankful for the monthly therapy and medication support she receives from Dr. Macaluso and the resident physicians at the Psychiatric Clinic. She hopes that sharing her story will help people become more accepting of mental illness.
"It's not a person's fault that they have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder," she says. "Accept us for who we are and don't treat us any differently."