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When people bore me with details of their colonoscopy/knee replacement, I tell them about my bipolar 2 disorder. I have a mental illness and a different twist on the “End the Stigma” campaign. I refuse to acknowledge this stigma exists—no shame here. AMA

Susan Dobransky Sofayov
May 4, 2018

Hi, my name is Susan Sofayov and at the ripe old age of 46, I was diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder.  After being diagnosed, I wrote a novel titled Defective, a tale of a young woman’s journey to acceptance of her own bipolar 2 diagnosis. The story is written from a first-person point of view, giving readers a glimpse into the mind of a mentally ill person. People with mental illness are so much more than their diagnosis.  They’re not just the dramatic symptoms portrayed for effect in movies and on television.  People battling mental health issues are everywhere.  They live in the house next door.  They work in the next cubicle.  And for people like me, mental illness stares back at us every time we look into the mirror.     

Since publishing Defective, I’ve written two more novels: The Kiddush Ladies and Jerusalem Stone.  Prior to diagnosis, I wrote grocery lists.

Susan AMA.jpg

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Conversation (76)

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Who is, in your opinion, your toughest critic when it comes to your work?
May 10, 2:50PM EDT0

Without hesitancy, I am.

May 10, 10:17PM EDT0
Can you recommend any literature or online resource to learn more about bipolar disorder and how it affects you?
May 10, 2:00AM EDT0

International bipolar foundation. They have a section book section.

ibpf.org/mental-health-books

May 10, 10:19PM EDT0
Would you say that in your case, writing has also being a healing process?
May 9, 10:22AM EDT0

Absolutely!

May 9, 12:25PM EDT0
Anonymous

Susan, not a question but a comment.  Thank you so much for your candor.  We do not know each other, but you have helped me a great deal by reading about you.  Thank you again.  I wish we were neighbors.  

May 7, 7:07PM EDT0

You are very sweet.

May 8, 8:50AM EDT0
How is your mental health now? How has writing books changed your life?
May 6, 11:23PM EDT0

Overall, I'm pleased with my current mental health state.  It's not perfect, but it's good enough for me.  Bad periods are less frequent and not even close to the severity of pre-treatment.  I'm happy.  I don't think writing books has changed anything in my life, other than I've met some wonderful new people.  

May 7, 8:02AM EDT0
Anonymous

How are you handling the possibility of your children having Bipolar 2.  Speaking for myself I can already see anxiety in my children that I believe they got from me.

May 6, 5:12PM EDT0

Two of my children have a mental health diagnosis, but neither have bipolar 2.  Both struggle with depression and anxiety.  I know it came from my side of the gene pool. Do I feel awful about it--you bet I do.  But, unlike parents who never experienced a mental health issue, I recognized their symptoms early and got them help quick.  Both are doing great. 

May 7, 8:07AM EDT0
Has counselling helped you in any way and would you recommend it?
May 5, 10:28PM EDT0

Yes, and I highly recommend therapy.

May 6, 10:18AM EDT0
How did living with bipolar affect your relationships with others?
May 5, 6:33PM EDT0

Well,  my husband almost left me.  But, what hurts me the most is my children grew up in an environment that often felt like they had two entirely different mothers.  

May 6, 10:19AM EDT0
What books are you currently reading? Any book recommendations?
May 5, 4:25PM EDT0

I'm currently reading HIdden Ones: A Veil of Memories by Marcia Fine.  It's about hidden Jews during the Mexican Inquisition.  

May 6, 10:21AM EDT0
What are your future goals pertaining to your career in advocacy or as a writer?
May 5, 6:07AM EDT0

Excellent question that I wish I had answer to.  I just take what ever opportunities come my way.  No major goals. 

May 6, 9:56AM EDT0
What are some of your own coping skills for the bad days?
May 5, 4:05AM EDT0

Avoid human beings.  On bad days, I tell my husband, "back away slowly."

May 6, 9:57AM EDT0

 How has writing books changed your life?

May 5, 2:39AM EDT0

Through writing I've connected with some wonderful people.  

May 6, 9:58AM EDT0
What are you most proud of with regards to your mental health advocacy work?
May 4, 9:54PM EDT0

I had the opportunity to do a podcast for the International Bipolar Foundation.  Being asked to do it was a huge honor.  They're a great organization.   ibpf.org/

May 6, 10:23AM EDT0
What inspired you to write Defective and then Jerusalem Stone?
May 4, 7:12PM EDT0

I was ispired to write Defective because of my own diagnosis with bipolar 2 disorder.  Jerusaelm Stone was inspired by feelings after losing my brother in a car accident.

Last edited @ May 8, 9:01AM EDT.
May 6, 9:59AM EDT0
What do you think helps you the most as far as being able to live a stable and healthy life?
May 4, 5:32PM EDT0

My medication!  My biggest fear is the drug companies will stop manufacturing those beautiful little pills. 

May 6, 10:00AM EDT0
What resources do people struggling with mental health have available to them?
May 4, 2:58PM EDT0

I believe that varies from community to community, but there are a lot of support websites online. 

May 6, 10:01AM EDT0
What has been the most surprising thing to you about how people have responded to your novels?
May 4, 2:38PM EDT0

When I wrote DEFECTIVE I was suprised by how many people I met had a story relating to mental illness.  When I opened up about it, people felt safe to tell me their story and I could tell that many really needed to tell their story.  I was suprised to learn from readers how many families, like mine, kept the mental illness secret.  I was shocked by the reaction to my second novel, THE KIDDUSH LADIES.  It's not a happy ending. I killed off two characters.  Readers actually got mad at me and I found myself explaining that I've never killed anyone--the characters in the book aren't real. The only place they ever lived was in my head.  I will never write another tragedy!

May 4, 2:56PM EDT1
What might you tell someone who views a mental health diagnosis as only negative?
May 4, 2:11PM EDT0

It's easy to get caught up in the negative aspects of mental challanges.  But, since you can't cure it, you have to learn to live with it.  I don't view my diagnosis as positive or negative.  It just is and acutally, my misfiring brain cells occasionally produce some really good stuff.

May 6, 10:03AM EDT0
Anonymous

Hi Susan, I am someone who suffers from anxiety and depression.  I am also a very private person.  Did you have any misgivings about going public with your struggle and how do you feel about having done so?  Thank you.

May 4, 1:47PM EDT0

I didn't have any misgivings.  I actually wanted to scream it from the roof tops simply because I no longer felt like an emotional failure.  My lack of emotional/behavioral control was not my fault.  I can understand the hesitancy if you work for a company.  I'm self-employed so I didn't have to worry about it being used against me. 

May 4, 2:50PM EDT0
Was it hard to go back and write about your life and was it helpful in any way?
May 4, 1:00PM EDT1

I started writing DEFECTIVE not long after being diagnosised.  Everything was fresh and the feelings still raw.  Once in treatment I looked back at my memories with a completely different perspective.  I could clearly see my faulty mental processessing system.  What I'm thrilled to say is, I couldn't write DEFECTIVE today.  Time as healed some of the wounds. And even though I'm not completely episode free, none are even close to the severity of those prior treatment. 

May 4, 2:47PM EDT1
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