Editor’s note: This post is part of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program’s Stories of Recovery series. TLAP offers confidential assistance for lawyers, law students, and judges with substance abuse or mental health issues. Call TLAP at 1-800-343-8527 (TLAP) and find more information at tlaphelps.org.

What’s it like living with bipolar II disorder?

It’s been a while since I’ve had a hypomanic episode. I can remember feeling great, but with an edge. Everything would be fine, but then I would start to feel irritable. I could almost feel myself vibrating just beneath the surface of my skin. Any little thing would completely set me off into a rage—someone cutting me off in traffic, someone questioning what I was telling them.

I can remember one time when I could feel myself about to come unglued, and I had to tell my son, who was in first grade at the time, that mommy needed him to be quiet for a just little bit. Not my proudest parenting moment.

But I didn’t always catch myself first. Usually I went from flying high to absolute rage with little warning. Then the depression would follow. That I can remember distinctly, because the pain of my last serious depressive episode, though several years passed, is still fresh in my memory.

I’ve been dealing with mood disorders since I was a teenager. Depression first came on the scene when I was 16 years old. I told my mom that I thought I was depressed, and she told me I couldn’t be depressed because I had nothing to be depressed about.

I struggled with ups and downs throughout my teens—the ups, the rages, and the lows—and finally in undergrad I had my first major depressive episode. I was taking a psychology class at the time and went to my professor’s office in tears because I just didn’t know how much longer I could keep living. That struggle—to keep living—has continued to be a common theme in my life.

Depression is a continuous loop of sadness, guilt, and self-loathing. And even when you aren’t depressed, you are constantly vigilant, looking for any signs that the next episode is coming on. Most days I feel like I am treading water, trying to keep moving so this thing that’s been chasing me doesn’t catch up to me again. It can be absolutely exhausting, and I would not wish it on my worst enemy.

I still struggle against the diagnosis. I still struggle to take the pills and do the counseling sessions. But I know I have to. I’ve seen what happens when I don’t, and my family deserves better.

I deserve better.

Even though I have this label that follows me around everywhere, I’m a better person because of it. I can relate to people dealing with terrible situations that they have no control over. I can talk to clients about their mental health problems and can help them with their cases, because I really understand. I am kinder, and I am more compassionate.

And when my son, now an undergrad himself, came to me about his own depression, I knew how to help him. I knew how to help him, because I had helped myself first.

Bipolar II disorder doesn’t define me; it is just one part of me. And fortunately, it’s a manageable part.