WHITE MOUNTAINS — Dawn Sherine was not diagnosed with bipolar disorder until she was 40 years old.
Today she is 54 and she is still riding the rollercoaster of intense highs and lows, but she is now six weeks out from being an inpatient and on her meds – more meds now than usual. With her body having adjusted to the new regimen of prescription drugs to keep her balanced, she has turned her focus to educating people about bipolar disorder with her own podcast, “Dancing with Bipolar.”
May is National Mental Health Month and since so many people still have misconceptions about bipolar and other mental health issues, Sherine could not have picked a better time to launch her new endeavor to shed light on what so few people really know about bipolar disorder.
On April 22, Sherine introduced herself to the world of podcast saying: “Hi. This is the story of my life living with Bipolar Disorder and all the fun and sadness that come along with this double edged sword.” The intro, as well as 4 minute podcast, was a big step for her because she believes everything that she has gone through in her life has brought her to this point in time to educate others and demystify the world of the bipolar person.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov), people with bipolar disorder experience periods of unusually intense emotion, changes in sleep patterns and activity levels, and unusual behaviors. These distinct periods are called “mood episodes.” Mood episodes are drastically different from the moods and behaviors that are typical for the person. Extreme changes in energy, activity, and sleep go along with mood episodes.
Sherine started drinking alcohol when she was eight years old. She said she had a fractured family who were in denial. Her mother, an artist, stayed up all night and went to bed about the time she was getting ready for school. Her father was a workaholic and died of leukemia when she was only 15. Nobody noticed she was drinking – they were in denial and it had become normal for her.
Sherine got a music scholarship to Julliard when she was in the eighth grade, she played the tuba. She excelled in high school with a GPA of 4.2, was in the National Honor Society, played trombone in drum corps and was a cheerleader.
“I always knew something was wrong. I thought I was missing a gear. They would say I was moody,” explained Sherine, who attempted suicide four times during her high school years.
She has studied many subjects from sociology to human rights to journalism acknowledges that her IQ is extremely high, and that she never had to study. She served in the U.S. Air Force as a cryptolinguist and it was there, though she received an honorable discharge, that things began to catch up with her. She was in Germany at Ramstein Air Base where she tested with a dirty urine; nothing happened and she thought that she had gotten away with it. Eight months later when she was at Cheyenne Mountain Military Installation, she discovered she had not. After that, her dance steps got a lot more complicated.
At age 40 while back East, she had been fired from her job as a cashier and was a full-blown alcoholic. She had no insurance and could not get into the healthcare system without a diagnosis.
“I went into the hospital,” said Sherine. “I faked a suicide in an attempt to get help. I was a mess. I was suicidal but I tried to overdose on Tylenol. My liver function was under two and I was dying; I was going into renal failure – no jaundice, but since I was eight years old, I had been self-medicating. In the hospital they did tests and I got on the scale and I weighed 270 pounds. I was in a state of denial. They kept doing a battery of tests and it resulted in some 700 pages of psych reports.”
It was during that hospitalization that a social worker diagnosed Sherine with CPTSD, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and bipolar. Sherine said CPTSD is PTSD, but childhood-trauma related.
Sherine went into a facility run by a religious order for two and a half years to “regain her life.”
“The therapist was amazing,” said Sherine. “They put me on Zoloft and Lamictal, which is baby lithium, and I went through DBT [Dialectic Behavior Therapy] which re-wired my brain.”
Sherine did well for a time but had several up and down bouts which put her in life and death situations. Before coming to Arizona in 2011, she had another suicide attempt with 160 Trazadone pills and had what she believes was a near-death experience. In the tunnel she was given the choice of staying where she was or “coming back and doing things right.”
Though other things occurred that caused her life to spiral out of control, she got in AA and got a sponsor. After a period of time, the sponsor told her she needed to get a dog. She told her sponsor that the Big Book on page 163 said to get a plant, but they went to a gang yard and with bolt cutters “emancipated” a young pit bull who is still with her today. His name is DOC, which stands for Department of Corrections.
“It reminds me if I drink,” said Sherine, “that, that is where I could wind up.”
Sherine finally got her SSI disability and in 2011 headed as far away from an unsatisfactory set of circumstances in Connecticut as she could. She wound up in Witch Wells, renting an RV off grid where the change in altitude, the solitude and eating right helped her get centered.
In 2012 the RV owner had some medical issues and needed his RV. Sherine found her way to the Mountain. She got involved in a church community.
She was doing well until she “had a bad birthday in January of 2018.” Sitting on her bed she asked herself if she “wanted to live or die.” She made the decision to call ChangePoint (formerly Community Counseling) for what she calls “a 15 day re-boot.”
Then last month she found herself needing help and she went in for five days to get back on track. It was during that visit that she was asked by a friend to do a podcast with her. The opportunity passed and with encouraging words from one of the ChangePoint workers, she decided she would do her own podcast to educate people about bipolar.
Sherine found an app for her podcast, and using her phone she is on her way. An avid reader and researcher herself, Sherine listened to others who are making a difference through talks about their own mental health issues. Elyn Saks, an Orrin B. Evans Distinguished Professor of Law, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at University of Southern California and Chris Cole, podcaster of “Waking Up Bipolar” and author of “The Body of Chris” have agreed to be guests on her podcast in the near future.
That’s the goal for Dawn Sherine. You can find her on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Anchor FM by putting “Dancing with Bipolar by Dawn Sherine” in your search engine. She already has seven podcasts ready to be heard. She plans on doing at least two a week. She has applied for a grant and plans to find sponsors. She is making her dance steps count, joining a host of others like celebrities Jane Pauley and Mariah Carey who have gone public about their own bipolar disorders.
Actor Will Smith said, “If you’re not making someone else’s life better, then you’re wasting your time. Your life will become better by making other live better.”