TRACY BARBOUR
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Ending the Stigma: Amber's Story

The story of Amber, a wife and mother living with Bipolar I disorder.

ENDING THE STIGMA: AMBER'S STORY

A Wife and Mother Living with Bipolar I Disorder

A portrait of Amber, a woman living with Bipolar I Disorder. 

This is Amber. This is how I will always remember her. I met Amber so long ago, that I've forgotten that we weren't always friends growing up. We connected immediately and for a good portion of our lives, did so much together that some people thought we were sisters. I've seen her through the birth of a child, getting married (I was the witness at the small courthouse ceremony to her first husband who would later prove to be not what he said he was), and the crushing defeat of divorce. I knew her inside and out. 

Except, I didn't. I had no idea until many years later that Amber was carrying around a secret that she couldn't tell anyone. Behind closed doors she was in her own private hell. That hell had been going on every since she was a pre-teen. 

When Amber found out about my project, she reached out to me to tell me she wanted to be a part of it. We conversed over text, phone, and messenger collaborating over and over on how we would tell this story. We talked about how this was to be a healing moment for her. She needed to get this out there. She was ready to face all of it head on and let the chips fall where they may. 

Before I flew to Nebraska, I asked her to sit down and do two things for me. The first thing I asked her to do was draw what she thought the inside of her brain looked like. This is what she drew.

A drawing of the inside of a woman living with Bipolar, what she thinks is in her brain.

We talked about how much anger and hate was inside of her brain. It was the first time she had ever drawn something like this and could visualize what was going on inside of her head. 

The second thing I had her do was describe places that were good for her, that made her happy and places that were not so happy and even triggers for her. This is what she wrote:

1. My home is my safe place. The one place where I can be myself. It is also a constant reminder of what awfulness I brought to my family and how I almost destroyed everything.

2. Lasting Hope. Every time I drive by it is the constant reminder of how much I let myself fall into darkness, of how lost I became, of how I almost destroyed my family, and of how negligent I became with my health

3. The neighborhood at 36th and cornhusker. I hate driving by there. I cringe every time and have to fight my anger. I hate the man that lived there, hate how he affected my life so heavily.

4. The zoo! As much as I hate how busy it gets with all the people, being with the animals gives me peace!

5. My parent’s house. A reminder of the good times, but also of all the times I failed them as a daughter

6. The history museum exhibits. I can get lost in learning something else, forget my problems for a moment, and enjoy history that I love

7. The library is my heaven.

I traveled to see Amber in November of 2015. I asked her to meet with me in my hotel room. With a single lamp and just my camera rolling we discussed everything that had happened in the last couple years when her disorder was at its worst. After filming for a while, we went to her old neighborhood, to Lasting Hope where she sought treatment, and to visit with her family. 

 

ABOUT HER KIDS

My kids are my world! My everything and literally my reason for living! To create someone with my own body, birth them and watch them grown is the most incredible thing ever! They are beautiful, brilliant! Talented in their own ways. So unique in their own ways! I feel like when I look at them I feel so proud, that I am actually doing something right in my life. It does make me sad that I failed as a mother to my oldest an how I wish I could see him and be a part of his life. To say I’m sorry! And it does make me sad to see and to hear how my oldest 2 have emotional issues like I do. And it is hard to keep reminding myself that it is something I can’t control, that it is a genetic thing, that it is out of my hands. But that I can be there to help them. Support them.

ABOUT HER HUSBAND

He has become my saving grace! My knight in shining armor. I wanted someone like my father in certain aspects. Like every girl dreams of. I never ever thought I would find someone who would complete me. He is my protector and my best friend. He has accepted me for every flaw that I have, with no judgement! Does everything he can to be supportive and understanding when I have my moments. He saved me from my ex husband! He would never try to control me or hurt me intentionally. We can literally be thinking the same thing at the same time and finish each other’s sentences. Never in my whole life did I think I was worthy of someone like him or that I would even deserve it. That it would last literally like it has. He should have left me for good but we are stronger than ever

WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW

At some point in this project, Amber and I both wanted to make it longer, make it better. Then we both realized it couldn't get any better, that this was as open as she could get. Amber has a sincere desire to be honest each day, to be a source of comfort and strength to others just like her. I think she has achieved that. 

One thing we all must keep in mind is that this story, Amber's story, much like the other stories of millions of people living with mental health disorders, is not over. It is never over. Their lives will always be in a constant state of limbo. Just like Amber, it is a matter of taking it all minute by minute.