Mayor’s wife speaks out about her bipolar depression
Mental illness affects people from all walks of life. Nancy Foster, wife of the mayor of Long Beach, California, Bob Foster, suffered from bipolar disorder and its depression for eleven years before she was diagnosed and treated at age 35.
She is speaking out about her illness to help fight the stigma associated with mental illness. “It’s only by being open and sharing these difficult times that will make a difference,” she says. “We will be more tolerant of people struggling with mental illness and our quality of care will improve.” She has become a prominent mental health advocate.
“Many times, people are ashamed to go for help and it affects their self worth,” Foster said. “This actually keeps them away from seeing a doctor and their problem continues, usually getting worse and harder to treat and to bring under control. It’s important to change this mindset so that people take their problems seriously and are more comfortable going for help.”
Nancy’s illness affected her entire family. “I wasn’t always able to enjoy what the rest of the family was enjoying; at times, she said. ‘Our life and our decisions revolved around how I was feeling.”
Her depression began shortly after the birth of her second son, James. It began with negative thoughts and low moods. She felt like she was in a fog. She was often anxious and was afraid to open her eyes in the morning as she dreaded the feelings of depression.
“During my spells of depression, I would hide in my home,” she said. “Some days would seem to go on forever.”
She experienced frightening anxiety and panic attacks. She once fled a grocery store leaving a half-full cart of food when she couldn’t bear the fear.
The day came when she questioned whether she could continue to survive the pain and considered ending her life. “I realized my two boys, Kenny and James, needed me to be there for them. Days that were so difficult, the voice of their needing me always rang in my ears.” That realization saved her life.
She denied to herself and her doctors that she was depressed. But when she read about the symptoms of depression, she began to recognize her own and finally sought the help of a psychiatrist.
Gradually, she began to feel better. “I was able to cope and enjoy life without the severe bouts of depression, anxiety and spells of extreme energy, the manic phases of bipolar disorder.” She recognizes that medication is important to keep her disorder in balance, as well as exercise and positive thinking.
She’s grateful that she is now enjoying her life and has developed greater compassion for those who are suffering with mental illness. Today, she uses her public profile to educate others. She writes about her experience and has spoken at mental health events and hospitals, on television and before public officials.