ScaleThroughout my life I have often felt like a coin – delicately, and perhaps impossibly, balanced on it’s narrow spine. With the subtlest of movements a coin can flip to one side, only one half of visible. The other half remains hidden, buried by the weight of the coin’s alter ego. I have mentioned before that I am a Libra (whose emblem is the scales) and my goal of finding balance in all parts of my life: love and acceptance, heart and head, money versus happiness and so on. For those who do not subscribe to astrology, my desire for balance is quite real. In 2005 I was diagnosed with vertigo, a welcome relief to someone who had grown up thinking she was ‘just a little clumsy’ and lacked that good ol’ proprioception gene. I have always felt that at any given time, only one side of me is showing, and the other, like the coin, is concealed. When I came out in 2008, at first I was obsessed with the idea that now I had to “look” gay or straight, to look more masculine or feminine at a given moment rather than just being myself. Let it suffice to say that these analogies are just a few examples of the fact that there are 2 sides to every story, including my own.Scabble-Bi-Polar

I write this because just over a month ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar Type 2 disorder. Contrary to those who might imagine this to be devastating, it was a welcome relief. Throughout my life, my ups and downs were attributed to being “a highly sensitive child” or “having too thin a skin” or worse yet, being labeled wholly incapable of handling “normal” human emotions “properly.” It was liberating to know that there was a possibility that I was not an emotional hazard and that maybe my brain chemistry had something to do with it. As I read the description of bipolar type 2, I wept in silent acknowledgment. More reassuring was the fact that, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, has a mood disorder. Mood disorders are an umbrella term for mental disorders such as major depressive disorder, the spectrum of bipolar disorder, seasonal affected disorder and mania. Not only that but the NIMH also states that mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada.

Bi-Polar-Disorder-TreatmentAs such, you’d think that North America would have a pretty solid handle on this issue. Earlier this week however, I got a taste just how lacking the healthcare system is in this area and the very real stigma attached to mental disorders. I called an insurance company to investigate alternate coverage. When I disclosed that I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and wanted to make certain my coverage would enable me continue treatment, the agent (without missing a beat) said “I’m sorry we don’t cover anyone with bipolar disorder.” I was silent…and stunned. I had him repeat it just to be sure only this time he added the statement “pre existing condition.” From my studies of the Affordable Health Care act, I know that as of 2014, “insurers can no longer carve out needed benefits, charge higher premiums, set lifetime limits on benefits, or deny coverage due to a person’s pre-existing condition.” ( but for now it seemed, I was stuck. Thankfully, I do have health insurance through my employer, but for the first time it dawned on me what it must be like for those who cannot find coverage. I am a healthy woman, average BMI, with lower than average cholesterol who exercises daily and eats healthfully. I was an ideal candidate for easy and simple coverage.

I know that there are many layers to the healthcare crisis in America, but this one truly hit home for me. The number of ways that insurance carriers deny healthcare coverage is appalling to say the least. But what truly troubles me about the United States is that many do not seem to realize that by taking care of the worst off, the best off benefit as well. By no means am I stating that the state of healthcare in Canada is the best example. However, as citizens of this planet, I believe we have a responsibility to take care of one another. Perhaps my experience at my yoga studio this morning affected me more than a bit. After practice, someone spoke about the “collective consciousness” in a room full of engaged and focused people. Much like in the United States, all of us arrived from various locations with varied stories and yet we all partook in our practice. Similarly, optimal health – mental and physical – is advantageous and it behooves me (and my health) to ensure the health of others. Nonetheless, unlike the balancing act of the coin, I do not believe one has to occur at the expense of the other. In the short time since my diagnosis I have realized that this collective consciousness urges all of us to be, in a sense, bi polar. Our health as individuals and a nation depends on it.

Me in Ithaca









Chelsea Switzer is an avid runner, yogi and triathlete. A proud Canadian she has a mild addiction to cheese, chocolate and fine single malt scotch but has also been known to scarf down a box of s’mores pop tarts. She holds a Masters in Bioethics from the University of Pennsylvania and currently lives in Philadelphia with her cat Puddy.