In 2013, one of my dreams came true. A lifetime of athletics, a year of intense training and tremendous support from loved ones and even complete strangers across the globe helped me finish 10th in my age group  in my first Ironman race: 2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles  biking and 26.2  miles running.

However, the real “Ironman” in my family is my mom. She has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1998. My mom, with the unwavering support of my dad, has overcome challenges far tougher than any Ironman race while fighting the disease and the unfortunate stigma associated with it. The difference? At the end of her “races”, there are no hundreds of messages of support across the globe; no articles or blogs being written about her courage and determination; and people are not intrigued or fascinated with “how she did it”.

My mom has bipolar disorder, but she is not defined by it.  For example, she did not miss any games in the 8 years I played basketball at home. She was the one who told me  when I was only 9 years old, that basketball could help me see the entire country (Romania)! She is the one who encouraged me to go to the US at the age of 17 to play basketball and get a great education, and see the world this time. She is the one who was sick to her stomach on the Ironman sidelines with fear of the swim portion, but nevertheless made the trip from Romania to Florida to be at the finish line. She, together with my dad who is simply always there also, are my number one fans.

Sadly, stigma has the inherent power to define people with mood disorders by what they have, and not who they are. This stigma and discrimination can be one of the hardest parts of the overall experience, causing painful exclusion from society, loss of loved ones and friends, and even causing people to shy away from asking for help. Unfortunately, stigma exists across the world at different degrees. 

My mom, along with 60 million (World Health Organization) people across the world; 5.6 million or 2.6% of the US population (National Institute of Mental Health ),  are facing this lifelong endurance challenge called bipolar disorder along with its harmful stigma. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve let this stigma and the fear of my mom being defined by the illness keep me silent until now. Not anymore.  Let’s talk about how we can erase the stigma by recognizing their courage and supporting their journey with an outpour of encouragement. Learn more about Healthy Living with Bipolar Disorder.

What is the goal of #Tri2FightStigma?

By racing triathlons across the country, I am hoping to raise awareness and funds to erase the stigma associated with bipolar disorder and make it easier for those affected to ask for and receive the help they need.

How can you help?
1. Encourage and support those affected with bipolar disorder through kind words and knowledge so that stigma loses its power to define who they are
2. Race with me in one of the upcoming triathlon races
3. Donate to help the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF) erase the stigma 

How will the funds be used?
Funds will be funneled through the International Bipolar Foundation  (IBPF) to raise awareness and fight the stigma associated with bipolar disorder. The mission of International Bipolar Foundation is to improve understanding and treatment of bipolar disorder through research; to promote care and support resources for individuals and caregivers; and to erase stigma through education.

IBPF provides free educational programs designed for:

1. People living with bipolar disorder and their caregivers, so they can better understand and manage their health

2. Mental health professionals, so they can better care for their patients who have or might have bipolar disorder

3. The public to raise awareness about the realities of mental health

One of these programs is the IBPF book, Healthy Living with Bipolar Disorder. The book is an overview of all of the aspects of living with bipolar disorder and includes chapters on nutrition, medication, pregnancy, and much more. The book has been translated into 5 languages and many more are in progress.

Funds raised here will be used to continue these programs. I hope to use a portion of the funds to focus on educational programs in Romania, such as finishing the Romanian translation of the book and distributing it to health centers there.

To learn more about IBPF visit www.ibpf.org

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Anca Popovici 
San Francisco, CA
Registered nonprofit
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