Living with Bipolar disorder

Penelope and Donald Rodriguez. submitted photo

“Homeostasis” shares the story of Donald Rodriguez’s life and his steps toward a diagnosis and treatment for bipolar disorder. Penelope, his mother, helped write the book, offering insight into what it’s like to have a loved one with the mental heath disorder. Submitted photos

Mother and son share journey toward diagnosis in new book


It started with a series of essays written while the author was in a manic episode. Eventually, those essays grew into a book, “Homeostasis: The Journey of a Manic-Depressive.” 

Published under the pen names Donald and Penelope Rodriguez, a Sunfish Lake son and mother duo, the book shares their journey toward Donald’s Bipolar 1 diagnosis.

“Homeostasis” takes readers through the ups and downs that filled that journey.


Tipping point

 Donald, 24, was initially diagnosed with situational depression and ADHD.

“Growing up I never had much of an issue. I was able to blend in so I never thought anything was inherently wrong with me,” he says. “My brain had and has always worked differently than most people’s but I never really saw that as wrong.”

His ADHD medication, he explains, acted as a double-edged sword — it allowed him to focus, but he couldn’t control what he was focusing on.

Donald says the foreshadowing was there but he never put the pieces together.

After graduating from college, Donald says he felt great for a while. He was more productive than ever before and “thriving in all aspects.”

His thoughts, however, started to get more abstract and incoherent. Eventually, these thoughts, he says, spiraled out of control and reached a tipping point while he was traveling in Alaska.

After returning home, Donald realized something was wrong and checked himself into a St. Paul hospital’s ER and psych ward.

“I said, ‘I am manic right now,’ which startled the attending physician because a manic person does not understand that they are manic and certainly doesn’t admit anything is wrong with them,” Donald says.

Penelope, who has two other children as well, says she also started to realize her son’s situation could not just be chalked up to a “teenage thing” anymore.

“He wasn’t at all himself and he wasn’t making a lot of sense,” Penelope says.

It kept escalating, with Donald becoming more aggressive and painfully honest, she says.


A diagnosis

When Donald was first diagnosed, he says he didn’t think anything was wrong.

“Why would there be? I was working out, eating great, in great shape, extremely social, was reading vigorously, learning all the time and my creativity was through the roof — at least that’s what was going on in my mind,” Donald says.

At first, Donald dismissed the diagnosis; he had no idea what being bipolar meant or how severe a condition it was. 

Penelope says all she knew about bipolar was that it entailed extreme highs and lows. 

According to Donald, when he was first diagnosed he was “on the up” so it didn’t rattle him much, but the situation hit him, he says, when he started to come down from a manic episode and learn about his condition.

“I definitely saw it as a life sentence. I never thought I’d feel the same and I never thought anyone would see me the same way and that my life was shattered,” Donald says.

While he doesn’t think anyone is relieved to hear about a chronic condition, identifying the problem did provide some peace of mind, he says, and opened the door to treatment, which, for him means taking medication twice a day, seeing a psychiatrist about once every three months and a therapist about once every two weeks.

“Once you get back on your feet and find ways to keep the monster at bay you can really thrive and pursue anything you had wanted to beforehand,” Donald says.


Putting it into words

 Donald says writing the book wasn’t easy — he says it felt like he was “spewing nonsense that completely ruined [his] image.” And it’s still not easy to talk about it, he adds, because of the stigma that accompanies mental health disorders.

Penelope says what they found from the books they read by people with the disorder is that everyone’s story is different. One thing they didn’t find, though, was anything from a young adult male voice in real time.

“The book evolved as we realized there wasn’t another resource much like this. We knew how important it would be for others to read,” Penelope says.

Donald says he noticed that all the stories he read didn’t have someone going in depth to talk about what was going on through their heads while in manic or depressive episodes. 

According to Donald, writing the book, while traumatic, was also therapeutic.

Since finishing the book, Donald says he hasn’t looked at it or read it.

“Finishing it was cathartic and I want to keep it like that at this point in my life,” Donald says.


A message of hope 

“However dark things go, there is always a light, there is always something to live for,” Donald says, adding that he hopes those who read the book are inspired to open up about mental health issues or other struggles and find comfort knowing they are not alone. 

According to Penelope, some of the things Donald read scared him and made him think his life was going to be over.

“We really needed to be sure that we could provide some hope as well,” Penelope says, regarding “Homeostasis.”

Donald wants those who are dealing with a mental health issues to not let fear of their diagnosis hold them back.

“There will be bumps and bruises along the way and things will not always go the way you planned, but it will make you a better and stronger person for having learned that lesson.”

“Homeostasis: The Journey of a Manic-Depressive” can be found on, at Barnes and Noble and through Lulu Publishing.

For more information on Penelope and Donald’s journey, read their blog at


- Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or

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