Managing Bipolar & Chronic Illness With Style

By bp Magazine

Speaker and author, Jessica Gimeno, manages her bipolar and other chronic illnesses with humor, a cape blazer, and and a swipe of bright lipstick.


Advocate and speaker JESSICA GIMENO created her website, Fashionably ill®, to tell the story, with humor and a tube of red lipstick, of living with and managing bipolar disorder, chronic illness, and severe pain. Diagnosed with bipolar I at the age of 18, today the 34-year-old is set to release a book based on her TEDx Talk, “How To Get Stuff Done When You Are Depressed,” which has surpassed one million views. She’s also in post-production for a TV pilot based on makeovers of women dealing with chronic illness.


Why make chronic illnesses, including bipolar, fashionable?

I like to make people feel good about themselves. At some point, I’ve gained weight from meds for almost all my illnesses. The most dramatic gain was 30 pounds. We see so many weight loss ads daily that frame weight gain as a purely self-control issue. Not enough people were talking about what it’s like to gain weight from meds that keep you alive for chronic illness. Looking good can help you feel good—when I am struggling with depression, I put on a red lipstick and wear one of my “go to colors,” like blue. Dressing up makes me feel more confident.


You’re a young person carrying a cane, who doesn’t look like she’s in pain. What’s the assumption?

If I had a nickel for every time a stranger came up to me and asked, “What’s wrong with you?” I’d be rich. There’s an assumption that young equals healthy. When I’m at a social function and meeting people, they assume I temporarily injured myself in a sports accident—usually skiing. I’ve never even been skiing! We need to show people that a disability can look like many things.


Have you found a difference in compassion and understanding from others between your physical illnesses versus your bipolar?

Both people with visible and invisible illnesses can experience cruelty or apathy. The biggest different in treatment is fear—people get scared when they hear the words “bipolar disorder” due to pop culture and the media and an association with violence. I calmly tell people that a person with mental illness is 10 times more likely to be a victim of violence than the general population.


You’ve joked that you see yourself as Rocky and your five diseases as Rocky’s different opponents …

Bipolar disorder is Apollo because it’s my first illness—it taught me how to fight. Endometriosis is Drago because it hurts so much! Myasthenia gravis is Mason Dixon because it neutralized many of my natural strengths—Rocky was tired and myasthenia makes me tired. Asthma and psoriasis are Clubber Lang and Tommy Gunn because they annoy me. I see myself as a fighter who is just trying her best every day; that’s why I identify with Rocky.


What’s your morning routine?

I wake up every morning in pain and exhausted. I play Eye of the Tiger, put on my Rocky boxing gloves, and pray to God for strength to get through the day. I recite a verse like Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” I have laughs for breakfast. While eating breakfast, I watch something funny, like stand-up comedy.


What’s it like if you are in a manic state and you have boundless energy, but your chronic pain keeps you at bay?

Fortunately or unfortunately, that never happens. Pain—the kind that makes you cry or scream at the top of your lungs or both—makes it impossible for me to have that kind of energy. I remember what it’s like to feel that boundless energy during hypomania, but it doesn’t happen now because myasthenia gravis is draining.


What helps get you through the really low periods?

Faith, family, friends, lipstick, and laughter. It’s important to have friends you can call on but I also have a therapist. I fight stress and depression in two ways: exercise and the act of laughing. Also, a good lipstick never hurts—when I want to regain confidence lost to depression, I wear a red or purple. A good cape blazer and a bold lipstick are like a coat of armor for me.


Printed as “Back Chat: Jessica Gimeno” Summer 2018

  1. I love this! Thank you for sharing your story of hope and resilience. Much respect to you.

  2. Jessica I admire your STRENGH and courage. For a young woman to handle all these 5 Chronic illnesses, I feel u get STRENGH from God. I used to say why me? Now it’s like why not me, does it have to be someone else and the answer is no! My illnesses have been mental, starting with anxiety at age of 14 and OCD at the age of 23 and now diagnosed with bi polar disorder about 3 years ago. I’m glad you have family support and friends and that helps any situation cause no man is an island, we all need human interaction. I was busy working as a pharmacist for 25 years , retail so had lot of interaction with my patients and some also became friends. The present situation, living alone, no real family support, and no real friends and no community support and I don’t fit in, they cover their heads and my family women were not suppressed. I am now trying to reinvent myself as a person. Will find like minded people to associate with. I read an article that trauma can cause bi polar disorder. I’m not saying everyone’s bi polar is from trauma but am sure some people’s bi polar are! I was married to 2 people who had abused their wives and then me. After that one of my instructors took advantage of me cause was very attractive and an honor student.Looking back I was his subordinate and he took total advantage of me. Now there is a me too movement and women are speaking out. I feel this trauma effected my brain and I ended up with bipolar at age of 57. I would say I was bipolar just 2 years before that cause remembering feeling very euphoric when working my night shift as a pharmacist. There is research we can change our brains. Therefore I’m confident there will be even better treatments for bi polar. I’m retired so I want to get better and also have passion in helping other people with anxiety disorders like OCD and bi polar. Once I have fixed myself that is now my life’s mission. I have always liked living a purpose driven help. I hope our government puts more money with research on mental disorders. Patrick Kennedy with his father’s help has worked for legislation to give importance to mental disorders. It’s good Patrick kennedy, Ted Turner, Mel Gibson and many other people in the public eye have opened up about bi polar do we will not look like freaks. Society still has stigma when one has bi polar, ur badly labelled and people also leave you when they find out. My friends did that so they were not really true friends but fair weathered friends! I wish all of you well and together we will conquer this disorder! Love you all, Mina and may God look after us all!

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