Managing Bipolar & Chronic Illness With Style


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. Thank you

  2. I just saw this story of your’s!
    I’m so glad to know I am not the only one suffering with bipolar and chronic illness. Bipolar 2 is the main mental issue and fibromyalgia is the chronic illness that’s never going to “go away” or “get better”. sigh
    thank you for sharing your story, I don’t feel so alone in this fight. Don’t like lipstick, and don’t “Dress up” (very rarely) but I try to at least get out of my pj’s even for just part of the day.
    Thank you for your inspiration.

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

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