Sharing life with bipolar disorder helps Del Mar man help others

Although World Bipolar Day is March 30, Roger Alsabrook raises awareness about bipolar disorder to eliminate social stigma every day.

As the founder and leader of a Del Mar-based, peer-facilitated support group for those with depression or bipolar disorder, Alsabrook offers advice to people living with mental illness. He also encourages them to share their stories with their family and friends.

“This is my story, but I’m encouraging people with bipolar to come out and participate,” Alsabrook said. “Tell people about having bipolar. See how much you can help others.”

Originally from Dallas, Alsabrook was misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder when he was in his 20s. For about two decades, he tried roughly a dozen different anti-depressants that didn’t work. Alsabrook wasn’t properly diagnosed with bipolar disorder until he was in his late 40s.

“When I finally got bipolar meds, my mood went from being very low and very manic to in the middle,” said Alsabrook, now 68. “That’s where I’ve stayed ever since, and my life changed.”

Before he was properly diagnosed, Alsabrook said he struggled financially, lost friends and alienated family members. Once he started taking the correct medications, he was able to make sound investments and ask for forgiveness from his family.

“They needed to know my pre-medicated actions were because I was bipolar,” said Alsabrook, who worked in the oil and gas industry. After he retired, Alsabrook and his wife permanently moved to their Del Mar vacation home, where they’ve lived for almost a decade.

“Now than I am medicated and have been medicated for a long time, I am a functioning part of society. I just think people need to know there are functioning, medicated people with bipolar.”

Although Alsabrook was diagnosed with bipolar disorder years ago, he spent most of his life hiding his diagnosis from extended family and friends. At 65, he decided to change that.

“I kept it hidden. I never brought it up because of the connotation,” said Alsabrook, who has two adult children and seven grandchildren.

“Finally, I said, ‘I’m too old. I’m not going to hide it anymore. I’m not going to keep it in.’”

Alsabrook began sharing his story with others. People positively received his revelation and had questions, he said.

“It was such a relief,” he recalled. “It has helped me so greatly, and I’ve helped other people by doing something that was hard.”

Today, Alsabrook is someone others struggling with depression or bipolar call for support.

When actor and comedian Robin Williams, who had a long history of depression, committed suicide in August, a few people reached out to Alsabrook for advice. At one time, he too, struggled with suicidal thoughts, he said.

“It’s important to have somebody to call,” he said. “I might have saved two or three lives.”

Four years ago, Alsabrook discovered the San Diego chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, which meets from 6-8 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays at the VA San Diego Medical Center in La Jolla. Alsabrook soon became a board member and trained facilitator.

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance has North County groups in Escondido, Rancho Bernardo, San Marcos and Vista. Last year, Alsabrook launched a group for Del Mar and surrounding communities. He said he started the group because few people from Del Mar, Solana Beach, Carmel Valley and the surrounding communities participated in the San Diego group.

“I know there are people in North County who need support,” Alsabrook said. “Depression and bipolar affects many people.”

Major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In 2012, an estimated 16 million, or about 6.9 percent of American adults, had at least one major depressive episode. Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million, or about 2.6 percent of American adults.

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance was created for and is led by individuals living with mood disorders to support others living with mood disorders. There are more than 700 peer-run support groups in the U.S.

The Del Mar chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance meets from 2-4 p.m. every third Tuesday at Pacifica Del Mar in the Del Mar Plaza. Meetings are free and all are welcome. No reservations are required.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Alsabrook said. “I’ve seen people from week to week get better.”

For information about the Del Mar meetings, contact Alsabrook at 858-525-1509 or rogeralsabrook@yahoo.com.

For information about the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, visit www.dbsalliance.org.

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