A Q&A: Why I Participate in Research

A Q&A with Jennifer F. 

Jennifer is one of our hundreds of dedicated research participants.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself!
My name is Jennifer or Jen to everyone who knows me. I went to the University of Michigan to study voice. I was very accomplished academically and still study with abandon anything I can get my hands on, which is one reason I LOVE working with the Prechter researchers! I have made it my mission to understand as much as I possibly can about bipolar short of getting a degree myself. 

I am a rapid cycling, bipolar I with mixed episode states typified by crying spells. What that all means is that I can be both manic and depressed at the same time and that I can flip back and forth multiple times, sometimes it can happen in a matter of minutes. That is how fast my rapid cycling is. The crying spells are what make my bipolar unique.  I know I am in trouble if I start crying for no reason. This is essentially my brain having something akin to an emotional seizure. If I don’t correct it immediately I will go into a full blown episode.

I was diagnosed at the age of 24 but I have had all the signs and symptoms since I was six years old. But thanks to the fantastic work of my doctor, I have been stable (with a few minor bumps) since 2004!

How did you first hear about the Prechter Bipolar Research Program?
I first heard about the research program when my mom found an article in a paper somewhere. She thought I would enjoy giving back and I have been doing it ever since. I am going on my 9th year with the program and have done every study I qualify for! I was told by one of the researchers this year when I did the nutrition study that it was nice to finally meet the number that he has seen so many times! I was the first participant enrolled in that study.

I was also the second or third to do the stem cell study. I did both of the cell phone studies and a lot of the pilot studies back in the early days. There have been so many I have lost count but I am thrilled that they can use me in so many ways!  I figure God gave me this illness for a reason and I had better use it to the best of my ability to help others. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to learn more about it or to give to the research team.

What motivates you to stick with it and collaborate with the research team?
By participating in the Prechter research, it is my passion, hope and mission to help other people. I have been through a lot, I have been suicidal and in fact spent most of my adolescence and teen years debating suicide attempts. I don’t want others to feel the way I’d felt. My first suicide attempt was at the age of six!  I didn’t understand why my mind was going crazy and I just wanted it to stop. I understood better than most adults that things weren’t right but I didn’t know how to fix them. I had seen Patty Duke on TV and she talked about trying to kill herself. That was enough for me. I knew at age six that I was like her. Incredible insight that it would take the doctors almost another 20 years to figure out!

I was participant number two or three right at the very beginning of the stem cell study back in 2011. It is fascinating that the scientists are taking my skin cells and can turn them into brain cells in the lab! I have undergone a lot of trial and error with my meds and have had terrible side effects. It is my hope that the stem cell project will advance personalized medicine which will mean, that in the future, others can avoid going through everything I’ve been through.

What do you do in your free time?
I trained my dog Maya to be a therapy dog and we spend a good portion of every day visiting with the people in my neighborhood. There are several shut ins that we visit daily and a couple of group homes and then when the kids are in school we visit with them every day as well.

I crochet and make all kinds of things, from sweaters to blankets to hats, but what I have focused on the past few years is stuffed animals. I have an Etsy shop where I have hundreds of my creations ranging from little hippos to a gigantic snake. I am hoping to get enough traffic that I can donate a portion of the proceeds to the Prechter Program! If you want to visit, check out www.MayasSoftFriends.com