She's currently taking multiple medications and is in therapy to help her identify both when she's going to experience an episode and how to manage its severity. The combination seems to be working; when she experienced a bout of depression a few weeks before being interviewed for this article, she managed to stay out of the hospital and maintain functionality.
Needless to say, continuing to do her research while battling bipolar disorder has been difficult. But "my advisor has been 100 percent supportive of me coming back after each of these times," she says. And so, she keeps plugging along, and is also doing her best to raise awareness about mental illnesses. At Stanford, she wants to "bring it out into the mainstream so it's not hidden. For a long time I felt very shameful of it, but I've come to realize it's nothing to be ashamed of. This is a physiological condition." Although she wishes she didn't have the disease, "everyone has their challenges in life. This just happens to be mine."
And so, just as someone with a chronic condition such as diabetes might fully expect to finish a PhD, "I plan to pursue a career in academic science," Wiersma says. "There's no reason I shouldn't be able to do that."
That's a reasonable expectation, says Carlos Zarate, chief of the mood disorders research unit at the National Institute of Mental Health. "People can live productive and functional lives," he says, particularly if they stick with their medications and therapy. For instance, he recently heard from a former participant in a clinical trial who'd just finished a degree and was doing well. It's not realistic for all individuals, "but for many it is possible."