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Breaking into My Life

Breaking Into My Life chronicles the impact that growing up with a mentally-ill mother had on author Michelle Dickinson-Moravek, and how she finally reclaimed herself and the life she deserved.

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Michelle E. Dickinson

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When Michelle E. Dickinson started writing her book Breaking Into My Life, she assumed that Part 3 would be about coming to terms with growing up as the daughter of a bipolar mother. After years of playing the role of child caregiver, writing her memoir launched Michelle on a journey of self-discovery that would prove surprisingly healing. Coming to terms, she realized, was no longer enough. She had to break into her own life, a quest that literally played out as she was writing the final pages.

Michelle—a passionate potter who loves to spend time her two Jack Russell Terriers, Chloe and Trooper, and her rescue cat, Chance—has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for over 18 years. She is currently an associate director at Johnson & Johnson, a company she adores because it feels like her second family. At J&J, Michelle is proud to be amongst the leadership team of the company’s Mental Health Diplomat employee resource group. She also designed and implemented “Perfect, Just the Way You Are,” a powerful wellness after-school enrichment program for under-served communities that focuses on taking care of the body though diet and exercise while bolstering self-confidence and self-love.

Having emerged from the writing process with an even stronger desire to positively impact the mental health landscape, Michelle is out to raise awareness and compassion for those struggling with mental illness along with those who care for them, so that more people get the treatment and help they need and deserve. She believes that together we can eradicate the mental health stigma once and for all.


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Michelle E. Dickinson’s memoir, Breaking Into My Life, offers a rare glimpse into a young girl’s experience living with—and loving—her bipolar mother. The book starts with her learning to care for her bipolar mother as a child, a role that was imposed upon her. Dickinson-Moravek shares how she watched her mother seesaw between mania and deep depression while putting on the perfect front to keep her secret confined to walls of their home. In Part 2, she shares her struggle for independence against the tyranny of a manic mother, only to marry the male version of her mother. Finally, she becomes emotionally naked in Part 3 when she shares how she gained the clarity she needed to reach for what she deserved and finally break into her life.


Breaking Into My Life is a brutally candid and ultimately uplifting memoir which chronicles the impact that growing up with a mentally ill mother had on author Michelle E. Dickinson, and how that experience continued to compromise her as an adult until she was able to finally break into her own life.


“I heard he was just diagnosed with a mental illness. Can you believe that?” The speaker is laughing so hard she can hardly get the words out. “That sure explains a lot.”

Oh my God, I think to myself. They could be laughing about my mother.

In some ways things have not changed over the past thirty years. These women have absolutely no clue how hard it is on those suffering from mental illness or on those wrapped up in the lives of the mentally ill. No wonder I kept my story a secret. To be honest, I feel a little vulnerable sharing it now, but it’s time.

I wonder how many of us are confronted with this insensitivity day after day. I know firsthand how hard it is to cope with this disease. I spent my childhood loving a mother who suffered from bipolar disorder and who at times lived with it untreated.


Title: Breaking Into My Life: Growing Up with a Bipolar Parent and My Battle to Reclaim Myself

Author: Michelle Dickinson-Moravek
Publication date: February,2018
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and various retailers and distribution channels worldwide.

Paperback ISBN:

  • ISBN-10: 0988826275
  • ISBN-13: 978-0988826274

E-Book ISBN:

Paperback retail price: $14.95
E-Book price: $8.69
Page count: 214
Genre/subgenre: Memoir


  • In Breaking Into My Life, Michelle E. Dickinson offers a rare glimpse into growing up with—and loving—a bipolar mother.
  • Is dealing with your loved one’s mental illness driving you crazy? Breaking Into My Life can help. Order a copy now.
  • Breaking Into My Life, Michelle E. Dickinson’s memoir about growing up with a bipolar mother, provides an emotionally naked look at mental illness.
  • Has mental illness touched your life? Nearly one in every five people, or 43.8 million American adults, has a diagnosable mental health condition. In her memoir Breaking Into My Life, Michelle E. Dickinson offers a rare glimpse into a young girl’s experience living with—and loving—her bipolar mother. After years of playing the role of child caregiver, she embarked on a healing journey of self-discovery which prompted her to finally break into her own life.


Why did you write this book?

I wrote this book to heal myself from the experience of growing up as a child caregiver for my bipolar mother, and with the goal in mind to really cause conversations around mental illness.

For many years I believed that I wasn’t good enough and what I had to say in a book would never matter. Yet, something always tugged at me to share my story. I knew I had something to share that could help someone. And anyone who knows me knows that making a difference for other people is truly what lights my heart on fire.

That propelled me into action and I started to write Breaking Into My Life. I hope that what I learned from loving my mentally ill mother helps others and inspires them to realize that they aren’t defined by their past or current circumstances, and that they get to say how their future goes from this moment forward!

By sharing the raw experience of loving a bipolar parent and playing the role of a caregiver, I hoped to encourage conversation about this issue so that we could make a difference in removing the stigma. As more people begin to speak openly about mental illness, those are suffering in silence may actually reach out and get the support they need.

I look forward to a day where we’re talking about mental illness like we would talk about heart disease, because through conversation a stigma can’t survive. If we are open and have conversations about what did you do to get care, what steps did you take to realize that you were suffering from depression, we make it more accepted to really navigate mental illness together and get the help we deserve.

What do you say to people who are suffering with mental illness themselves or as a caregiver? If you bring it up are they immediately offended by that?

That depends on whether people are suppressed about talking about mental illness or if they believe in their heart that they truly have endured the worst that anyone can ever imagine. Hopefully they’re at least a little bit receptive to having a conversation about what they’re going through.

Let’s face it, everyone has adversity in their past. My adversity just happens to be in the color of a bipolar mother. It’s really up to you whether or not you work through your challenges and create that future for yourself, or you stay the victim. That goes beyond just trying to be positive. You really have to get to the heart of what is eating at you. In my case, I had to unearth some stuff. It took several years to find that compassion and that love for my mother after feeling so much anger toward her.

Do people fear mental illness?

Absolutely. That’s what has so many people suffer in silence and not be willing to get the help. There’s a fear. There’s, “Will I be judged? Will I be perceived as being weak?” No, we’re all human. There’s going to be a bout in your lifetime. Believe it or not, the statistics are there. We will all experience some type of mental challenge in our adult lives. So it’s amazing that we still do have the stigma, but I’m really hopeful that things are going start to shift.

Why is this fear of mental illness unreasonable?

Mental illness is nothing more than an illness of the brain. The brain is an organ just like any other organ in the human body. There’s no stigma attached to talking about or treating heart disease. This should be no different for mental illness. People are suffering in silence, riddled with the fear of being judged and missing out the joyful life that they deserve. Imagine a day where we talk about mental illness the way we would talk about heart disease where people would just be open and have a conversation and get the care they need.

Whenever mental illness is discussed in the media, it’s always because a horrible thing happened. People act as if this is a one in a million experience. Considering that so many people are living with mental illness themselves or are a parent or a child of someone with mental illness, what can we do to normalize mental illnesss and make it relatable?

When I set out to write the book, I knew that it would unearth a lot of emotion for me, but I, also, knew that when you share yourself vulnerably and authentically, it creates a space for people to see mental illness in much more of a human light. Through storytelling we can achieve that, and I was hoping that would be achieved through my story.

You say child caregiver for your mother who was bipolar. Explain what that experience was like.

That role was imposed upon me. My mom was not well for the majority of my childhood, and it really required that I be with her more than the average child. Care for her, get her what she needed, and then ultimately ride the wave of those manic highs and those deep, depressing lows. There are many caregivers out there. I just happened to be a child in that role, caring for her.

There are a lot of kids out there who have to play the role of the caregiver of their parent or even just the spouse of someone with mental illness. It can be punishing but you also absorb it. You get sucked into it. You lose yourself. My message to those caregivers is that you have to take care of yourself. You really, really do.

Sometimes, growing up around something like that, you think to yourself, “I never want to be in a situation where I’m close to, or have to care for someone dealing with a situation like this.” And then you ended up in another relationship as an adult, in a similar situation.

Exactly. It’s funny how we mirror what we know. Before I even embarked on my own self-discovery journey, healing and therapy about the impact that my childhood had on me, I found myself gravitating to a situation that was very similar to the one that I knew as a child, and found myself in a relationship that was very similar to how my mother treated me. It wasn’t until I had the courage to really break out of that and move on, where I started to find opportunities to really look within and start the healing process, and understand the patterns.

Is it more difficult to find resources related to mental illness as opposed to other diseases?

Absolutely. That’s why I’ve tried really hard to provide information, resources and tools on my website, Mental health literacy is critical, whether in our schools or in the workplace. I recently participated Mental Health First Aid employee training at my company, Johnson and Johnson. It’s designed to make us aware of what the signs and symptoms are of a loved one who may be challenged on the mental health front. With this kind of knowledge, you can help people, and you can certainly prevent anything from going horribly wrong.

What kind of feedback have you received regarding the book?

The reception to Breaking Into My Life has been overwhelming. I always knew that so many of us are impacted by mental illness, but it’s another thing to experience that personally as people respond to my memoir.

To be honest, my friends and family are still shocked that I put myself out there, because the book is incredibly raw. It took a lot of vulnerability for me to share some of the stuff I did. But the feedback is incredible. People tell me that as a result of reading my book they have such a better understanding of what it’s like to really love someone with mental illness. They now understand what it’s like to feel so paralyzed in wanting your loved ones to be better, but not knowing how to help them.

What is your message for caregiving of someone with mental illness?

Don’t get lost in caring for them so much that you forget yourself. Self-care is vital.

What can people do?

1) Be courageous enough to start an open discussion/conversation about mental illness – at home, at school, at work. By modeling that behavior others will naturally follow and you will create a safe space of support. Stigma can’t live when there is conversation. I know that we can eliminate the stigma so that mental health is treated like physical health

2) We all have some adversity in our past. The past does not have to dictate how the future will go. You can also overcome what you endured by embarking on your own healing – whatever that looks like.

What was the self-publishing experience like?

So, honestly I don’t really consider myself a writer. I am just a woman who has a story to tell and who is committed to making a difference around mental illness awareness and acceptance. I am fortunate to be working with an amazing writing coach, Linden Gross of One Stop Writing Shop, who has been a phenomenal support and who has held my hand every step of the way. While she certainly has helped me become a stronger writer, her rich wisdom and knowledge of the entire writing and publishing process has been incredible in navigating these very unfamiliar waters.

The excerpt on your website is very powerful. What were your emotions while writing the book? How did you feel when it was finished?

The entire process of writing this book was incredibly cathartic. Linden and I laugh about the fact that she often doubled as my therapist during some of our writing sessions. In many examples, like the excerpt, I had to relive the experiences and the emotions that went along with it. I won’t lie and say it was easy. It was hard as hell at times. But for someone to really understand how punishing it can be to love someone with mental illness, I knew I needed to be completely truthful. Honestly, I think this is why the book took so long to complete. I had moments where I couldn’t even see my computer screen through the tears streaming down my face.  Now as I see the finished book sitting in front of me, I feel relieved that I’m finished with the overall writing piece as well as having to unearth so many tough memories. But that doesn’t stop me from experiencing that heavy feeling when I re-read certain chapters. I think this is all part of my healing process.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Too many people are still suffering in silence, fearing the stigma associated with mental illness. I felt compelled to share my story, which I’ve found offers others an opening to express their own suffering.

I believe that by conversation, education, and levering tools for reflection and self-care, we can remove the isolation that still exists. Together we can change minds. We must push back against the shame that so unfairly surrounds a diagnosis of mental illness by showing our support, by talking about mental illness openly, and by encouraging others to do the same. It is the only way that we, together, will help weaken the chains of stigma one link at a time.

To learn how you can take action within your own family, your business, or in your school visit my website resources page and my blog for tips and ideas of how to bring change around you!


“Michelle E. Dickinson’s Breaking Into My Life is as painfully revealing as it is uplifting. In her brutally candid memoir, Michelle relives what it was like to grow up as the child of a bipolar mother, and how that experience continued to compromise her adulthood years later. Her efforts to ultimately claim the life she wanted rather than simply coming to terms with the life she had will hopefully inspire many others to do the same.” – Linden Gross, bestselling writer & writing coach, owner of One Stop Writing Shop, LLC

“Michelle E. Dickinson should be commended for candidly sharing her life story, in order to make a difference for others. Through her efforts, she is playing a major role in reducing stigma about mental illness and raising awareness about why there should not be stigma about brain disorders, thereby helping to facilitate treatment and care for those who need it.” -Husseini K Manji, MD, FRCPC Global Head, Neuroscience. Janssen Pharmaceuticals

“Mental illness is far more common than we realize – one in four of us will experience a diagnosable mental condition at some point in our lives, from depression, anxiety and addiction to bipolar and schizophrenia. And yet we struggle in silence because of the stigma. By “breaking into” her own life, Michelle helps the rest of us break out of our destructive isolation. The truth is we know what works in treating most mental illnesses, if only we can open up and get the help we need. Michelle’s story helps remove the stigma so that more people seek and receive the care they deserve without fear or shame.” -Craig Kramer, Mental Health Ambassador and Chair of the Global Campaign on Mental Health, Johnson & Johnson

“Mental illness affects us all whether we live with it ourselves, care for a loved one or know someone who is struggling. Yes, it’s more common than we think.  Breaking Into My Life gives us insight and hope that we can break the chains of stigma associated with mental illness by broadening the conversation.  People who are impacted by mental illness deserve a chance to live their best life and Michelle articulates this beautifully in her book.” – Geralyn Giorgio, Head of the Mental Health Diplomats Employee Resource Group at Johnson & Johnson and Certified Professional Coach

“What people see on the outside is often not the full story of what is happening on the inside. So many people miss the opportunity to find out what’s happening behind the smile. Not Michelle. Everyone has a story she truly wants to hear, and she sees hope in everyone she meets. That superpower gift comes from someone who has seen some things. Breaking Into My Life is that story. A story where Michelle first found hope in herself.” – Marlene Lepkoski, Global Head, Regulatory Engagement and Development at Johnson & Johnson

“As a retired nurse and sister-in-law to Michelle’s late mother, I have a deep understanding of mental illness and the impact it can have on families. I truly applaud Michelle for her relentless drive for self-improvement and her deep desire to help others live a life with self-value. Her courage in writing Breaking Into My Life will make a difference for so many people.” – Muriel Brown, RN, BSN – Retired nurse from RWJUMC 

“Michelle’s book has further driven my passion, as a regulatory affairs leader in the area of neuroscience, to bring products to market that help treat those struggling with mental illness and their families.  Breaking Into My Life will inspire, and provide hope and positivity to, those struggling with a loved one with mental illness. And it will continue to foster the dialogue needed so that people can heal.” – Christine Grundy, PharmD, North American Regulatory Affairs Leader, Neuroscience, Johnson & Johnson

Breaking Into My Life is a raw and unflinching account of Michelle E. Dickinson’s struggle and ultimate triumph over mental illness in her household. Michelle’s vulnerability is an example for us all and this book will bravely lead the way for a larger and deeper conversation among families impacted by similar circumstances. – Mike Farragher, author and playwright, This Is Your Brain on Shamrocks

As a clinician, I appreciate Michelle E. Dickinson’s comprehension of mental illness. By sharing her story in her memoir Breaking Into My Life, I know that she will make a difference in helping to elevate the conversation around mental illness so that together we can remove the stigma. – Ruby C. Castilla-Puentes, MD, FAPA, DrPH, MBA

In Breaking Into My Life, Michelle allow readers to experience what caregiving a mentally ill individual is really like. This authentic account of her journey into the perilous world of surviving with her bipolar mother will be eye opening for many mentally ill survivors as well as all those who care for them. – Linda E. Yoo, MFT, Head of Johnson & Johnson’s Global Mental Wellbeing & Workplace Effectiveness

Growing up, I experienced and witnessed hunger and mental illness in close quarters. The desire to make a difference always left me wanting, never knowing how. The problem seemed too big for little me to comprehend. I was always left with the Question Who Me? I had the privilege to be Michelle’s coach through Landmark where she created a project called Perfect the Way You Are for children. During this course Michelle got it touch with her courage, her compassion, and her sense of contribution. She became clear that sharing her story would contribute to the many people impacted by mental illness. Michelle is someone who has taught me that if you see there is something missing, you have the power to make a difference. I know her story will make a real difference. – Koshy Philip, VP Business Development at Alpha Clinical Systems

Amazon Reviews:

Mary B. Turso
5.0 out of 5 stars
Soul baring and compelling, this is a must read.

February 17, 2018

This is a quick read that is full of thought provoking personal experiences. While it deals with being a caregiver of someone with a mental illness, it addresses issues we can all relate to, how to be true to yourself to be happy and fulfilled.

Daryl Stacie Caiola
5.0 out of 5 stars
A powerful memoir of a woman’s experience living with a mentally ill mother.

February 7, 2018

An often heartbreaking story of a young girl raised by a volatile, unpredictable, and violent mentally-ill mother. Anyone with a bipolar family member will be able to relate to the excruciating guilt and love/hate struggle of her relationship. As an adult, Michelle has healed significantly and now offers her layman’s experience to help others deal with the mental illness of a loved one. An auspicious debut!

Marie Granato, lifelong learner and teacher
5.0 out of 5 stars
easy-to-read story of a young girl’s struggle to find happiness in her isolated world of being the caretaker for …

February 18, 2018

Visual images abound in this easy-to-read story of a young girl’s struggle to find happiness in her isolated world of being the caretaker for her mentally ill mother. As she grows, she struggles not only to maintain her sense of self but to identify who she is in relation to the world around her. Openly honest and without the shame she was bound by in childhood, the author writes to inform the public of the realities of growing up in such a dysfunctional household and the toll it takes on us. Fortunately, Michelle Dickinson-Moravek is a truth seeker, and she was compelled to rise above her traumatic childhood experiences and become self-aware. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the author was able to reach into my soul, and all of her timely messages were well-received as they deeply resonated with me!

Patricia F.
5.0 out of 5 stars
Genuine and from the heart

February 25, 2018

Incredibly honest and genuine. The author thoughtfully addressees how growing up with a bi polar parent shaped who she is and how she takes charge of her happiness.

Kim A. Szymanowski
5.0 out of 5 stars
Easy read with a powerful message driving awareness on the challenges of Mental Health

February 28, 2018

“Michelle E. Dickinson provides the raw, unpredictable emotional roller coaster experience of growing up as a child of a bi-polar mother. The primary intent is not only about bravely telling her story, but this book encourages others to break the silence of the stigma with mental health – which is long overdue. This book will enable others to initiate the conversation that will help deliver awareness, healing and most importantly treatment for so many in this world who secretly suffer from this illness.” – Kim Szymanowski, Director, Cross Segment Business Quality



Contact Michelle E. Dickinson

An Emotionally Naked Look at Mental Illness

February 16, 2018 | Kenilworth, NJ – Knowing that approximately one in five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year, just isn’t the same as growing up with a mother who struggled with bipolar disorder. Michelle E. Dickinson, author of Breaking Into My Life: Growing Up with a Bipolar Parent and My Battle to Reclaim Myself, knows firsthand how punishing it can be to love someone with a mental illness.

Dickinson’s story of perseverance and triumph is as painfully revealing as it is uplifting. Her memoir, Breaking Into My Life, starts with her learning to care for her bipolar mother as a child, a role that was imposed upon her. Dickinson shares how she watched her mother seesaw between mania and deep depression while putting on the perfect front to keep her secret confined to walls of their home. In Part 2, she shares her struggle for independence against the tyranny of a manic mother, only to marry the male version of her mother. Finally, she becomes emotionally naked in Part 3 when she shares how she gained the clarity she needed to reach for what she deserved and finally break into her life.

Beyond revealing mental illness’ impact in such a personal way, Breaking Into My Life seeks to challenge and transform the traditional “suffer in silence” dynamic by making mental illness more understood, treated and accepted. Even though participating in treatment helps 70 to 90 percent of mentally ill individuals to feel better or improve their quality of life, close to half of all Americans suffering from mental illness do not seek help. Lack of access to treatment is partly responsible, but the shame associated with having a mental disorder is also to blame. In writing about life with her bipolar mother, Dickinson-Moravek shines a much-needed spotlight onto a condition that is too often hidden and a topic that is too often ignored.

“As a clinician, I appreciate Michelle E. Dickinson’s comprehension of mental illness,” says Ruby C. Castilla-Puentes, MD, FAPA, DrPH, MBA. “By sharing her story in her memoir Breaking Into My Life, I know that she will make a difference in helping to elevate the conversation around mental illness so that together we can remove the stigma.”

Dickinson hopes her message prompts dialogue about mental illness at home, in school, and in the workplace. “Open discussions have the power to humanize mental illness, have it be less feared, and move us all closer to eradicating the stigma once and for all,” she says.

To receive a free chapter of Breaking Into My Life, which is available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble, go to


Breaking Into My Life

Growing Up With a Bipolar Parent and My Battle to Reclaim Myself

 Part 1—Growing Up With Mom

  1. Doorknob
  2. New Siblings
  3. The Magic of Christmas
  4. Controlling Mom
  5. School Break
  6. Abusive Mom
  7. Tears
  8. Substitute Moms
  9. Come to My House
  10. Manic High Mom
  11. Hospital Mom

Part 2—The Toll

  1. Escaping Home Life
  2. Not Comfortable in My Own Skin
  3. My Pity Party
  4. Unseen
  5. Learning to Accept My Home Life and Situation
  6. Awareness of My Own Needs
  7. Grandma’s Love
  8. Revealing in the Attention From a Boy
  9. My CYO
  10. Getting Away
  11. I Married My Mother

Part 3—Transformation

  1. Reclaiming My Life
  2. Painful Love
  3. Tasting Happiness and Sorrow
  4. An End to the Pain
  5. Not Again
  6. Reality Check
  7. The Story of Brayson
  8. Epiphany
  9. Renewal
  10. Reconnecting
  11. Fire Walkers
  12. Courage Over Fear
  13. Truth