Stephen Puibello

Adversity: Diagnosed with HIV and bipolar disorder in 1996

Advocacy: Became a mental health and HIV awareness advocate

“Just to know that I am reaching people by telling my story brings joy to my life.”

In 1996, just two months after losing his mother to breast cancer, Stephen Puibello learned he was HIV positive. A few weeks later, extremely depressed and feeling out of control, Puibello was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. As he describes it, his life went gray and he felt crippled by the dual diagnoses. He quit working, didn’t leave his house for two months and completely detached from friends and community. “It was hard to combat,” Puibello recalls. “I was faced with a choice to wallow away or to try and step up to the plate.”

He chose the latter – and then some. After educating himself about bipolar disorder and HIV, Puibello regained control, along with a sense of empowerment. He knew that others dealing with two stigmatizing illnesses could use assistance, and he decided to attack the problem from several angles. In 2004, Puibello created a website, Bipolarbear, to provide an open platform for sharing his experiences as gay man living with both HIV and bipolar disorder. The website also provides mental health resources, peer-to-peer counseling and self-help tools. Puibello is also a member of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) LGBT Leadership Group, raises money and awareness for mental health and HIV through AIDS rides and is a speaker on compound stigmas for a number of organizations. “As I see it today, I don’t have a disability, I have a different ability,” Puibello explained. “Helping others brings joy to my life. I can say ‘I’ve been through it, I’m your sounding board’ and they walk away knowing there’s hope and I walk away feeling good.”

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