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Jeff Watters: How I Navigate Life With Bipolar Disorder, And How You Can Too

An Interview With Stephanie Greer

You can make it a blessing — you’re gifted with something that only 4% of the population will ever be able to experience. You just have to know how to harness it or else it’ll ruin you.

Living with bipolar disorder presents a unique set of challenges. This condition can profoundly impact an individual’s personal, social, and professional life. But it’s crucial to note that countless individuals with bipolar disorder lead productive and successful lives, transforming their experiences into powerful narratives of strength and resilience. In a world where conversations about mental health are becoming more urgent yet still face stigma and misunderstanding, the timeliness of this series cannot be overstated. We aim to shed light on the realities, strategies, and triumphs of navigating life with this disorder. In this series, we are talking to individuals who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, who share their personal journeys, strategies, coping mechanisms, and expert advice to help others in similar situations. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Watters.

Voted “One of America’s top trainers” by Vogue Magazine, professional fighter, sponsored mountain biker/adventure racer/endurance athlete, Jeff Watters brings an impressive arsenal of skills to his current role as an elite sports trainer & coach.

After his own Pro boxing career got cut short due to injuries, Watters turned his passion for the sport into training and coaching, offering a powerful skill set few can rival. A registered USA boxing coach, Watters has become the favorite strength & conditioning coach for several top internationally ranked fighters from the world famous KRONK Gym in Detroit. Partnering with Kronk and Salita Promotions as they groom a new batch of young boxing stars for high ticket fights on Showtime Boxing, Watters provides training camps, and strength and conditioning coaching with stunning results. Fighters from USA, Russia, Chechnya, Armenia, and Uzbekistan now request him by name as part of their Elite training team. Players from the NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB have also requested to work with Jeff as a boxing coach to complement their various training programs. MMA fighters have followed suit, hiring Watters as a striking coach to give them an extra edge in the ring.

Watters is one of the first members of the Brooks ID (inspire daily) and PACE (performance and coaching elite) programs, as well as a founder and official coach for the Priority Health Endurance Racing Teams of Southeast Michigan. He is a freelance writer and regular expert contributor for National Fitness Magazine Publications such as Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness and Trail Runner. Whether training Pro Athletes, mentoring young fighters or fathering his 3 children, Watters continues to challenge everyone around him to become the best version of themselves. As a heart patient with cardiomyopathy, He knows what it’s like to overcome great odds and win. It is this resilience and determination that fuel his coaching and his life as he inspires athletes and those around him to follow his lead and find themselves within themselves.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?

I’m a 51 year old former professional athlete and current boxing/strength/conditioning coach to multisport athletes, boxers and pro hockey players in Detroit. I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 when my wife was pregnant with our second son and I was just out of jail for a domestic incident related to a hypomanic episode that involved another woman and self medication with pain killers — a consistent theme throughout both my marriages.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind except falling in love and not getting arrested. Hunter S. Thompson. TO me it means that everything, EVERYTHING is temporary. We make choices based on long term, which is sometimes good. Most times not. I’ve learned that if something feels good that it’s probably good and living a life trying to please others will eventually lead me to a place where I foster resentment towards them and will invariably act out in a way that SHOULD feel good to me but does not, because it’s done to hurt someone else rather than to bring me some sense of peace. If your house is in order, you will inherently feel what the right and wrong choices are once all the noise is filtered out. We make things too complicated. To me, this quote is about simplicity.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you share what your journey with bipolar disorder has been like?

Brutally beautiful. I was aware at a young age, maybe 2nd grade, that I was not life other kids and that I thought about that fact way more than I should. I repeated patterns with women in every adult relationship and justified them all the same way, always promising myself that the next time would be different having once more learned these “lessons”. It was always the same. I suffered concussions from boxing that created more issues and when surgery to repair my knee introduced me to pain medication, the combination of everything put me into a 10 year tailspin of womanizing and erratic behavior. I went through two marriages and had to rebuild my career from scratch 3x. I lost sponsors and corporate clients due to my life playing out on the local Detroit news after a physical altercation with my wife became a headline due to my affair with several people at the station.

Was there a turning point for you when things started to change for the better? Can you please share a story?

When I was picked up for my domestic incident, I knew that there was a serious mental disorder. After voicing it to a therapist for years and being told that someone with bipolar would not be trying to convince someone they had bipolar, I went to someone else who immediately diagnosed me (after coding) and we began treatment. It took several months for the correct meds and dosages to be determined but I at least was able to put a reason and to validate my feelings from so many of years of KNOWING there was something going on that was beyond my control.

Who are some of the important people in your life who have been on this journey with you? How have they either helped you or made things harder?

My one and only focus is to be a solid father for me three young children who I have majority custody of. They are the most important and most influential people on this journey with me. Though they’re not entirely knowledgeable about why, due to age. But we are very open about it all, as is their mother. My oldest, now 16, and I speak quite extensively about everything that transpired and why the lessons I’ve learned during the journey are applicable to his as well — knowing there’s a genetic component to Bipolar disorder.

How has your experience been getting treatment? What do you wish mental health professionals understood better about navigating bipolar disorder?

Sometimes good and sometimes indifferent. I know that it fluctuates. I feel now that I’ve gained as much as I can through traditional treatments. At 51, I’ve put tools in place that will keep me on track without the continued medication and therapy. If I sleep enough and at the same time, if I keep my work and workout schedule consistent as well as my daily recovery time = shakti pad, cold water treatment and stretching sessions and daily writing — I can manage the disease on my own without medication.

I really appreciate you sharing your journey, I believe over time stories like these will make a dramatic impact on the stigma of mental health conditions. Unfortunately, in today’s world, there is still a lot of stigma to navigate. How does stigma show up in your family or culture and how has it affected you? My parents come form a time where you don’t discuss these things, you’re just supposed to “not do” the things that get you into trouble. It’s fine, I’ve forgiven them for not knowing how to handle me when I couldn’t even handle me. Part of the problem is that, though less than 4.4% of the population has bipolar disorder, every celebrity that gets caught displaying bad behavior with addiction, affairs, etc., they come out and say they have “bipolar” and go to therapy for something. It’s a catch all for bad behavior and that’s killed some of what people would have otherwise seen as something more legitimate and a disorder that isn’t something we have any control over.

What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about bipolar disorder that you would like to dispel?

That you cannot manage without therapy and meds. I needed both for many, many years. Up until very recently. I’ve been doing better in the last couple of months than I have in years, and I’ve weaned off all meds. But I’m not a common case. I know what will come with the ups and downs, I just have more tools in place to deal with them when they arise. I welcome them, I no longer fear them. I embrace the creativity that comes with the highs and the challenge of writing myself out of the lows. I’ve found more of myself fin these times than what I was ever able to find in the shallows of normalcy.

What are 5 things you learned from your journey that you think other people navigating life with bipolar disorder or their family would benefit from knowing?

1 . You can make it a blessing — you’re gifted with something that only 4% of the population will ever be able to experience. You just have to know how to harness it or else it’ll ruin you.

2 . As good as the highs feel, they will end. As bad as the lows feel, they will end. It’s a ride and if you can make it to your bed at night then tomorrow will be a new day.

3 . It’s ok, and important, to accept that you need to sometimes take a mental health day. That being kind to yourself is ok. Just as you’d take a sick day if you had the flu. If you need to take a day due to mental health, take it.

4 . What people understand and don’t understand about it is irrelevant. Don’t waste time trying to make someone understand something that they don’t want to understand and can’t understand. They’ll stand by you, or they won’t, it doesn’t change a thing.

5 . Regardless of how you feel, somebody somewhere at that very moment feels exactly the way you do at that moment. That always gave me great strength.

How has living with bipolar disorder affected your relationships, both romantic and platonic? Any advice for others who are navigating relationships while managing the condition?

As much as you try to explain to someone what dating someone with bipolar may be life, they will not understand it. When bipolar traits pop up, they will not understand them and will attribute them to someone else. You cannot get frustrated with their inability to understand something that they have no way of understanding. If they stay long enough, they will learn but most won’t. It’s a tough road and being open and honest is the only real way to give your relationship a chance but for most, it’s a task that is very daunting. As much as you want to tell them that your actions should not be taken as personal, they’ll still be taken that way.

Are there any books, podcasts, or other resources that have helped you understand or manage your condition better?

Jordan Peterson speak on it often and is very articulate when speaking about how it pertains to trying to build and grow a new relationship.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thank you for your time and thoughtful answers. I know many people will gain so much from hearing this.

About The Interviewer: Stephanie Greer, PhD is the Co-founder and CEO of Akin Mental Health — a company dedicated to guiding families on their journey supporting a loved one with mental health challenges like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and severe depression. Stephanie is passionate about this topic from her own personal experience growing up with a mother who struggled with bipolar 1 disorder and found a path forward to overcome the obstacles and live well. Stephanie’s professional experience includes a doctorate in neuroscience as well as design research roles at Hopelab and Apple. Stephanie brings this personal passion together with her world-class science and technology background to support families across the US in their personal journeys supporting loved ones with mental illness. To learn more about Akin Mental Health and join our community, visit us at

Jeff Watters: How I Navigate Life With Bipolar Disorder, And How You Can Too was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.