Through no aspiration of my own, I’ve become a speaker, writer and advocate for mental illness victims, myself included.
My all-American upbringing did little to prepare me for the silent enemy that would eventually claim my life, destroy my soul, shred my heart, and leaving me frail and vulnerable. No, I had the stay at home mom, Christian schools, happy family holidays and was blessed with good health. College graduation, marriage and the birth of three lovely daughters only ascertained how good life can be.
After my youngest went off to kindergarten, I felt unreasonably “blue”. I began to self medicate my pain with alcohol and prescription medications. After an arrest for driving under the influence, I was court-ordered to see a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with clinical depression. Therapy and medication improved my state significantly but far from completely. Six years later, my former husband lost his life to brain cancer, leaving me a sole parent of three young girls. My inability to process grief, nor help my daughters with theirs, was all it took to push me over the edge into a psychotic breakdown. After a desperate act, I was arrested and incarcerated for a lengthy period of time. At prison, I was diagnosed as bi-polar, which explained a number of things for me. After stabilizing, I began to realize how my life had spiraled out of control and became inconsolable and overwhelmed. After attempting suicide, I spent nine months in the prison’s pychariatric unit. Thirty months later, shortly before I went home, I was connected with my local community health system. It was then I was also diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome). I had difficulty sleeping, suffered frequent panic attacks, and depression that no longer responded to medication. I applied for and was denied state disability benefits. After a three year process with the Social Security Administration, I was finally awarded disability benefits. While that was a crucial victory, it also validated my mental illness and the deep level of my incapacity.
While this has been a tragic journey, I have been blessed in many areas that other mental health victims have not. I have a strong and supportive family and church. Contrary to many, I received excellent care both in prison and in community health facilities. The significant amount of “good” years I lived before my landslide to hell is of great comfort to me. I always had access to medications, whether it was doctor samples, pharmaceutical programs, and now, Medicare. I do however, remain fragile and my loved ones try to monitor me. A small amount of stress becomes a major stumbling block to me.
My silent enemy was a merciless thief that destroyed many years of my life and that of my girls, sister, and mother. I wrote this to dispel preconceived notions of what the ‘picture” of mental illness is to so many. That face of mental illness has changed. I see that in the mirror everyday.
Don Piper, a minister who experienced death for 90 minutes had a quote, one that has become like a credo to me. “Some things happen to us from which we never recover, and they disrupt the normalcy of our lives. That’s how life is. Human nature has a tendency to try to reconstruct old ways and pick up where we left off. If we are wise, we won’t continue to go back the way things were, we can’t anyway. We must instead forget the old standard and accept a “new normalcy”.