My Story

It started when I was in preschool. I can still remember talking to my parents one night when I should have been asleep, telling them how much better things were in the past and how unhappy I was. I can clearly remember crying as I told them. This was my first bout with depression.

Not long after that I saw my first mental health professional and first encountered stigma.

I was at a doctor’s office with my mother. Perhaps I was there because of my depression. That seems most likely. The windows on either side of the door were frosted and you could not see in or out of the office lobby. I asked my mother why they were frosted, and she said, “Some people don’t want to be seen at this kind of doctor”.

After waiting in the lobby for a while we went back to see the doctor.  After a bit I was left alone with him. He had a big pile of toys in the corner. I must have been a bit precocious; I knew what kind of doctor he was. I can remember seeing a toy gun in the pile and I wanted to play with it. But I didn’t want him to think I was attracted to violent toys. Watching me, he could tell what toy I was interested in, and told me it was OK. I remember thinking that he was pretty sharp to have noticed this.

We went back one more time. This time my sister was with us and we talked as a family. The doctor asked where my father was. My mother said, “He doesn’t believe in this sort of thing”.

We never went back. I have no idea what my mother was told, and when I asked about this time later in my childhood, she claimed that this never happened.

I had more depressions as I grew up. I can remember laying on the living room floor thinking about how I had no friends, that things were hopeless, I’d never have any friends, I didn’t have a future. I was quite down. I was perhaps 13 years old at this time.

A few years later I started having suicidal thoughts. I’d lie in bed planning elaborate and not so elaborate ways of killing myself. I never acted on these plans and the thoughts of suicide left at some point and would not return for many years.

When I got out of high school I started college. After severe depression and failure the first two semesters, I started feeling better. Way better. It was my first mania getting started.

While manic I got a lot of school work done along with great grades, worked at a job, and built a custom car in my spare time. I got irritable and hard to live with part of the time, but it was a few years before depression hit again.

In the meantime I felt that this manic state must be what “ordinary” people felt all the time. I felt that I was cured of the depression.

I made it through college and got a degree in Electrical Engineering Technology, then started work at a large automotive plant, got married started raising a son, all the expected stuff.

All went well until it didn’t. That was 2001 when I was asked by my supervisor to go to the local community mental health center. I could have been fired for the way I had been acting, so this was a bit of a relief.

After an initial misdiagnosis, it was determined that I had bipolar.

At first I took it well, my son had been diagnosed with bipolar a year before, and I had been researching it. I knew that it was not the end of the world, and that there were effective treatments.

At first we didn’t arrive at an optimal stability. I gained about 100 pounds on the meds and still wound up in the hospital in a serious mixed state (mania and depression at the same time) in 2003.

Among other things this was the last straw for my first marriage and we were divorced in early 2004.

It was hard coming back from the break in 2003. I tried to work again after nearly a year on short-term disability, but it just didn’t work out. In 2006 I left on a corporate disability pension and eventually got SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance).

Not all was bad in those years. I discovered NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and through NAMI met a wonderful woman, Karla. We got married in 2006, and it has been wonderful so far.

In that time I became rather active in NAMI. Karla and I are co-affiliate leaders of NAMI Kokomo. I am a frequent In Our Own Voice (IOOV) speaker, I am a state trainer for Connection support group facilitators and I and a Peer to Peer educational class mentor. I was chair of the Indiana CCEC (Consumer Council Executive Committee) for two years. I have gotten a lot out of NAMI, and it has helped quite a bit in my recovery.

In this time we also decided to start fostering children. At first we were worried that a couple who shared mental illness would not be allowed to foster, but all they asked was a letter from our treatment team saying that we would be good parents and that doing so would not hurt our mental health. We got the letters, completed training and have been a foster home since. So far we have fostered five kids.

Although it has taken years to come back fully from the break in 2003, now I am feeling quite good. I have started working with Voc. Rehab. (Vocational Rehabilitation) and am back in school. I am taking the prerequisites for nursing, and as of May 2011 as I write this I am doing well in school, and looking forward to a bright future.

Scared into Life

SCARED INTO LIFE

BY ANNIE

My recovery story is in 4 parts.  In our family, mental illness is as prominent as heart disease or diabetes is in others.

Part I

My father, George was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, after he came home from W.W.II.  Mom recalls the doctors giving him only 6 months worth of medication and no follow-up. Dad would relapse and go back into the hospital, this was a continuous cycle.

Dad died when I was 4.  He hung himself.  I vaguely remember my dad.  Many family members tell me stories about my dad; I feel that this helps me know what kind of person he was.  I am told that I look like my dad and have his personality.  That is an honor in itself.  Even though Dad may be gone, his memory lives in my heart 34 years later.

Part II

Shortly after Dad died, my brother Georgie, came to Mom, and started questioning Dad’s death and life.  He enlisted in the Army and was later released on Honorable Medical Discharge.

I remember Georgie going in and out of the hospitals, especially the Veterans’ and Central State.  He had tried suicide many times.

In my opinion, the doctors never did properly diagnose my brother.  I don’t think they took the time or effort to help him and in the end Georgie paid the ultimate price.  He jumped to his death January 7, 1986.

Part III

In my junior year of high school, I awoke one night to hear my sister crying.  Like Georgie, Teresa was asking those questions that everybody wanted to know.  All I really wanted to know was why was this happening to our family, again?  Why were we “chosen” to live with the curse of mental illness and would this mean another suicide?

Teresa bravely fought the battle of her own mental illness, but it seemed whenever something went right, something else would go wrong.  I prayed many times asking God for help.  In fact, I prayed for a miracle to spare her life.

Finally, towards the end of my senior year of high school, Teresa found a doctor who gave her HOPE!  The doctor administered a proper diagnosis and medication.  My prayer was finally answered.

Teresa had found her piece of mind.  With all the things going on in my own life, I began to find myself depressed.  However, I chose to ignore the signs and hide my depression behind laughter and by involving myself in school and church activities.

The summer after my first year of college, I ended up in the hospital and purposely cut my wrist.  I felt that if I were gone, Mom would not have to worry about me.  Everything I had stood for in high school was automatically taken away – I did not care about life, at this point!

Two people stood by me through a lot of my hospitalization – Mom and Teresa.  Teresa, in her own loving way, promised me she would always be there for me.  Mom was always there for me and guided me down the path of what seemed to be the toughest thing I had ever faced in my life.  Of course, other family members, namely, my brother Mike and sister, Mary were there to offer their support, also.  Teresa was the “Wind beneath my wings” always cheering me on to continue with school and work.  She became my hero.

Part IV

To me, having a mental illness did not bother me.  No one or nothing was going to stop me from living my life.  I was in school and I began working.

However, at age 24, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  I did not start to realize the impact my illness was having on me  until about age 32!

I had come out of the hospital after a bad depression, specifically due to not taking my medication.  I had Electroconvulsive therapy and was given an antipsychotic medication, by the attending doctor at the hospital.  The medication did not bring me down from mania and one night I decided to take a bottle of anti-anxiety pills.

I lost a whole day of my life.  I do not know what came over me and to this day that is still very scary to me.  This became a turning point in my life.  It really made me think about my life and my purpose.  I decided to go back to school to pursue a degree in Early Childhood Development.

After I graduated, this is when my recovery truly began.  I started taking control of my life, rather than my illness taking control of me.   I felt like I came out of an emotional coma.  I lost weight and my whole attitude on life  changed.  My medication dosage was lowered. I was a new person!

Teresa had started pursuing her dream of becoming a RN.  Up until about 3 years ago, Teresa had been fine.  She was taking classes and from my perspective, I thought everything was great.  Then Teresa went into a major depression and Teresa needed me more than ever before.

Teresa never fully recovered from that episode.  She had her good days and bad days.  But she hid her feelings.  She did not always talk to her doctor about what was truly bothering her.

So in the end, Teresa also paid the ultimate price.  Teresa took her life and died April 23, 2009, she overdosed on her husband’s heart medication.

I remember, sitting in the waiting room listening to the nurse telling us, as professionally as he could, in medical jargon, that Teresa’s organs were failing.  I wish he had said, “There is no hope for your sister” and left it at that.  There is no professionalism when it comes to telling someone their loved one is brain dead and the only thing keeping them alive is a life support machine!

I remember going into the room and seeing Teresa there – lifeless, with only a ventilator to keep her breathing. It was the hardest thing I ever had to watch! I remember my mom and Teresa’s husband signing the papers to let her die “naturally”. I also remember thinking, “Oh my God! That could have been me!”  All of this seemed unreal and even though it was not a dream, I wish it had been.

Teresa died peacefully.  At her mass, I did a reading because I knew that is what she would want me to do.  Still that did not seem to heal the BIG hole in my heart.  I watched my nieces ( Amanda and Megan) and nephews (Grant and Mitch), throughout the ceremony and simply told them to go on and live their lives because that is what Teresa would want them to do, her pain was too much for her and she needed rest.  I also told them if they needed someone to talk to they should not hide their feelings but to find their parents or me.

I know that for my sister and brother to watch Teresa die was one of the hardest things to see because I do not think that I have ever seen them cry as much as they did at Teresa’s funeral.

I entitled this blog, “Scared Into Life” because that is what Teresa’s death did to me.  I had to find a way to stop the suicide cycle in our family.  That is when I turned to NAMI.  I am proactive and determined to show that I can live with a mental illness and be a happy person.

I owe a lot of my proactive crusade to Pathways Clubhouse members and staff.  I volunteer about 20 hrs a week and enjoy being around my peers and staff. I am on the Recovery and Advocacy Board.  Also, I am teaching Peer to Peer and have received a certification for peer specialist, this past April.  I have enrolled at Ivy Tech to take Human Service classes.  My life is changing for the best.

I faithfully take my meds and keep in close contact with my doctor and therapist.  I am living proof that having a purpose in life, accepting your illness and following all procedures, this illness, or any psychiatric illness, can be managed.  There is hope.  NEVER GIVE UP!

I think of Teresa every day.  I often wonder what she was thinking the day she decided to end her life.  I will never know those answers.  However, I do know that she and my brother and Dad are watching over me and protecting me.  Their actions Scared Me Into Life!

Natalie’s Story- Becoming a runner

I was so excited to attend my first event as a NAMI employee. It was called The Heroes In The Fight and was downtown at the Omni. The event was a wonderful experience and helped me to come up with the idea of this blog. As I was listening to the featured speaker I was so moved and impressed with how strong and determined she was to not let her depression take over her life. Her name is Natalie and since then I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with her and learning just how amazing she is. She helped me come up with the idea to have this blog for NAMI Indiana to support others who are experiencing mental illness. I hope this blog will be a great resource tool and place to share and learn about others stories experiencing a mental illness. The vision for this blog is: –To create an online forum within the NAMI website where people experiencing a variety of mental illnesses can share their story and thereby give others a positive outlook on their own illnesses by removing the stigmas associated with mental illness. Thank you Natalie for helping fight the stigma on mental illness and sharing your story!

I met my passion, my best friend, my worst enemy, my (free) therapist, and my strongest medication about five years ago.  I was 22, and just graduated from college with an excellent education, great GPA, a member of the golf team and I was even a newlywed.  To top it all off I lost about 50 pounds my last two years of college and I couldn’t have looked any better.  I thought I was in the best shape of my life.  I lost the weight by dieting and doing the elliptical at the local gym.   I thought I had it all together, but little did I know I had a marathon of a challenge ahead.

I landed a great job right out of college.  Everything seemed to be going okay, but I was having headaches so bad I couldn’t sleep.   I spent a lot of time in bed because of the headaches.  I saw my family doctor for it, and that is where it all started.

My doctor started to talk to me and ask me about my personal life.  She dug into my soul until I started to cry.  At that point she told me that I didn’t have a problem with headaches, that I had depression.  I was confused.  My dad had depression, but how could I be depressed?  I just had headaches.  She suggested I take an anti-depressant, but I was resistant.  She gave me some samples to try, and I went home.  I thought about it for a while and decided to take the medicine.

I did some research and found out that exercise was one of the best prevention methods for depression, and I knew I needed to get out of bed and on with my life.  I was an adventurous woman and my husband was a runner, so I decided that I was going to train for the half marathon they have in my city.  I started running with my husband every night after work.  Even though that I started running I never considered myself a “runner”.  I didn’t think that I fit into that crowd.  I was just a woman who ran every day but as I ran with my husband, I found that it freed my thoughts and relieved my stress.  Running was there for me.

As for the depression, I started to feel better and started running more and more.  Soon I found myself waking up the day of the half marathon.  I was nervous because I never ran that distance before, but I knew I could do it.  I ran that day as hard as I could and finished in 1:49 which was well under my goal of 2 hours.  I was ecstatic and found myself running again just a few days later.

As the days went by, I found that my medicine wore out quickly because my body was used to it.  I went back to the doctor and she gave me a different type of medicine and I took that for a short period of time.  I repeated this process for about 2 years until my doctor told me that she couldn’t help me anymore.  By that time, I was training for a full marathon and doing everything I could, but the depression was consuming me.  My family doctor finally referred me to a psychologist and a psychiatrist.

In the time between the visit with my family doctor and the specialists, I ran the Chicago Marathon.   I wasn’t feeling the greatest.  I was a little depressed, but knew I had to do it because I trained so hard.  The marathon was really difficult compared to the half marathon, but I finished it in 3:56.  That was four minutes better than my goal.  I was happy that I did it, but a little disappointed because I felt like I could have done better if I wasn’t depressed.

When I returned home from the Chicago Marathon I started to see my psychologist.  She was a perfect fit for me.  She was gentle, easy to talk to, open-minded.   I unraveled the secrets of my depression with her.  I found out many things about myself.  I found out that my childhood wasn’t as happy as other children.  In the weeks that I figured this all out, I was upset and I started to run more.  I had signed up for more and more races and regardless of what was happening with my depression, I ran.  I was training for my next half marathon.  I put in so many miles, I couldn’t even count them.  It wore me out enough so I could sleep, because that was one of the worst symptoms of my depression.  The next thing I knew, my husband and I traveled across the country to run the Big Sur Half Marathon in California.  I was feeling pretty good at the time.  I was relieved to be away from the Midwest where my family resided.  I was relaxed and amazingly confident in my abilities, but I only set the bar at 1:45.  That day I ran a 1:41, and after the race a woman behind me came up to congratulate me.  That very second, I went from a woman that ran everyday to a “runner”.

As we put in more and more miles, we decided to also sign up for the Tucson Marathon which was about a month away.  We traveled out there from our home in Indianapolis and it felt great again to get away from my problems.   At this point I wasn’t in contact with my family.  I decided I needed time to myself to figure it all out.  Fortunately I was able to put all these thoughts aside while I ran the marathon.  I wasn’t trying to put pressure on myself, but I really wanted to qualify for Boston.  I had improved over the year since the Chicago Marathon and with a downhill course; I thought I could do it.  That day we had perfect weather for me to run a 3:40, but the downhill sections seemed to be hard on my quads.  I ran a 3:44.  I just missed my time.  I was disappointed, but happy at the same time.  I improved by 12 minutes from the last marathon.

The next part of my life was probably the most difficult.  It turns out that the hills of Tucson took quite a toll on my knees.  I ended up in the doctor’s office of our local sports medicine clinic.  They diagnosed me with IT Band Syndrome.  I struggled with it for 5 months.  I couldn’t run on it because of the pain, but the pain of my depression was the worst.  I got really down on life.  I was still going to therapy and started going to my psychiatrist more often.  He prescribed many different drugs and the side effects were unimaginable.  I even found myself suicidal at times, but the important thing was that I was getting help.  I was weak and could hardly go to work, but I did anyway.  I would go to work and come home to bed.   I would sleep the days away.
After a month of this and no medicine helping I knew I needed to start running again.  The knee doctor I was seeing was really reluctant to do surgery so I went to another surgeon in town.  I told him that I tried everything:  shots, massage, physical therapy and nothing worked.  He told me he would do the surgery for me.  I had surgery 6 months after the injury and within two weeks I was walking 4 miles around my neighborhood.  In about 2 more weeks I was running those 4 miles and soon after that I was back to normal.  I was a “runner” again.  I was happy again.

That fall I ran in a half marathon a couple hours from my hometown.  I was disappointed in my performance, but still was happy that I finished.  This time I did it in 1:49 again.  I was sad that I didn’t run a PR, but I was only back to running for 4 months since surgery.  I should have been ecstatic that I finished without pain.

Since then, I ran one other half marathon in Green Bay.  I ran my second best time of 1:44.   I have been training and running smaller races now for 5 months.  I’m getting ready to run the full marathon at the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n Roll Marathon in Arizona on January 17, 2010.  I also am running the 2010 Illinois Half Marathon on May 1st.

Overall, the key is that I am running and I am happy.  I have my passion, my best friend, my worst enemy, my (free) therapist, and my strongest medication back and I know that I am a runner.

We are going to try to update the blog weekly with interesting articles and resources. Every month we will try to feature someone who is experiencing or affected by someone who is experiencing a mental illness and if you would be interested in sharing your story like Natalie please email me @kemkes@nami.org.

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