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.