I suffered a dark and isolated life after the Vietnam War that was punctuated by trips to mental facilities and jail. I suffered from chronic depression and like many with depression I was also a substance abuser. I was fortunate to eventually connect with a psychologist, also a veteran of the war, thanks to the Veteran’s Administration. I remember our first interaction like it happened yesterday. After explaining to Walt that I could not make sense out of my life, he responded in a very matter of fact way. He said, “I can tell you what’s wrong. You have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” What a relief to finally be able to put a name to my problems and begin to understand that I was ill and not just a bad guy.
It also gave me an opportunity to begin to shape a new regimen of treatment for myself that included AA (which I had already been involved in), individual therapy, group therapy and, finally, medication. After I was able to get on my feet psychologically, I began to put my life in order and establish new priorities. I went back to school, completed a Bachelors degree, a Master’s degree and became a candidate for a Ph.D. completing everything but my dissertation.
It hasn’t always been a smooth road. As with any illness, there is sometimes an occasional step backward. I have a wonderful life now. I involve myself in many Recovery oriented pursuits including Native American spirituality, the Episcopal Church, AA and Double Trouble In Recovery (a 12 step program for folks with co-occurring disorders). I continue to work at understanding my illness and treat myself by disclosing publicly that I am a consumer. Making the world aware of our issues and working to eliminate the stigma of mental illness will be a long hard job for all of us, but it is one we do.