I am proud to say I am the evidence that recovery is possible.
How many of you know someone with a Mental Health Diagnosis? The World Health Report says there are 450 million of us.
I have a mental health diagnosis of Bipolar with Schizoaffective, which means I have high and low mood-swings that include episodes of psychosis. With me, I see, hear, and feel things that are not real but to me they are real.
My struggles started as a child; my mother had schizophrenia and posttraumatic stress disorder. She was a nurse in the Navy during the Vietnam War where she treated burn and bomb victims. At times, I saw her try to kill herself. By cutting herself or taking pills, she would go into these deep psychotic episodes only to be hospitalized. Many times, my sister and I wouldn’t have anywhere to stay or anything to eat. Often, we would find shelter with neighbors.
Sadly, my sister and I were removed from the home because our father was serving in the U.S. Navy, and our mother was too sick to care for us. Finally, we were put into the foster care system. We didn’t do well in foster care, and we were moved from family to family. When I was 12 and my sister was 11, we were separated. Finally, I settled on a family to live with and my sister went to live with my aunt—who had taken my brother when he was 4 months old.
My foster family provided for most of my needs, but I never felt a part of the family. They always said, they were going to adopt me, but they never did. Instead, I suffered both sexual and emotional abuse. After completing high school and when I was eighteen, I was out on my own.
The first thing I did was try to find my biological family. In the process, I met a young man; we dated for a while and then got married. Everything was fine until I started having mood-swings. His verbal abuse would cause me to have panic attacks that lead to outburst and crying. Sobbing, I locked myself in the closet for hours.
Compounding my struggles, in 1988, my mother passed by suicide while I was 6 months pregnant. After my son was born, my husband threatened to divorce me. This provoked panic in me, and I ended up in the hospital. There, I was diagnosed with bipolar schizoaffective. During the 6-week hospitalization, my husband divorced me and took my son without my knowledge. Because he was in the Air Force, my rights were taken away.
This trauma was the onset of denial, stopping my medication, and starting to self-medicate. After stopping my medication, I had many manic episodes. During that time, I was in Idaho seeking support from my family. It was then that I met Louis who later became my husband. Shortly after meeting him, I left for Maine to be with my son.
While in Maine, my ex-husband wouldn’t let me see my son. Leaving me in a state of despair, I turned to people who drank and did drugs. I found myself in another abusive relationship and got pregnant with my second son. I turned to my family for help and moved to Arizona.
Shortly before moving, I called Louis and asked him to be my friend. Later, we talked on the phone for hours everyday. One day Louis said to me, “Why are you happy when we start talking and by the time we finish you are crying. You need to go get help.” After my second son was born, I saw a psychiatrist and was put back on medication.
Our relationship progressed, and we were married in 1993. He adopted my son and for the first time in my life I had a real family. However, my bipolar episodes continued and the mood swings became unbearable with deep depressions. We couldn’t seem to find the correct medication that worked for me. In all, I was hospitalized 16 times in 12 years and tried to commit suicide 7 times. Most husbands would not have stayed. Louis told me if I chose to try committing suicide again, he would leave me and take our son with him. I didn’t know that I had a choice. Whenever I would get to a deep dark place, I asked for help. I never tried to commit suicide again. Louis saved me. He is my rock, and I draw strength from him.
We moved to New Mexico, and in 2005 a particular episode of schizophrenia landed me in the hospital where I thought I was Jesus. I relived the crucifixion, and it was excruciating. Furthermore, I didn’t recognize my husband or anyone. I refused to take any medication. I was only one day from being committed to the State Mental hospital.
Not until Louis intervened, seeing me rocking back and forth violently, did a nurse deem that I would harm myself. They restrained me and gave me my miracle medication. I am still on that medication today. After seeing an endocrinologist, I needed medication to control my thyroid levels as well. Without the right thyroid levels, my medications do not work.
In 2007, we moved to Tennessee. I was doing well but most of the time I isolated myself, only going out occasionally. I started journaling, and I started listing things that seemed to trigger my episodes. I noticed that I was more likely to have an episode of bipolar schizoaffective when I had a lack of sleep, or was under a lot of stress. I began some relaxation techniques, including meditation, to calm myself in those situations. I also began to understand when the onset of an episode was coming. I had been isolating myself, afraid of another episode, only doing the minimal as a wife and mother.
In 2010, my son had an appointment that happened to be next door to the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee (MHAET). I knew I had to walk in and ask some questions. That is when I met Ben Harrington. I was quickly connected with people and programs, such as Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) and Peer Support, which would support my recovery efforts.
A few months later, I was enrolled in WRAP provided by Sheryl McCormick at Peninsula. I soon learned that I had been doing many of the things taught in WRAP but lacked one of the most important parts, Supporters. Louis had been my only supporter until then. So, May of 2011, I started going to the Wellness Recovery Center (WRC) at Peninsula in Dowell Springs. It is now called the Peer Support Academy. When I first started, I was scared. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was welcomed. The more people I met, the more I realized that I wasn’t alone.
After taking WRAP II, I began to teach WRAP and a few art classes at Peninsula, and I sold some of my artwork at the annual Artsclamation!
In October of 2014, I finally took the Certified Peer Recovery Specialist training. I had attended the CPRS Conference twice before becoming a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist. On one occasion right before taking the training, I met Amy Rogerson. She was the Peer Recovery Call Center Manager at MHAET. She offered me the opportunity to volunteer to get my 75 hours to become certified. I became a CPRS in December of 2014 and continued to volunteer about 40 hours a week. MHAET nominated me for Home Federal Bank’s Home Town Hero, and I won. In July 2015, I was hired at MHAET Call Center where I am helping people to have hope in their recovery process.
I understand from experience why people who have a mental health diagnosis might want to shut themselves off from the world, but I encourage them to reach out for help instead.
I encourage my callers to educate themselves and seek out people in the mental health field. I am very different from the person who repeatedly tried to end her life to escape the agony of mental illness.
I am proud to say I am the evidence that recovery is possible.
I want to thank my higher power, and my husband Louis for helping me to get where I am today!