The Day that Changed my Life Forever
A couple of weeks ago I asked my counselor and mentor, Mike, if he would allow me to share my personal testimony with you all in honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week. Now, I will admit that Mike’s first question in response to me was “Are you sure that you feel comfortable sharing your testimony?” And it is for that very reason that I was 100% certain that I not only wanted to share it, but also that I had an obligation to share this with you in hopes that it would first educate those of you who have never had to personally deal with a mental illness and second to possibly bring hope to those who do have to deal with a mental illness on a daily basis – be it your own or someone close to you.
So, without further ado, let me begin:
As I stand up here in front of you today I want to paint you a picture of a man that I knew once upon a time. This man was a stubborn, self-driven, almost arrogant guy in his early thirties with a wife of 10 years and a son and a daughter. He and his family lived in an expensive house in an upscale neighborhood. He had a thriving career. He drove luxurious cars and threw fancy parties. By societies standards, this man seemed to have it all. But sometimes the ones who appear to have it all are the ones most lost in the world.
You see, this man was good at distorting reality and his whole world was not what it seemed. What this man didn't want you to know is that he was in debt up to his eyeballs, on the verge of bankruptcy. He hardly spent any time with, or even saw his wife and children, instead consuming ALL of his time at work or out drinking with his buddies. He shamefully hid away a secret obsession with pornography and he'd even been involved in an affair with a woman from his office. This man was as off track as they come.
Then within a few short weeks during the spring of 2007 he watched as his world began to unravel faster than anyone could imagine. You see, his wife had discovered his affair, which would ultimately lead to her decision to divorce him. His debt boiled over causing his house to be foreclosed on and his cars to be repossessed. He even lost his job from his erratic behavior. The final straw was when he was served with a protective order barring him from seeing or even speaking to his estranged wife and his children. Alienated from everyone and everything that he had valued in his life, this man never felt more alone in the world. He was scared, the only possible solution that he could see was to end his own life.
As this man’s Dad will attest to, on the morning of April 30, 2008 his parents happened to be in Virginia Beach visiting his younger brother, Chris and for reasons that weren’t clear to him at the time, his Dad said that he needed to go and find his oldest son. So, whenever no one could reach his son on the telephone his Dad knew that they had to get in the car and drive the four and a half hours to Kernersville, North Carolina in search of their son. When they finally arrived, they found their son slumped over on the floor of an empty house where he had ended his life earlier that day. It appeared as if they had been too late. But they dialed 911 and waited on the ambulance and help to arrive.
In case you hadn't already guessed it, that man in the story was real, that man was ME and those events really did occur. I died that day, literally, but for reasons that nobody can explain the doctors were able to bring me back to life.
In a sense I had been reborn, given a chance to start my life over. But what kind of life was it that I had to start? I didn’t feel any different. Only difference that I could really see was that I was now labeled with a mental illness, known as Bipolar Disorder. I was ashamed of who I was. My previous lies and actions had hurt people. Who would want to be around me? After all, no matter what I did now it couldn’t undo what was already done. I didn't deserve this chance to start over. I even found myself wishing that I had been successful and that the doctors hadn't been able to revive me.
That was over 10 years ago now, and while I won’t say that my path has been easy, I will say that my two best friends and my family have been there to help me through every obstacle that I’ve encountered along the way. I have been blessed with a job that allows me the flexibility to work entirely from home, which makes it much easier to deal with symptoms of my illness, such as severe clinical depression and out of control mania. It’s much easier to mask my symptoms over the telephone than if I had to see people face to face in an office environment. I can’t even begin to count the number of “sick days” I would have had to take if I worked in a normal office environment due to the Bipolar symptoms that can literally appear out of nowhere. Bipolar Disorder, like so many other mental illnesses isn’t just something that you have, it’s something that you have to deal with and navigate through on a daily basis.
While writing this testimony I was trying to think of the best way to describe the struggles that I, like so many others, have to deal with on a continual basis. In response to that I thought that I would leave you with three important facts that I believe everyone should know and try to understand about Mental Illness:
Mental Illness isn’t like other ailments. There is no cure, and medications won’t make it go away, all they can do is help with the symptoms. Whenever someone asks me when my last bad day was, my truthful answer would be – TODAY. In my situation, it’s something that I deal with every single day of my life. Being Bipolar can be a tough thing to deal with. My moods are generally on one side of the scale or the complete opposite side, and nothing needs to happen for me to have a REALLY bad day or a REALLY good day. I’ve heard people say – “You can’t be too Happy”, well that’s not necessarily the case with those of us who are Bipolar. Too Happy can lead to recklessness, and the flip side of that is the deepest darkest depression that you could ever imagine. I take medications to keep me UP and medications to bring me DOWN just to try to remain balanced or “normal” whatever that is. Then we can’t forget about the medications that I take to deal with symptoms brought on by other meds…. let’s just say that my bathroom looks like a CVS pharmacy with all of the pill bottles.
Mental Illness isn’t synonymous with “dangerous”. Generally speaking, most people who suffer from a mental illness aren’t any more dangerous than any other person, and in most cases the only person that should worry about a mental illness being dangerous is the person suffering from the illness themselves. Now, this isn’t always the case, but I urge you to educate yourself on a specific mental illness before labeling someone suffering with such an illness as dangerous.
The best way to attack any mental illness head on is to build a support group of people who can help when things just get too hard to handle on your own. Your support group can include your family, your friends, a counselor, a psychiatrist, and heck even your neighbors. The key to putting together an effective support group is to find people who know that you have a mental illness, who will take the time to educate themselves on effective ways to help, and who generally just care about your wellbeing. I like to call my support group my “Mood Ninjas” and it’s made up of My Parents – Don & Cindy, My brother – Chris, My two best friends – Kevin and John, My Online Counselor, and My Psychiatrist. They all play an important role in helping me through those tough times. Those whom I see or talk to on a daily basis are the most help because they can often see changes in my behavior even before I can. I wouldn’t be here today without the help of these people and I really can’t stress enough how important an effective support group is to someone who lives with a mental illness.
So, in closing I want to thank you for allowing me to share my story with you.I can tell you that I already feel this huge weight coming off of my shoulders knowing that I no longer have to hide my struggles.There is still a huge stigma in our society concerning those who have to deal with a mental illness which sometimes makes it very difficult for a person to openly share their struggles with their friends and neighbors. I, myself, still have to keep my struggles hidden from my employer in fear that this information would get passed on to someone who isn’t educated on mental illness facts and could possibly cause me to lose my job. But on the flip side of that there are so many more people in the world who can look past my struggles and see the person that I am inside and realize that aside from my struggles with mental illness I’m just like you with the same hopes and goals in life. When I first was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I thought of it as a death sentence.I was embarrassed and ashamed because of my diagnosis.But, with the help of my “Mood Ninjas” I’m seeing things in an entirely different light.
While I am still trying to figure out what my purpose is in life, I do believe deep down in my heart that I have been called to stand out and, if nothing else, show those of us who do struggle with a Mental Illness that there is hope. I urge those of you who struggle with a mental illness to start building your support group today, and if you need help please come and talk to me.I’m not a counselor or an expert by any means, but I will be more than happy to sit with you and listen and offer you any advice that I can.And if you’re one of the lucky ones who isn’t affected directly by a mental illness perhaps you would be willing to be a part of someone else’s support group.
I hope that I have helped bring Mental Illness Awareness to those of you that are here today. I urge you all, especially those who are affected directly, to take the time to educate yourself so that you may be able to sort out the misconceptions and the reality of those working through these daily struggles.