The Story of a Consumer
It is my pleasure to share my story about mental illness with everyone. My name is Joseph. I am a bit nervous but excited to share my journey with you. Initially, I was worried that sharing my story might make people look different. However, I would be sharing my story truthfully with you in the hopes that everyone can learn. Believe me when I say there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. In sharing my story, I hope to help my brothers and sisters struggling with mental illness.
I felt like I belonged to mental illness during my childhood, even before I knew what that meant. I was about three years old at the time. I felt alone. At that young age, I felt like I had no support system. My parents were never around. I understood they had to work, but at the same time, they never paid attention to my wants and needs. I drank my first drink at age six while suffering from mental illness. I can never forget that moment. It was the first time I feel accepted after a very long time. It felt terrific. I felt on top of the world. My friends that introduced me to drinking told me that it made them feel like “Super-Humans”. And they were not wrong. I had no care in the world. Mental illness causes me to drink to numb my pain.
At the age of nine, I already had a gang I was drinking with. In my head, I was a leader. I was a king. During the same period of my life, I was arrested at least ten times, if not many more, due to mental illness. I was incarcerated at the age of eleven for eighteen months. I was labelled as unreformable by the time I was seventeen. I ran away into the army. However, I was released after eighteen months with a General Discharge under Honorable Condition due to my drinking issues. You would think I would be ashamed by now. You know, I wasn’t suffering from a mental illness at all.
I hope I am not boring my readers. We are getting to the good part. As time went by, I seemed to lose interest in all things related to mental illness. I quickly got bored. Every job I took would bore me out. I do not think I spent up to a month at a particular position. Yes, it was that bad. As a seventeen-year-old, my parents invited me to marry, and my wife and I had two children with mental illness at the time.
At the age of twenty-four, I heard about Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). I decided to start my journey to sobriety. I had failed to reach sobriety for eighteen years.
In 1975, something tragic happened. According to my doctor, I was diagnosed with a possible manic-depressive mental illness. However, the professionals were unsure where the alcohol left off and how the manic began. I have been prescribed lithium for eleven months and stayed sober during that mental illness. As time went on, my dosage kept increasing until I took 3 Dilantin and 3000 mg of lithium daily. Surprisingly, the drugs were not showing up in my system at such a very high dosage. Out of concern, the doctors suggested that I quit the medication. It did not take long for my drinking mental illness to return to me; it lasted only a few weeks.
I took my last drink On Mother’s Day of 1987. I was so broken. I divorced my wife of twenty-four years. As a result of my dysfunctional family mental illness, I became unable to deal with it anymore. I was so sure I wouldn’t be able to stop drinking there. My ex-wife felt more comfortable with drinking and been useless. She believed she had control. Some years later, I met Jennifer. We got married, and everything was looking good. I got a promotion related to mental illness because I was focused on work. I was soaring high. I even got appointed as the vice-president of the organization. More money was coming in. My wife and I welcomed a little girl a few years later. I bought a new house, an all-wheel SUV in the driveway. Mental illness was not something that we were ashamed of. What more could I ask for? At this time, I was very active in AA and sponsored many people. But something still felt wrong?
I lost all passion for living. A colleague of mine suggested I try out another meeting. I guess I was becoming too familiar with the whole AA process. Looking at mental illness from a new perspective is something I thought I would try. I wanted to work with the wet-drunks to gain some appreciation. I decided to call our local hospital, which was known for treating alcoholism. When I called, I was told that I had volunteered for the position. I was informed I could start a meeting for drunks in their psychiatric ward. I was not too pleased with this option. I grumbled. I did not wish to work with insane people. I just felt I did not have the strength. I prayed about it, and someone there told me, “We are all children of God.” I decided to pray about it and the mental illness that was ailing me.
After praying, I still did not feel comfortable with the situation. I was restless and worried. While feeling uncomfortable with the situation, I decided to present the case anyway to a few friends and colleagues, but we began the meeting despite mental illness. It lasted for three years until they closed the session due to the lack of resources and staff. During these meetings, I discovered that I could relate with a lot of those patients and how they were feeling. It was a great experience that helped keep me in check and keep me away from mental illness.
Although, at that time, I was not ready to admit that I was suffering from mental illness. On some days, I look back, and I am thankful to God that he provided that platform to create the necessary awareness because I vehemently denied my mental illness. I slipped back into severe depression when these meetings closed. I guess I was already emotionally attached to that environment. This depression started to affect every area of my life. From my home life to my health, they all suffered a mental illness. My wife was constantly pleading with me to see the doctor. I was experiencing the black hole of depression and sleepless nights.
As I got worse, I decided to visit the doctors. After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, my mental illness was the cause. It was later officially diagnosed as bipolar II with rapid cycling. These doctors tried so many medications to no avail. Nothing seemed to be working. I was medication-resistant. My appointments mental illness kept me from my appointments, so everyone was frustrated. To summon it all, I was just careless. The doctors felt I was not interested in getting better.
It wasn’t until later in life that I understood the difference between grey depression and what I now call a black hole mental illness. For me, the grey depression is one where you can lift yourself by the bootstraps and do things that have to be done. Compared with what I dealt with when I was suffering from mental illness, this was nothing. On the other hand, the black hole depression is that space you find yourself in where you can not sleep; you do not want to sit, you do not wish to stand, you do not want to eat, you do not want to interact, you do not want to exist at all. To live is too unbearable, and the only relief you get is in a fetal position. It was evident that the second marriage was doomed after eight years of walking on eggshells because of mental illness. To be fair, she tried. I guess she was burned out. I mean, who wouldn’t?
After a while, I decided to marry again. It looked like anytime I wanted to start afresh, marriage was always my go-to card. I was hoping that this third marriage would help me get on my feet. She was in Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and I thought she would understand my mental illness. Even though I have been sober for nine years, the doctors were unable to maintain any balance of my medications for my mental illness. This was in November of 1995. Two weeks later, I was involved in a terrible automobile accident in which a man received significant injuries. We both survived. I, myself, had minor injuries but hit a deep black hole, and I had to be hospitalized.
I received fourteen shock treatments. It was recommended that I undergo another thirteen sessions, but I refused due to mental illness. Even at this point, I still refused to believe that I was suffering from a mental disorder and that I was not to blame. In my head, I have never been at fault. There was nothing wrong with not having been loved, sexually abused, or even that my whole life was reeking of alcoholism and mental illness. It was just was who I was. For me, that was how I was born. It was in my genes.
After thirteen and a half years of sobriety and not taking any medications, in my third marriage, except taking St. John’s Wort. Later it was discovered that although this drug seemed to treat my depression, it could not control my mood swings mental illness. This was devastating. As you can already guess, this marriage was already on the rocks. It was clear to me and everyone around me that I lacked common sense. I was shocked. I thought things were going to be better. The total number of years of sobriety during mental illness is 13 and a half.
As I write this to you, I will be divorcing for the third time. I guess the number three was not the charm after all. I am no longer willing to shy away from help anymore. I would go through any length to seek the desired help I need. I can finally say that I am ready to surrender to my mental illness. I am also not ashamed to talk about my condition openly anymore. I want to say that keeping my disease in the closet was part of my problem. Long before I opened up about my mental illness, I did not want to admit it. All I thought about was what people would think of me and say about me. I just celebrated fifteen years of sobriety in AA. I appreciate God for Dual Recovery Anonymous (DRA). This independent twelve-step self-help program saved me. Once a wise friend of mine told me you should never pretend to understand how a one-legged person feels unless you also have a missing limb mental illness.
I lost my AA community several years ago because they didn’t understand my bipolar condition. The sponsor, meetings, and the big book, along with a spiritual program, they believed, were all you needed to recover from mental illness. I can still recall the many DOA’s that came through the hospital and were revived, only to tell me that someone in the program told them to throw their medication away. It is sad to say that those poor innocent souls believed that they had a mental illness. I’ve found a home at last in DRA. I no longer feel ashamed, and it feels terrific. I feel relieved. The Dual Recovery Anonymous meetings that I now attend fulfil a specific relaxed zone. In this way, I can share with people I know genuinely understand mental illness.
This is a God-inspired program for me, and I do not take it for granted. Mental illness is always treated with medications as prescribed, attending DRA meetings, and passing the message. I am currently corresponding with an AA sister in WV who has fourteen years in another AA program. She has expressed that they desperately need DRA meetings; we’re working on opening new meeting places there and hopefully around the Pittsburgh area. An AA brother with twenty-five years sober has been inquiring about DRA. The journal mental illness is interested in his story, so I spoke with him and hoped he would submit it.
I pray that God bless all my sisters and brothers in recovery. I appeal to you please do not miss your appointments with your therapist or psychiatrist. Ensure they are informed about mental illness promptly. And, come and see us if you happen to be in the Pittsburgh area. We’ll take you in with open arms. God Bless
Ben Lesser is one of the most sought-after experts in health, fitness and medicine. His articles impress with unique research work as well as field-tested skills. We are honored to have Ben writing exclusively for Dualdiagnosis.org.