I was 26 and at the height of my systems engineering career. In December 2002, I attended a church conference in Washington, DC when BAM, Mental illness hit me like a freight train. I started seeing visions of slaves with chains around their necks. The more I spoke the more the shackles loosened. I couldn’t explain it. I started crying uncontrollably and this was the beginning of a month long manic episode. It was my first of 13 thus far and the first time I had hallucinations. I was irritable with racing thoughts and rapid speech. I dropped 20 lbs because I wouldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I was thought to be demon possessed and the church members attempted an exorcism on me. This was one of my severest manic episodes and it was also the first time I was institutionalized.
I managed to get through it with the support of my family and I relocated from Pennsylvania to South Carolina. I found a psychiatrist. She kept alternating between a cocktail of Risperdol, Haldol and Lithium. I was going crazy on the meds so I chose one: Lithium. My diagnosis was Bipolar. I stayed on Lithium for a year then stopped taking it because I thought my Bipolar was in remission. My psychiatrist warned me that if I stayed off the meds I would have more frequent, more severe episodes. I didn’t take heed to her warning and had 12 more bouts of mania, one of which landed me in jail with 2 suicide attempts.
I moved to GA where I first heard about NAMI from my uncle. Being around my family was essential to my healing and led to the forgiveness of myself for not taking the meds. I found out that I had 4 other relatives with a mental illness, so I enrolled in the NAMI Family to Family course. Susie Kyle, one of the instructors, mentioned the IN OUR OWN VOICE training and said I should try it out. Before doing so, I started going to the weekly meetings at NAMI-Atlanta/Auburn where I found a social outlet and like stories from my mentally ill peers. Ashley S., one of the facilitators, mentioned IN OUR OWN VOICE a second time. So I pursued it. Now I’m an IN OUR OWN VOICE presenter.
My story of multiple institutions, jail, attempted suicide and now recovery is a tale made for the movies. NAMI gave me a voice at a time when mental illness rendered me speechless. When I’m telling my story to audiences it’s like living out a life I once knew before being diagnosed. I now have a second diagnosis schizoaffective personality disorder. Dealing with all my losses, having to survive off disability, and still battling with the side effects of medicines are all challenges that I have to cope with one day at a time.
NAMI makes these battles winnable.