I've been different as long as I can remember, being labeled "emotionally disturbed" as early as six years old. I was always a "sensitive" child with no close friends. I overheard in my teens that institutionalization had been suggested to my parents when I was a child. My mother wouldn’t have it. They told her I would never function in the outside world. Little did anyone outside of our family know I was being physically, mentally, and sexually abused during that period.
At the age of 13, I first thought of suicide. Kids at school can be cruel, and I had finally had enough. I was pulled away from the curb at the front of the school out of the path of an oncoming semi-truck. After my first few suicide attempts, I was diagnosed with depression; but it would be a while before I would receive "real" treatment. I didn’t feel taken seriously. They tried biofeedback, hypnosis, tranquilizers, and counseling. Of course, none of these therapies worked. It wasn’t until two years later after my mother had discontinued treatment, I actively sought out help. When the appointment fell through, I threatened to kill myself again and was finally hospitalized. I was 15 1/2.
When I was 18 I met Joshua’s father, a person with paranoid schizophrenia. He had been out of the institution for only two months when we met. My mother said he was harmless. He placed me on a pedestal, and within two months we were married. Joshua was born several months later, six and a half weeks early. In my mind, he was just another failure -- something beautiful I had spoiled somehow, thinking to myself "I can’t even have a baby right." Joshua’s father and I were separated a few weeks later when during a psychotic break, he began slapping Josh for drinking his formula too quickly. He was only seven weeks old. We were later divorced.
Joshua began showing signs of mental illness at two years old and was having full auditory hallucinations by 4 1/2. By that time, he had been placed in a group home for troubled children. We had been told Joshua had Childhood-Onset Schizophrenia like his father, but they didn’t want to label him. In fact, he didn’t receive his first DSM Axis-I diagnosis until he was 12. I lost a large piece of myself that year. I lost my youngest child to placement. I had sought help for his problems; and because of the stigma surrounding schizophrenia, I lost Joshua for eight years! Bad parenting or drug use during pregnancy was sure to blame. Neither was true, and both were eventually ruled out.
At the age of 19, I was diagnosed with Manic Depression and placed on Lithium Carbonate and Desyrel. Neither of these medications worked very well. I was reduced to wearing diapers and spent a short time in a board and care home. My suicide attempts continued. I was hospitalized repeatedly. If it wasn’t for the support of my family, I would have lost Joshua sooner. I spent mornings in day treatment, afternoons with my son, put him to bed, and returned to the board and care each night. This only lasted a month. My mother and then step-father could not handle the child care.
I met my husband at the end of 1986 . I remember the last time I was in a locked facility, my then boyfriend worriedly looking in through a small glass window as I looked out. That was the last time I ever attempted suicide; although I have been hospitalized twice since. This patient man has been through much. He has supported me through the recovery process. In 1989, we decided together it was best to let Joshua go. Every time we were sent court papers regarding Joshua’s placement, my condition would destabilize. It was after this process of letting go, I was finally able to go forward in my recovery.
When I was 28, I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Acceptance of this diagnosis did not come easily. Over the following year I found I had 21 personalities and wanted nothing to do with any of them. I was trying to complete my undergraduate degree and maintain my family. I spent the year running from myself until I finally had to face it. I had gained over 150 pounds and was about to lose my husband and my children. Weighing in at a whopping 364 pounds, I knew I was unhealthy both emotionally and physically. Although, I had wonderful grades in school, I was unable to work. I had no life. Somehow, I made it through the process of “integration” for my DID, only being hospitalized once.
Two years ago, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II. After my previous experiences with Lithium Carbonate, I didn’t want to hear this diagnosis. However, when the new classification for Bipolar Disorder was explained to me and I did the research, I had to agree. For many years I have been treated for Chronic Recurring Depression. Through the years, they could never get the medications "right". Nothing worked for long. Finally, for the first time in my life, I feel "normal." Through lifestyle changes, including diet, exercise, and medical intervention, I have lost nearly 200 pounds.
I have been married for 19 years. My husband has seen me through my darkest days. Together, we are raising children with mental illness. Joshua spent a year in a state hospital and has now been home for two years. He was able to graduate from high school this year. I have worked for Jefferson Transitional Programs for four years. I began as a participant in the Vocational Program. I am now the Programs Director and coordinate NAMI education programs for our area, including In Our Own Voice: Living With Mental illness and The Peer-to-Peer Recovery Education Course. I also facilitate NAMI-C.A.R.E. in support for these programs.
In spite of mental illness, our family has survived and thrives. Mental illness continues to be an integral part of my life. I am now in a place where I continue to learn and educate others.