National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Stories of Recovery, Voices of Hope
As part of our Countdown to Recovery year-end campaign, we asked you to submit stories of your experiences to help let others know that there is hope, that recovery is an attainable goal for many. Throughout the upcoming months we will publish new stories in each e-Advocate to help inspire courage in individuals and families impacted by mental illness.
My Journey to Recovery
By Laurie Johnson
I realized after my diagnosis four and a half years ago that having bipolar disorder does not define who I am as a person. For close to three decades, I battled an unknown adversary, believing I was just sinning because I wasn’t choosing happiness. I recently had a book published called I am Laurie: How Bipolar Disorder Altered My Life. It is composed of trials from my life, including a turbulent relationship; hopelessness and thoughts of suicide; the abandonment of my Olympic dream; the death of a son in my arms from a genetic disorder; the early end to my teaching career; and the suicide of my nephew. It is a story of triumph in the face of adversity, one that tells how God has given me a meaningful life even though things haven’t turned out how I originally envisioned.
For decades I believed I could simply choose happiness; I just needed to work harder at it. The problem was that I had an undiagnosed mental disorder that prevented me from fully experiencing the joy that could have been mine. After a friend disclosed that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in October of 2006, I decided to research it online. I felt as though I was actually reading about my own life, but was not prepared to even consider that was what had caused so many of my past difficulties. For about six months I was rapid cycling, until I was finally too exhausted to continue battling without medical assistance. After an incident in March of 2007 when I strongly desired to carve the word "ugly" in my skin, I finally revealed to my husband what I had been struggling with. We both realized this behavior was not normal and it was time to find out what was wrong. I scheduled an appointment with a nurse practitioner for April of 2007. Following the diagnosis and treatment, the healing finally began.
As a way to deal with the disorder, along with medication, I decided to write about painful experiences from my past. I was unable to continue beyond two chapters the first summer since it was still overwhelming to address at that time. I wrote another chapter the following summer and then put my writing aside for two more years. Finally, in October, 2010 I had a friend read it to see if she thought the book would be interesting to others. She told me that I needed to tell my story. It touched her deeply and left her wanting to read more. I continued writing throughout the winter and then began the process of getting the book published last spring. It was an extremely therapeutic endeavor that brought great healing, not only for me but also for my relationships. My desire is that my transparency in relating what goes on inside an afflicted person’s mind will inspire and encourage others to begin addressing more effectively the difficulties faced by those who are suffering, bringing them hope.
Walking through life with all of its trials has been an extremely difficult test, but the Lord has comforted me and never left my side. I can now see how my undiagnosed bipolar disorder affected my decision-making ability, my relationships, my joy, and the goals I once had. It has ultimately turned out to be a blessing because it transformed me into the person I am today, with faith in a most wonderful God who spared my life and has given me a purpose to truly live again.