A new chapter in my life started…
With relapses and acting out in the groups, I managed to get through a year without alcohol or drugs. I met a woman who I would later marry. I thought, now I would be happy. Though my life did improve, I was still far from being able to function successfully in society.
My wife became pregnant and I courageously tried to provide for my new family. Lots of responsibility with no idea how I was going to handle it. A rush of feelings hit me at once. I would go through severe depressions, staying in bed for weeks. My wife literally spoon-fed me. I would then get bursts of energy, interview and land a job. But I could not hold one down for longer than three months.
I was very embarrassed and ashamed. My wife's family was understandably very concerned. We lived from house to house with generous relatives and extended family. My mood swings grew increasingly severe, some violent.
After six years of being alcohol and drug free, I knew something else had to be wrong beyond "de-tox". At the age of 25, I went voluntarily to a county behavioral health center and after being evaluated I was put on an involuntary commitment. I thought my in-patient commitment was the end of my world, but thank God for the experience now.
I was diagnosed as manic-depressive, and stayed 15 days in the hospital, most of them voluntarily. I wanted them to get my treatment right.
I started receiving social security benefits and was told that this was probably as good as it was going to get. We were in poverty, making ends meet though agencies like the Salvation Army. I was severely depressed and was consigned to a life of being a "nobody".
Being in the mental health system for two years, finally, a wonderful therapist picked up my case and followed-up with me. I had never had anyone follow-up with me before. This therapist believed I could get better. I could hear it in her voice and see it in her eyes.
My therapist invited my wife to some sessions and educated her about my illness. NAMI has a wonderful program called Family to Family, educating families all around the country! I learned about my illness for the first time and gained coping strategies. NAMI also has a program called Peer-to-Peer that educates persons with mental illness on their illness and provides coping tools!
My confidence started to build with plenty of encouragement and support from this therapist and my peers. I had no idea what my future would be, but decided that I was going to do my best to improve my quality of life! I made little goals and with each success I dared to try a little more.
Today, I am very happy to report to you that this long journey led to positive events creating a life I never could have imagined. I have been clean and sober for 14 years and married with three children for 13 years.
Currently, I am employed at NAMI as the National Director of In Our Own Voice Living with Mental Illness (IOOV), a one-of-a-kind national program. We teach persons living with mental illness how to share their stories. IOOV presenters are in 31 different states, reaching 2,000-2,500 people each month. We are speaking to law enforcement personnel, elementary schools, universities, business groups, drop in centers, locked facilities, and anyone who will give us a venue to hear our presentation.
I have had the pleasure of watching IOOV positively impact both people with mental illness and family and friends by putting a face on mental illness one community at a time. I have been gainfully employed for over five years. It still sends chills up my spine to say that and I am smiling right now!
I am so grateful. It is hard to believe that 14 years ago I crawled out of a garbage can and now am living the kind of life that I am living! I have become the kind of man I want to spend the rest of my life with. I have come a long way!
I attribute my life now, in part, to NAMI and it's growing national grassroots movement of persons living with mental illness, family members and friends. And, to NAMI’s mission to make certain that persons living with mental illness can and do recover!
Education and empowerment, respect, treatment and outreach turned my life around. And now I am able to help NAMI help others like me! If my story and my work at NAMI has touched your life, please donate today so NAMI and I can educate and empower others!
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