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 Towards Reclaiming My Life
By Annette M. Santiago-Reyes
I can’t begin to describe the past two, almost three years, of sadness and desperation that I lived. Depression itself was no stranger to me. I was first clinically diagnosed when I was 15. Since then, I have been hospitalized a few times, been on every medicine imaginable, and have seen several psychiatrists and therapists. A few years ago I moved to the Columbus area. It was a difficult time.
I moved away from my family and I missed them a great deal. My husband was working 12-hour shifts and my daughter and I barely spent time with him. It was more as if I were a single mom. I found a job in March 2008 and was doing pretty well. In December 2008 I was let go from my job due to budget cuts. Trying to find work was difficult… I received unemployment while I desperately tried to look for work. Finally in November 2009 I found a great paying job. My work background is social services and I found a job helping people find employment and get the skills they needed to be gainfully employed. During that time, my grandmother who had been ill already for quite some time took a turn for the worst. I was filled with guilt that I was not there with her. She lived with my mother and I traveled two-and-a-half hours every weekend to visit. The drives were stressful but I needed to be with her as much as I could. She was like a mother to me.
I found my depression getting worse; my anxiety skyrocketed and I was always crying. Soon it was so bad that I could not even function at work, so I had no choice but to quit. I left in March 2010. A month after I quit, my grandmother died. Her death shook me in a way that I had never felt before. I found a psychiatrist here and he put me on some different medications. I also received a different diagnosis. I found not only did I suffer from major recurring depression, but I was also found to have bipolar disorder. That was hard to accept. The worst came to mind when he said that diagnosis to me, but he was quick to explain that the diagnosis was different for everyone. He then went on to explain his diagnosis.
I took my meds as directed, started to see a therapist, and I was sure that I was getting better. My doctor warned me against returning to work to early, but I did not listen. I found another job in November 2010. I did well for a little while, but then everything came back full force. I quit in February 2011. I had to come to the realization that I was not able to hold a job, no matter how much I wanted to, especially any work in social services. All I had worked for, my years of work experience, my degree, all of that became worthless to me. I had no choice but to stay home, where every day became worse and worse.
My family was suffering. All I could do was sleep and sit around like a zombie. My husband lost his wife and my daughter lost her mother. I was too hopeless and helpless to care. I was in a place all my own where I was too afraid to live and too afraid to die. I even had a genetic test done to see which medicines would work better for me. After trying every possible medication combination possible I gave up. I just accepted that this was me and that was who I was going to be for the rest of my life. I applied for SSI but I was denied. It felt like we were going to lose everything and I blamed myself for all of it. I became filled with anger and hate. I felt my family was better off without me. I even asked my husband to take my daughter and leave me. This was not the life I wanted for them.
Needless to say my doctor and I were at a crossroads…he suggested that I have electrotherapy. The success ratio was higher than that of medication. I was terrified. I knew I was bad, but was it so bad that he felt electrotherapy was my best option? In my mind all I could think of was the shock treatments that I had seen in movies growing up. He gave me the number for the doctor that did the treatment and told me to call and speak to his nurse. He assured me that it was not as bad as I thought and that he really felt that I would benefit from it.
I called the office and spoke to the nurse. She explained the procedure to me and needless to say it did not sound bad. They put you to sleep before the treatment and before you know it you are waking up. I was still terrified of course. I was told that it normally took eight sessions for improvement. With the support of my husband, my family and prayer, I decided to take the risk and have the treatment done. I started treatment in the beginning of October 2011 and went to treatment three times a week for three weeks. One week I only received two treatments. During that time I was not able to drive or do much, because the treatment affected my short-term memory and I would forget things. At that time, it was the most difficult decision I ever made in my life. Every time I went in for treatment, I was filled with fear and anxiety.
At this time in my life, I can say that it was the best decision I have made for myself in my life. I can’t even remember how bad I was that I decided to have the treatment done. I have my life back. I am no longer an empty shell, I am alive. I have my husband and daughter back and they have me back. There is nothing greater that I could have asked for than to be where I am right now in my life. I am still on medication, but nothing near the amount of meds I was taking before the treatment. I was given the clearance to look for work, with a few restrictions of course. Like no social service jobs. I found a great job, which I started on December 1.
I work with a great group of people at an incredible company. The company is aware of my condition and they work with me so that I can make it to my therapy sessions and doctor as needed. I could not ask for anything more. I am still sick. I will never be able to get rid of it. However, I am learning to cope with it and live with it. I had to let go of the anger I had and remind myself that I was no different than someone who had a heart problem or diabetes. I never asked for this illness, but it is a part of me. I have to accept it if I want to live my life to the fullest. I will do everything in my power to never go back to the person I was before. I have survived and I carry that in my heart every day. It is my proof that surviving is possible no matter how far that light at the end of the tunnel seemed.