Growing up was really tough because I always felt that there was something different about me, but I was too afraid to face it. If I had known what I do now, I could have easily skipped the dark years, which involved lots of self-destruction with heavy drug usage and self-harm. I wasnít the type of kid that could deal with being punished because I punished myself more than anyone else ever could. Thatís where cutting played a huge role because when I would get punished, I felt that I had to harm myself just to prove to myself that my punishment was more severe. Kids shouldnít think like that. Now I am an adult and Iíve learned what itís like to live with bipolar disorder and later, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“As long as there is war, there will be soldiers who need to talk to someone, so I’m trying to be that conduit ...
I self-medicated for many years to deal with the highs and lows of living with bipolar disorder. That didnít go over so well. I lost my apartment, my car, my health and my self-worth. I got somewhat of a diagnosis shortly after I joined the Army in 1999, but I was only given medicine to fight the broad symptoms of bipolar disorder without any fine-tuning. I figured joining the Army would solve everything. And while it helped a lot, I still wasnít letting go of all my baggage. All my issues ended up catching up with me and I started having really bad manic episodes. I thought everyone was against me and wanted to see me fail, so just about everyone was a potential enemy. Mixing those manic episodes with tons of alcohol really wasnít the greatest idea and it put me over the edge.
I left Fort Carson in Colorado to go to Iraq in 2003. I didnít really care much about my life, so while I was positive that I would die there, I was OK with it. When I didnít die, it sent me into a panic. I went on to Korea after that and all the symptoms of PTSD started to appear. I never noticed anythingómy wife was the one who caught it. Things like screaming at night, cold sweats and waking up every hour were just a few of my issues that she helped point out. Sometimes I would have an angry outburst and the next second Iíd be in tears.
My mental health records were lost when I went from Fort Carson to Korea, so I had to wait until 2007 to receive a diagnosis. However, it came at the perfect time because for once I was trying to be serious about mental illness and actually take my meds on time. Itís been a rocky road, but finding NAMI is what made the lasting changes in my life. Since joining NAMI in 2010 I have completed NAMI Peer-to-Peer training, become a facilitator and now present for NAMIís In Our Own Voice (IOOV). Many soldiers and veterans have approached me after my presentations and asked me how to get involved with NAMI, but at the same time told me how they felt all alone with their illness and terrified of letting anyone know they needed help. Hopefully the more I present, the more they will feel comfortable opening up.
But the icing on the cake has been becoming the NAMI Columbusí Director of Military Affairs at Fort Benning, Ga. It has always been one of my passions to help soldiers with mental illness. We all know that PTSD is running freely through our military as war lingers on. As long as there is war, there will be soldiers who need to talk to someone, so Iím trying to be that conduit at Fort Benning. As with anything new, it has been a slow start but Iím still determined because I could be the reason a soldier doesnít take his or her own life or get mixed up with drugs or domestic violence.
I also have been an artist my entire life and I really hope to get accepted into more galleries someday. Art is what helps me to relax. Itís something Iíve been able to turn to instead of self-medicating with alcohol. Painting has been very rewarding over the years, but I donít feel that I have made it quite yet. My art is like my connection with NAMI: I learn something new every session and I get better each time I go back.
NAMI really helped me to be social again. I used to just stay inside all day and play video games but now my day isnít complete if I donít go out and do something. Iíve met a lot of very warm-hearted people through NAMI. The first time I ever went to a meeting, I found people just like me and that went a long way. Now Iím trying to give back to NAMI what it gave to me.
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