When I was 26 years old, I believed that I had created the picture-perfect life with a family and thriving business. But my life took an abrupt turn when I had my first series of manic episodes in 2002. The disruption and turmoil led to the breakup of my marriage. I was angry and confused that something like this could happen to an upbeat guy like me.
“"Through the support of my second wife and my NAMI family I have discovered the importance of sharing my story"
But I was able to work out a simple doctor-and-pill treatment plan that did the job for a few years. My business, focused on disaster recovery, continued to grow, and at least outwardly, my life seemed to be getting back on track. But I continued to keep the delusions that I had during my manic episodes hidden from my doctor and everyone else.
Then in 2005 I was working on a $2.6 million storm clean up job for the city of Meridian, Miss., which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina, when my third full blown episode of mania took hold. I thought there was an entire good ol' boy network out to get me after I had accused government officials of fraud in regards to the FEMA-backed clean up contracts.
One minute I was so high that my body and mind entered a nirvana-like state with feelings of ultimate power and supreme authority. And then in the next minute I felt so paranoid and scared that I thought my heart would thump out of my chest. The mania escalated to the level that I believed a police officer was trying to pull me over to murder me. I took the police on a high speed chase and was arrested for the first time in my life. A couple of days later, I believed I was waging nuclear war with China and President Bush was obeying my signals from my jail cell. I thought a microchip was implanted in my lung and the evil forces of the government were trying to control my actions. I was eventually placed in a mental health hospital and remained there for nearly a month.
My stay in jail and the hospital set off a chain of events that ended in financial ruin, losing contact with my children and having my house foreclosed on. I spent a third of the next three years behind bars or in the hospital. I tried every medication in the book, but started to rapid cycle, experiencing a manic high every six months alternating with depressions so severe I would beg God to end my life. I would experience severe delusional paranoia during the high times, and every time the police confronted me I was convinced they were there to kill me.
I was arrested six times during those three years. People would inevitably call the police because of my odd and erratic behavior during my times of psychosis. I never had a criminal record before my manic episodes, but ended up receiving multiple misdemeanors and two felony convictions—one for assaulting (spitting on) a jail intake officer and a second for threatening the life of a public official—both while incarcerated.
At one of my darkest points I heard a NAMI In Our Own Voice presentation while locked up in the local county jail in Greenville, S.C. I plugged into NAMI Greenville support groups where I learned to never give up hope. I learned so much about my bipolar I disorder and how to deal with it beyond just medication. I started using cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and saw a counselor on a regular basis who worked with NAMI Greenville. Slowly I began to remove my shame and guilt and came to realize that my criminal record was because of a medical problem I was dealing with and not because of bad character.
I soon learned about the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program that NAMI offers to police officers and first responders. NAMI Greenville allowed me to share my stories of police interaction and to act out scenarios as part of the 40-hour CIT class. When I present, I want the officers to understand just how bizarre psychosis can be. I go into detail about how your head gets to that point. I don't want to scare people, but there are so many people who have had this happen to them and don't want to talk about it. I tell them that when they don't undermine another person's truth they have a better chance of de-escalating the situation. I remember my paranoid delusions and through the support of my second wife and my NAMI family I have discovered the importance of sharing my story on an honest level.
Perhaps the biggest turning point in my recovery story was three years ago when 30 officers applauded after my first ever presentation in a class. One of the officers who had previously arrested me was in that class and we hugged in front of everyone. Since that time I have been proudly involved with the training of more than 250 officers. The biggest shame of my life has been my criminal record—now I get to take my experiences and help save lives in my community.
I have been free from severe depression and psychosis now for four years. I have been blessed with a wife who understands my struggles and works with me to change the perspectives of people about mental health. I was also honored to have received the 2011 "Recovery Member of the Year" award from NAMI South Carolina. I have found great satisfaction in speaking at NAMI education classes and furthering my involvement with mental health reform as a volunteer advocate. I have had many letters printed in newspapers and regularly call into radio talk shows to help educate the public and fight the stigma of mental illness that hinders people from receiving the help they need.
I have recently left my profession as an arborist and a storm recovery specialist to devote my life to full time advocacy through Rehinge.com. It is my firm belief that God has restored my life and allowed me to live for a purpose, and that NAMI is the main instrument in my recovery and return to dignity. Thank you NAMI for all that you do. We truly never give up hope!
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