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There is Hope in Mental Illness - A Personal Story of Struggle

Below is the story shared by our pastor's wife, who openly battles bipolar disorder.  What follows is an honest but hopeful tale about managing it and breaking the stigma.  If you are struggling with mental illness, please know you are not alone.  There are helpful resources at the bottom of this blog entry as well.


From a very early age, I could feel I was different.  In puberty, teenagers are already prone to be moody due to the changes in hormones, but my range of emotions went beyond the normal development scale.  I would sob one moment and I would feel irritable the next.  My parents chalked it up to “being dramatic” or a “typical teen.”  I experienced frightening thoughts, such as wanting to end my life, and I didn’t quite know how to sort these things out.  I remember going out to dinner with my parents at Coco’s one Friday night and, as we walked the parking lot to the front door, I wondered what I would miss if my life suddenly ended at that moment.   I ponder it to this very day,  thinking about all the things that have happened in my life since then, and how I would have missed them.  I'm glad that wasn't the case.  

Nevertheless, my symptoms persisted until college, where I finally sought help from our family doctor while home on break. He diagnosed me with unipolar disorder and prescribed a tricyclic antidepressant called Pamelor.  I did not take well to this medication.  It had the affect of rendering me almost comatose and drying out my mouth.  After a trip to the hospital for these strange symptoms, my doctor promptly had me taper off the drug.   Although Pamelor had worked successfully for many patients before, I came to learn over the years that treating depression is not an exact science; what might work for one will not work well with the brain chemistry of another.  “I’m sorry I poisoned you,” my doctor joked with me afterward.  He was a good man and I trusted him.  “We will try a newer generation of medication now.”

This newer medication, Zoloft, was in the SSRI family.  SSRI stands for “Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitor.”  They operate by increasing the absorption of the neurotransmitter serotonin which scientists believe is lacking in most patients experiencing depression.  It essentially makes better use of the limited supply of serotonin, and, by doing so, should result in helping one to feel better.  

When my doctor gave me Zoloft, I was concerned it wasn’t a real pill at first, because it was so new it wasn’t even listed in the medication reference at that point.  He smiled and guaranteed it was legitimate (it went on to become a very popular SSRI on the market, too).   Within a few days, I actually started to feel better for the first time in my life.   The problem was I began to feel TOO good.   This was the beginning of my lifelong roller coaster.  

Within weeks of starting this medicine, I didn’t need much sleep.  I had a good “butterfly” feeling in my stomach and I felt I could do anything.  I went to my college downtown and bought myself a mountain bike with money I didn’t have by utilizing my credit card.  Then I convinced myself that I could bike 75 miles to a city where my friend lived.  Mind you, I hadn’t ridden a bike in years, let alone ride that distance, but I made it 60 miles before it got dark and I called for a ride.

For the next couple of years, I oscillated between behaving like Superwoman, taking the concept of “Carpe Diem” to a dangerous level, to crouching under the covers in a dark, desperate place.  When I married my son’s father, I had full-blown bipolar disorder.   Several medications were employed to try and control the terrible captivity I felt in my head.  It’s like I was present in my body, but couldn’t quite coordinate my ensuing actions with reason.   It was if the gas pedal was stuck on accelerate, and the only result would be crashing.  This in no way excuses my actions; in retrospect, though, it helps me to not only understand how badly I needed help, but also how hard the fight was.  Over time, it resulted in one full hospitalization and two other later trips to the emergency room due to desperate attempts to kill the pain. 

Today, while my condition is not fully resolvable, it is somewhat managable.  I take my medication and have therapy regularly.  I go to  support groups, and I rely heavily on mindfulness practice for centering.  It is a bonafide illness with real consequences, but sometimes people don’t know how to respond to it.  They often think it is something you can will away, grow out of, or dismiss as unreal.  Let me put it this way: how would someone feel if they were told, "The tumor is still there; you're not trying hard enough" while dealing with cancer?  It would be absurd.  

Wherever you are in this, please remember you are not alone and that there is hope.  You are loved, supported, wanted and needed more than you can imagine, and your worth is not determined by your worst day!  Believe that.  

Some helpful resources:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline:  

1-800-273-8255 (24/7)

Crisis Text Line:

Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor. (24/7)

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness):


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Kindness Queen

Kindness Queen's profile picture

I have anxiety and im 14 so im a teen and my story is kinda similar im writing a bulletin about it now.

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We're so sorry you are going through this. Our pastor's wife wishes you all the best and hopes her story was helpful. You're not alone -- remember that! :)

by Central Presbyterian Church, Fort Smith, AR; ; Report

it was im past my hard stage and the only bad days I have are very not super like bad they just happen randomly.

by Kindness Queen; ; Report