I grew up a middle child between two high achieving siblings. My Father and Mother had very high standards of success and strict rules to counter my rebellious nature. During high school, I remember feeling isolated and depressed, while sometimes feeling impulsive and hyperactive, I felt like a pendulum, consistently swinging from one extreme to the other--a feeling I had no control over.
When I was eighteen, I experienced losing touch with reality for the first time. The medical term for this is a psychotic break. I began to think that my whole life was being filmed as a reality TV show that everyone could watch, except for me. I actually believed this was true. In many real ways I was out of control and within two days, I managed to spend 5,000 dollars, give away all of my possessions, and drop out of college. My friends became very concerned about my behavior and state of mind, and convinced me to check into a psychiatric facility where I remained for the next three months.
For some time I continued to go back and forth between my belief that I was part of this “scripted reality”, and what was actually real. At times I was so out of control that my doctors needed to help stabilize my behavior with medication and also I needed to be physically retrained — all to keep me safe. I was told that I had a manic episode complicated with a psychotic break. I look back on this now, knowing I made the right decision to enter the hospital. I continue to explore how and why I experienced such a severe manic episode.
While mental illness is often hard to diagnose, so is finding the right balancing of medication and receiving the correct treatment plan. I've learned that a hospital stay can be an important part of finding that balance. Yet, medication is only part of solving the challenge of mental illness. Prevention and early intervention, which is recognizing the warning signs and symptoms of someone who is struggling and seeking help before the problem gets out of control are also important.
A huge part of my recovery and journey to wellness was in my decision to become an advocate — to speak out on behalf of those who experience mental illness. I remember telling myself, “I am only as strong as the history that creates me and instead of being ashamed of my history; I decided to share it with others with the hope that it may help someone else”. The illness that almost killed me is now the strength behind my motives.
If I have learned anything, it is that a mental condition is a gift that allows the mind to experience the world on a different level. This gift shouldn’t be abused, nor taken for granted, but embraced and used in a manageable way in order to maximize individual growth.