by - Nancy Donaldson
It’s difficult to understand the true miracle of recovery without knowing the path to it. I have bipolar disorder. Despite my disorder, I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a dual major master’s in Management and Business Administration. I was also a single parent for most of my son’s life.
The roller coaster of bipolar disorder began in my childhood. Depression and suicidal ideation permeated my life for many years. Sometimes I felt fine, but the darkness of depression and the possibility of a rage were always around the corner. I sensed sometimes that I was different but didn’t know how or why. I began receiving psychiatric care when I was about 30 years old. I was extremely depressed, suicidal, and no longer in control. I was managing to hold down a job but, later, friends told me that my behavior had become bizarre. Over the years, the cycles kept getting worse. Sometimes I was severely depressed and suicidal; other time I was out partying or buying things I definitely couldn’t afford. But, life can’t go on that way indefinitely. Something had to give. I ended up in the hospital and lost a job I loved. I almost lost everything I had.
I finally realized that I couldn’t depend solely on my therapist to make me well. I had to take responsibility for myself. The final situation that convinced me was when I had skipped a few days of medications. I took my son, then 13, to a local convenience store where I had a minor fender bender in the parking lot. To be honest, it was my fault. I became enraged and was screaming and cursing at the other driver. When a highway patrolman arrived, I began to scream and curse at him. My son got between the officer and me. He shoved me into the car and explained to the officer that I had a mental illness, and he didn’t think I had taken my medication. As I drove home following the incident, my son turned to me with all of the awe a 13-year old boy can muster and said “Wow, Mom, I didn’t know you knew those words. Way cool!” I immediately realized I had done a “Bad Mom Thing” and swore to myself that I had to take charge of my life.
During the period when I was very ill and struggling to recover, I didn’t go on disability. I did some temp work but I also started a home secretarial business. In addition, I worked in a law office every afternoon doing secretarial and paralegal work. Later, I added in a part time evening job delivering pizzas for a local pizzeria. Each added job gave me more confidence.
Five years ago, I married a great guy and moved to Charleston. One day, my counselor at Charleston/Dorchester Mental Health Center told me about an upcoming job. One of the requirements was that the applicant had to have a mental illness. Wow! I could stop hiding my illness. I was hired for the position of client affairs coordinator and, shortly afterward, was trained and certified as a peer support specialist. At first, it was difficult to be self-disclosing but, before long, I realized how much acceptance and respect I was receiving from both staff and clients. My fears went away, and it became easier. Soon I was making presentations not just within the center but also in the community. I facilitate several groups per week where I teach clients to take responsibility for themselves and their recovery by learning about their illnesses, medications, and other aspects of life with a mental illness.
Life without a mental illness would be nice, but I’ve also had the opportunity to recreate my life the way I want.