by - Sissy Weaver
Sometimes it seems that I have been mentally ill all my life, despite the fact that I always made good grades in school. I was always very outgoing with my friends, I was an avid tennis player, and, during my junior year in high school, was the number one player in the state. I did not get a chance to play my senior year was because I was in the first of many psychiatric hospitals.
When I was 17 years old, I began to hallucinate and became very depressed. I had been on a retreat in the mountains with my church youth group, and that was the beginning of my descent into mental illness. I was hearing voices telling me to do things to myself and others, and I didn’t understand why everyone else wasn’t hearing the same thing. To this day, each time I hear voices, I feel as frightened as I did that first day.
When I was in Marshall Pickens Psychiatric Hospital, I had a doctor who would pat me on the head and say, “You really are a very sick little girl.” I didn’t know what was wrong with me, and I sure didn’t understand why things had gotten so out of hand. I was released from there knowing very little about how to deal with this strange illness.
Somehow I was accepted to Wake Forest University and was making plans to start my college career. Unfortunately, for my parents and me, I stayed about three months before I was on my way to a whole new experience at a hospital in Asheville, N.C. It was
during this time that I realized that my high school friends were going on with their lives, but I was stuck behind a locked door wondering if I would ever get better. One day I got a postcard from them in Montana. I knew they meant well, but I was so devastated that I was sleeping my life away while they were out living the college life. After that hospitalization, I was sent to live in a halfway house. I am sure places like that are great for some people but, for me, it was a nightmare. I will not go into details, but I know I don’t want to end up there again.
My lowest point was when I nearly killed myself with an overdose of pills and vodka. I had failed again at the College of Charleston, and my only answer to all this pain was to die. I was sent to a hospital in Columbia in 1982.
Even though I have been in and out of hospitals most of my adult life, I have had some very positive experiences that have fueled me to be the person I am today.
I graduated from Midlands Technical College with a degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. My real dream was to go to medical school, and I obtained some scholarship money, received some loans, and began my life as a student at the University of South Carolina pursuing a degree in Biology. Because the credits I received at Midlands Tech did not transfer, I started at the beginning and, after 16 years of being in and out of school, I finally received my degree in Biology. My friends gave me a wonderful party, and I must say it was one of the best days of my life.
Despite the fact that I have been dealing with this illness most of my adult life, I have had many opportunities to enjoy a life of fullness and expectation. I am working part time at SC SHARE, with a group of people who have become role models for me. Working at SC SHARE has been a life-changing experience.
I have also been a volunteer with NAMI Mid-Carolina and NAMI South Carolina. I have been on the Provider Education Team and once was a support group facilitator
for people with mental illnesses and their families. I have traveled to many places for conferences and training, and I am the consumer representative on the NAMI SC Board of Directors.
Being chosen to be on the State Planning Council was an opportunity to meet other people around the state who were program directors, family members, and consumers. I have learned a great deal serving on this board and feel honored to sit amongst the
I know it has been said so many times, but recovery from a mental illness is a journey – often times a journey of fear and great sadness. I do hear voices every day, and I am truly paralyzed by delusions and paranoia. I will never get used to this illness, but
I am doing everything I can to keep a positive attitude and to persevere.
March 2007, Images