My story of experiencing the depths of darkness and despair, because of bipolar disorder and extreme anxiety, is not mine alone. It is also the story of millions of other people.
My story of survival and recovery, told with seriousness and humor, is meant to shatter stigma. It also aims to spread the message with other folks with mental health challenges that there is help, there is hope, and recovery is possible.
I remember my anxiety in middle school and my depression in high school. I remember my anxiety making me freeze at the black board while doing a simple math problem. I remember the depression and the sadness. And I remember the manic highs of summer. Over time the highs got higher and the lows got lower, and anxiety was my constant companion.
Through it all, I succeeded. I co-founded Portland French Bakery. Years later I owned six Subway Sandwich Shops.
I remember being on vacation in 1994 with my wife Heather. We were sitting on the deck of our hotel watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. We looked at each other and smiled. We made it.
Then in the depths of my undiagnosed bipolar disorder, we lost it all. I was hospitalized. And afterwards, I was stigmatized and ostracized due to fear and ignorance. We lost our money. We lost our businesses. We lost our home and were homeless.
We ended up living in the 600-square foot basement of some friend’s house. The kids slept on air mattresses in an alcove under the stairs, while Heather and I took the only room with a door.
At Christmas, we didn’t have room for a tree so we decorated a chair and put what presents we could afford on it and beside it.
Friends disappeared from our lives and family treated us differently. I got tired of being asked, “How are you doing?” by people who really didn’t want to know the answer.
Social situations and family functions were hard. I suffered in silence and hid in the shadows. I knew if someone came up to talk and looked in my eyes, they would see into my soul and see the emptiness and self-loathing inside.
It was then that I felt the most like a failure as a person and as a man. I thought I was weak and that I should be able to just snap out of it. That is what a man does, right?
I lost my identity as a worker, and a father, and a husband. And like millions, I contemplated suicide.
According to the World Health Organization, globally over 788 million people die of suicide each year, and 500 million of them are men. Mental health steals our identities, makes us feel worthless. We look to end the pain, guilt and the humiliation through suicide.
But I am one of the lucky ones who realized that ending my pain would only create guilt and pain for the ones I loved. I know because my father died by suicide.
Today I am healthy, and Heather and I are happy. We live in our house.
I am an author of two books, most recently OMG That’s Me! Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, Panic Attacks and More…
Someone asked me the other day: if you could go back in time to the dark days and say something to yourself, what would it be? I think I would say that treatment for bipolar disorder will be better. Medication will be more effective. Side effects will be fewer and milder.
Even in the worst of times, there is hope for the future. The darkness will pass. There will be new beginnings and hope will blossom once again.
Original article here