I grew up in a family where Dad had severe mood swings. We lived each day not knowing if he was going to be in a good mood or a bad mood. I grew up with high anxieties. I had a rough time making friends and I couldn’t focus at school. School was a constant fight. My grades were horrible; I was lucky to have graduated high school.
After high school, my struggles with life continued. I attended college for a year. I worked a grave-yard shift so I could go to school during the day. The pressures of my schedule were such that I eventually shut down finding myself sleeping 20 hours a day. Because of my grades, I was unable to continue college. I joined the army for 3 years. With the army, I had a rough time getting promoted because of sleeping problems.
I left the army in December 1971. I got married in August 1972. At that time, I worked for the VA Hospital. Because of my struggles, I was unable to move up and get promoted. I left the VA Hospital in 1986. Throughout the years, I struggled being able to cope with many things.
In July 1986, my wife and I moved with our four kids to California . My life was still in turmoil with anxieties, mood swings, and not being able to sleep. It was then that I decided the best way out was suicide. My first suicide attempt was in December 1987. What a better place to take your life but in “Death Valley.”
My suicide attempt was unsuccessful – I landed in a VA Hospital spending 30-days in rehab. It was in rehab where I was diagnosed as having severe depression. Before rehab and the months that followed, I took my depression out on my daughter and my wife. For my daughter, it destroyed our relationship. To this date, she will not speak to me; it’s a great loss to me. For my wife, it ended our marriage.
In April 1988, the struggles in my life landed me in the VA Hospital again. It was during this 15-day stay that I was shown a “Patty Duke” documentary (“Manic Depression: Voices of An Illness”) on her struggles with mental illness. Following the movie, I asked a nurse if I had bipolar disorder – she say yes. Even though I knew nothing about the disorder, it gave me a few answers to my problem with depression and suicide attempts.
Life continued and I learned little about bipolar disorder. I worked at the Desert Industry Thrift Store for six years. I married for the second time. Like before, I was unable to get a hold of my life. I took my depression out on my wife. I couldn’t control my illness at work and I was forced to leave my job. My wife couldn’t put up with my mood swings. She kicked me out and we eventually divorced.
For months and years, I tried different meds (Lithium, Depakote, MAO Inhibitor, anti-depressants) to help control the disorder. When the meds didn’t work, I tried electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ECT helped pull me out of my depressive moods, but because of a reaction to a medication used by the anesthesiologist to put me asleep during the ECT treatments, I was forced to stop ECT. Up to this time, I was unable to understand or get control of my life. I was in and out of the hospital 12 times; I had 7 suicide attempts.
All I knew about bipolar disorder was what I learned from the Patty Duke documentary. In 2000, my ex-wife read about a Bipolar Insights Support Group through a local newspaper. She encouraged me to attend the group. When I started, I was depressed. I sat in the back of the group, I didn’t get involved, and spoke maybe one or two words.
It wasn’t until I got to know Marcia, the founder and facilitator of Bipolar Insights, that my life began to change. Marcia explained the bipolar disorder illness in terms I could understand. She taught me ways to manage the illness. She introduced me to journaling which showed cycles and patterns in my life that helped explain my mood swings. Journaling helped me work with my psychiatrist. I am now on a combination of medications that works better for me.
I have been diagnosed as Bipolar II which means I run more depressed. Marcia taught me how to use the journal’s level system to manage my disorder. Levels run from 1-depressed to 10-manic. Most days I run at a level 4, once or twice a week I drop to a level 3.5, I was able to see a pattern with my monthly cycle. Twice a year I experience severe depression which lasts 3 to 4 days. Now that I can see my cycles and patterns, I am able to work with my psychiatrist to avoid hospitalization.
In 2003, I was fortunate and met Heidi through my square dancing group. Heidi started attending group with me; she wanted to understand more about bipolar disorder. With Marcia and Heidi, I have people in my life that understand ME. Heidi understands that my cycles and depression are NOT Jon; it’s the depression; its bipolar disorder.
I have not been hospitalized for 3 ½ years. To stay out of the hospital, I learned I have to take responsibility for myself. I have to journal, know my meds, be careful of what I do, I have to take control of my life. Understanding my cycles and knowing “why” helps me through the depression. I would not have been able to do this alone. If it weren’t for Marcia and Bipolar Insights, my life would have continued to fail. I encourage anyone with any kind of challenge to seek help and find support.
Bipolar Insights 2010
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