(Editor’s note: The following is a personal-testimony story on a website called MakeItOK.org, a site dedicated to efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness. The true story was written by a woman whose first name is Heidi.)
Some days, a girl can beg for peace of mind and wish to be saved from a day of total despair and depression.
I grew up in a family with my two sisters and my brother. I loved playing softball and basketball and hanging out with the neighbor kids. When I was 9, my Grandma came to live with us. My Grandma was my comfort, my safety blanket. I just think my parents had a lot going on that they needed to figure out, so Grandma took care of us.
When I was 14 my Grandma died. She had been the glue keeping our family together. She made our home feel safe and secure. Suddenly she was gone! A year later, my Dad left us. It was out of the blue. And that is when I feel my symptoms of mental illness really started for me.
In addition to all of the changes at home, I had also changed schools. High school was pretty much one big episode of depression. I didn’t even know I was depressed. I just figured I was a kid who’d experienced some big life changes that caused me to think about freeing myself. I wanted to hurt myself, to commit suicide, to be out of the pain I was feeling . . .
After graduation, I went to technical school and graduated with a degree in computer and voice networking. That led to moving away from the Twin Cities for some great work opportunities and building new relationships. Those relationships eventually led to break-ups and more depression. Sometimes my behavior was truly out of control.
See, here’s the thing: I know the state of depression really well. But I still don’t always recognize when I am in a manic state. That’s because mania, at the beginning, seems like so much fun! Why would I want to take my medication and stay stable when I can run around so high that I’m sure I will be the next president of the United States. But then there are the consequences: shopping out of control, buying a motorcycle without knowing how to drive it, drinking way too much, eating way too much and not using enough discretion before delving into relationships.
But a good thing came out of those bad relationships: I finally realized I needed help and called the Employee Assistance Program at work. The EAP referred me to a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and put on medications. I didn’t know anything about mental illness or medications and I didn’t think I really needed them. I thought I’d be “cured” within six months.
Three months went by and my depression got worse. I thought about overdosing on medication while no one was around. My family and friends didn’t know about the racing thoughts, the nightmares, the almost constant thoughts of suicide – thoughts I couldn’t stop even with meds and therapy. I didn’t really talk about it. I didn’t think my family would understand and I wasn’t sure they would believe it. I thought I was the only one with those feelings. And I was embarrassed.
In 2005, I decided to move back to Minnesota. I got a good job in my field as a manager of network operations. But I was still really depressed and thinking about suicide a lot. I didn’t realize my meds weren’t working right and I ended up being taken to the hospital by ambulance. Eventually, I found help again and I also found a community support program run by Guild Inc. Everyone who works there is extremely supportive, loving and caring. I’m not judged there.
Today, I work in my desired field, and I’m also working to break the stigma of mental illness. I speak for the National Alliance for Mental Illness locally and spoke at its national conference in June of this year. I’m no longer quiet about my illness.
People ask me, “What could someone have said/done to make it OK when I was going through all that depression and trauma?”
This is what I tell them: “Education is important. Take the time to learn what people with mental illnesses go through each day. If you have a family member or friend and hear rude comments, speak up for your loved one. Hearing someone speak up for me so I’m not feeling ashamed is extremely validating and loving.”
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.