BY TRACY MELLOR
I was always a moody child. My mother would diplomatically explain it away as having an “artistic temperament”, as I used to enjoy drawing, painting, and music. When I became a teenager prone to extremely depressed moods and suicidal thoughts, they were blamed on the ups and downs of adolescence. No one ever thought to take me to a psychiatrist, and all was swept under the rug. You see, I grew up in a household where the “stiff upper lip” was the norm, and mental illness was certainly nothing that was ever discussed.
When I was 20 years old, I was a junior transfer student at the University of California at Davis (UC Davis). It was my first time away from home, and initially I thought I was just swept away in the excitement of it all. Then my thoughts began to race, I started talking so fast no one could understand me, and I didn’t need sleep. It escalated to a point where the school basically gave me an ultimatum: go see the psychiatrist at the Student Health Center, or risk getting kicked out of school. I had worked very hard to get into UC Davis, so I complied. The psychiatrist took one look at me in my manic state, grabbed a book from the bookshelf, and started reading symptoms to me, asking me if I had them. When we were done, I had a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and a prescription for medication. I had side effects from the medication and told the doctor about them, but he seemed rather dismissive of me. So in anger and denial tha there was anything wrong with me, I threw my medication in the trash.
Fast forward to when I was 26 years old. I had just moved to a new town and taken on a new job when I fell into a manic high. I began thinking I was a prophet, and that it was the end of the world. I wandered the streets of San Francisco, started hearing and seeing things, and giving my personal possessions away. I took out a restraining order on my parents because I was sure they were trying to kill me. It came to a head with my being arrested by the airport police at the Air France counter at the San Francisco International Airport for making a shrine to John Lennon. I was involuntarily hospitalized for 2 weeks, and dosed with so much anti-psychotic medication I was immobilized in my bed, drooling with my eyes rolling back into my head. When I was discharged from the hospital, I lost most of the “friends” I thought I had; lost my place to live; had to go bankrupt due to my manic spending sprees, and stay with my parents for some time to recuperate.
When I was 33, I lost my job and was going through a painful divorce. I had a depression that was so paralyzing, getting out of bed was a major effort, and I almost successfully ended my own life. I checked into a hospital in California that didn’t really do me any favors: I checked in depressed and checked out manic. When I became manic, once again I thought I was a prophet and the world was ending, and I heard and saw things. I went to stay with my parents in Oregon, where they were living at the time, and was in and out of the hospital until an outstanding psychiatrist managed to stabilize me. Again, I had to file bankruptcy due to my spending sprees when I was manic.
At age 38, I moved from my native California to Washington State for a relationship and job opportunity. I lost the job unexpectedly within 3 months, and the loss of that job, along with other pressures, caused me to slip headlong into another severe depression. This time, I was able to find an excellent psychiatrist, group and individual counseling and also was able to put some other behavioral pieces into place. In addition to Bipolar Disorder, I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Social Phobia. It has taken a lot of hard work, but things have improved dramatically thanks to an early treatment intervention.
These days, I am waiting on a Social Security Disability hearing in front of a judge. After working in the corporate world for 20 years, I have finally realized I can no longer function in the capacity I once did, and need assistance. But it’s not a dead end being a disabled person. I have written 2 books of poetry and am very active in advocacy with NAMI (National Alliance on the Mentally Ill) by being a speaker in their “In Our Own Voice” program. No, it’s not a dead end – just pursuing life down a different road to the one I’d anticipated.