Five years ago, as I was finishing my last semester of graduate school in Chicago, I had a breakdown. Everyone knew it. I knew it. I just didn’t know what was happening to me. After I was rushed back home to Maine for treatment, I was diagnosed with severe Bipolar I Disorder and ADHD. My life was over. Or so I thought. For over three months, I had been experiencing a life-threatening manic episode, and desperately needed help. No one knew what to do. I didn’t know what to do. Thankfully, the good people at Penobscot Community Health Care did. I was put on medication, enrolled in intense therapy, and referred to a local support group for those suffering from mental illness. That group is called NAMI Bangor. I had never heard of NAMI before, but it stands for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. For a few years, it was real touch-and-go, and I didn’t know if I was going to survive. I came close to taking my own life on several occasions. And yet, I kept going to NAMI meetings, and I kept telling my story. And each time, it got a little easier.
If you had asked me three years ago, if I would ever “come out of the closet” and publicly admitted that I had a mental illness, I would have said absolutely no way! I was ashamed and scared, and all I wanted to do was disappear. I didn’t want anyone to know about my illness, and I just wished my life had turned out differently. I didn’t think I could ever be a “normal” person again.
And then something changed inside of me. I found a new purpose. I decided that I wanted to travel again, and to see the country where my family came from – Portugal. For over six months, I planned every detail of my trip, and it gave me such new purpose and a sense of momentum. And at every NAMI Bangor meeting I spoke about my trip, and all my anxiety and fears, as well as my optimism and hope. When the day came for me to leave — a year ago this week — I embarked on a journey home that would inevitably change my life forever.
I had an amazing time in Portugal, but it was more than just a vacation for me. For over four years, I had barricaded myself in a basement, and refused to make contact with the world. I was fearful, ashamed, and angry. After I returned, I was a new man. I had confidence, and a new sense of hope and purpose. I began to volunteer regularly, and now am a Media/ PR assistant for NAMI Bangor, as well as a literacy tutor and mentor for Literacy Volunteers of Bangor. I also work on local political campaigns. I work with children and adults, and I help to change lives.
I also work out and swim nearly every day, and have lost over 50 pounds. I eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, have cut back on stress, reduced my medication to just the right dosage, and actively engage in my therapy, my support groups, and my recovery. I am slowly going back to work, and in 2017, I will be moving back to Boston. I am no longer ashamed of who I am.
I am living proof that NAMI works! So every time that I’ve pestered you on Facebook to pledge to my walk, it hasn’t just been for a charity that I believe in, but an organization that LITERALLY saved my life. I am a new man, and as a result, I can be a fully capable and productive member of society, just like you can. I am not dangerous or unstable, but I needed help. When Governors and Congressman cut funding for mental health, they are not just preventing people like the criminally insane from getting the help they need, but the rest of us, who are no danger to anyone but ourselves, but need a little help to get our lives back. I needed it. And many thousands of other people all across our state and country do too.
If you had asked me five years ago whether I would have come out on Facebook and announced I had mental illness, I would have said no, but today, I am an advocate for all those who have suffered in silence and lived in the shadows for far too long. Won’t you help me in my journey, and help me end the stigma today?
I walk tomorrow, not just for myself, but for every person who has ever suffered in silence and needs our help. Thank you for your support!