I came to Riverbend Mental Health Center, like a wild raccoon in search of its next meal. In my effort to spurn the illness that had come to derail me, I’d felt gun-shy and helpless. I’d been “around the block” a few times more than were good for me. Diagnosed with what is now called Bipolar disorder, my thoughts and feelings were more troublesome than not, and yet eventually I would come to take on all of that which opposed me, and to do so with vigor; but for the time being, the saying, “patience is golden,” danced before my eyes like a tuft of whirling snow.
The path ahead was obscure and too rock-strewn for easy travel. At that time, the severity and rate of my symptoms seemed to prohibit all remedy: no matter how hard I tried I could not bring about my own wellness. One therapy would end and another begin, and then another. The Magic-Bullet-Med would be found one day, and then lost the next; with ruthlessness and cunning, I’d seek freedom from the demons that sought to ruin me, only to have that freedom snapped up in a turtle’s mouth; I’d try to befriend those who might lend a sympathetic word, a kind gesture, a box of chocolates, only to be abandoned, shamed and discredited. I’d be sent to the mental hospital, I’d attend daily Mass, I’d take long walks without measure or purpose. I’d try to kill myself.
To ward off feelings of inferiority, when in High School, I kept to myself like a locked door. I endured much depression, and the simplest of things threw me for a loop: taking the trash to the dump for my father, for instance, was as troublesome as was true as falling to sleep. Sadly, I neglected my duty to myself as a junior scholar of a kind, and received lower grades for it.
Indecision and at times a panicked, skewed appraisal of who I was or would become, became like bits of me fed into a large machine. I knew I was in some ways not well but could not properly identify the source of my distress. No, all I knew really was that I felt poorly about myself in a continuous way.
After high school I attended a small college in Manchester, New Hampshire, where feelings of discontent, alienation and deprivation even—founded upon my experience in high school—took over. I was after all a loner, I’d not known better. For the sake of bringing an end to my ceaseless ups and downs I began to medicate with alcohol. In time I became increasingly worried and, for just this very reason—with a head full of booze—I decided to quit. If left with a choice in the matter, rather than earn a college degree, it seemed best to follow Timothy Leary’s advice to “turn on, tune in and drop out,” and without a better way to overcome the worst of my difficulties, that’s what I did.
Back home, I began to work in a tannery. I was surprised to find that I could drink beer after my toil had ended and then return to my job the next day without much trouble. In due course alcohol would become like gas for the car that sat in a sandy lot. I’d drive about many a country road with a six-pack situated just so, unafraid of police, undeterred by the many warning signs then present. I didn’t need to be told I was an alcoholic, I was one. I was down and out to the extent that only a bottle of Miller High Life could lift me up.
Many years later I came to realize that my alcoholism would—if left unattended—hijack any bid to get well. However, as hard as I had wanted to, I could not stop my drinking. I soon came to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, and yet for a variety of reasons—nervousness, mistrust, self-doubt, etc.—I could not find myself as comfortable there as I had wished to be. Starting up again, I’d drink in a way to blot out reality. Pained when it came time to buy more beer—more beer and more scorn to bear from the upstart cashier—I lumped it as best I could, vowing to carry on not of heroism, but of necessity.
Along with the success I would gain from my eventual sobriety, one day things began to go well for me in an unexpected way: I had found the best therapist to date and in all manner of speaking the therapy introduced by him was not a life-boat so much as an oasis. Herb’s manner was exemplar and I trusted him implicitly. As a doctor of psychology he was on top of several cutting-edge therapies, ones that were gaining recognition nationwide. One therapy in particular is now widely known as CBT, or Cognitive-behavioral therapy. Teaching me that many of my thoughts were distorted because of the way I had come to regard myself, he lent me the very tools by which I might come to see myself in a more favorable light.
Over time this one therapy particularly brought forth the notion that with a little practice my thoughts could predict—and even determine—a new way to see myself. I would become someone who resided in his own skin more comfortably; opposed not so much to himself anymore but in agreement thereof.
I began to task myself with goals that seemed to promise extraordinary success. Moreover, my therapist said that I could actually “master my own fate.” It seemed strange at the time, this what he said, and at first I was rather taken aback. “Master?” I’d thought. To think of myself in ways once thought unimaginable would become like a promissory note. And if “heard,” delusion, illusion, and an anguished, terrified interior, would all but fade to a whisper. I felt gratified in unforgettable ways.
Week after week, and day after day, my counselor and I would come to set up a whole new system by which I would measure myself, and so do something about that self. Beholden now to a jury that would judge me with candor, I was more forgiving of myself and my self-esteem rose in an unfettered way. Some of my good points had been entirely lost in the shuffle; amiability and politeness, for instance, were traits left in the dust of yesterday’s pain. I hadn’t known that I had been my own worst enemy, for during my darker days, I could see myself only within the context of that which I had come to hate about myself the most—that I hadn’t the courage to lead my own “brigade.”
But as with all things of change and not of timelessness, this has mostly come to be a thing of the past. I have many people to thank for helping me and my loyalty to them with never change. I am well enough now, that is, to have at least come to a point where I can write about my own experience with mental illness—as hard as this is to do at times—and help those who may not yet be to the point of where I now am. Best to one and all.
Confronting Stigma: Combating prejudice and discrimination through hope and education
Stigma, or the stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination associated with having a mental illness, has negative consequences for us all. Despite very effective treatments, many people do not seek help due to these negative associations. The most current research shows that contact with a person who is successful in managing a mental illness is the most effective way to reduce stigma.
This project tells the stories of people who are successfully living their recovery efforts, as well as the state-of-the-art practices of the many professional who are working to reduce stigma.
If you have a story or some thoughts to share, as consumer, family member or professional, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading our stories.
I would like to express my appreciation of the intelligent, compassionate and creative care that you, Sally and the other staffers provided for my sister. It was her home and her village. When we needed help or support in our efforts to care for her or to help her make healthier choices you and the staff gave us good advice. I felt that all of the clients staying at Twitchell, were an amazing example of how very diverse community of people can co-exist and thrive. Every dollar that Riverbend and Twitchell received was stretched to do double the amount. The citizens that Twitchell and Riverbend serve are very vulnerable to exploitation and degradation. Twitchell gave her a strong sense of personal being, and a sense of being valued, despite her illness. Thank you so much.
I am writing this letter to support the continuation of the In-Shape program at Riverbend.
This program has helped me tremendously. Before I got into the program I was depressed, psychotic, loss of self esteem and did not have hope for the future. One day I was sitting in the Pillar House waiting room and saw a display of pamphlets for the In-Shape program, so I took one. I met with my therapist that day and she encouraged me to pursue it.
I have been on an upward trend ever since. I was lucky enough to get a health mentor, Rose Eaton, who is wonderful. My self esteem has improved a lot and I feel energized every time I work out. I feel now that my life is worth living. Eric Marsh, I believe, has taken this program and turned it into a better life style for many Riverbend clients. He has done a great job.
Please consider the continuation of this program. Thank you.
Community Support Program/Pillar House
I could never be where I am today without the assistance of Riverbend.
The most difficult part of my recovery has been accepting the fact that I have a mental illness; I fought it for years. Even now, from time-to-time, I question it. I want so badly not to be a person who has bipolar disorder; but I do.
My illness has been in remission for a couple of years. It took a lot of hard work and dedication to get where I am today.
With the loving support of my family—and the help of many professionals—I have learned, grown and achieved. I hope to continue to broaden my horizons.
Riverbend is a vital component in the lives of many people. They offer assistance that cannot be found any where else. I have only words of praise for Riverbend.