Now being the type of person who focuses outward from his thoughts, feelings and symptoms, I can truly say without a doubt I know mental health recovery and what that really means.
A certified Peer Support Specialist and a volunteer for both the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Minnesota and my Vail Place mental health affiliate of Clubhouse International, I was originally diagnosed with schizophrenia on or about my 30th birthday after a full, 10-month psychotic break. I believed I was receiving personal revelations from God, that I could read people’s minds and that they could read mine, that at one point I was the incarnation of St. John the Baptist. Evangelical youth ministers prayed over me in tongues and led me into a dark room where they sensed and saw spirits, and they even said, “sit on them.”
Though all the schism, loss of reality and in large part, a loss of my self, I lived through that until my diagnosis was changed to bipolar disorder and I experienced my first panic attack at about 38 years old. I indeed thought I was dying of a heart attack, or something much worse……hyperventilating……heart beating uncontrollably fast……profusely sweating……not being able to sit still……it had its deathly grip on me and I was going down the white tunnel of livid anxiety so incredible it became a part of me.
Klonopin……it saved me from the grissly, gut-wrenching confusion and contusion of something seemingly not of this world……for it lived inside me……ready to release its inescapable grip it would put me into within a moment’s notice……without any warning……without any predictability……sapping all the energy I could savor and serve up to fight it……to beat this terrible grip of doom daring to scare the living daylights out of me.
I began self-medicating with alcohol, and it worked for at least a little while before the anxiety and panic would take hold of me and would not let go. I always needed more Klonopin or alcohol; yes, I was in a state of spiraling utterly out of control. My body and emotions writhed in agony and pain until I was admitted to the hospital ICU with chronic alcohol poisoning, not being able to even dress or take of myself.
I was in the ICU in a distraught state of panic and anxiety, fighting for my life for one week until all the benzos, including ativan, xanax and valium began to calm me, making me a survivor – – – the smallest part of myself that I was at a previous point in time.
Physical therapy for one month, one month of inpatient co-occurring disorder treatment……and then finally……eight months of the deepest ravages of bipolar depression a person could conceivably experience……not knowing for sure if I wanted to live or die……or care……for that matter.
Something made me make that phone call – – – that last-ditch phone call to the county’s front door services – – – and a referral for affordable housing from Vail Place, a mental health Clubhouse.
Vail Place helped me see myself as the vital person I once was and could again, in fact, become even better, than in the past. Focusing outward from my terrible mental illness and substance use, people and purpose in life replaced most or all of the illness-focus. I was instead focused……albeit not knowing it……on recovery.
I founded what it is now more than a 2,000-member End the Stigma Now Facebook page, volunteered, wrote and spoke on behalf of mental health and human rights.
No doubt the world is now unfolding as it should, and I am a vital, contributing part of it, making a difference for a lot of people, all in my amazing process of mental health recovery. World, here I come; look out!!!
Larry (L.A.) Jones