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Voices from the Bipolar Community: By Coming Out of the Shadows of Mental Illness, He Not Only Helps Himself But Others Too
Hope Xchange extends our heartfelt gratitude to Frank Pomata for sharing his personal story of coming to terms with and managing his mental illness. He originally submitted this to Share Your Story and has graciously allowed us to publish his submission as a guest blog in hopes of empowering others.
The Price of My Fervent Denial: Tattered Relationships, Embarrassing Episodes and Jobs Left in Haste
For most of my life, I lived in the shadow of a mental illness that I wanted to fervently deny. I figured if I did not acknowledge it or name it, then others wouldn’t know about my horrible secret and I wouldn’t be perceived as ill or crazy or any of the other labels people might project upon me.
I witnessed my paternal grandmother and my father's struggles with bipolar and I was frightened of my own frequent inexplicable changes in mood. Throughout my adolescence and later in my 20’s and 30’s, these shifting currents of happiness alternating with deep doldrums, kept me off balance and not only affected school and intimate relationships, but also led to disastrous consequences with my jobs.
Often times I was not fully aware of my own emotional landscape and felt very discouraged by the unexpected highs and lows that intruded without warning, giving rise to words and deeds I often regretted and leaving a wake of tattered relationships, embarrassing episodes and jobs left in haste.
I Managed my Highs and Lows as a Serotonin Surfer Dude
For a long time I was adamantly opposed to taking medication, fearing the side-effects as well as the stigma of admitting to myself and others that I really did have a bona fide mental illness. For a long time, I could get away with this strategy.
I devised a mental game comparing my emotional highs and lows to the surf on a beach and managing the tumultuous waves of depression or euphoria like I was a “Serotonin surfer dude,” paddling through the lows while waiting for the next high to arrive.
I learned not to take on too many tasks when in my heightened state because inevitably I would be unable to follow through on them when the lows came crashing down upon me. I used my high periods to compensate for my low periods, particularly when it came to work. I could get by on very little sleep when in an elevated state, so I would churn out emails and ideas and projects in the wee hours and then hunker down on the days when it literally took every ounce of my energy to get out of bed and breathe in and breathe out.
Defenses Overwhelmed, I Finally Sought Help
This past year, a series of events in my personal and professional life all came together in a perfect storm and overwhelmed my defenses. Despite all my efforts, my mental condition won. I ended up in the hospital.
It was a frightening, humbling and ultimately liberating experience. My loved ones came to my side, supported me and urged me to try a new course – one that would involve medication and greater honesty than before.
I had to look in the mirror and see the person who was struggling mightily and losing the battle with his mental condition. It was not an easy thing for me to do.
I was fearful of being labeled or treated differently. My male pride perhaps?
I had to leave yet another job under less than ideal circumstances. What would I do now?
I Now Have a New Lease on Life
I asked for help with employment as part of my discharge from the hospital. I was referred to an agency close to home that offered these services.
A few weeks later I found myself in an interview and for the first time I was honest about my illness. To my surprise, the persons interviewing me saw my illness as an asset, not a deficit.
They wanted someone to help people with various barriers to employment to become work-ready and secure jobs in the community. Having someone in that capacity who had personal experience with mental illness would help clients relate to me and I to them, since we’d traversed similar paths in our life journeys.
I was hired shortly thereafter. I am now thoroughly enjoying the work, the clients and my newfound profession as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor.
I Am Sharing My Story to Empower Others
Now that I have decided to come out of the shadows and stop hiding from my disease (and in a sense from myself), I felt ready to share my story hoping that it might help others. Perhaps my story will encourage them to seek help. I hope my story gives them the courage to do so.
Everyone has a story to share. If you would like to share your personal journey with our readers, you can do so here.
If you would like your submission to be included in our Voices of the Bipolar Community e-Book coming soon in honor of National Mental Health Awareness Month, please be sure to check the box on the submission form.
You can also read stories from others in our community here.
Together, let's lift each other up.