Bipolar, With a Side Order of Psychosis
By Jason Matlack, CPS
How My Illness Was a Blessing In Disguise
It's amazing how sometimes the worst things in our lives can become our greatest assets. It isn't the cards we're dealt but the way we play our hand. Who would have thought having mental illness would become the exact thing that has made my life worthwhile.
I never did well in school. When I was young they didn't have all of these diagnoses and tests to discover what was what. Maybe that was a good thing. Even though I always felt like I was failing at a lot of things in my life I never seemed to give up. Without a diagnosis I did not have an excuse to give up.
Growing up I experienced sexual abuse at an early age. I don't know how much of that played a part in my mental illness. That experience and my inability to keep up with my peers in school always made me feel inadequate. Sometimes I would fail tests that I would have passed because I didn't meet the time frame.
I discovered alcohol and marijuana at an early age. When I drank and got high all those feelings of inadequacy went away. In fact, with a little alcohol I became self-confident, or so I thought. I never drank like regular folks from the start. I drank too much and too often.
When not drinking, my self-hatred surfaced and I would say horrible things to myself in the mirror. Sometimes I would do things to hurt myself. I thought about suicide often. Drinking to oblivion was my only release.
I began to drink to the point of blacking out and became violent when drinking. At 19-years-old my verbal abuse turned into an attempt to beat up my girlfriend. I finally sought help in a 12-step program. I was raised in a loving family and thought female abusers were the bottom of the barrel. I moved out on my own, partially blaming my unhappiness.
I couldn't remain sober because of the secrets of the abuse and dysfunction in my childhood. I ended up in rehab and stayed sober for eight years with the help my involvement in a 12-step program. Even then I still didn't fit in. I was able to curb the anger and dealt with my childhood by finding peace and self-forgiveness. But the bipolar mood swings were a constant battle. While in my mid to late twenties I began to experience psychotic episodes. After indulging in the instant gratification of mania, I would then experience great guilt.
Once the psychotic episodes began, I would go super spiritual and hear a voice I thought was God. The business that I had started and ran for fourteen years began to fall apart due to my inability to cope. My wife couldn't take it and we ended up divorcing.
I started drinking again every now and then since my episodes isolated me. But I did not drink much. Instead, I would smoke marijuana. I didn't realize it, but the smoking prevented my psychotic episodes from occurring. Unlike alcohol, marijuana did not cause me to black out or become violent.
By my mid-thirties I lost my business. I went through some sales and management jobs, but manic episodes only caused more compulsive decisions.
When the economy crashed, the time share company I worked for as a marketing manager laid off 50% of the work force. I went into a psychosis that lasted about a year, thinking I was the second coming of Jesus Christ.
When the psychosis broke, I admitted myself to a psychiatric hospital. That was where I was diagnosed and started to receive proper medical care. It is also where I had my “Patch Adams” moment. I knew I wanted to get into the mental health field and help others like myself.
I had a difficult time coming to terms with the guilt from the damage I had caused others with my manic episodes and psychosis. I experienced a lot of anger about being born with this condition and became angry with God. Thoughts of suicide continued to plague me regularly.
I continued in sales, which I hated, but it was the only skill I knew would earn me enough money to survive. After getting laid off from a job selling cars, my therapist told me about a Certified Peer Specialist job, which is someone with a mental health diagnosis who helps others recover from their mental illness and create a better life for themselves.
I have been a Certified Peer Specialist for almost a year now. It is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I thrive on the personal satisfaction of helping others and witnessing their progress. This job is what I was looking for my entire life but was unaware of it. Every day I go to my job with great enthusiasm. If I wouldn't have gone through hell, I would have not found heaven.
All I can say is that to those of you who think you can't, you have to know that you can. To those who are our supporters, do not sell us short. It is through your support and encouragement that we will soar to new heights.
The common threads to those that find a quality life are those that have support, whether it is family, friends or professionals. No one can do this alone. If you do not belong to a support group please find one. There are some that meet in person. If that isn't possible, there are tons of them on the internet. I belong to a few myself. There are also support groups for our supporters. I love you all and good luck on your journey!