To give you a basic back ground of myself, I was born in Buffalo, NY and then I moved to Richmond, VA. I have been living in Richmond for the past 12 years now. I have two parents, and four brothers (one is my twin). This is a summary of my story, for people to see you can live in recovery successfully with a mental illness.
Growing up I knew I was different, I just could feel it. I would often feel like a complete yo-yo. But, at times the yo-yo would stay in the up position for a long period at times and then eventually come back down. Not, a great feeling, but a feeling I felt I “had” to deal with. I just didn’t know what was happening to me and why. Me, being a female I blamed a lot of it on hormones, but I thought there is no way it can be all just hormones. Then my days became more unpredictable and dark. I would lie around in bed, not wanting to shower or eat. I spent a lot of time in my room by myself wondering what is there to live for. Then all of a sudden a few days later I could not sleep, I had so much energy. I would be up at 3 am vacuuming the house, yet I had to be at my job by 6 AM. I felt like the energizing bunny and at first it felt great, until the irritability set in. Then I would turn angry, tired, and I often describe my head as a hamster wheel. I had been hospitalized twice(once in Buffalo, NY and then in Richmond, VA), have had one suicide attempt, and many, many years of cutting myself on a daily basis. I often felt, will this yo-yo please stop.
When I was hospitalized the first time, I finally got my answer, the doctor diagnosed me as being bipolar (rapid cycling). My first reaction was- what I am crazy? After he explained that it was a chemical imbalance in the brain, and it was not something I gave myself and that with the right medication my initial response was okay, let’s put a band aid on this cut and get moving along. I had not realized or accepted at this point the hard, long journey this illness would take me on. I took my medicine like my doctor had prescribed, but then once I felt better I stopped taking it. BIG mistake, I then tailed spin out of control more. I really had not accepted my illness, but the 2nd time I was hospitalized I did.
I know I am the one in charge of my recovery and my medical treatment. I was not happy with my psychiatrist and just like when I go shopping I find the best fit for me and I realized why was I not doing that for my treatment, so I did. I found a new psychiatrist and I found an amazing counselor, who passed away. I was very upset because I had to find a new one and start all over, but I did. So, now I am in complete control of my medical treatments and have an open communication with my doctor and counselor.
I have found this mental illness has made me strong and a fighter. I have fought so many battles, that when I see the physical scars on my body it is just a reminder that I have fought and I have won this battle. I often tell people my mental illness has changed my life for the better. I have been able to meet different people, go out and be able to tell my story, brought me closer to my parents and so much more.
My successes are I have been able to earn my Bachelors and Master’s degree and a post-master degree. During the school year (15-16) I was named Teacher of the Year for my school which is voted on by my peers, which many of them know about my mental illness. I now co-facilitate a support group and go to various places to tell my story (hospitals). I am currently writing a book about living successfully with a mental illness to help others. My recovery takes work, but to be in recovery it is the best feeling in the world. I still have good and bad days, but the bad days do not outshine the good ones. I use to say in my support group, “hi, my name is Tammy and I am bipolar.” But, now I say “hi, my name is Tammy and I LIVE with bipolar, because it does not define who I am, I will always be TAMMY.
My dream is to be able to share my story with a large audience one day and keep on giving people the hope that you can live with a mental illness, and be happy and successful. I still have bad and good days, but the bad days are not as long anymore. Life is looking better and brighter each day.
(To see Tammy speak at the Virginia Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association Conference, held in Fredricksburg November 16-18, 2016, click here)