I used to be a professor. I taught at the University of Massachusetts, the University of California and Santa Fe College. I published papers and gave presentations on two continents, and my classes filled on the first day of registration.
I was diagnosed with a mental illness when I was 16. My parents sent me to a psychoanalyst, who told them that if I returned to prep school, I would commit suicide. I had felt this way all my life, so it was normal to me. Drugs and alcohol helped me to think that I was OK.
In 1970, I was arrested. I wasn’t a “drug addict” because I was holding down a full-time job and raising a family. I lost my job. I took a job that paid less and had to take a second job to make enough money, so my family seldom saw me. My son still considers me irrelevant to his life. I just wasn’t there.
Although I completed my PhD, I suffered from bouts of immobilizing depression. There is no way for someone who does not suffer from mental illness to understand “can’t.” I just can’t do the things that would probably make me feel better. Eventually, that leads to a period of substance abuse and addictive behaviors that destroyed three marriages. The material cost of an active addict is huge; the cost of drugs and alcohol is large enough, but the emotional costs are unfathomable.
It was about this time, in my mid-40s, that I suffered a major breakdown. I ended up in the ER, a psychiatric crisis unit, and eventually a psychiatric hospital. When I was released, I was on medications and had therapy three times a week.
After that, I pulled myself together for a few years, moved to Florida, and settled down to a job I loved. But, as they always do, symptoms returned. I had therapy, medications, went to 12-step fellowships, and everything continued to get worse. Finally, my therapist got me into rehab. That rehab visit cost $77,567, and my lifetime benefit from my insurance was only $5,000.
I relapsed, lost my job/career, lost my living arrangements, lived in my truck, and went to jail again. I lost everything. I couldn’t afford my meds. I ended up in a dual diagnosis mental health facility. I was there seven months. The cost of detox was about $14,000, and the next 200 days was around $500 per day. I came out of there with insurance (Medicare) and income (Social Security Disability).
Since then, I have been happy and stable. I spend about 20 hours a week with support groups and other wellness activities, and I now have a part time job working with people who are like me. I go to my psychiatrist regularly, and I take my meds. The retail on my meds is over $1,000 per month, and my doctor visits are $150 a visit.
I am now an acceptable, responsible and productive member of society. I spend my time giving back to society, which has spent untold hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars for me to get well enough to do so.
Mental illness is invisible. We don’t spray theaters and schools with bullets, we don’t wander the streets talking to ourselves, and we don’t sit on the side of the road with signs. If you did not know my story, you would never know how much time, energy and money it costs to manage my illness.
I have survived a near-fatal catastrophe, just like millions of others. (About 60 percent attempt suicide. The rate is even higher for active addicts, who also overdose by accident or are murdered in drug related incidents. Our life expectancy is about 15 years less than average.)
We cannot be cured, but we do recover.
William G. Wall, PhD, is Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association Certified Recovery Support Specialist of the Year 2015 and the 2015 Florida Council for Community Mental Health/Florida Department of Children and Families Peer Specialist of the Year 2015. He lives in Gainesvilleb, Fl.
By William G. Wall - The Ocala Star-Banner/Oct. 25, 2015
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