Knowing where to start is difficult. Do I start with my childhood? With
my symptoms? With my abusive marriage? With my marvelous and life-saving
therapist? Or do I start by telling where I find myself today? Yes, I
believe I will start with today. No, my life is not perfect now. Far from
it. But compared to what it was, and the doctors' prognoses of what it
would become, I have been blessed indeed.
I just took a leave of absence from my part time job of 8 months in order
to help take care of my father, who has Alzheimer's. This job consisted
of sacking groceries, cleaning restrooms, and dumping garbage for one
of the Midwest's major chains of grocery stores. Not exactly a high-profile
or high-earnings job. In fact, I started at minimum wage last December.
I had been searching for the right job, one that was not high-stress.
One I could forget about when I went home at the end of the day. And this
one fit the bill.
I had behind me what seemed like a long history of disappointing attempts
at employment. I would work anywhere from 2 days to 2 and 1/2 years, quitting
each time because of the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. Most jobs
lasted an average of a few weeks. Then I would become overwhelmed by the
tasks assigned to me - using a cash register, memorizing a menu, learning
where things were in a stockroom, having to file medical documents in
a certain order, counting faxes, and the kind of tasks that are not assigned,
like fielding unwanted sexual advances.
During and between these periods of employment, I was in and out of the
hospital regularly, like clockwork, which left a lot of lost jobs and
lost time to explain on my resume. Still, I pressed on, determined not
to give in to the plague of schizoaffective disorder. And I wasted a lot
of time trying to find jobs that my family would approve of. Doctor, Nobel
Prize winner in literature, noted Christian speaker, scientist, and professor
-- I assumed those were their aspirations for me. Of course, I never set
my sights that high even before my real problems began. But in 1995, I
had worked for 12 years as an administrative assistant making $41,000/year.
We were all happy with that. I mean, after all, I made twice as much as
I had a brand new 4-bedroom, 2-story, brick home and had been married
10 years. I had a new red sports car that I loved to drive. Every day,
I ran 5 miles and lifted weights twice a week. I weighed 110 lbs. I read
fiction voraciously, often reading a book a day, and usually had 4 or
5 books going at the same time. I worked 40 hours a week and was writing
prize-winning poetry. I was doing paintings for commission. Little Miss
Perfect Life. Or so it must have seemed to others. Neither any person
nor any life is perfect.
My marriage had always been far from perfect. That maybe central to my
initial deterioration, but it is not central to my present success. So,
I will make that chapter short. I married at 24 to a man I met in college.
My younger sister had just married, so I think I rose to the challenge
and chose to get married also. Tim and I didn't know each other very long
before we became engaged. And married. He was very controlling from the
beginning, although I welcomed it at first. I was away from home for the
first time and was used to someone else making all the decisions for me.
He was happy to do so, and I was happy to let him. We both got our bachelor's
degree. But before long, he wanted all my money in his bank account. He
wanted me to come straight home from work. I was not supposed to eat with
any male co-worker. He didn't want me visiting my family, who lived about
15 miles away. He began to spend all our extra money on himself. And here
was the big shocker -- he began to cross-dress. Not just once in a while,
but all the time that we were at home together. I mean, he shaved his
hands and legs and back, he wore pantyhose and dresses and high heels.
He wore a wig and makeup. And I told no one. Not even my precious little
I lived with this for years. In 1995, we had the house built and moved
in. Both of us believed on some level that this endeavor would strengthen
our marriage. Some desperate couples have children hoping it will save
their marriage. Thank God I didn't do that! We had never fought verbally,
but he would often say demeaning things to me when we were alone, and
later in front of co-workers. "I would teach you how to fold my socks
right, but I know you wouldn't remember how." "Of course we
aren't going to hang your paintings in our house -- I want something nice
on the walls." "Can't you even cook my breakfast right?"
On and on. It was in this new house that my slowly simmering symptoms
came to a boil.
When I was a child, at age 8, I started cutting on my knees and the palms
of my hands. With glass and metal from the school playground. If anyone
asked me about the cuts, I said I had fallen on my hands and knees on
the rough asphalt. Why did I start doing this? I don't know. Then at age
11, the devil appeared out of a whirling tornado, whispering evil things
in my ear. I remember having to lie down on the bathroom floor or my bed
or wherever I was, so I wouldn't fall. The devil said, "I am the
devil! You have sinned! You have done something wrong, and you are going
to have to pay for it!" These words never varied. The devil started
talking to me periodically. Not every day, but just at odd moments when
I least expected it. This continued off and on throughout my teenage years.
I never told anyone till many years later. After all, I went to church
every Sunday. What would people think, especially my parents, if they
knew I had this personal relationship with the devil!
Also in my teenage years, I would do things to hurt myself physically.
I would catch a wasp and let it sting me -- exquisite pain. I would bang
on my knuckles with a hammer. Very rarely, I would cut myself. I virtually
stopped eating and suffered the hunger pains. I became bulimic for 2 years.
Around age 16, I began to be depressed. Very depressed. I moved back to
a small bedroom at the back of my parents' house and started listening
to heavy, crushing rock music at night. I paced back and forth, back and
forth, in the narrow room. I would cry myself to sleep every night. I
remember one dark night even taking my father's loaded pistol and holding
it in my mouth for about 30 minutes, trying to find the guts to pull the
trigger. Some part of me hoped I would be found like that, and someone
would help me. I didn't know to ask for help. Finally, after many months
of this, my mother entered my room while I was crying. She asked me what
was wrong, and I didn' know. I didn't know what depression was. I just
knew I was in terrible pain inside -- mental and emotional pain -- and
nothing seemed to stop it for long. Loving mother that she was, she immediately
took me to our family doctor, and he knew what was wrong. He gave it a
name -- depression -- and prescribed Tofranil. After a few weeks, the
Tofranil began to work. The gray world began to have some color again.
Then I grew angry with my doctor and decided to stop the medication and
never went back to him.
At 18, I entered a local university, majoring in fine arts. And I entered
the world of mania for the first time. It was wonderful! I only needed
a very few hours of sleep each night. I stayed up studying furiously.
I began to write as I had never written before -- marvelous poetry. I
started composing music and heard grand symphonies in my head. My paintings
became works of creative genius. My head was spinning with all these things;
my thoughts raced to keep up with my senses and sometimes vice versa!
I felt as if I could be an instant master of anything. And I was making
an almost 4.0 GPA, so who could find fault? But there were other more
disturbing things that were happening. When I was driving on the freeway
to college every day, the other cars on the road began to move jerkily,
in slow motion. Like a movie advancing one frame at a time. My paintings
began to take on symbolic meanings to me. I became obsessed with painting
self-portraits, some grotesque. I began to isolate myself. I broke up
with my boyfriend. I had no girlfriends. The depression came back full
force. That was the worst part -- the depression. Gradually, the mania
ebbed and the low moods took over, but I sought no treatment.
After four years of college, and still without graduating, my father said
it was time for me to pay my own way in the world. So I quit for a year
and went to work at a small insurance company. I wore black almost every
day of that year, long before it was fashionable for women to wear black
during the day. This made a statement -- I was depressed. Again, now that
I look back, I believe I was asking for help. Hoping that someone would
notice my odd attire and ask questions, then I could pour out my pain
to them and they would know what to do about it. Fantasy. No one every
asked, although I'm sure they must have talked behind my back. That strange
girl who mopes around the office. I was still very isolated and I wanted
it that way. The depression was killing me inside. Then there was an unexpected
turn of events. Mother found me a scholarship at a small university miles
away from there. And I went there to get my degree.
It was at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, that I met my husband,
Tim. We married and I finished getting my B.S. in Applied Art. We moved
back to Fort Worth and he finished college. The depression left. I had
found true love and fulfillment, or so I thought. At least I wasn't isolated
anymore for a couple of years, at which time Tim effectively isolated
me from everything but my job as administrative assistant. It was a challenging
job. I did all the usual secretarial and office duties plus many more
demanding tasks, like yearly budgets, and supervising, and handlingmillion-dollar
accounts, plus trying to please a demanding departmental director. But
I did it well and my salary rose quickly, year by year. I was very proud
of myself. But I was very unhappy at home. Timâ?Ts cross-dressing
had become a point of contention. When I asked him to stop, he told me
that he couldn't. He admitted that he loved the clothes more than he loved
me. I should have known then that it was over. He began to sexually abuse
me -- demanding sex at all hours of the day and night. Forcing me into
sexual acts that were physically painful and abusive, not to mention sexually
unfulfilling for me. I longed to escape. Every morning, I privately knelt
before God, begging to be rescued. About this time, we built a new house
and moved. That was supposed to "fix" everything. It only made
At 34, in the fall of 1994, I had a hysterectomy because of painful endometriosis.
While I was at home that six weeks, recovering, strange things began to
happen again. The devil came back. Only this time, he brought a room full
of demons with him. In the mornings, I would awaken frozen stiff with
fright. As if my heart had been dropped into a vat of liquid nitrogen.
The devil would be standing at the end of my bed, and his demons would
hold hands and dance around the bed, singing songs to me. Mostly it was
gibberish in harsh whispers. But what I could understand was more of the
old tune -- "You have done something wrong, and you are going to
have to pay for it!" This continued for several months.
Meanwhile, the mania returned. I began to sleep only 2 hours or less a
night. I spent every minute sewing clothes for myself -- this was the
turn my creativity took this time. Sewing had never really interested
me before, but now I was obsessed with it. Finally, after not sleeping
for 2 weeks, the devil came to me with a deal. He said, "I can show
you how to kill your husband. That is what you will do to pay for your
sins, just this one little job for me. Stay home from work tomorrow morning,
and I will tell you how." So, you better believe I stayed home from
work that morning! If there was a way to get rid of Tim, I had had my
fill of him. I wanted to get rid of him. I never considered getting a
divorce -- I knew God didn't approve of that. In my state of mental upheaval,
I didn't think about the fact that God also disapproved of murder. But
that morning, I waited. And I waited. The devil didn't appear. He stood
me up. But it occurred to me that it was time to get help. I was manic,
I wasn't sleeping, I was hallucinating, and I wanted to kill my husband!
Naively, I really thought that all I had to do was go to a psychiatrist
and admit these things, and he or she would instantly cure me. So I sat
down on the bedroom floor in the midst of the demons one morning and told
Tim a half-truth. I couldn't say, "Darling, I am going to kill you."
So, I said, "Darling, I am going to kill myself if you don't get
me to a doctor. Today." We were working at a large medical research
and treatment facility, where many doctors were readily available to employees.
Tim made a few calls and got me in to see a doctor that morning. After
he left her office, I explained to her what was going on. I told her that
Tim was cross-dressing and sexually abusive, although that was not actually
salient to the point I was making. Just something I wanted to get off
my chest, because I had never told anyone. I explained my history of hearing
voices and major depression, and how things had progressed to the point
where I couldnâ?Tt sleep and demons were dancing around my bed and
singing to me. I told her that I was open to suggestions as to how to
kill my husband.
Immediately, Dr. Smith (not her real name) said, "You are bipolar.
You need treatment immediately. I will start you on Trilafon and ask Dr.
Hall (not his real name) to see you this week." So began the odyssey
of diagnoses, doctors, medications, hospitals and treatments. And I thought
all I had to do was to reveal the nature of my illness, and the doctor
would know what to do. Anyone who has a severe mental illness knows the
true nature of both hope and despair. Anyone who has seen a psychiatrist
also knows hope and despair. There are so infrequently any quick results
and almost never a cure.
Within a year, I was divorced. Tim said he had talked to his friends about
it and decided he didn't want to stay married to someone who was mentally
ill. Good riddance. I tried to commit suicide with an overdose of Trazodone,
and it didn't work. I was arrested twice, once for having a firearm and
intending to use it on myself. Once for sending my psychiatrist a fax
saying I intended to kill myself. He refused to treat me again after that.
One doctor ordered ECT treatments. I took 19 treatments, sometimes 3 a
week, and they failed miserably. I would never recommend ECT for anyone.
It destroyed almost all my memory for months, and part of my memory was
gone for years. I was left with no math skills. I didn't know the names
of people with whom I had worked 10 years. I didn't know my own telephone
number. Within a little over 2 years, I had lost my new home as well as
my job. I moved home with my parents and received a small monthly disability
pension. So I also lost my independence, which for a while seemed the
biggest loss of all. I had asked God to rescue me from Tim. And so He
did. Now I needed rescuing from mental illness. Eventually, He did that
too. And through mental illness, I learned a great deal about compassion
and suffering that enabled me to have a deeper understanding and empathy
From the summer of 1997 through the summer of 1999, I went from one hospital
to another. I would improve just enough to go home, then I would become
suicidal again. The hallucinations never really stopped. Voices, bodiless
people laughing in my head, delusions about dead people in the closets,
a fractured sense of what was happening around me, and sleep, sleep, sleep.
The depression only grew worse, no matter what antidepressants I took.
Two different psychiatrists told my parents they could do nothing more
for me, that they should send me to a state hospital for longterm care.
About that time, I found a new psychiatrist, Dr. Sunkara. And a new therapist,
Margaret Summy. The combination of the two turned my life around, but
it didn't happen overnight. Dr. Sunkara was convinced that I had schizoaffective
disorder or schizophrenia instead of bipolar disorder, and he was willing
to try any number of medications, singly and in combination, to stop the
devastating symptoms. For depression, I tried Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Trazadone,
Effexor, Tofranil, Wellbutrin, and Lexapro, and probably others I donâ?Tt
remember. First for bipolar disorder, then for schizophrenia, I took Lithium,
Exalith, Depakote, Risperdal, Clozaril, Seroquel, Geodon, Zyprexa, and
Abilify. Plus a number of anti-anxiety medications that I can't recall.
The antidepressants all worked to a degree, but none completely stopped
the depression until I tried the Zoloft and Wellbutrin. And later, I switched
to Wellbutrin and Lexapro when the Zoloft stopped working. And none of
the antipsychotic or mood stabilizers worked until I tried Zyprexa. Meanwhile,
I was hospitalized 18 times.
Zyprexa was both a miracle and a medication I grew to dread. The first
time I went on it, I gained 70 lbs in a few short months. I ate 24 hours
a day, especially in the middle of the night. Whatever I could get my
hands on. I was ravenous. It also made me sleep about 16 hours out of
every 24. But it let me see a beautiful world again. I could go out in
my back yard and look at the trees, the grass, the sky, and they were
all bright and colorful and almost hyper-real. It took away the psychotic
thinking. I still had problems -- socialization problems and job problems.
I couldn't read books anymore -- I couldn't concentrate. Nor could I watch
movies or listen to a sermon or enjoy TV for the same reason. So I concentrated
on writing in my diary and surfing the Internet during my waking hours.
Then there was Margaret, the first therapist who actually helped me.
She was my therapist for about 8 years, though less and lessas the years
went by. For one whole year she listened to me talk about suicide. I studied
suicide on the Internet. (I couldn't read a book, but I could read the
short passages online.) I wrote about it. I thought about it constantly.
I asked Margaret how I could stop, and she said that sometimes you have
to go through something to get to the other side, that there may be no
way to avoid it. And that's what I did -- I finally came out on the other
side. Since then, I haven't thought about suicide again. Margaret always
helped me see the positive side of things, too. Whenever I complained
about something, if not overtly optimistic, she would at least say, "Just
wait-- things always change." She never told me to live life one
day at a time. She taught me to value each day for what it brought. And
there's a difference. Simply plodding through the days one at a time is
rather fatalistic. But valuing each day as a gift makes life worthwhile.
Anyway, after all of this preface, I will come to the successful part
-- where I am now. I can work part time. I can read and watch movies and
watch TV. I can go to church and listen to a sermon. Zyprexa put me on
the right track, then I switched to Seroquel because of the weight gain.
I lost 50 lbs. I took Seroquel for a couple of years till it stopped working,
then I switched to Geodon. Geodon gave me insomnia, so I went back to
Zyprexa and regained all the weight I had lost. Recently I changed to
Abilify and hope it works as well as the Zyprexa, without the side effects.
I do hear music 24 hours a day after stopping the Zyprexa, and I am waiting
expectantly for that to stop again. But considering the awful psychotic
weeks in the hospital and the death grip of depression, I am so much better.
And there is no reason to think I can't continue to improve. I also had
the prayers of many concerned friends, and I believe God has answered