Finding Wellness After Illness

By Laura Greenstein | Dec. 28, 2017

 

At 50 years old, Joe experienced what he considers his first manic episode. He was fired from his job—a career he spent 33 years building. After getting the news, he drove straight to the hospital. “I walked in through the employee’s entrance, all stressed out,” Joe explained. “The people working there were like, ‘Hello? How are you?’ And somehow or another the word ‘suicide’ came out. The next thing I knew, I was laying down, strapped in.”

It was during this first admittance of many that Joe was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

“I ran away from my diagnosis,” Joe explained. He was also alone, because Joe’s doctor encouraged his wife to take a break from him. After 30 years of marriage, he went two years without his wife and children. Isolated from his family, Joe lost hope for his future. He spent this time believing his family was better off without him.

“I ended up in Florida, somehow on a beach all by myself. My wife very fortunately came down and encouraged me and supported me.” After being reconnected with his family, Joe focused on recovery.

What really made a difference for him was getting involved with the mental health community. He participated in multiple education programs and joined a support group. After experiencing the positive benefits of education and support, he decided that he wanted to help other people learn about mental illness too. So, he began presenting NAMI In Our Own Voice.

Joe decided that this was his calling—his second career—that gave his life purpose again and helped him not only recover, but become well again: “I have a purpose now that I did not think I would have after I was diagnosed.”

After years spent volunteering for NAMI, Joe wanted to pull from his own experiences to express his message of hope. So, he created a presentation-program to help people with mental illness achieve wellness. It’s a five-part program that consists of Inspiration, Illness, Self-Help, Education and Wellness.

The program includes audience participation and helps people feel more comfortable talking about mental illness. Joe says that he “wants people to feel comfortable talking about it, as I do, and just give them hope of getting well.”

People living with mental illness are often told their goal should be recovery—to be okay living their lives, managing their symptoms. While this message is important and well-intentioned, Joe believes we shouldn’t stop at being just okay. “Recovery sounds to me like you got to that point and that’s it. And to me, getting to wellness brings it to another level of living healthier. I believe I have gone beyond recovery and into wellness.”

For a man who was diagnosed at age 50 (when 75% of mental health conditions make themselves known by age 24), who was still able to recover and achieve a life of wellness, Joe’s mental health journey should inspire all. He is a living example that, at any stage of life, it is possible to recover from mental illness and even become well.

Like Joe, there are so many people experiencing debilitating conditions who have gone on to lead happy and fulfilling lives. Recovery is a long journey, but it is not the destination.

 

Laura Greenstein is communications coordinator at NAMI.

Comments
Colleen
Is "In Your Own Voice" the 5 part program to help people with mental illness achieve wellness? I clicked on the link but can't tell. How can someone participate in the 5 part program? Thank you!
1/3/2018 4:17:25 AM

Marcei
Wow! What kind of doctor tells someone's family to abandon them during their time of need? This would never happen to someone with a physical ailment! And strapping someone in as the first course of treatment when someone asks for help? Talk about inhumane treatment. I hope he gets more compassionate treatment in the future.
1/1/2018 10:49:59 PM

Minnie Alonso
A very inspiring message. Thanks a bunch!
Happy New Year 2018!
12/31/2017 12:56:24 AM

Beth
It's stories like Joe's that help me keep hope for my 32 year old daughter. She has been a happy, amazing, community activist, business owner and mother. She was thriving, and then her life fell apart, all lost to serious and persistent, untreated mental health crisis. My dream is that she will get appropriate treatment, find her true self again, and be a beacon of hope to others, as she was in her former life an inspiration for single women and mothers. Thank you, Joe, for sharing your story and I'm so grateful that you are living well.
12/30/2017 8:35:32 PM

Kim
I was inspired to read about Joe's mental wellness journey. Like Joe, I first experienced signs of a serious mental health condition in middle age. For me, the first of several psychotic episodes began at the age of 46. Now, at the age of 50, I feel that I am not only "recovering" but growing as a result of my experiences. With the help of a talented mental health team, my supportive family and friends, and my faith in God, the more I am able to successfully manage and minimize my symptoms, the stronger I am becoming as a person. This whole experience has made me want to reach out to others, to give them hope.

I am starting by helping to organize a "No Stigma" event at the college campus where I teach. This will be the first time I will tell my story publicly, and though I am somewhat nervous, I think the time is right. People like Joe have paved the way, and I'd like to add my voice. I am perfectly positioned to do so since I work with students who fall in that high-risk, under-24 age group.

Thank you for including Joe's story. So many of the mental health resources, particularly those aimed at psychosis, are geared toward younger people, which is understandable given that they make up the vast majority of people who suffer from psychosis, but I couldn't help but feel as though I fell into an "overlooked" group of older people as I read up on my illness. It was gratifying to read Joe's story and to know that I am not alone in experiencing mental illness symptoms for the first time in mid life. I believe that, in my case, the underlying issues that eventually led to psychotic symptoms had been present for a very long time, but prior to age 46, I had never experienced psychosis. It's nice to know that there are others out there with similar experiences to mine.
12/30/2017 12:28:30 PM

Mary & Don Miller
Joe what a terrific and helpful article. It is all inspiring and I know will give many the help they need to get started on a healthy fulfilled life. We take our hats off to you and the courage you have shown Congratulations on a well written article.
12/29/2017 12:15:51 PM

Christa Turnell
Looks like a fraudulent diagnosis. Trauma should never be dismissed as bipolar. It’s a life experience and one that we must both accommodate and support recovery in and development from. Nobody deserves to die of bipolar.
12/29/2017 4:28:27 AM

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