When My Mental Health Episode Made Headlines | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

When My Mental Health Episode Made Headlines

By Juan Ceron

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“You’re going to do something great one day,” my mom would always say. She wholeheartedly believed that I would grow up to have an incredible story. She fed me words of affirmation long before I could even understand what they meant.

Then, on the night of Feb. 25, 2015, I unexpectedly stumbled into my incredible story, a story that would make the news. My newfound “fame,” however, was not what Mom had imagined. I achieved notoriety because of my first manic episode.

That night, I unintentionally became one of the famed “Florida Men,” men whose misbehavior provides salacious headlines to the media. One of the many headlines read: “Florida Man tries to steal $2.5 million dollar plane; said he was heading to Chicago.” For months, I read articles describing the incident, but all I could see was: “Florida Man ruined his life.”

“There you go, Mom,” I thought. “Nailed it. Great.”

My life was set on a new course that night. Shortly after:

  1. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, with no family history or prior issues.
  2. I was fired from my job, just as my career was beginning.
  3. I was charged with five separate felonies, one of which was providing false information to a lead officer (I told him that my name was Jesus).

I felt like I had thrown away everything I had worked so hard to achieve. Emigrating from Colombia when I was eight, I had quickly mastered English, completed a rigorous high school program and even graduated Suma Cum Laude from the University of Florida. I was working hard to live the American Dream. But even then, I felt an emptiness, as if my life could be so much more. Then I tried to steal an airplane during a manic episode.

After the incident, I again worked hard to achieve “greatness” — to change my story. I focused on my health and quickly improved. I immediately started working toward a master’s degree, so I could have an explanation for my “employment gap.” A year later, despite my case being unresolved, I began to work again. With the help of a wonderful lawyer, I worked hard to get approved for a pre-trial diversion program and have all the charges dropped. I then paid to have my criminal record expunged and wrote letters to news outlets pleading with them to take down the articles and mugshots of me. Most ignored my pleas.

By 2019, I had moved to a new city and gotten married. I got a dog, bought a house, and earned some silence from the voice inside of me telling me to “be great.” That silence, however, did not last. I could hear my voice, my story, every time I read a news article about a “Florida Man.” Every time someone at work would say “have you guys ever Googled yourself?” and I would scramble to change the subject, not wanting to be exposed. I heard it in every TEDTalk I watched about “owning your weakness.” The narrator in charge of my story, getting closer. Getting louder.

Then, I went through the pain of divorce. Losing the dog. Losing the house. COVID called into question my new career. My distractions were no longer there to drown out my narrator. Reflexively I began to journal, and for the first time, I started seeing a therapist. I let my emotions and ideas start to surface and take shape.

In December 2020, I read an article about a man in Las Vegas who jumped the fence at the airport and climbed on the wing of a taxiing airplane. I wept. I wept because just five years prior, I was him. Yet since that time, I had done nothing to help him.

Because of what I went through, I understand what it is like to receive subpar mental health help. I faced being jailed and roughed up by the police. I have experienced the feeling of sitting in a cold court room, wondering if anyone knows that you are not a bad person and that you just needed some help.

For years, I carried the fear that bars us from living openly and freely, constantly worried and dreaming of being exposed, judged.

Ultimately, however, I am grateful for my experience because it set me free. I now understand my story is not defined by one action, one moment. It is still being written. Although I am on the path to “traditional” greatness again, perhaps through sharing my story, I will find an additional way to “be great” in the service of others.

NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
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