June 29, 2023

Voices of Recovery: Episode 14

Dante and Chastity Murry are a married couple, living in Kentucky and they have a lot in common. They met through their mutual involvement in NAMI chapters in their area and they both live with mental health conditions. They base their successful marriage, in part, on principles they’ve learned through NAMI support programs. Dante and Chastity talk with Dr. Ken Duckworth, Chief Medical Officer for NAMI, about what they’ve learned about mental health and making a partnership work. 

This conversation was part of Dr. Duckworth’s research for the book, You Are Not Alone: The NAMI Guide to Navigating Mental Health–With Advice from Experts and Wisdom from Real People and Families. Hear more episodes of this and other podcasts at nami.org/podcast.  




Episode Transcript:

Dr. Ken Duckworth: [0:00] A note for our listeners, this podcast includes discussion of suicide that some people may find difficult.

[0:09] Hello, and welcome to "You Are Not Alone ‑‑ Voices of Recovery." I'm Dr. Ken Duckworth. I'm a psychiatrist and the chief medical officer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI.

[0:18] I'm the author of NAMI's first book, "You Are Not Alone ‑‑ the NAMI Guide to Navigating Mental Health, With Advice from Experts and Wisdom from Real People and Families." I talked to over 100 people for this book. I wanted to share some conversations that I found had takeaway messages for us all.

[0:37] Dante and Chastity Murry are a married couple who live in Kentucky. They met through their mutual involvement with NAMI chapters in their area. Dante mentions NAMI's Family‑to‑Family class.

[0:49] Just so you know what that is, it's a free eight‑week program given in person and by Zoom, depending on where you are, meant for family members, significant others, and friends of people who live with mental health conditions. It provides information and strategies for coping. It also encourages families to take care of them of themselves.

[1:09] Family‑to‑Family offers the knowledge that you are not alone in going through this, and it has been proven to be effective in the highest form of science called a randomized, controlled trial.

[1:22] I wanted to share Dante and Chastity's story with you as they're a married couple, both of whom live with mental health conditions, and they base their marriage in part on the foundation of the principles from NAMI support programs.

Dante Murry: [1:40] Well, I never had a history of mental health. I was in the military for seven years, Army Reserve. The thing is they aren't going to give you a weapon if you have a clear sign of a mental health conditions. My health was fine. I had regular check‑ups. I worked to get a job at UPS, tried to [indecipherable] , take care of family. That was my drive. That was my purpose.

[2:06] Having that critical moment in life…my dad referenced it as a mental health stroke. Not so much in me during the war…

Dr. Duckworth: [2:14] A mental health stroke?

Dante: [2:16] That's what my dad labeled it as.

[2:18] [crosstalk]

Dr. Duckworth: [2:18] Acute onset, right? You didn't have it one day, and then you had it.

Dante: [2:25] Yeah. I went to a point where it was like I knew something wasn't right, but I didn't know exactly how to name it or call it. I went through [indecipherable] . During this divorce period and having that break‑up, and finding out she had an affair, finding out there were finances that I was tied to that I didn't know about.

[2:44] Stuff that was kind of like were really shady stuff that all of a sudden hit me that one summer. Then having sleepless nights not knowing what day it is.

Dr. Duckworth: [2:55] Would you say your symptoms were mostly depression?

Dante: [2:59] It was both. It was depression and…Actually, three. Depression, anxiety, and bipolar. They actually classified it as schizoaffective because I heard [indecipherable] voices. It just hit me so hard that I'm like, "What the heck is going on here?"

Dr. Duckworth: [3:17] What the heck?

Dante: [3:19] Yeah. I mean, I didn't say it like that, but if you've been around me, I would have said it, but that's the gist of it.

Dr. Duckworth: [3:26] No. The bottom line is, you had a new onset that was fairly acute of multiple psychiatric symptoms. One of the chapters I have is the paradox of diagnosis, which is, you need to know your diagnosis, but you are not your diagnosis.

[3:45] Most people tell us more smoldering story. I might be interested in including this idea that under a tremendous stress, boom.

Dante: [3:56] It happens just like that. That's what my dad call the mental health stroke because, the thing is, when someone has a stroke, it's like it happens, you're on the ground, you're paralyzed or something, and then as a result of the mental health stroke, a part of your body, a part of your mind is dysfunctional, so you have to go through rehab.

[4:16] My dad, thanks to him, thanks to God using him as a tool, this is how my faith is, is how I believe. My uncle, I felt like, influenced my dad to find NAMI, because I didn't reach out to it.

Dr. Duckworth: [4:28] Your dad found NAMI. How did he find us?

Dante: [4:32] My dad was very good at doing investigating job. He does a really good job with that. I say he is the African American version of Sherlock Holmes. My mom is like Watson.

[4:50] [crosstalk]

Dante: [4:50] My dad, he found the answers for me. The initial start was there. My dad went to Family‑to‑Family with my mom. We met the [indecipherable] , a director there and at that time was called NAMI Hamilton County. Her name is Ms. Brown. I don't mind you using her name because she would probably help.

[5:13] She have goosebumps just hearing that she gets kudos for what she did to help me and my mom and dad. I think that she was so instrumental in helping us get through this crisis. That's why I call it a crisis, and exactly, that's what it was.

Dr. Duckworth: [5:29] It was a crisis.

Dante: [5:31] Mom and dad were like, "OK. What do we do now? How does this work?" My mom and dad and her talked in depth about what my issues were.

[5:42] What was so unique about my experience is this. I was probably the first African American to come into NAMI Hamilton County and be actively involved in its programs. [indecipherable] Adam was the first African American businessman, and he was on the board at NAMI Hamilton.

[6:04] With him being very involved getting deeper into the hot topics of mental health with regards to minorities brought a whole different look and perspective to NAMI Hamilton at the time. It was all new for all of us.

Dr. Duckworth: [6:22] It's groundbreaking.

Dante: [6:23] It is. It was groundbreaking.

Dr. Duckworth: [6:25] I would thank your mom and dad taking Family‑to‑Family Health to you.

Dante: [6:33] I think it gave them some tools to say, "I think I have something to work with you."

[6:39] It's like this. If you're going to put a table together and you don't have a hammer, a wrench, and nails, you're going to say, "I can't put this thing together." What my dad's known for is, "I can't wrap my head around this thing." With my dad trying to wrap his head around this thing, he wants something to help me make sense of it all.

Dr. Duckworth: [7:00] That's a beautiful story and a great analogy because tools are one of the elements that comes up in the book, that people need tools. They need to be able to name things. They need working tools. They need to be able to make sense of it all, so NAMI, it sounds like, was instrumental.

Dante: [7:18] It was so interesting about that. My first walk fundraiser was in Hamilton County in Cincinnati. The first person who came with me was my daughter. I had visitation rights as, obviously, the divorce thing going on.

[7:35] During that time period, my daughter says, "Tell me about this NAMI." She was only one of three of my children at that time. She was 14 or 15 at the time, and she's, "Daddy, I want to understand this." I said, "OK, I'm trying to understand, too." I said, "There's an event that we can go to if you want to." She said, "Yeah."

[7:59] It surprised me that she really wanted to understand it. I think that's her form of love and expression that said, "I want to be a part of this." She's been a part of NAMIWalks ever since NAMI Hamilton County when I first had the onset. They are helping volunteering at the event.

[8:19] Then, as she got older into college, she did face paintings at the fundraisers in Louisville Waterfront Park. Then, her major was art in the U of L. It was a great experience to have my daughter all of that rod. Not necessarily the bad part, but the good parts, too. I could go deep in this.

Dr. Duckworth: [8:43] Embracing it as part of loving you.

Dante: [8:47] Yeah. I can go deep in this. My daughter's love for me during that crisis and ongoing from that point on has been an emotional ride with mental health. Out of all the kids, she has weathered the storm.

Dr. Duckworth: [9:05] What is her name? In case we…

Dante: [9:09] Monet. I know I'm…

Dr. Duckworth: [9:12] How do you spell it?

Dante: [9:14] M‑O‑N‑E‑T, like the artist. That's for some [indecipherable] . When I saw Monet, I said, "Man, this fits her name." Come to find out her name actually fulfilled what she was all about. Monet was marvelous and [indecipherable]. She loves art. She was actually talented. Ever since she was, I guess, 10 or something like that, she started getting into her own creative art form.

Dr. Duckworth: [9:41] Then, not only does she have an artistic talent. She has an open heart.

Dante: [9:45] She does.

Dr. Duckworth: [9:46] She just love you, and this was a vehicle that she could connect with you. She is progressive.

Dante: [9:52] I'd say that part of her advocacy was mental health and Black Lives Matter artwork. She's got a passionate heart about her. Like I said, that emotional roller coaster that her and I shared, she helped save my life multiple times during my mental health…

Dr. Duckworth: [10:12] How did she save your life?

Dante: [10:15] I can mention two of them, mental health setbacks. One was when I was on my own in Louisville. I was still trying to figure out this long‑term disability and short‑term disability thing, and how it would look for me in the future.

[10:30] I thought I'd use that time, the short‑term and long‑term disability time to work on my masters. Here I am going through this titration here and there of medications, trying to figure it all out, shooting‑in‑the‑dark kind of thing.

[10:44] This is where we had the blood test, where you can actually see what medicines work best for your own biology.

Dr. Duckworth: [10:51] That's still not airtight, but it does provide hints.

Dante: [10:55] Right, but I didn't get any of that. Probably in its infancy at the time, 15 years ago, 16 years. My doctor, Peter, was very, very patient and heartfelt about me because I was probably his first or second Black patient.

[11:15] He took a lot of care and tender, like kid gloves with my situation because this is all new. He never believed that one‑size‑fits‑all for Black people. He never believed that. That's why he didn't throw me on lithium or throw me on Depakote. He would call once a week and say, "Hey, how's this working out for you, Dante?"

Dr. Duckworth: [11:36] Is he a Black psychiatrist?

Dante: [11:38] No, he's White. He was White. He was laid back about it and said, "We're going to get through this thing together." I had never had that kind of advocacy from anyone in the medical field. I had a family doctor, it wasn't that intense of a care.

[12:02] It was like, "OK, here you go. Give me your insurance co‑pay and go on your way" thing. This guy, he took an interest in and trying to help, and that was Steiner. Dr. Steiner. Dr. Steiner was like the…if you ever looked at that reference in "Dante's Inferno." I don't know. Have you ever read that book before? Maybe glance at summary or…

Dr. Duckworth: [12:24] Maybe back in the day.

Dante: [12:28] I'm going to give you the yellow and black book Cliff Notes on there. Remember that Cliff Note? Here it is. He's the Virgil and I'm Dante. I'm trying to get out of hell, and instead of the book, he's trying to get into hell, I'm trying to get out of it. Dr. Steiner's helping me. He's that Virgil helped me get through this whole crisis thing and get me out of this.

Dr. Duckworth: [12:48] Your name is actually Dante?

Dante: [12:51] Yeah. Isn't that crazy? D‑A‑N‑T‑E, correct spelling, this is not some phonetic spelling. This is a real Italian spelling. D‑A‑N‑T‑E with the accent mark over the E.

Dr. Duckworth: [13:01] How does Monet help save your life? We got a great psychiatrist in here.

Dante: [13:07] Without going all over the place and try to keep focused here. The first phase, this intervention, call it that. I went through an episode during that time for my long‑term disability where when I got in my manic phase, I could get a lot of work done during my master's program.

[13:29] I got my master's program done in two‑and‑a‑half years. It was a combination of short‑term and long‑term disability EPS. I went through the last part of that year on long‑term disability with a manic episode out of this world.

[13:47] Financial risks, risks with other things, and I went off the deep end and never paid attention to it because it was so slow process.

Dr. Duckworth: [14:00] This is interesting. This is more common. You describe the initial onset as an acute stroke‑like event. This is common. It sneaks up on you over months.

Dante: [14:14] I had visitation with the kids on the weekends, and so Monet noticed things, and she says, "Daddy, are you OK?" She didn't know psychologically how that worked. Then she made a call to my mom and dad, and dad told me what she said. She said, "Daddy is not acting right, and he needs help. I don't know what is, Papa, but something not right. He needs it. I'm worried about Da‑Da."

[14:48] Mom and dad came down to Louisville, and like I said, back to the old metaphor, they are like Sherlock Holmes and Watson. The thing is, my dad's patient enough to find out when I came home and when I left.

[15:05] He was probably scoping me out. One day I came back from ‑‑ I forget what it was ‑‑ a store or something like that, and they were there in the driveway. I said, "What the heck is this all about?" In my mind, I'm thinking, "OK, do I want them to deal with them right now?"

[15:24] I went around the block, but dad recognized my car, and he followed. Here we are, going around like a classic movie chase, but not too fast. [laughs] [indecipherable] speed. Not going too fast in a neighborhood, right? I said, "OK, I'm going to go head on home and then deal with it." I did. We talked things through.

[15:47] Dad looks in my house, and he says, "This is out of control. There's no order, there's no rhyme or reason here." It went to a deep, dark place. There was a lot of stuff in there just didn't make sense for my behavior. Monet saved me with that one because I was going deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole.

[16:05] The second time she did an intervention was when my life was such a crisis with work, people who I consider associates or people who are false friends. I was desperate for friendships and to look at in a deep psyche thing. I was searching for relationships, and they weren't healthy.

[16:34] They were very bad relationships when I think about it. I went to that deep end. I said, "My life that I have is not worth it because these things that I thought would be in my life aren't there." I got a master's degree in human resources, undergrad at U of L, a two‑year associate degree in industrial engineering technology.

[17:00] My life is not where I want. Here, I'm living in the basement in mom and dad's house, and my life is not fulfilling. This is not where I thought my life would be at when I went to college at U of L in '19. I felt like my life was a waste. I was on the verge of committing suicide or completing it, let's put it that way. My daughter calls in the midst of it all.

Dr. Duckworth: [17:32] Monet, same one.

Dante: [17:33] Monet, my only daughter. This is like midnight or one o'clock in the morning. I said, "They'll probably find me in the bed or whatever." Just be done with it. Unlock the door in my basement.

[17:47] When she calls me and she says, "Daddy, I'm pregnant." I said, "What?" Rodney, ‑‑ her husband now, her boyfriend at the time ‑‑ he and I really didn't get along. I really didn't have good opinions of him. I thought he looked like he was ugly as dirt. I was like, "What is this?" Him trying to balance in the universe, ugly and beautiful together?" They like union in the whole world?

Dr. Duckworth: [18:08] Sounds like a good father. [laughs]

Dante: [18:09] That's what I was literally trying to do with the universe. Let's just balance everybody [indecipherable] not even [indecipherable] .

Dr. Duckworth: [18:17] Perfect. This loser is [indecipherable] for balance, right?

Dante: [18:22] I'm trying to justify it in my head, even though I have mentally health issues, I'm not completely gone, right? She says, "I'm pregnant." I said, "OK. Well, I'm happy for you." She says, "Well, Daddy. I want you to be there when the baby's born." I pause for effect. I'm thinking in my head, "I know how ugly Rodney is, I should stay alive to see what this baby looks like."

[23:56] [laughter]

Dante: [24:11] I'm like, "I'll be there." I put stuff away. [laughs] I was like, "I'll wait around for this one. Nine more months, OK." [laughs] That was the second intervention. It's funny though, but that was true.

Dr. Duckworth: [16:01] One of them was very intentional based on her observation of your risk, contacting your parents, Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Watson on the case, they helped you. The second time was just coincidence. She happened to be pregnant when you were desperate.

[19:32] All right. Great. I want to turn to Chastity and your experience as much as you want to discuss it. As much or as little as you want to share, you can pick it from your origin story as a couple. The onset of your challenges, how you found NAMI, how you're doing now.

Chastity Murry: [19:49] I, myself, I'll just tell you my origin story. I lived in Tennessee for 14 years. I lived in Murfreesboro. I was in an abusive relationship for 14 years. I had three children. Yeah, three children. I had one already with my ex. We had a lot against us at that time. I was going through anxiety. I was working two jobs.

[20:12] I worked as a lead manager at a book company, publishing book company in Tennessee. At that time, my anxiety started getting worse and worse and worse. I didn't even know what was going on. I was scared to death. I was in denial because I thought, "Well, this is normal," because I was going through abuse with my ex.

[20:37] The abuse got worse. The denial got worse. I moved to Kentucky because he had cheated on me. I moved to back to Kentucky. I graduated from high school here in Elizabethtown. I moved back here. My mom, I moved in with her. I started having all kinds of issues, had my last son.

[21:00] After I had my last son is when I fell apart. I completely fell apart. The abuse got worse. I tried to commit suicide. My daughter, she saved my life. She gave me CPR.

Dante: [21:13] You were on the bathroom floor. She was turning blue.

Chastity: [21:18] [sniffles] I'm sorry. It is emotional.

Dr. Duckworth: [21:21] It's a lot. It's really a lot.

Chastity: [21:25] I was taking care of four kids at the time. Trying to take care of four kids. I had a breakdown and that was it. I just completely left reality for a very long time, 12 weeks. I had to get myself back together for my kids.

Dr. Duckworth: [21:45] Your daughter literally gave you CPR in your bathroom.

Dante: [21:49] Mm‑hmm.

Chastity: [21:50] She did. She saved my life.

Dr. Duckworth: [21:52] Literally saved your life.

Chastity: [21:53] She did. I have so much to be blessed and grateful for with my children. They have been so supportive. My daughter had a lot of anger toward me because she felt like she had to be Mom for a while. It was a hard, hard situation with that.

[22:13] It's hard to talk about those things because you get embarrassed because you're like, "Why would this happen to me?"

Dr. Duckworth: [22:20] Of course. That's not what you imagine when you have children.

Chastity: [22:23] Right. Especially the kind of jobs I had. My jobs were very lucrative jobs.

Dr. Duckworth: [22:29] You had big jobs.

Chastity: [22:32] Then when I came back here, I didn't imagine myself having all this issue. I was working, at the time before I had my son, the youngest one, at a boys' home where you work with kids. They were teenagers. Doing stuff like that with kids, psychological things. Helping them with their mental health issues until I found out I had it myself.

[22:57] When this all took place, it was the most saddest time in my life because I had lost my child, my youngest, the dad took him away from me before I even had my mental health crisis. That's what led up to this. That was the worst.

Dr. Duckworth: [23:14] Were you in your, what, 30s or 20s?

Chastity: [23:18] I was in my mid‑30s. I was like, 36 when that all…

Dr. Duckworth: [23:23] You want to mention the name of your daughter who gave you CPR?

Chastity: [23:27] Yes, I do. She's amazing.

Dr. Duckworth: [23:31] What is her name?

Chastity: [23:32] Her name is Kaylea. We spell it with…It's a K‑A‑Y‑L‑E‑A. I leave the E silent. [laughs]

Dr. Duckworth: [23:42] I just want to pause for a second and say that is so much…and I want to just say, I'm honored that you shared that. I know it's a lot. One of the reasons I'm writing this book is there are people just like you all over America. The idea that you could feel desperate and overwhelmed, in the context of an abusive relationship, and then come through it, is one of the points of the book.

[24:09] I just want to say, I know it's a lot, I'm sorry it's upsetting.

Chastity: [24:13] No, Dr. Duckworth, that's not even the half, whenever I had my psychosis. I had gotten married again, the second time, because that was a common‑law marriage in Tennessee. 10 years is common‑law marriage. Basically, the second marriage that I had ‑‑ I call it that because that's what it…the second one was a marriage ‑‑ it was a disaster.

[24:38] I ended up with cancer, female cancer with that, I was going through a mental health crisis, those two things. The guy that I was with was abusive. Like I said, my psychosis got worse and worse. I tried again because I felt like I had no way out of my situation, that I was literally, just completely, could not get out. It was like I was in prison with my ex‑husband. He's a disaster.

Dr. Duckworth: [25:11] Oh my! It's so much, just so much. The cancer? Did you get treatment for it?

Chastity: [25:20] I did.

Dr. Duckworth: [25:20] Your mental health?

Chastity: [25:21] Yes.

Dr. Duckworth: [25:22] What was…That's a big stress.

Chastity: [25:25] It was. For three months…It was every three months I was going for treatments. Then I went up to every 6, and then I went up to every 12 months. I got tested because I have to be tested every year. I was completely in remission right now. I was really happy.

Dr. Duckworth: [25:44] Great.

Dante: [25:45] It was benign.

Chastity: [25:47] It was benign, thank goodness. Excuse me.

Dr. Duckworth: [25:49] After all, it was benign.

Chastity: [25:52] Like I said, every year that I go…I didn't have the cancer, actually. Every year that I have went, it's been benign, after the seven years, because I had been treated all those years. I've been blessed by my higher power for years.

Dr. Duckworth: [26:10] That's fantastic. That is fantastic. What are you doing now, professionally? Because you had high‑powered jobs, then you went through the hardest things…

Chastity: [26:19] I'm working on my photography with my husband. I'm going back to school for my photography. Then [indecipherable] to go to get…I'm going to go to New York Institute, which I'll be doing online. I'm working on that. I love photography, I always have. I worked on it before I had my psychosis, all that stuff. I've always loved to take pictures of my children, my home…

Dr. Duckworth: [26:43] Fantastic. It's so strengths, arts base. It's fantastic. You're going to try to have a photography business or is it mostly for pleasure?

Chastity: [26:55] I want a business eventually. That's what my goal is. My husband knows that and he supports me 100 percent. We support each other.

Dr. Duckworth: [27:03] It's beautiful.

Chastity: [27:04] He's my best friend, the love of my life.

Dr. Duckworth: [27:08] How long have you been married?

Chastity: [27:11] A year and three months, isn't it, Dante? A year and three months.

Dr. Duckworth: [27:15] Oh, yay! I love true love stories.

[27:20] May I ask you a little bit about your experience of psychosis because one of the things I'm trying to do in the book is to speak to people who might be dealing with something and don't know what it is or what to call it. I asked people about it, if you don't feel comfortable, it's fine.

Chastity: [27:37] No, it's fine. Like I said, with my psychosis, it snuck up on me. It literally just…When I had my psychosis, I didn't know what was going on. I just literally went off. I had borderline personality, bipolar, depression, a mood disorder.

[27:58] The combination of that made me do things I've never done before in my entire life. That I was the crazy part, and being impulsive, that was the worst for me. The impulsive decisions were not good. They were bad.

[28:14] [crosstalk]

Dr. Duckworth: [28:15] Did you hear voices?

Chastity: [28:17] Pardon?

Dr. Duckworth: [28:18] Did you hear voices?

Chastity: [28:21] I did. I heard voices and that's what the suicidal thoughts, and all that stuff would happen to me whenever I did have my first broke down, and then I did try to commit suicide.

Dr. Duckworth: [28:30] I know this is hard to talk about. The voices tell you to act…?

Chastity: [28:35] Yes, they did.

[28:36] [crosstalk]

Chastity: [28:40] It's horrible. It's whispering in your ear, literally. It's the most scariest thing in this world. I would think of stupid stuff. I'd be in the bathroom and I have my dryer, washing my hair in dryer, and I'd be like, "OK, I'll throw this in the sink." It would just hit me. It was horrible. It was like, "When is this ever going to stop?"

Dr. Duckworth: [29:04] I got ideas from a teaching point of view. I had somebody tell me they had command hallucinations and they said, &q…

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