August 03, 2023

Voices of Recovery: Episode 19

Drea Landry lives in Northern California and has experienced bipolar disorder as well as disorders related to anxiety and post-traumatic stress. She speaks with NAMI’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ken Duckworth, about her path to understanding her mental health and how best to manage the challenges set before her. In one part of the interview, Drea talks about a confrontation she had with the police and how she eventually took on a role training police officers in de-escalating encounters with people struggling with mental health conditions.

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  




Episode Transcript:

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

[0:06] [background music]

Dr. Duckworth: [0:08] This is "You Are Not Alone, Voices of Recovery. Hi, 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 and want to share some conversations that I found truly inspirational.

[0:37] Drea Landry lives in Northern California. She's also lived in Southern California and Baltimore. She's experienced bipolar disorder as well as disorders related to anxiety and post-traumatic stress.

[0:49] Drea's one of the many people I spoke to who have participated in NAMI's In Our Own Voice program. At these sessions, people get up and tell personal stories about their mental health journeys. It's presented at schools, community groups, just about anywhere they request them, and they're free.

[1:07] In this interview, Drea also mentions Peer-to-Peer, another NAMI program. It's for adults with mental health conditions who are looking to understand themselves and their recovery. Peer-to-Peer is taught by trained leaders with lived experience.

[1:23] I wanted you to hear this story as well because Drea represents a growing number of people who've experienced interactions with police officers, then went on to train them in how to be a force for de-escalation.

Drea Landry: [1:39] The short version is, I lost my mind when my kids left home. My mother encouraged me to go and see a therapist who then traumatized me by diagnosing me with bipolar disorder, PTSD, and anxiety, with no explanation.

Dr. Duckworth: [1:59] Oh, my. How old were you then?

Drea: [2:02] Oh, my God. I was 42, 38 to 42, somewhere around those ages.

Dr. Duckworth: [2:08] Was that your first connection to the mental health field?

Drea: [2:11] Yes. Well, knowingly have that. My mother has always claimed herself to be undiagnosed depressed all her life, but to have a first-hand experience and then wanting to dive into it, I was diagnosed in 2006. It took me two years to accept after the medication trials and everything.

[2:39] By 2008, it was time for me to figure out how to take care of myself. That's what landed me in Baltimore the second time. I couldn't find help in California. I went to Goodwill in Baltimore to a program called Schapiro Training Employment Program, which is a STEP program. That's how I discovered NAMI. I saw an In Our Own Voice presentation with [indecipherable] and decided I wanted to do that. I wanted to get involved in that. He was my trainer.

Dr. Duckworth: [3:17] The person who presented at that program became your trainer, and you became a trainer, too? You became a teacher?

Drea: [3:25] Yes, sir. Yes.

Dr. Duckworth: [3:27] That's great. Let's go back to the original journey. You were first traumatized without any explanation, given a diagnosis that was unhelpful. That's how it starts. Then it sounds like a few years down the road, you began to realize that maybe you should be getting self-care and help for something. Do I have that right? How do I understand it?

Drea: [3:51] One of the things that my mama always said was, "You make your bed, you lie in it." I had children. I didn't have time to slow down to figure out what was going on with me, how to take care of me, or anything. When they left home, I never really had an identity of my own. My identity was for them.

[4:13] When they left home, I was just left with me, and I had to figure it out. Her encouragement to me was, "Well, then figure it out. Go look because you can't just stop existing because they left home. You need to figure out what to do with yourself next." That's what made me go and explore.

[4:36] After the diagnosis, I went to explore other people who I admired, who I looked up to such as Janet Jackson, Mike Wallace, DMX, Ben Stiller, Kristy McNichol, and Patty Duke. Then there was the dude from the Pittsburgh Steelers, Terry Bradshaw.

Dr. Duckworth: [5:03] Terry Bradshaw. You got it.

Drea: [5:06] All of these famous people had these mental illnesses and they were able to function. That was my encouragement. I told myself, "Well, if they can do it, I definitely can do it. I know that there's a way that I can live some kind of life without being in hospital in a hug-me jacket forever."

Dr. Duckworth: [5:24] You have an empty nest experience.

Drea: [5:28] For me. Yes.

Dr. Duckworth: [5:29] Do you think you had symptoms before you had an empty nest, and you were just not dealing with it because you had to take care of the kids?

Drea: [5:38] We thought it was normal. It's funny, it took me a minute to look backwards. I think I have been experiencing this since I was about, I want to say maybe four or five. At first, my mother called it the, oh, woe is me moment. I would do things to act out, to get attention. That was her thing.

[5:58] I had to have some kind of attention. I don't know too many, three, four-year-olds who go and cut a hole in the screen of the kitchen and throw things out the window because they want to go somewhere else, but that was me.

[6:15] Even in high school turning, I did some really unusual things. Whatever my mind came up with, I did it. I would do cartwheels down the middle of the street and [inaudible] . I thought that was fun. No matter how outrageous could be and the more outrageous it could be, I set myself up to do it. It had to be done. There was no issue…

[6:44] [crosstalk]

Dr. Duckworth: [6:44] Did you feel like that was under your control or did it feel like it was an experience that would just travel through you?

Drea: [6:55] It never felt out of control. It was more of a, I have to do this because I've got nothing better to do. When I was angry or down, I would destroy stuff. I would take hammers things and break them. That was me trying to calm down because I didn't know any other way.

[7:17] Again, my mother calling it my oh, woe is me moment, we all thought it was normal. It didn't seem out of control, it didn't seem like something I wasn't supposed to be doing. It was just, that was the way life was.

Dr. Duckworth: [7:32] Maybe your style, it was your style or personality. You were not pathologized, nobody said you're ill or sick in the family. All right. You've been living with…

Drea: [7:50] No, I think I saw a therapist when I was in high school, because I used to have blackouts real bad. The only thing the therapist said was that I had daddy issues and that was it.

[8:01] They never said anything about the depression I went through, or my need to break things, or my need to be…What's the word? I did things that were the very definition of what manic was. None of the therapists saw it.

[8:30] They thought I was trying to get attention. They thought, "OK, this is her acting out." When the therapist said, "You had daddy issues, you'll be all right. Go and to get over it." It was like, "OK," and that was it.

Dr. Duckworth: [8:43] It's not very helpful. Not just to miss the manic piece of your experience, but dismiss you. How many times did you see her?

Drea: [8:56] Him. I saw him approximately three times. The only reason why I went in the first place was because my mother said that he wouldn't care about me, because nobody explained to me what a therapist was. The only reference I had was "One Flew of the Cuckoo's Nest."

[9:16] I thought I was automatically being called crazy. My mom said, "You go and talk to this person and they won't care about you." On my third visit, he said, "And I care about you very much, Drea," and I never went back.

Dr. Duckworth: [9:29] Got it. You thought that was it? I'm out of here.

Drea: [9:35] Yeah. I had a thing about older men because I'm an incest survivor and I didn't like being around older men. I didn't like being around men, period. He made me uncomfortable as it was, but I went because my mother said I had to go. I figured if he cared about me, he was going to touch me, and I didn't want that, so I had to go.

Dr. Duckworth: [10:00] That's a lot, but you managed to have kids and raise kids. How were your 20s and 30s as you look back on them?

Drea: [10:08] My 20s was rambunctious to me. I went through two divorces. I raised my boys by myself. I had a little bit of freedom in my 30s. I got to see what clubbing and was like. I got to see what promiscuity was like. I kept things very close to the vest when my kids were little. As they got older and they started going to visit their fathers, I wanted to know what life was like.

[10:47] My mother used to fuss at me about having children so young. I was 17 when I had my first son. She said that I would never really experience life because I had to be a mom. When they started going away, I tried to do what I thought life was supposed to be like. I went clubbing. I went hanging out. I did some things I'm not real proud of.

[11:12] I know from the time that I was 14 to the time I was 46 or so, I tried to commit suicide every year. The depression would just get so bad that I would just not want to be here. There were times when I even tried to do me and my children too, because I couldn't see leaving them behind. To me, their fathers were jerks. I didn't want them to be stuck with them. Thank God and knock on wood that they're all still here.

Dr. Duckworth: [11:46] Thank goodness. Did it happen the same time every year? Like there was a date or an anniversary, or it wasn't like that?

Drea: [11:54] No, it wasn't like that. I didn't recognize patterns until after I discovered Peer-to-Peer and learned about the relapse prevention grid, that's when I started noticing patterns. I now know when certain events happen or when certain times happen how my moods change. I can recognize it now.

[12:21] Back then, I couldn't tell the difference. I just know that I would try to make them go away when I would be really down and depressed, because I did not want them to see me cry. I did not want them to see me really down. I would overcompensate to try and make us happy.

[12:41] Taking them to the park at three and four o'clock in the morning on a school night to spend time with them. Just jumping in the car and driving around and wherever we ended up, we ended up. I tried to make it fun for them so that they couldn't see that I was in a dark place. They were my saving grace. They saved my life for many a day.

Dr. Duckworth: [13:05] Have you talked to them about it as they look back on it now that they're grown?

Drea: [13:12] Yeah.

Dr. Duckworth: [13:12] How did they understand it?

Drea: [13:17] When I was diagnosed and I started understanding things, they said, "Ah, now things make sense." To them, it was just normal. "This is our life. This is how [inaudible] and our mom is silly, so let's be silly with mom." Now they get it.

Dr. Duckworth: [13:35] What would you say your diagnoses are? You described mania, depression, trauma.

Drea: [13:40] I have bipolar disorder, anxiety, and PTSD.

Dr. Duckworth: [13:48] The therapist traumatized you by telling you those things, but that doesn't mean she was entirely wrong?

Drea: [13:55] He wasn't wrong.

Dr. Duckworth: [13:57] He. Sorry. You said he.

Drea: [14:00] It was a man. He wasn't wrong. He just went about it the wrong way. When I went to go see him, I was already in a dark place, which was OK. Have you ever seen that movie, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"?

Dr. Duckworth: [14:15] Classic.

Drea: [14:16] Do you remember Ben Stein going, "Bueller. Bueller." My therapist sounded like Ben Stein.

Dr. Duckworth: [14:26] Oh, my. [laughs]

Drea: [14:27] Not only that, everything I said he repeated verbatim Ben Stein style. There was no comfort. There was no acknowledgement. He was just being a bonehead, period. Then he asked me the one question that I'll never forget for as long as I live, which is, "What was the longest you ever stayed awake?" I told him seven days straight.

[14:53] Now, he didn't say, "Because you've done this and these are some of your actions over your years' time, these are the symptoms that show bipolar." No. He said, "You have bipolar disorder. Take this pill. Don't get fat. I'll see you when you get back." That was it. There was no explanation where it came from. Nothing.

Dr. Duckworth: [15:14] That was it. There was no empathy, understanding, explanation, nothing?

Drea: [15:20] None. Then he turned around and he…What do you call it? Not threatened, but he insulted…He insulted my mother, which made it worse because she was there with me. I was going to beat him up. I literally just about leaped across the desk to beat him up. She pulled me by my waist to sit me back down, but he was going to get a beat that day. [laughs]

Dr. Duckworth: [15:44] What did he say to insult your mother?

Drea: [15:47] He pointed at her and said, "Don't get fat like her."

Dr. Duckworth: [15:51] Oh, my. That's pretty incredible. This was an actual doctor?

Drea: [15:58] Yes. He's still practicing. He's still a practicing psychiatrist in Bakersfield.

Dr. Duckworth: [16:05] No kidding. That's kind of hard to believe. Did you go to see him or was that just the trauma of being treated that way, and then you stopped?

Drea: [16:20] After that first time, I stopped. I ran into him again one other time. When I found my new therapist, they wanted to put me through medication trial. They put me in the mental hospital to take me through the medication trial, and he was there.

[16:39] He threatened to withhold Ambien from me because he knew I had trouble sleeping. He said, "I'll just send you home." I said, "And you think that's a threat?" I said, "You don't remember me, do you? I remember you."

[16:51] [laughter]

Drea: [16:51] He said, "Leave me alone?"

Dr. Duckworth: [17:00] I'm the one that almost beat you up when you insulted my mother."

Drea: [17:05] You can send me home. I ain't got to be here.

Dr. Duckworth: [17:09] Oh, my. That sounds like just a terrible experience.

Drea: [17:13] It was horrible.

Dr. Duckworth: [17:14] I'm so sorry. Let's talk a little bit about your experience of teaching In Our Own Voice. Where do you do it? How does it work? Have you done it in different places?

Drea: [17:26] I've done it here in California, both in San Francisco, down to San Diego and Bakersfield, and Fresno, just in different counties here in California. I've taught it in Baltimore several times in different parts of the state, as well as at the [indecipherable] , but presented at several of the Maryland conferences. I love it. I'm silly. I'm outgoing. To me, In Our Own Voice is literally a way to let you shine.

[18:04] Usually when I'm facilitating that particular class, that's what I'm telling people. "This is the moment that you let you shine. You talk about how it is you've gone through all of these trials and tribulations, but this is where you are. Here you roar. Let's go."

Dr. Duckworth: [18:20] [laughs]

Drea: [18:22] I think the last class I did was when I became a national trainer. I haven't facilitated a class since. I think I've done two presentations in the new format, but I haven't facilitated it yet.

[18:35] To me, yeah, when I do it, it's like, "Let your light shine. Let's go. Let's see it."

Dr. Duckworth: [18:41] It really turns adversity into strength. It really helps people see that they have something to give.

Drea: [18:50] I agree.

Dr. Duckworth: [18:53] When you say that to them, to the class you're teaching, what is their response?

Drea: [18:58] In the beginning, they look at me like, "No, I'm not really ready for that." I remember I had a class once, where I couldn't get at least four of the participants to speak above a whisper. I did a particular exercise to help them understand why it was important to speak above a whisper.

[19:19] What I did was, it was a long room, I had all the participants go to the far end of the room while me and the other facilitators stood at this end. I began to talk like this. [whispers] Hi, my name is Drea, and I like to cook.

[19:39] I said, "Can you hear me?" and they're like, "No," so I spoke a little bit loud and said, "Hi, my name is Drea, and I like to cook." I said, "Can you hear me?" and they went, "No."

[19:48] I said, "This is why I say let you shine. You have to speak to those in the nosebleed section, even if you're in a small enclosed space, because they need to be able to hear everything that's in here that you're trying to help and show and let out."

[20:08] I said, "I know I can be intimidating at times," and I can be. I said, "To this day, I still cry doing my presentation, especially when I talk about experiencing empty nest or when I talk about my sister dying." It does choke you up a little bit.

[20:27] It also gives you that strength in knowing I've touched that person. They understand where I'm coming from. They know they can come out of the darkness and that is what you're here for. If so, those five people that couldn't speak above whisper, they spoke very loudly, very clearly.

Dr. Duckworth: [20:39] Oh, that's great. That is absolutely great.

[20:43] Now, when you did In Our Own Voice before you were a trainer, where did you go? How did you find it?

Drea: [20:50] Let's see. When I was given that responsibility, I initially reached out to the colleges. I reached out to the university, the private colleges. I reached out to see some of the inpatient units at the psychiatric facilities. I reached out to family advocates and including families.

[21:26] Then, you guys sent me to the police, police academy. I've done the police academy at least two or three times in Baltimore and in Bakersfield.

Dr. Duckworth: [21:38] How did you find that?

Drea: [21:39] At first it was scary because I was trying to think how would the police accept what it was that I had to say because I've had the police take me in on a 5150 hold. Oh, wait a minute. Over there is called EP, Emergency Petition.

Dr. Duckworth: [21:58] Yes. No, wait. 5150 is California, right?

Drea: [22:02] Yes, it is. Sometimes I had to remember the language of holds.

Dr. Duckworth: [22:07] Every state calls it something different, but either way, it's a difficult, traumatic experience. You had interactions with the police.

Drea: [22:16] Yes.

Dr. Duckworth: [22:16] What were they like?

Drea: [22:20] The first time was very traumatic. I was coming out of an abusive situation. My ex-husband was beating on me. I had just given birth to my second son and they had kidnapped him from me and hid him from me for several days at the time. Wouldn't let me see him, and I had gotten intoxicated.

[22:39] I got drunk and I was out on the street with my older son. I think it was one or two o'clock in the morning. My husband at that time had called the police on me. The police did not listen to me that my husband had been beating on me, and that was the reason why I had walked away.

[22:58] Instead, they called me all out my name, cussed me out, and then took me to the county hospital and they hogtied me. They handcuffed my hands and feet together. My husband came down and told the hospital that I was a danger to myself and others and wouldn't let me come back. My girlfriend at the time, who was a parole agent, got me out of the hospital. That was my first experience.

[23:25] The second time was with husband number three. We were having a disagreement and I walked away, and he called the police. Now, ordinarily, if you walk away, if you go missing, an ordinary adult can go missing for 72 hours. That's nationwide, but if you have a mental illness, they come looking for you immediately.

[23:49] The only reason why I know what he said was because he called me and allowed my voicemail to record the conversation he had with the police department. He told them that I had a mental illness.

[24:02] When they asked him, was I a danger to myself or others? He said, "I don't know what the hell the problem is." They came looking for me immediately. When I told them where I was, the lady approached me with her head on her gun, so I'm like this. [laughs]

Dr. Duckworth: [24:22] Where was this?

Drea: [24:24] This was in Baltimore, and I was coming off of light and I'm like this. I said, "Listen, I had an argument with my husband. I needed to cool off, so then I wouldn't break things. Please, don't shoot me. Don't hurt me." That was scary, and that's what I would tell the police department when we did that in our own voice presentations and everything.

[24:47] One thing that I would say is, listen to the person. I know you guys are scared and that sometimes you never know what that person is going to be like, especially when they're heavily symptomatic. Even in being heavily symptomatic, they're speaking more truth at that moment than they are in a normal state of mind.

[25:07] If you listen intently into what they're saying and address it one at a time, it'll make things a whole lot easier than pulling your gun out and then you shoot, they're dead.

Dr. Duckworth: [25:18] Right. Wow. How long ago was that when you had that experience?

Drea: [25:22] Oh, my goodness. I want to say 2016.

Dr. Duckworth: [25:29] Five years ago. It's not long.

Drea: [25:32] No, not long at all.

Dr. Duckworth: [25:33] Have you been involved in any training, or has NAMI Baltimore and NAMI Maryland done any training for police officers?

Drea: [25:43] I know that Kate sent me for the SAMHSA thing that was going on for their national training. I was part of that particular video. Excuse me. Just recently, I want to say the ending of December-March this year, we did a 911 training for Maryland. No, Baltimore City 911, we did a training for them, and I was a part of that.

Dr. Duckworth: [26:17] Such a terrible experience. Do you share that with the people that you teach and train?

Drea: [26:22] Yes, I do.

Dr. Duckworth: [26:24] What is their experience of that? What do they respond to? How do they take that?

Drea: [26:31] One of the things I say is we want to get the police out of the habit of "shoot first, ask questions, never."

[26:40] Therefore, again, and just literally listening, if you just stop long enough to listen to every single thing the person says before you overreact, before you take that extra measure, it can make a world of difference. That's one of the things I mainly say when people ask me questions about how I felt about that.

[27:05] Being a person of color, we tend to have it harder than others who are not of color. Therefore, we have to be more vigilant. That was one of the things that I was saying, too. Treat us all the same. It doesn't matter what our race, ethnicity, or creed is, we're still human beings and we need to be listened to equally.

Dr. Duckworth: [27:32] Police officers have a bad history with both people of color and people with mental health conditions.

Drea: [27:37] I agree.

Dr. Duckworth: [27:39] I'm really glad you're doing that work. It's a lot. It's a lot.

[27:45] Let's talk about your faith. How has your faith supported you through this experience? What's your faith history? How were you raised? Did you go to church every Sunday? What is your family culture experience of faith when you begin life, and then what is it like now?

Drea: [28:04] Growing up, no. We didn't have to go to church, it was a choice. My sister taught me about church I think when I was about 10, when we were in Compton, she used to take me to church. My mother was a Sunday school teacher.

[28:23] She was forced to go to church when she was younger, so she never forced it on us. It was…

[28:30] [crosstalk]

Dr. Duckworth: [28:31] She didn't want you to have that experience.

Drea: [28:33] Exactly. I didn't really get into my faith until, I want to say high school. I was a teenager and then I became strong about in my 30s to my mid-40s when I started relying on God and I started hearing him talking to me.

[28:54] After I wrote my first program and when God started directing me on what to do, and then when I didn't follow directions, then I started learning about consequences. Like, "OK, I get it." As I've gotten older, my faith is very strong. When I was in Baltimore, I went to church every Sunday. I went to Sunday school.

[29:19] Actually, I was studying to be a minister and then COVID hit and I had some other personal issues that I was dealing with. My husband number three that ended in divorce. I had to set that aside, but my faith remained strong. I listen, I pay attention, I pray and I allow God to guide me wherever it is that he needs me to go.

Dr. Duckworth: [29:43] Now I want to ask you a question that sounds very psychiatry, but don't take any offense. I'm very interested in people who hear God's voice and it's not a hallucination, like a symptom of an illness. I wanted to ask you a little bit about that. Could we talk about that?

[30:00] Have you ever heard voices in the context of a mania or an illness? Because my father did all the time. I saw it on the regular and he was religious, but never heard God's voice, so I'm just interested in this. This is for my own curiosity, your experience of that.

Drea: [30:22] I have heard voices and there is a difference. The very first time that I can remember hearing voices, they were very mean, very cruel, very nasty. I was driving down the side of the mountain coming out of Tehachapi, and the voice kept telling me to drive off the side of the mountain.

[30:47] I was like, "No." At first I turned around because I thought somebody was sitting next to me and no, there's nobody there, this is in my head. When I hear those voices and I haven't heard them in a long time, it's more dark. It's more not quite a memory, but I don't know. It's different.

[31:14] It sounds more human. It sounds more like somebody's trying to force me to do stuff that I don't want to do.

Dr. Duckworth: [31:22] Is it a voice you recognize?

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