Carol: My Story

As a young child and teenager I had everything I could ask for – two wonderful parents, three brothers, the best schools, and all the sports and activities a person could want. I played just about all the sports that were available all throughout grade school, junior high and high school, including track, field hockey, volleyball, softball, and basketball, which I truly adored. However, from a very young age I realized something was amiss. I never quite felt that I fit in anywhere, and then something happened to me which cut to the very core of my soul. My family could not quite reach me on an intimate level, not because of anything that was their fault, but just because of circumstances. I believe this is when depression first reached its ugly head into my life, and into my family’s life, because they had to deal with the behavior and sometimes event(s) that were not of their liking. Another traumatic event happened in the summer of 1969. At that time, drugs were leaking in to our area as if a water main pipe had broken, and drugs seemed to soothe the pain and angst a young person could feel and with them, it seemed that life would be played somewhere outside myself.

At 16, my parents provided me with a Corvair that had been my grandmother’s. I paid for the insurance and it gave me my freedom. When I was 19, I packed my car full of my belongings, filled her with gas and moved to Bellaire, Michigan, with $10 in my pocket. I found a job and a place to live, and started an adventure I would not trade for anything. I moved to Alden, had a summertime romance, and became pregnant. Soon I was blessed with my son. I inherited a carpet cleaning business from both my brothers and purchased a home on a land contract. Life was good for my son and me; life seemed boundless. I put my son’s life as most important and did all I could to make sure he was safe and out of harm.

But that lurking depression showed its ugly, hurtful head again and there was that drug scene still surrounding me. I realized I had to change that so I stopped using drugs and alcohol and focused on my son, my home, and my business, but in doing so, it all came back to me in a violent-tragic way. On a cold, dark January early morning, I awoke to a noise that intruded my sleep. I heard glass breaking in the back of the house and as I went to the noise, there was a man who did not want me to stop my drug involvement, standing there with a knife in hand. He threatened me with the words, “This is a test of your loyalties,” and he raped me as my son wailed in the background. There came the depression again, and I ended up giving up my home and business due to it and lost myself and my chances at a life that had so much potential. I was no longer emotionally able to be my son’s caretaker. I reached out to my family. My brother was there the next day, and he brought my son home with him and his wife and daughter. My son stayed with them and with my parents, but mostly with my brother and his family. Unknown to him, to me, and the rest of the family, my sister-in-law petitioned the court and I ended up giving them my son. Oh, my God, what did I do? Life changed forever. My sister-in-law divided my family and I had to deal with the undercurrents of depression, trauma and now separation. Life was never the same after that. Jobs, college, friendships, relationships – I seemed to be unable to hang on to any of them.

I tried to prosecute my rapist. I moved back home and started back to college. I volunteered in the community. But one of my dearest friends died of cancer. Two weeks later my brother died in an accident at age 32. I got hurt at work during a slip and fall. During that period of my life, I lost nine friends, both men and women, to the desperation of suicide. I also lost my wonderful, caring and gentle father to cancer. I don’t think I had a choice – depression showed its ugly head again with the loss and grief issues which became too big for me to handle. I stopped going to college and became isolated in a world of danger and obsession.

I admitted defeat to a friend, and went into a treatment center, first as an inpatient, and then in an intensive outpatient program. I attended aftercare groups both in counseling and in the dual diagnosis program at our local Community Mental Health center. I worked hard with a therapist and a case manager. In 2004 I started working with the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team at Northern Lakes CMH and began taking Dialectical Behavior Treatment (DBT) group classes. Still having severe depression, I have been in and out of psychiatric hospitals many times and have made serious suicide attempts, but I continue working on changing my life, helping myself and my behaviors.

Not without feeling and having roadblocks along the way, I continue to change. My goals are clear and in sight. My son is in my life and I have a beautiful granddaughter. Although I am filled with continual feelings of separation and loneliness, I reach out and stay involved with life and give back what has been given to me. I work a twelve-step program and have had many hours of dual diagnosis therapy to stay clean and sober. What joy that brings to my soul today!

I volunteer my time working with the Learning Communities at Northern Lakes and my passion is to change the horrific stigma that comes along with having a mental illness. The behaviors of someone with a mental illness are not uniform; our neighbor might just seem sad, while our family member may be acting out, or there may be behaviors that may not make any sense to you or me. It may seem that the causes for our actions of not being responsible, dependable, reliable, or trustworthy, or that our duties and obligations are not being met are just bad choices, but sometimes people are manic, or at their most complicated times, they may have a psychosis that manifests itself in a vision or voice that does not seem like our own. It is just a disease as is muscular dystrophy or cancer. I am not minimizing mental illnesses because to me it can become all consuming, and I don’t have the answers for anyone else, but I just know for me life has not been easy, so I just continue moving ahead with my life and all it has to offer. I hope sharing my story helps others to be understanding if someone they know has a disease which is not their fault.