Ending the Silence: Dave’s Story

Dave is a newly certified Ending the Silence speaker. Here’s his story. 

By Dave M

My name is Dave and I have been living with bipolar I disorder for 36 years. I like to be creative and discover new places and things. In my free time, my hobbies are model trains, reading, and building model rockets. I like to go hiking in the Upper Peninsula and track down waterfalls. I take photographs and plan to write a book about waterfalls in Michigan and how they improve mental health. My hobbies help me to keep life interesting and fun by discovering and exploring new things. 

I have bipolar I disorder. It is a mood disorder where I have unusual shifts in my mood, energy, and focus. It can cause extremes of happiness and energy, but also severe depression and lack of energy. I take medicine to keep things in balance and do different types of therapy to guide me in my life.

When I was a kid, I had extreme anxiety and depression that would come and go. Growing up, I thought my emotions and struggles were what everyone went through. I thought that the harder I worked to be popular and successful, then others would like me, and my depression and anxiety would lessen.

This kind of thinking came to a head when I was a senior in high school. I kept pushing myself and putting pressure on myself in all aspects of life. My anxiety kept getting worse. In October, I started having racing thoughts, constant worry, and I was losing control of my emotions. In a matter of a week, I went manic and went to the psychiatric hospital. I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. I was in the hospital for 3 weeks. I got out and fell into a deep depression. I took medicine for my depression as well as a mood stabilizer. I thought I was over my illness and did not want to think about it anymore.

The next year, I went to college and had another manic episode. I was in denial each time I had mania; I thought I was fine, but I wasn’t. This time, I took the car when I was manic and drove through a red light. I was seriously injured along with the other driver. I took my medicine, but it took many years to get the levels correct. The next year, I had mania again in the fall and then another depression.

I joined support groups after this and felt heard as well as understood. I learned I was not alone and that others were struggling to manage their illness. I had depression some years later and received electroconvulsive therapy. I had two other manic episodes after this but have learned to cope and succeed with my illness. I practice mindfulness, journaling, and exercise to keep me balanced along with my medication.

Recovery for me has involved many things. First, my doctor and therapist gave me the tools to respond to my condition. Medicine made me feel better. Maybe not every time or with new medicine, but it did help. It helped me control my emotions to be able to do the next thing.

My parents were a huge part of my support system. They led me to rely on my faith. Something more than myself. During my darkest hours, I was banking on hope through prayer. Being with other people was very important. I stayed busy and met many people. I had a few close friends that I shared my illness with. It was good to feel heard and have people to lean on when struggles were hard.

I learned about different therapies. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, reading books, and listening to others with mental health conditions. I read a book called The Road Less Traveled by Dr. M. Scott Peck. The book starts with a statement that life is difficult. I learned to accept that I was responsible for my own recovery. I took ownership and slowly grew more independent and self-reliant with each small success.

I learned Dialectical Behavioral Therapy in my last hospital visit. I practiced a little meditation and learned mindfulness. I added journaling and a little exercise, and it helped me to stay balanced more consistently.

Triggers for my illness are high stress, my medications being at the incorrect dosage, and even changes in the seasons and weather. I use meditation to stay in the present and, as mentioned earlier, also journaling. It is hard to stay motivated, but I keep trying new things to move things forward in life.

For me, success means how well I can make a difference for others. I look to share my story and let others know they are not alone, and that they can succeed. After my ECT treatment I met my wife a year later and we got married. We have been married for 20 years and have 2 daughters. My mental health struggles would have been difficult without them. Raising a family is hard, but it gave me the opportunity to get out of myself and put others first. I look to continue to do this for others and be an advocate for their success and well-being.

I struggle almost every day. I either have some depression or side effects from medicine. I use light therapy, take my medicine consistently, and try to stay on a routine with sleep and healthy habits. Again, meditation, journaling, and exercise are helpful to me.

My current support system is going to my doctor for medication management. I’ve also gone to therapy for many years. I was able to work through things and overcome a lot of stress. As a father and husband, it has been enjoyable to take care of others rather than be focused on myself and my illness. 

I have been a paralegal for 15 years. I did intellectual property, but it did not work for me, and I am now focused on helping others and volunteering with NAMI. 

I help with hospital visits and speaking to people in the hospital about NAMI. I have taken the NAMI 8-week Peer-to-Peer class. It was a fantastic experience, and it was great to be with others who also have a similar mental health condition. I recommend giving NAMI a try if you have an interest; attend a support group maybe online and see what we offer.

About Ending the Silence

Serious mental health conditions often first appear when people are in their teens and early twenties. If left untreated, these brain disorders may result in great harm. Ending the Silence (ETS) is a 50-90-minute presentation NAMI volunteers make to educate students, parents, and teachers about the early signs of a mental health condition, how to get help, and tools that can be used to help safeguard mental health and well-being. Presentations include powerfully told personal stories. In-person and on-line ETS presentations now available: Ending the Silence – NAMI Washtenaw County (namiwc.org)

Dave began a lifelong pursuit of balance after a bipolar disorder diagnosis in 1986. He received a bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and a master’s degree from Walsh College. He credits medication, therapy, and the support of family and friends for living well with bipolar disorder.

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