By: George K.
My name is George. Over the past couple of years I have begun to do something I have avoided most of my life. After experiencing a complete mental collapse that spanned several months, almost ending my life, I decided I would not hide my 37-year struggle with mental illness.
At age 13, when puberty was in full gear for me, not only was my body changing but my mind began to change as well. I began to experience periods of depression that started with me becoming quiet and withdrawn. I didn’t know what was happening but I did what I could.
My depression initially lasted for short periods of time but as I grew older, the depression became more frequent and deeper. At 14, I attempted suicide for the first of three times by cutting my wrists. Not dying at that time was very hard on me for the simple fact that nothing happened afterward to help me. No one said anything and my family began to treat me as a frail boy. I was petrified that anyone outside of my family would find out so I became even more introverted.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I was crying almost every night in bed. At that point I had seen probably seven or eight different counselors, two different priests (my mom’s Catholic idea) and had tried Zoloft three different times at the insistence of my counselors. The Zoloft never helped but I had learned not to be open about my mental health to myself, my family and friends and especially my counselors. The depression worsened as I came to the realization how few (or no one) understood my depression and how bad it was getting.
I hated that feeling and thought the best thing to do was try to understand it, so I began to spend time at the local library reading books about depression and suicide. Since I was so afraid of failing another suicide attempt and exposing myself, I thought I would try to figure myself out. I became better at recognizing my depression and thought I was getting better at recognizing when it was happening and then “getting through it.”
From age 14 to 18, I counted 12 very bad episodes of depression lasting from 2-3 weeks initially to as long as 3+ months. By my senior year, I felt I was losing control again. Working a full-time job at Krogers wasn’t distracting me from it any longer, and I attempted suicide for the second time toward the end of my senior year by drinking a bottle of rum mixed with coke and taking a full bottle of an OTC sleep medication.
This time I thought it would work. I sat in the back yard of my parents’ house and remember being very drunk and beginning to go to sleep (or pass out really). I fell down on the grass at 2am (ish) and remember not being able to move. I woke up once I think with my face in a puddle of vomit. Next thing I remember was waking up in my bed cleaned up in pajamas. Once again, nothing happened and no one said anything. My depression was so bad afterward that I was admitted to the hospital psych unit for seven days. That was during spring break, so no one outside of my family knew.
After that, the depression was fairly consistent which, ironically, made it easier to deal with and gave me some hope. I went to college where I did very well for a while, masking it by becoming a pretty wild guy (drinking, sex). That lasted throughout my five years as an undergraduate student. I always hated drinking… for me, it was too much work and time buying liquor and I didn’t get fast results drinking. When I started graduate school, it gave me a HUGE sense of hope and drinking was no longer necessary for me. After graduate school, I decided to change EVERYTHING and create my own life on my terms.
For the first time in MANY years, my depression began to subside. The episodes became less frequent and far less severe. With that, I began to feel happy again. I went several years with only one significant episode that lasted a few months. I made it through that and felt I had finally gotten to the point where I could control it.
Then, in 2001, my dad became very ill. I was incredibly strong during that time, helping my dad during the end of his life, then helping my mom put her life back together as well. I felt awesome that I had the strength to do that. I left a job and lived with my parents to help. When all of that began to quiet down and everything became “normal” again for everyone, I experienced my first severe depression in several years.
I tried for many years after that to manage the episodes that grew in frequency and intensity. I had professional jobs but jumped from one to another. In 2013, I found a great job in Minneapolis so I moved here from Indiana. Everything seemed to get better again until my mom’s health declined. I left my job and new home in Minneapolis and moved to Chicago to be closer to my mom in Indiana. I spent two years there but things began to drastically change.
My depression was getting worse than it ever had been. I began to lose sleep and my mind was becoming filled with irrational thoughts that, over a period of two years, lead me to becoming very emotionally unstable and angry. I felt myself really losing control and began to lose weight. I sought the help of counselors on my own with little success. By that time it was affecting my job so I did something I never had done. I talked with my supervisor, expressing my need for help and a plan for getting the help I desperately needed. That felt great at first, but imploded. Rather than supporting and helping me, my employer wanted to sweep everything under the proverbial rug, labeling me as a behavioral problem and dictating everything they expected of me to keep my job. Over a period of six months, I was slowly forced out of my job.
My depression spiraled out of control so I turned to meth to cope. It surprisingly helped me for a while but not enough. In June of 2014, I ultimately lost my job in Chicago so lost my apartment at the same time. I was homeless for the first time in my life. I got rid of everything I owned that couldn’t fit into my car, and drove back to Minneapolis with the hope of getting help. When I got here, I had nothing and was draining what money I had saved simply trying to stay alive. The first week in July, my car broke down and was towed away. That led to my intense meth use just to stay alive. At the end of July, I had nothing left and realized my life had to end so attempted suicide for the 3rd time by injecting a large amount of meth and drinking a dose of G and OJ. This happened in Loring Park.
At my ABSOLUTE lowest point of my life when my desire to die had never been more intense, two police officers confronted me at 3am on a very hot rainy night. I had just overdosed on meth and G and was totally naked waiting everything to end. They told me I was under arrest but I had no clue what was happening. Rather than going to jail, I was taken to HCMC where I remained for two weeks. My HCMC experience was almost worse than my overdose. However, eventually I met with someone there who, for the first time, honestly and sincerely wanted to know everything about me to help me.
After my two weeks, I had a court hearing and was sentenced to one year of strict probation that included intense therapy, counseling and both anti-depression and anti-psychotic medication to stabilized my brain chemistry. After that year, I would not have a record and would be able to rebuild my life again.
During that year, I am TREMENDOUSLY grateful to have been offered a great temporary position with the State of Minnesota. I never shared with my supervisors what had happened but something unexpected happened in those four months. During that time, I had not yet had a full grasp of my mental illness but worked hard to improve. I didn’t hide my depression and became open with my supervisor about being in counseling. I feared a repeat of what happened in Chicago happening again but the opposite became the reality. They not only supported me without knowing the underlying reasons for my depression and counseling, but also extended my temporary status to eight months and still continued to be supportive.
Then I became ill, needing hospitalization for an infection I probably acquired a couple years prior when my life was beginning to crash. Not only did my employer support me through that, they believed in me so much that my position became permanent at my one year date of being hired. My job became permanent on September 5, 2016.
That is when I decided I would NO LONGER hide my mental illness and came here with my story. I don’t have my car any longer but have a beautiful apartment of my own, a great job I love and hope to be at for many years and a new home here in Minnesota where everything ultimately came together. I no longer have any desire to go back to the drugs and heavy drinking of my past and can truly say that I am happier than I could have ever imagined I could be. I now openly acknowledge that my “mental illness” is simply a part of who I am. I accept it, but will no longer define myself by it.
I sit in my apartment nearly every night, thinking about what has happened in my life and how I somehow survived what I did. Allowing myself to think about everything does not make me sad or nervous any longer. I won’t let myself be embarrassed or ashamed of anything despite what anyone might think. It happened for some odd reason and, whether I like it or not, it is all part of the past and my life, and I am very thankful to be alive!