Despite my bipolar disorder and PTSD from a very early age, I had a loving, stable life. I worked hard, but eventually I wore out. In 1994, I had a breakdown. I started sleeping all day, avoiding my responsibilities to my job, my friends, my boyfriend, everything. I stopped investing in myself, pushing my daily showers to weekly, then monthly. The world became grey as I faded away from the things I loved. Friends backed away.
My boyfriend brought me to the doctor and we left with a prescription for antidepressants and an order to return in a month. I was angry; this couldn’t be solved with pills. Paranoia crept in. I started fighting with my neighbors and boyfriend, who eventually said I was too moody and left. I spiraled out of control. My mom brought me to the same doctor, who wrote another prescription before pushing us out the door. Once I stabilized long enough to send my mom home, I stopped eating and my weight dramatically and dangerously dropped. My 12-year-old son Jesse was afraid to tell anyone what was going on. He lived off peanut butter, apple juice and school lunches for a few months.
My paranoia took over. I was convinced the FBI and CIA were after my son and me, and figured that if I killed the two of us it would both end my pain and prevent him from ever experiencing it. Fortunately, my father and son’s pediatrician were able to intervene.
My behavior continued to spiral out of control, and I was arrested for setting my neighbor’s truck on fire. I was put in maximum security for three months, followed by eight years of probation. My dad had custody of Jesse the whole time.
After my release, I ended up on the streets for a month. My sister took me in, and I sought counseling for my son and me. My demons still haunted me, but I got wonderful help from my mom, sister, and psychiatrist. My family and I hooked up with NAMI and we went to support groups. My counselor also put me into karate class for discipline, self-esteem, and self-work.
In that period when I was getting healthy again, I had to take baby steps. And then one day I woke up, and by the grace of God, I made a plan and set a goal to go back to my home state of Florida to make the system better. Though I felt that the justice system failed me, I wanted to use my experience as motivation to make it better for others and that’s what I’ve done. I was there when Pinellas County started their crisis intervention team and have been a speaker since the beginning, which was almost 20 years ago.
I credit a team of support for my recovery: NAMI, doctors, counselors and social workers. I have my psychiatrist and my Monday night support group, and everyone from the NAMI family has become my friend. I’ve gotten really involved with NAMI, facilitating my own support group and spreading awareness about mental illness and recovery, and I’ve even won a few awards for my volunteering.
Most importantly, my son is doing well now, and our relationship has mended. He has graciously extended to me his understanding and forgiveness and we have developed a great friendship.
There was a time when my future wasn’t visible past tomorrow, and now my life is whole and I am happy.
Terry Taggart lives in Clearwater, FL. She runs a dog grooming business, facilitates support groups and volunteers for NAMI Pinellas.