Jan Anastasato's Story
In high school, drawing the shades and listening to Rachmaninoff's "Isle
of the Dead" on occasion could have been the beginning of depression or
just teen angst.
In my 30's, I was a daily drinker, as were most of my friends, and I was
trying various self-help programs to feel better. Many psychiatrists told
me my use of alcohol was an attempt to self-medicate the mood swings, although
I didn't drink while depressed, only when manic. Then alcohol lost its
ability to stop me from being out of control.
At 41, a business failure and split from my husband threw me into a severe
depression on the heels of what I now recognize was mania. Looking over
my old planners, I could see the pattern of four months of mania followed
by six months to a year of depression, then back to mania again. That same
year I was hospitalized in Athens, Greece while manic. Being locked up
in a foreign country by my ex was terrifying, but it was the first place
my manic depression was recognized.
My other hospitalization was in Florida in 1980 when my ex cut off my
funds. The IRS was after him and he wanted to make sure I couldn't testify.
He had my psychiatrist write the IRS about my "condition." When I learned
this months later, I was manic again and unable to press charges against
the doctor. I have a son who was a teenager during this time and this was
very hard on him. I finally learned that only time and my continuing stability
would convince him to trust me again.
My last manic episode was 1991. I lost my job and lived on credit cards,
which led to bankruptcy when I crashed into the inevitable depression.
The second psychiatrist I saw in this period prescribed the right medications
for me and I began to get better. In all, I have had 11 psychiatrists,
only two of which I considered good for me.
I read all I could find about my illness. I also found a local support
group where I got most of my information about the help available. There
I learned that compliance with my medication and acceptance of my illness
would begin my recovery. Thirteen years later, I now facilitate that group
to make sure it's still there for others who need it as much as I did.
I suggest people dealing with mental illness go to support groups where
they will be with others who know exactly what they're going through and
will encourage them, share information about treatment, deal with family
members, and help build the life skills needed to cope with their illness.
And they are free.
While getting computer training through Voc Rehab, I was volunteering
at a new drop-in center. (I encourage others to volunteer as they are recovering.
You meet new people, they are happy you show up, you earn a reputation
for reliability, and you prove to yourself you are still competent. Somebody
always knows someone who is looking for an employee to hire.) Through that
director, I learned of an opening at the Mental Health Association of Broward,
where my illness was an asset. In other interviews in the corporate world
I didn't get a call back if I shared my illness.
My boss is the best advocate I have ever seen and my mentor. My first
assignment was to compile a booklet of mental health services and support
in our county, the back cover of which lists famous people with mental
illness and the heading "People with Mental Illness Enrich Our Lives."
Eleven years later, I am still there with a life that has meaning and running
a unique program called 9Muses Art Center, Gallery & Frame Shop, a
drop-in center with a focus on the arts. While our consumers participate
for free, non-consumer members pay to join the classes, working alongside
our consumers in a wonderful reversal of the usual stigma. THEY want to
play with US!