Kevin Coyle “A Deaf Recovery Story”
Losing control of your mind, of your very being is a scary thing. It impacts and influences everything: how you act and what you believe. I never thought it would happen to me. When I was a senior in high school, I thought that I would go to college and perhaps become a writer someday. As a deaf man I have some understanding of what it is like to have a disability, but nothing prepared me for mental illness.
I was diagnosed with a mental disorder after my first breakdown that occurred at an intense academic seminar. A chemical imbalance in my brain distorted my perception of me and my environment. Eventually I recovered enough to return to college. Only through regularly meeting with my psychologist and psychiatrist and taking my medications have I been able to maintain some level of stability. Even with all this help, I had several other smaller breakdowns that forced me to leave school for a few weeks at a time. Unfortunately, my peers could not understand what I was going through. Socially I felt very alone. I felt like I was hiding a big secret that I couldn’t let others know. My deafness made me feel even more alone. I could hear in one-on-one conversations in a quiet setting, but in the loud dining hall packed with people I was lost.
Fortunately my academic adviser did understand my situation. A funny and light-hearted person, he always brightened my day. He worked creatively with me to figure out how I could pass the requirements, despite my illness. He allowed me to take a lighter load when four or five courses proved to be too much. Even then I had to take many extensions on assignments just to get by. Finally, in May of 2007, I graduated with a self-designed degree mainly in philosophy and politics.
After I graduated I plunged to a new low. Although I earned a degree, my self-confidence was still crushed. I had no friends, nor did I have many contacts. I was scared of the world and God was nowhere to be found. I felt hopeless and in the dark. I didn’t bother to go to church. I slept most of the day and went through the motions of things without meaning or purpose. During that year I hit rock bottom. I saw no future in my life. Yet, my mom assured me that God loved me and there was a brighter future ahead. I didn’t believe her at the time, but it turned out she was right.
By the end of the year I was accepted into a program for deaf individuals who are mentally ill. All the members there were very nice and supportive. While living at the group home, I have made many friends, something I never had before. There I could understand people and be understood. The fact that we all have mental illnesses allows for a still deeper bond than deafness alone. We are like a family. We look out for one another and cheer up our fellow members when they are down. In their kindness and goodhearted jokes, I can see God working through them. Through friends, God has answered my prayers.
Another organization that helped me immensely is On Our Own, a nonprofit organization that is for and by people with mental illnesses. I will never forget the first time I entered the building nervous and shy. The staff member there listened to my story and helped me submit some of my poems for their annual publication, The Fellow Traveler. That was three years ago. Since those first steps into the building I have joined a writing workshop, attended annual conferences, served on the consumer council board, and participated in a mental health rally in Annapolis. For the first time in my life I feel a part of something that is making a difference in the community.
I have lived in the group home for two years now. The program is not perfect, but it has allowed me to slowly regain confidence in myself. I now attend a swim practice class at the YMCA. Recovering from the crushing blow my illness had on my self-esteem, I am rediscovering my passion for performing. Recently, I did a juggling and magic show for a local coffee company for their open-mic night.
My struggles humbled me and allowed me to appreciate the small victories in life. I have come closer to God and my spiritual side. I began to attend church regularly again, after a long hiatus. In the past, the words were empty and void. Now the Bible’s lines speak to me on a much deeper level than in the past. Church service makes me feel spiritually refreshed and ready to tackle another week.
Another thing that has helped me get through dark days is the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin reminds me of the playful, creative part of me that I sometimes lose sight of when I am depressed. By my bedside I keep a copy of one of my comic strip books entitled, “It’s a Magical World.” On the face of it Calvin and Hobbes are trudging through the snow. Whenever I look at this cover I am reminded that life is full of wonder, beauty, and magic.
When I was a senior in high school I never dreamed that I would have a mental disorder, but sometimes good things come out of a bad turn of events. My mental illness, although unfortunate, has brought me into a warm and caring deaf community. Now I am so blessed with what I have. I am thankful for my friends who warm my heart, for my adviser who believed in me, for my family who stood by my side through thick and thin, and for the staff and doctors who work with me. Without them I would not be where I am today. I am thankful, but I still dream of a better life. I hope someday to move on to graduate school. How I will do this I don’t know, but I have faith that if I work at it, God will provide somehow, someway.