If the tone of this post has the flavor of rage, forgive me. Something happened that caused me to think on a topic which had gathered cobwebs in my head.
When you disclose to people who are not neuro-diverse that you live with a mental health condition, everything that you do is perceived by them through a prism of stigma and judgment. They become armchair psychiatrists.
The first thing was that I was told by a former psychiatric nurse (who does not happen to be the Nurse Practitioner who has kept me stable and out of acute psychiatric hospitals for half the time since my diagnosis) that because of my mental illness, I need to “live in a box, a scheduled routine.”
During #TheReal5150 social media campaign a little over a year ago, I came out on Facebook about living with BiPolar Disorder with psychotic features and the horrific things I experienced because of the 5150 process. As a mental health advocate, I am open about my diagnosis.
There are two other mental health conditions that I live with–PTSD and Anxiety Disorder. PTSD resulted from being on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on 9/11. Prior to that horrific day, I also never had anxiety symptoms. The onset of my BiPolar symptoms were also in 2001, in July of that year.
I have spent a total of eight months of my life in acute psychiatric facilities in increments ranging from a 72-hour hold to my last hospitalization in 2009 which lasted two months.
On July 14, 2009, after these 60 inpatient days, and after having been placed on a LPS conservatorship where I was of stripped rights basic to a human being, I stood next to my lawyer facing a judge who would decide whether I would have a six-month inpatient commitment.
The attending psychiatrist, who did not want me discharged, prepared a deposition in lieu of testimony. In it, he stated “She is extremely delusional. Rhonda states that she is the Controller of a company, that she has a posh office, that she was made president of the company, and that she earns $65,000/year.”
Mother fucker didn’t check the facts and didn’t listen. I was indeed a controller of a company earning $75,000/year and was assigned the president’s office after our privately held company was bought out by an international corporation.
Throughout my life, I have been career focused. My identity, self-worth, and happiness was measured in how successful I was at work.
In 2001, after spending a week as an inpatient, I had a follow-up exam with my psychiatrist. The first question out of my mouth was how soon I could return to work. Dr. Peterson had kind, blue eyes and a gentle way to him. He touched my leg and said, “Rhonda, you may need to face the fact that you will never work again.” I told him he was fucking nuts. I would not live in his box.
I experienced additional psychotic episodes in 2004, 2006, and finally in 2009. My psychosis has now been absent for two months shy of half the time since the onset of my illness. But I have been symptomatic with my PTSD and Anxiety Disorder this year.
Last year, in April, I would spook if someone walked up on me too quickly, or if a shadow suddenly caught my eye. These symptoms were brought on by being in a relationship where my partner threatened suicide whenever I wanted to leave the house.
Ever since 9/11, I would have a stress response anytime I saw a building either under construction or being demolished. The Anxiety Disorder would manifest itself whenever I was overwhelmed or being bombarded by stressful things that were out of my control.
Between July 2016 and April 2017, I was recovering from coming out of the abusive marriage described above. The isolating, lack of enthusiasm, and lack of enjoyment of everyday activities were all symptoms of a depressed mood.
Though I live with BiPolar, it is only mania that has impacted my ability to complete routine day-to-day tasks. Even when completely psychotic and hospitalized in the same facility as John Hinkley, Jr., I had a friend bring my checkbook and bills so I could make timely payments and preserve my credit rating.
Recently my behavior changed, which is cause for concern when one lives with a mental health diagnosis. I was no longer isolating but rather took opportunities to engage with people and be social. I took solo road-trips to pursue my passion. I added several paintings to my collection which has been twenty-three years in the making.
I have successfully managed my trifecta of illnesses for half the time since their onset through strict adherence to a medication regiment, support of peers, and working a Wellness Recovery Action Plan. I measure success by neither losing my job, nor being hospitalized, nor damaging relationships.
The past few months have brought serious triggers.
In January, my father’s Alzheimer’s had progressed to a state where he could no longer be cared for at home. Now he doesn’t remember that my mother died. He doesn’t communicate and in the past week doesn’t seem to care if I am there or not.
Just as recently as April, he would look forward to my coming with enthusiasm and when I arrived, he would greet me with a hearty, “It’s my Sweat Pea!”
I am saying a long good-bye to my father, watching the sunset of his mind through the progression of his disease. My father who was once so eloquent that he was complimented by the opposing attorney at the hearing where I could have been committed involuntarily for six months. His speech convinced the judge to release me into my father’s care which set me on the path to my eight-year stability.
Triggers can also be positive things. I just bought a house, a life changing event. Because of the loss of my mother and the resulting inheritance, it was purchased outright. Mother’s Day has been a hard day every year since I watched the light leave my mother’s eyes unexpectedly in a Stockton Emergency Room. Now I the walls rooms of my home echoed the loss of her.
So forgive me if I escape my Fresno life for a brief spell. I am not taking narcotics to forget, I am not spending money like I did in 2009, where I blew $20K in three days on nothing tangible but rather lived like a rock-star.
I am enjoying these five consecutive days off granted by my once-in-a-lifetime boss who saw my inability to focus at work and recognized that I needed intervention before I headed down a path that would end in hospitalization.
The only box I’ll see is the one at the end of my life’s story.
Rhonda Wirzberger | Badass Co-Founder & Managing Partner
Before co-founding American Badass Advocates, Rhonda managed finance, administration, and human resources at international non-profits headquartered in Washington, DC. She is a former NAMI Fresno board member and was the NAMIWalks Fresno Walk Manager in 2016.
She has shared her personal experience living of living with a mental health condition several hundred law enforcement officers and paramedics as part of their Crisis Intervention Training (CIT).
In addition to managing the operations of ABA, she is currently the Chief Financial Officer for a healthcare industry corporation.
Contact | Rhonda@AmericanBadassAdvocates.org