I published the following post and it elicited much response:
My name is Rev. Tony Roberts and I live with my wife Susan and lab Briley in Columbus, IN. I have a diagnosis of rapidly cycling bipolar disorder with psychotic features. Every day is an adventure. Some are joyous. Others are volatile. Thanks to the grace of God, the miracle of medicine, and the support of my caregiving team, I do relatively well, though I have limitations others do not have. On my best days, you could never tell I have a severe mental illness. Then there have been days when I’m confined to bed and see no future beyond the next labored breath.
In February of 1995, I was riding high — an ambitious pastor with a young family at a church poised for growth. I was driven to succeed, to make a difference in people’s lives and have an impact on my community. I worked night and day to make this happen. When it didn’t happen overnight, I got depressed. I went to a family doctor who prescribed an antidepressant. It worked. Boy did it work. It kept me up day and night carrying out ministry and concocting mission strategies to save individuals, the community, the world. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was dangerously manic
I stayed up for five days and five nights until I started seeing and hearing things others didn’t see and hear. I thought I was having a spiritual revelation. I now know it was more of a psychotic episode. I needed help. Intense help. And fast.
Through a series of fortunate events I now see as the hand of God, I wound up at a psychiatric hospital where I was voluntarily admitted for observation. There, when the doors locked behind me, I lost rational consciousness. I had a vision that it was the End of the World and that those gathered in this place were the saved remnant. My next thought was to break out and save my family, so I ran down the hall and tried to knock down the glass security doors, to no avail. I blacked out. Later another patient said it took seven persons to subdue and sedate me. One burly man would later take me aside and confess, “I did what you did, on the outside, and got 10 years in prison.”
I share this story to reveal that those who experience psychotic symptoms can indeed be volatile and unpredictable. But it isn’t all we are. After getting properly diagnosed and medicated, I went on to enjoy a relatively normal and productive dozen years. I helped raise four children, served fill time in ministry and was a community leader.
That’s not the end of my story, however. My life took a turn for the worse. As my illness progressed, I was unable to meet the demands of a ministry and maintain peace in a problematic marriage. I went on disability, got a divorce, and moved into a tiny attic apartment in an unfamiliar city. One night, symptoms of mania and confusion prompted me to call a mental health crisis line. Rather than deescalating the symptoms, it exacerbated them. While I was not an imminent risk to myself or others, I could not communicate this adequately. The volunteer on the line called 911. I put on my slippers, took off my belt, and grabbed a Bible. Then I went outside to wait for someone to help.
In a flash three police cars pulled up. A total of seven officers cautiously circled me, hands hovering above their holsters. Fortunately I was not psychotic so they were able to calmly escort me to the ambulance when it arrived. I give credit to them for this. I was taken to the psych hospital where I was observed for 72 hours before being released in a better frame of mind.
I was terrified throughout this episode. The sight of so many officers ready to draw their guns may be viewed by some as extreme force. I don’t see it this way. I do wonder how the outcome could have been worse had I been psychotic. Mostly, I’m grateful I was alert enough to stay calm such that the situation could be resolved.
I’m now one of the fortunate ones who has been blessed with insight and a support network of care. I am committed to a twice daily regimen of medicine monitored regularly by a psychiatrist and reviewed by a pharmacist. I consult a psychiatric nurse if I become symptomatic. I engage in psychotherapy with a licensed clinical social worker to better assess my mood states and chart a life plan. I practice spiritual disciplines such as prayer, worship, and participation in a faith-based mental health support group.
My family and friends play a large role in keeping me moving forward in recovery. I have given them permission to tell me frankly when I am off, knowing they will be honest and loving. My sister is a psych nurse and she knows better than anybody warning signs of mania and depression. She is teaching my wife such awareness. When things get too bad, I commit to personal self care like music, prayer, prn medication, or having a hug session with my lab Briley.
I now share my story through NAMI’s outreach to those involved in law enforcement. I believe it is essential to better equip officers and others who are often on the front lines of mental health crises. I appreciate all who serve their community and country by seeking to protect us from ourselves and others and believe this can best be done through proactive education that includes sharing our stories.
The comments have been overwhelming:
“Your story is powerful. Thank you for sharing it. I deeply honor the work, self-understanding, and profound courage that went into writing it.”
“Having traveled in the dark world of having a child incarcerated, and having met a half dozen mothers whose children were killed by the police, I have vowed never to call police in a mental health crisis. Instead I have phone numbers for the Crisis Stabilization Team on my fridge.”
“This needed to be said, and you said it very well.”
“Thank you Tony for sharing your struggles. You sure have been through a lot. It looks like you are having a good support team. Blessings to you!”
“Tony, that is awesome! SO, so needed! Thanks for being vulnerable.”
“Thanks for what you are doing and for sharing your story.”
“You bring hope and your story is inspirational.”
“Thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing your story! Mental illness affects the whole family and it is misunderstood. Many times people are afraid to call the police because if what might happen out of ignorance.”
“God bless you Tony. This is very courageous of you. I’m sure this will be such a great blessing to all who hear your message & save lives.”
I have severe depression 44 years,, good and bads too but love the Lord and he walks with me thru the Holy Spirit , PTL.
(And, in a private message) —
I think you may be happier if you don’t define yourself by your ailment. Just a thought. I wish you all goodness!