May is Mental Health Month, and at the North Branch Area Library May 11, Bill Giddens and Katrina Hendrickson gave presentations about living with mental illness and achieving recovery.
NAMI Minnesota (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults with mental illnesses. “In Our Own Voice” is a public education program during which two trained speakers share their personal stories.
Here are the five concepts the speakers touched on when it comes to struggling with a mental illness:
• Dark days.
• Coping skills.
• Successes, hopes, dreams.
Both presenters have been through dark days and have struggled throughout the years with their mental illness. Giddens is a retired Navy veteran and has been living with bipolar disorder for years.
“I’ve been going to treatment off and on and seeing counselors throughout my life,” he said.
Hendrickson was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 18 years old, and later was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, which is schizophrenia and bipolar together.
“I didn’t really accept it at first,” she said. “I was losing jobs, going to school, but I was struggling.”
She would write in her journals that she knew something was wrong with her mind.
“I was looking in the dictionary for words that described what was wrong with me,” she said. “The words ‘mania’ and ‘manic-depression’ fit with what I was feeling. At that moment, I accepted it, and realized that I needed treatment.”
Giddens’ acceptance came when he had a manic episode that lasted about six months.
“I realized I had to start accepting my illness because it was going to destroy my life and my family’s life,” he said. “I can’t make other people accept it, but I can accept it. My wife was very supportive, and I started getting the help that I needed.”
Hendrickson started using natural remedies as a form of treatment, but they did not work. She decided to go on prescription medicine, and she did not like the side effects. She finally found a medication that didn’t make her feel tired or hungry all the time. However, she said it makes her feel irritable.
“I would rather learn how to deal with the side effects than not be accepted by the public, my friends and family,” she said. “Once you learn the tools to deal with that, then it’s really worth it.”
Giddens started on medication a few years ago, and it has helped him live a normal life. He sees a psychiatrist every couple of months and goes to NAMI support groups.
“There are times when I think I can make it through the day without the meds, but the proof is in the years prior — I can’t really do without the meds,” he said.
Hendrickson copes with her illness by reading a lot meditation, spiritual, and self-help books. Also, she does yoga, which helps her with stress reduction and management. Currently, she is the board president of the Duluth NAMI chapter.
“Now that I’m well, I feel happy about helping others in the NAMI community,” she said.
Giddens copes by getting up at the same time every day and going to the YMCA. After a workout, he and his friends like to go out for coffee, and in the summer they play a lot of golf.
“When you have a lot of free time, you need to have a structured day,” he said.
Successes, hopes, dreams
Hendrickson never thought she would be where she is today.
“I have achieved a college degree, got married, and had a baby,” she said. “I never thought that would happen.”
Giddens hopes to be a grandpa someday and wants to travel and offer support to people who suffer from mental illness.
“You can live well with mental illness,” he said. “It’s not going to be 100 percent good all the time, but it’s not going to be 100 percent bad all the time either,” he said. “We are living a life of recovery.”
For more information on NAMI, go to www.namihelps.org.