I'm glad you stopped by. My name is Joe, and I wanted to share my experience with a bi-polar illness.  I first suffered from depression in the 7th grade.  On the average, it seemed to hit me about once a year.  In most years, it would come in the spring which led me to believe I was having seasonal depression.

The highs and lows from this illness were painful to go through.  I had on-top-of- the-world experiences and times when I had crazy thoughts that the world was out to get me.  This led me to isolate myself and I suffered from the  void of communication with others.  High school was difficult.  It was a time when peer pressure was tough and my spirits, emotions, and physical well being were being dismantled.  Going into high school, my class rank was 11/40 and when I graduated it was 25/40.  I fell behind in my education and other school activities.  The great thing, however, was my family and friends were supportive of me.

I was 19 when a was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.  I began taking lithium then and still do today.  It is kind of similiar to the way a diabetic's body needs insulin, my body need lithium to function.  It has helped me immensely for over the last ten years.

I graduated from college at 23 with a degree in Psychology.  Since then I have worked with youth and people with disabilities.  I am married and have two sons,
2 1/2 and 5 months old.

Most importantly, I give credit to God for getting me through that difficult time in my life.  Sometimes things can seem easier after going through a time of trial.  Other than that, I am a pretty normal guy.......I like to read, go out to eat, fish, golf, and I love baseball.  And I especially love the wonderful family God has given me. 


I am writing to share with you a bit more of a painful story with a very happy ending. Because of my bipolar illness, I isolated myself at both school and home since I simply did not know how to express my feelings with this chemical imbalance going on in my head. It was especially frustrating during times of depression. I felt hopeless because of it, and was suicidal as a result.

If things were rough at school or at home, I would cope by running away...with no idea of where I was running. I figured that if I were to freeze to death out in the country, there was nothing I could do to stop that from happening. One day I left home after school and returned only after my teacher found me walking on a country road at about 11pm. I was pale and shaking like a leaf, and I remember that the teacher said a prayer for me then. Though I remember that now, I didn't understand then that it is God who was to turn my life around. 

Back to that scary evening. I spent part of the time in a deserted barn about 3 miles from town, and was tortured with very scary and dark thoughts. I was so confused. Finally, I decided to go back home when I realized I was hurting others. It was on my way home that I was picked up. What a lifesaver that teacher was! Recently, I had an opportunity to write to him and thank him for this role in saving my life that year.

Today I am more successful  in expressing feelings like anger and hurt, and I have a great relationship with my parents.  When I was a teenager, my family had such rough times around my illness, and my parents responded  with a lot of denial. I can understand their reaction now, though now I can understand that if you break your leg, you get a cast, and if your mind is hurting, you should have the same expectation that a doctor can help to relieve the pain, psychic as well as biologic. 

I'm happy to report that I have a wonderful loving wife who has helped me grow and has learned to understand my illness. She was in denial at first too, though we both have college educations and have studied about mental illness.  The great thing is that I no longer address my illness very much since my medication has been so successful!!! 

I owe my recovery and my happiness to God.  I really feel strongly about talking about the role my faith has played and giving credit to God for getting me where I am today.  My wife and I are also blessed with two children! 

This illness has been embarrasing, and because it is a hidden disability, I don't have the freedom to talk about it.  This is particularly hard for me because I am a social person.  I wish society had a healthier awareness of the nature of mental illnesses. If only that were to happen, the stigma that so many people experience might go away.

Thanks for visiting, Joe

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Joan Fleitas, Ed.D., R.N.
Associate Professor of Nursing, Lehman College, CUNY
Bronx, New York 10468

Last updated: November 14, 2004