Five years after my Meltdown, in 2008, I read a memoir written by a woman with bipolar disorder. I had just gotten out of the hospital after a suicide attempt brought on by my decision to reduce one of the medications I was taking. I was trying to come to terms with my illness, and reading about others’ experiences helped. The memoir I read was well-written and funny. However, I thought my story was as compelling as this woman’s, and decided to write a book about my own experiences. At the time, there was no noble motivation for me to write my story. When I was still working in mental health, I had always joked that I was going to write a book containing the more outrageous incidents I encountered, so the idea of writing a book wasn’t new to me. In 2008, I actually had the time to write. I wasn’t working at the time and needed something productive to do, rather than sitting around all day watching TV and eating. So I went out and purchased a new computer to replace my relic.
Sharon was surprised when I told her my plan, as she had been encouraging me to journal for about fifteen years, to no avail. I resisted journaling because I didn’t feel I was any good at it. I had tried journaling before entering therapy, and just felt stupid. I’ve never been very good at expressing my emotions verbally, so writing them on paper was difficult. Sharon was supportive of the idea of me writing a book partly, I believe, because she felt that it would be therapeutic for me to process my Meltdown and following years in writing.
I wrote a couple of chapters at that time, then life intervened and the project was forgotten for the most part. Sharon and I talked about it at times, and at some point the idea of writing a book together, to tell both of our perspectives on the Meltdown year, came up in conversation jokingly at first and then more seriously. I thought this was a great idea as I didn’t remember ever seeing a book written from the perspectives of both client and therapist.
Sharon was still my therapist then, so we obviously couldn’t write the book together. Also, we used to jokingly say we needed to wait for the “happy ending” before we wrote the book. I used to think the happy ending would be the time when I returned to work full-time and got off disability. Over the years, it became clear that this wasn’t going to happen, as my stress tolerance is very low. So the happy ending was altered to be the time at which I could accept my life as is, mental health limitations and all.
I have reached that happy ending. I’m hoping that by telling my story, I’m able to help others in a different way. If nothing else, I am one more voice speaking out to decrease the stigma associated with mental illness, and that’s important.
Robin Personette is an intelligent, funny, caring and likable person who also happens to experience significant symptoms of mental illness. She completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Indiana University. She worked full-time in the mental health field for many years in different capacities including as a psychiatric technician on child and adolescent residential units, supervising a group home, and working as a case manager at a community mental health center. She now works part-time and enjoys watching sports, reading, and spending time with her family and friends.