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Recovery and the Power of Informed Friendship

September 12, 2012
by Steve Bell
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A tale of two congressman

The feelings, the thoughts, the action and the inaction all seem to come out of nowhere.  Like a terrorist hiding inside your head,  it tosses bombs that are full of energy, euphoria and creativity, triggered by stress mixed with renegade neurons full of impulsive ideas, poor judgement and impatience.  You feel great, unstoppable, fearless and full of amazing ideas that often only you can appreciate or comprehend.   In these moments you may say and do things that you never imagined you might do, and often you may not even be aware of what is happenning to you and the impact your behavior has on others.

Then, after the sprint  to this peak of emotional and (at times) mental clarity and productivity, you may lose your grip on reality or more often slide back into the dark place at the base of the summit.  It may be a slow descent or a rapid fall.  Either way, something inside your brain is laughing at you, because you believed its propaganda, its lies and then lost control.  Now you feel foolish and guilty.  Now the assault of unspeakable sadness begins.

Is this what happenned to a congressman from Chicago, Illinois last  Spring before he was taken by his family for care because of what doctors were calling a 'possible mood disorder'?  What events led to the exhaustion and the depression that  he must now fight in order to find wellness for his body, mind and soul?   The Honorable Jesse Jackson, Jr., son of the civil rights activist whose name he shares,  may never fully understand what triggered his condition.  Those of us around the country and around the world who live with a similiar condition understand many of the emotions he probably feels as he begins to face the label that creates so much prejudice and discrimination against the so-called "mentally ill".   It has a name, though it is often used by insensitive reporters, entertainers and others as a  throw-away punch line or as a convenient  and simplistic way to explain the extreme or violent actions of a very small number of my peers.  Yes, this storm in the brain has a name:  bipolar disorder.

I don't know the specifics of Mr. Jackson's situation,  but it appears that the staff at the Mayo Clinic have done a thorough evaluation and  he is receiving  excellent care.    The words in the first two paragraphs of this blog descrbe how I felt before, during and after I was diagnosed with bipolar (aka, manic- depression).  Each person who faces this diagnosis finds their own words to describe what  has happenned and how they feel about it.  I wish Jesse Jackson Jr. and his family all the best as he begins his journey of recovery and a successful return to his job representng his constituents in the U.S. Congress. 

Which brings me to the main point of this blog: friendship as an essential aspect of peer support.   Recently Mr. Jackson was visted by a long-time colleague and friend, Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island.   Mr. Kennedy also has bipolar disorder and was a patient at the Mayo Clinic several years ago  after a drivng while intoxicated incident prompted him to reach out for help.  Now retired from partisan politics, Mr. Kennedy is a mental health advocate who frequently speaks around the country, sharing his story and his ideas  on how to move the recovery movement forward.  While he was in Congress, he fought for the Mental Health Parity Act, alongside his famous father, Senator Ted Kennedy.



Steve Bell

Peer-Provider and Advocate

Steve Bell

Steve Bell is the co-founder and executive director of  BrainStorm Career Services, a consumer-...

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