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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration


Last Updated: 7/7/2008

SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)

 

Jeffrey Ryan's Story

Elvira E. SearsI was raised in Long Island, NY. I was a relatively active kid, and I had difficulty sitting still in school-I was bored and did much better with hands—on learning. When I was in my early teens, I started to hear a voice giving me commands. I was convinced God was talking to me. For example, God told me to go to Florida and start a civil rights movement, so I took my father's credit card and flew to Florida, where I was arrested for inciting to riot and disturbing the peace. I had several other episodes and wound up taking a lot of different trips in those years. I once tried to ride my bicycle to Washington, DC, to speak to the President, but I was picked up in Maryland. On a subsequent attempt to visit and speak with the President I was picked up by the New York City Police and refused to tell them my name, because I was told by God if they knew who I was they would kill me. I had not committed any crime and they knew I was delusional so I was sent to Bellevue Hospital. I remained there for 10 days.

At 13, I had auditory hallucinations telling me to kill myself, so I overdosed on pills.  At the local hospital it was decided for my safety I should be sent to long-term care. I was committed to a State hospital, where I was kept for 9 months. I was given a diagnosis of schizophrenia and put on several different kinds of medication. I also received electroconvulsive therapy and hydrotherapy. At that time, the medicines of choice were Thorazine, Stellizine, and Mellarile. The side effects of those medications were so horrible that I never stayed on the medications very long. I found the best alternative was "self-medicating" by abusing alcohol and drugs, which I did starting at age 14.

I graduated high school and got a scholarship for art school. Because I wasn't in a liberal arts curriculum, though, I couldn't avoid the draft, and nobody in the service believed there was anything wrong with me—they thought I was trying to get out of going to Vietnam. So I went, and finished a 3-year term of service. I did manage to complete my education, and after that, I moved to Florida, where I've lived ever since.

In my adult life, I've had about nine serious suicide attempts, and I've been hospitalized 15 times (two of which were long-term stays). When I was 35, a doctor from Chicago started coming down in the summers. He rediagnosed me as bipolar with psychotic features. In addition to the other medicines, I started taking lithium, which helped a lot. However, I still couldn't change my addiction to drugs and alcohol, and the use of these substances only seemed to create havoc in my life. It wasn't until the mid-80s that I found really positive treatment after I became involved with a peer support group. I learned a lot from my fellow consumers about medications and therapy that could serve as alternatives to the treatment I'd had. I have been on several of the newer medications and since then my life has taken a turn for the better. Since then, I have devoted myself to psychiatric advocacy and improvement of the mental health delivery system. In 1992, I opened a drop-in center in Naples, FL, which I ran for about 5 years. This experience not only helped me in my recovery and helped me maintain my mental health stability, but it also allowed me to share and hear other ideas about maintaining a normal life.

I want to share my story in hopes of giving others with psychiatric disabilities the knowledge that they are not alone and there is hope for the future. Recovery is possible and there is no shame in having a brain disease.

Jeffrey Ryan


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This Web site was developed under contract with the Office of Consumer Affairs in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. The views, opinions, and content provided on this Web site do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or HHS. The resources listed in this Web site are not all-inclusive and inclusion on this Web site does not constitute an endorsement by SAMHSA or HHS.