Jeffrey Ryan's Story
I 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 3½-year term of service. I did manage to complete
my education, and after that, I moved to Florida, where I've lived ever
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.