The following is excerpted from the speech I gave at the 2003 NAMI Washington Annual Conference. I debated for some time whether or not I should post this. It speaks of some difficult times for me, but it also speaks of the recovery I have made – and continue to make.
My life changed in August of 1997.
That June, I was running a small and almost profitable Graphic Design studio. The Internet was just starting to take off and we were expanding our business from print design to web design. To make that step, I arranged a business trip to Los Angeles with my father.
It was on that trip when everything changed.
We had lived in the LA area when I was 5 years old and in Kindergarten. Dad wanted to see some of the old neighborhood so we went for a drive.
That was when I had my first flashback.
I didn’t know what it was then, but I knew I was going crazy. I was hearing things, seeing things, even tasting and smelling things. I knew none of it was real but it seemed real enough.
Over that first few weeks I had more flashbacks and started having nightmares. The more I had the more that came. I don’t remember much of those first few months except the terror I lived with each day. I was afraid to sleep, afraid to leave the house except to go to work – and the work I did manage to do suffered. I was afraid to tell anyone what was going on.
It was a few days before Christmas when I finally told someone I was having a nervous breakdown. We were in Spokane for the holidays and I was sharing a room with my nephews, which made it harder to hide the fact that I wasn’t sleeping. I was walking around the house late one morning when my sister Roni woke up, we talked for a while and somewhere in that conversation I told her a little about what was going on.
By then it was too late, things had gotten worse. By the time we got back to Seattle I just wanted to die. On January 3rd, 1998 a friend of mine convinced me to go the hospital instead of ending my life. My roommate drove me to Evergreen Hospital where I was shuffled around before being sent to the Psychiatric Ward at Overlake Hospital.
They gave me medication to help me sleep, and to treat the Depression that had set in. More importantly, they gave me a name for my illness.
I finally knew what to call this thing that had cost me my business, and almost ended my life.
Over the next year I ended up back in the hospital 3 more times to get me through one crisis or another. I also started seeing a therapist who specialized in treating Trauma Disorders. My family was very involved and supported me every step of the way, visiting me daily while I was in the hospital.
Over the last 7 years I struggled with my health, my finances, my career, and my relationships. It’s been a very long 7 years, but with the help of therapy and the support of my friends and family I reclaimed a large part of my life.
Today, I still have the flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety. There are still times when I’m afraid to go to sleep, or even to go outside. Six months ago I had to withdraw from some classes at school because my symptoms worsened.
But I got through it, like I’ll get through each episode in the future.
Today, my therapy continues, and my family is still right here. I am active in NAMI Eastside, I will be graduating from Bellevue Community College in January, and I help my father coach my nephew’s soccer team. I am as active and as happy as I was before that trip to LA, something I never thought I would be able to say.
I’m also in a happy and healthy relationship with a wonderful woman.
Four years ago, she asked if I could build her a simple web page to help organize her list of Mental Health Resources. With her ideas, I started work on that small page. I’ve been working on it ever since. With the help of my girlfriend, my family and some friends that site has grown into the largest consumer owned and operated Mental Health site online, Mental Health Matters. That first site also led to the creation of other websites, including GetMentalHelp.com.
You can learn more about our websites by visiting us at our booth.
I want to thank my parents for all their support during this. My mom, Carol Bennick, is in the back of the room somewhere. My dad, Ron Bennick is speaking next.