Surviving Mental Illness: My Story

Surviving Mental Illness: My Story

by Linda Naomi Katz


Publisher Outskirts Press

Published in Biographies & Memoirs/Memoirs, Biographies & Memoirs, Self-Help, Health, Fitness & Dieting, Nonfiction

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Book Description

A memoir about the heartbreaks and challenges of growing up with bipolar disorder and the journey I went through to achieve recovery.

Sample Chapter


In 1993, I suffered a nervous breakdown which frightened me and my family. I had no idea what I was doing. I felt as if I was in another universe that was not real. I had trouble sleeping, had racing thoughts going through my head, heard voices, had grandiose notions, and talked rapidly. When my parents realized that I might have a mental illness like my mother had, my father called Dr. Nass and told him all about my symptoms. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Nass told us to come and see him. The doctor took one look at me and diagnosed me with manic depression/bipolar disorder.

As I stated in chapter one, manic depression/bipolar disorder is a radical change in a person’s mood, where they alternate from being very depressed to being in an overactive state. I will describe some of the manic episodes that occurred during my nervous breakdown.

In 1993, I had my first manic attack. The first time this happened frightened my family, yet in my mind, I was on top of the world. It started with Al, the boy that I had an infatuation with during college. I could not get him out of my mind. I heard a variety of voices in my head, but none of them were as powerful as those I heard about Al. I thought these voices were real, so I listened to them. I told my friends that Al was my boyfriend, when in reality he was not. When I volunteered at Forest Hills Community House, a senior citizen center, I met an elderly woman who I thought was Al’s grandmother, and a young woman who I believed was his sister. Once, when the community house took the senior citizens to Flushing Meadows Corona Park to visit a museum, another racing thought about Al came to my mind. In this thought, I believed I was getting married to him and having his five children. When I told these things to my friend, she told me that Al did not have a sister and that I was not going to be married to him because he did not feel the same way. Can you imagine what my friends thought of me?

During that same time, I went to see the Hillel director at Queens College, and for some reason, told him that Al and I were getting married. I had no idea what was wrong with me. At Hillel, I went from room to room going crazy as I looked for him because I kept hearing him call my name. The director knew that I was not being myself and believed I was on drugs. He called my father and asked him to come right away. My father knew immediately that I was suffering from some type of mental illness, the same way my mother had. He told the Hillel director that I was not on drugs, but was mentally troubled.

At times, I would have hallucinations, as if I were viewing them on a TV screen. One hallucination was that Al and I got married and several of our friends from Queens College were our bridesmaids and ushers. Of course, this was not real, and after a few sessions with Dr. Nass, I began to see the light and realize the reality of my situation. This world I was in was so unreal that when the delusions started to fade away gradually, I began to wake up, as if coming out of a dream. I could not understand where these voices, thoughts and hallucinations were coming from. It is hard to understand how the mind works, but I knew that my mind would not let me do or say such things, unless there was a part inside me that wanted all this to be true.

Sometimes with bipolar disorder, one loses contact with reality. The mind begins reacting with poor judgment and one acts impulsively. Once, when I woke up at 6 a.m., I heard Al’s voice inside my head telling me to call him at that hour. When I heard him answer the phone, I could tell he was very tired. He asked me not to call him anymore, so I hung up, but somehow I wondered why I was not hurt by his remarks. As soon as I woke up to this reality, I realized what I had done. I felt so guilty because I had lost control of my mind. I could not blame Al if he stayed angry at me forever. I also heard the voice of his mother telling me to call her too. When my father heard about it, he said, “This is wrong! The woman could take you to court!” I had no idea why I acted so impulsively, and if I did, I knew I was not to blame, since this was part of my manic phase.

Sometimes, when having bipolar disorder, one develops manic episodes, believing they are the Messiah or a highly special type of religious person. Religion and spirituality have always been a part of my life as a modern orthodox Jewish person. Once, I had a manic episode when I was lying on my sofa in the living room. I believed I heard the voices of people from Queens College Hillel praying to me outside my window as if I was the Messiah or some very special prophet. As I know now, this was not real, but very much felt like it.

While I was going through this phase, I started seeing Dr. Nass, my mother’s psychiatrist. He put me on an antipsychotic medicine known as Prolixin, but kept encouraging me to take Lithium, a medication that could prevent further manic episodes from returning. I refused to take the medication because of the serious side effects Lithium had. I thought an antipsychotic like Prolixin would be enough to control the psychotic symptoms that came during my manic and depressive states, but this was not so.

After one year, another manic episode occurred. This time the mania led me to see a psychic to solve my problems and bring Al closer to me. I paid the psychic $2,500. When my father came back from Israel, I told him what had happened and he was furious. He knew that I was not in a healthy mental state, so he calmed down. The next day, my father went to the psychic with two police officers and forced her to return the money or go to jail. I had let a psychic take advantage of me and if I had been thinking clearly, this would never have happened.

After this, I started hearing Al’s voices again. Once, I went into a bookstore and started talking to a strange man when I thought he was Al’s father. I also went on shopping sprees. My parents asked me to go to Walgreens for a few items and I ended up buying things we did not need and spent a lot of money. My parents told me to return most of the items and get the money back.

At around that time, my father took me to see Dr. Nass again who strongly suggested I take Lithium. At that time, Lithium was the only medicine that could help control my mania along with the depression. Dr. Nass felt that it would be best to administer the drug in a hospital, since there was a lot of blood work to be done. I decided to give Lithium a chance. I went to Hillside Hospital, a part of North Shore Long Island Jewish Medical Center. This is a hospital that treats people with mental illness. My first night there was horrible. I did not feel comfortable because my roommate was not Jewish. Having a Jewish roommate was important to me because I liked to pray and I was kosher. Therefore, I needed someone who would understand my religious beliefs and customs. The next day, my father made sure that I would be in a room with someone who was Jewish.

At Hillside, the staff sat down with me and took notes of my history with bipolar disorder. They agreed with my doctor that I needed Lithium. Throughout the two weeks that I stayed in the hospital, I hated it because most of the patients had more serious problems than I did. Some were on drugs and smoked cigarettes. Each day that I was there, I looked forward to the day that I could go home and be with my family. However, there was one thing I liked at Hillside Hospital and that was the group meetings that I had with the other patients. It felt good to be around people who had similar diagnoses. It was nice to know that I was not alone because the groups made me understand how others with mental illness had bigger problems than the ones I had. Although I wanted to go home, I admit that meeting new people and making new friends gave me hope that one day I would recover from mental illness.

When I left Hillside, I went back to the Advanced Center for Psychotherapy. Although I was under the care of Dr. Nass, the clinic allowed me to continue to see him, as long as I came to see a therapist every week. My new therapist was very direct and strong minded. Once during a session, she noticed I was acting very peculiar and knew that I was in the beginning stages of developing another manic episode. This was at a time when I went to a party that Al hosted for singles. I felt euphoric and way too happy. My therapist contacted Dr. Nass and told her to tell me to take more milligrams of Prolixin, along with the Lithium. At that moment, I made an appointment to see Dr. Nass and he told me to start taking Depakote, an anticonvulsant mood stabilizer medication which was used to treat bipolar disorder and epilepsy. After taking Depakote for a few weeks, it helped stabilize my mood swings, whereby Lithium had no effect.

My psychiatrist wanted me to continue to take Depakote with the Prolixin. It helped clear my judgment and relieve me from some of the hallucinations that I had and voices that I heard in my head. Dr. Nass also gave me Cogentin which helped with muscle movements and which is a side effect one gets from taking Prolixin. It is one of the oldest medications that, to this very day, has worked miraculously for me and still does. As a result of these medications I took, the manic symptoms I had did not come back. I did not hear any more voices or have hallucinations. I was not euphoric anymore. Never again did I go on a shopping spree and my judgment was getting back to normal.

While I was battling my manic depression, my grandmother died at the age of eighty-eight. During the five years that she lived with us, we all got closer to her. Near the end, we took her to a hospice because it was hard for my mother to take care of her. I wanted to go to see her but I could not because there was a singles party that same night. I had thought it was more important for me to meet someone than to see my grandmother who was dying. Afterwards, I felt guilty because I should have gone with them. By morning, she passed away and I went with my parents and saw her lifeless. Again, I was afraid for my mother, but also for myself because of the mental illnesses that we both had. My grandmother’s death was hard on all of us, but it was also a relief because she was no longer suffering.

After this, I continued to see my therapist at the Advanced Center for Psychotherapy. She helped me come to terms with my illness, let go of Al, and solve many of the problems that I had with my family. However, I was still unhappy. I had problems building relationships, which posed difficulties in my romantic endeavors. I often talked with my therapist about this and she said to me, “When it is right, you will know”. At that time, I did not want someone with a mental illness, since there was enough of it in my family. I knew that there was a lot of stigma towards the mentally ill and I took a risk when I told friends that I suffered from bipolar disorder. Every time I dated someone new, I felt I should be honest with them. However, once I said something about my mental illness, they would run away from me and would not care about the other good qualities I had. This made me realize how much stigma there is in the world.

I became very fearful of the outside world because I did not know how others would respond to me. You are often judged by your illness rather than as a person who has an illness. Soon I realized that I may have to look for someone to be with who suffered from a mental illness. I asked my therapist why this would be easier on me and she told me that I would not have to worry about the stigma when it came to dating a person with mental illness, and that there would be understanding and communication, since we shared the same pain, strife, and sense of emotional disconnection with others. As a result of being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I had a lot of challenges to face besides those in the dating world. I also feared going back to work. In the next few chapters, I will discuss these challenges and how recovery was possible.


Excerpted from "Surviving Mental Illness: My Story" by Linda Naomi Katz. Copyright © 2012 by Linda Naomi Katz. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Linda Naomi Katz

Linda Naomi Katz

Linda Naomi Katz born on March 21, 1969, by the name of Linda Naomi Baron, raised as a modern orthodox Jew, where mental illness became a factor throughout her life. It had started with her mother when she was in the fifth grade. Her mother had suffered a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed with acute depression. This gave Linda and her family a huge amount of stress. As she was growing up into adulthood, her mother's illness affected her in ways that she too would become a depressed person. Linda had difficulties making friends, developing positive relationships, and maintaining employment. After she graduated college, she also suffered from a mental illness and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

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