Personal Stories

Navigating the Ups and Downs of Mental Illness

by Brandt Schubbe

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In 2008, I struggled immensely with suicidal ideation. At the peak of a mental health episode, I was diagnosed with bipolar and schizoaffective disorder. Before I was diagnosed, I didn’t know what was happening to me. I was sleepless, restless and anxious. I couldn’t trust my family, friends or even myself. This state of confusion was scary, and I broke down to my mother. After I confessed the challenges I’d been facing, I was hospitalized.

When I first received my diagnoses, I felt guilty and ashamed. I felt as though I did something wrong. I didn’t even feel worthy of being a part of the human race. I was also not responsive to treatment in the hospital. Doctors prescribed medications, but I continued to struggle. I was able to get my bearings after some time, but I was often preoccupied by my fear that I would never leave the hospital. My treatment team gave me pamphlets about my mental health conditions, but I wasn’t able to read them, as my mind was constantly racing, and I was angry at the world for being hospitalized. I was struggling — but the worst part was that my family was confused and scared.

Over the years, I have been in and out of hospitals in Minnesota — but I’ve also found periods of happiness and stability. The fear of being locked away forever has never fully disappeared, but I have come to understand my illness — it is a health issue like any other, and it is not something I should feel ashamed of.

Things really changed once I heard about NAMI. I read about stories of people like me who were overcoming struggles beyond their control. I even decided to get involved myself. In 2012, I attended a training to chair a NAMI Connections Group in Minneapolis. Even though I was a facilitator, my participants taught me how to open up, and I no longer felt like a “loner.” For the first time, I was part of a group of people who could teach each other how to cope with our challenges. I facilitated the group for a year, and my symptoms abated for about five years.

Then, in 2018, I had another episode after my grandfather died. I was overworked and sad, so things began to fall apart. I awoke in the hospital with paint on my face and clothes. I had foggy memories of police officers questioning me, but I only remembered making an attempt on my life, which landed me back in the hospital in St. Paul. I wish I could say that was my last visit, but my struggles continued.

One night, after being up for a few days, I called my Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team and told them I was suicidal. They guided me to a crisis center, where I was able to get some rest and resume my recovery. As I recovered, I came to realize that healing and finding appropriate resources while in a treatment center can be an isolating experience. Because of this, I wanted to share my story to help others who may be feeling that loneliness.

Ultimately, I’ve learned that while I live with mental illness, my life does not need to be defined by mental illness. Moving forward, I will do my best to continue educating others.