I am Constance, the second of six children. I have two sisters, Sherry and Teresa, and three brothers, Ken, David, and Bob. My father was a very dedicated high school math teacher and a respected member of the community while I was growing up. I have always been so proud of him. He is a smart and loving man. He and my mother are strong role models and taught us values. My mother was a homemaker and didn’t work outside the home until I was in high school. When all her children grew up, she taught four year old preschool for a number of years at a local church. She taught herself to play the piano when she was a young girl, and she would sing and play the piano for people she knew at home and at church. When she was older, she and her two sisters sang harmony on the radio. She taught my sister, Sherry, my brother, Ken, and I how to sing and harmonize together as children. We entered local talent contests and won first place every time. When she taught the kids at preschool, she had a little program of songs for the kids to sing for their parents at the end of each school year. I went to see it one year, and I was really impressed. To this day, she still remembers those kids and their families when she sees them or thinks about them. Her memory amazes me.
I got married in 1974 when I was 19, and my daughter, Melissa, was born when I was 20. My second child, John, was born 21 months later, and 3 years after that my second son, Scott, joined our family. During the early years of our marriage, John, my husband, and I were very close and had a happy life together. I thought our marriage would last a lifetime. However, he didn’t share my Christian faith, and we didn’t attend church together as a young family, and that left us vulnerable when I got sick in 1982 with bipolar disorder. With this mental illness, I had mood swings from elation to depression. Before my first breakdown, my husband and I had been going to marriage counseling in Fort Walton, Florida where we lived. We had only gone a few times, and the first thing our counselor told us to do was to begin to date again. She suggested that we take one day a week to get away from our children for some quality time together. I was excited about it, and made suggestions to John about some things that we could do. He wouldn’t even talk to me about it. He told me that if I wanted to go out that I could go out by myself. This made me feel so depressed and hopeless. I felt that I was losing my husband, and he didn’t even want to work things out. I was torn about what to do and I prayed for wisdom. While I was praying, I felt a peace that only comes from God, and I knew that He was with me. I was overwhelmed by a deep sense of calm and protection.
One night, I slept with my two year old son, and I was so depressed that I cried myself to sleep. In the morning I went to my girlfriend’s house and called my parents to ask to them keep the children for a few days so I could get myself together. When my parents arrived they begged for me to go with them, but I felt that I needed time alone. That night I was so upset that I was unable to sleep, and I stayed up all night cleaning my girlfriend’s kitchen. The next morning, I fell into a deep depression. I was so weak, I was having difficulty getting up to go to the bathroom. I remember looking in the mirror and not being able to recognize myself because I was so pale. When my girlfriend woke up to get ready for work she took one look at me and realized that I was in trouble. She was so upset that she went into the bathroom and vomited. She called my parents and they began making arrangements for me to be hospitalized. My girlfriend was afraid to leave me alone while she went to work, so she called my husband to tell him to come and stay with me at her house. Our marriage counselor got together over the phone with my husband and my parents, and recommended that I be admitted into a psychiatric ward at West Florida Hospital in Pensacola, Florida, an hour away where my parents lived. Instead of taking me there, John took me to the emergency room at General Hospital in Ft. Walton. He left me alone in the emergency room to fill out the papers to be admitted into the psychiatric ward. I was shaking badly, and I felt so cold a nurse put a warm blanket around me. I guess I was in shock. She showed me compassion, and that gave me the strength I needed to fill out the admission forms. I have never felt so alone, but I was to sick to be angry.
The next morning John came to the hospital, and I became extremely upset when I saw him. I could not calm down so I was given a medication called Haldol. I had a bad reaction to the medicine. I had difficulty breathing, and I couldn’t keep my tongue in my mouth. That day my parents and my sister, Sherry, came and had me transferred to West Florida Hospital. I was so sick that I could not sit up in the car. As we made the trip to Pensacola, my sister and my parents were talking sweetly to me, touching me, and trying to reassure me that I was going to be cared for in the best possible way. All at once, I felt a warm, loving feeling flooding my heart. I knew it was from God. I felt His presence, and my loneliness faded away. I put my trust in Him, and I knew He would be there for me through the presence of my family. Psalm 91:1 “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” When I got settled into the new hospital, I was given an antidote to help get the Haldol out of my system. This took several hours, and I suffered a great deal. After that was out of my system, I was given a relatively new medication at the time called Lithium. I responded well to the medication as far as the manic phase went, but the deep depression lingered. My husband and I lived together for a few months after I was released from the hospital. However, he could not deal with the stress of this disorder, and it caused a rift in our marriage that could not be mended, and we divorced shortly after that time.
After our divorce, my husband and I decided we wanted to try to heal our broken marriage. He moved back into our home, and we lived together for a year. However, things had changed so drastically for us because while taking my medication I couldn’t and didn’t want to socially drink. I started attending church again for guidance, and rededicated my life to God. This helped me a great deal, but John only went with me a few times. As things progressed, we seemed to grow farther apart. He wanted me to attend parties with friends where he would drink and I would stay sober. I felt awkward, like being on the outside of his life looking in. I just didn’t fit in his world anymore, and he didn’t fit in mine. In January 1983, he became frustrated with me after a super bowl party he attended with friends when he came home very late that night and found me sitting on the couch crying. I had been frantic with worry knowing he had been drinking that night and had to drive home afterward. When he saw how upset I was, he flew into a rage. He started packing his belongings into his car and told me he was leaving me for good. I went into the bathroom, took a razor, and started slicing my wrist. It was a moment of weakness. I felt like such a failure, and I was afraid everyone would feel that way about me. That became the moment when I realized that I had to surrender my life to Christ. I was brought to a point of not only making a commitment to accept Jesus as my Savior, as I had done when I was 18, but to trust Him as the Lord of my life as well. At that time, I gave Him complete control of my life. 1 Corinthians 6:20 “For you have been bought with a price.” John got on the phone and called my parents and told them what I had done, and they made him promise not to leave me by myself until they could get there. While we waited for my parents, we never spoke a word to each other, and all I could do was cry. As soon as my parents arrived, he left and that was the end of our relationship. The cuts on my wrist were superficial and did not require medical attention. That has been the only time I ever tried to hurt myself. For years after our divorce, I prayed that God would restore my marriage but over time I have come to leave my life in the hands of my maker. 1 Corinthians 7:15 “But if the husband or wife who isn’t a Christian insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the Christian husband or wife is not required to stay with them, for God wants his children to live in peace.”
After our final separation, my children, and I moved into my parent’s home. Sometime after that, I became engaged to a man who attended my church. He was selling Amway products and talked me out of using Lithium to control my mood swings. Instead, he wanted me to take Amway vitamins as a more natural cure. Before going off the Lithium, I was doing great and even my depression had lifted. A short time after I stopped taking my medicine, I had a relapse and in 1986, I was admitted to the Crisis Stabilization Unit at the Lakeview Center here in Pensacola. I spent several days there, and then I was sent before a judge where I was court-ordered to be sent to the State Hospital in Chattahoochee, Florida, for three months. A few days after I got there, I had a lot of personal items stolen. I had a beautiful robe that my fiancé had given to me a few months before as a Christmas gift, and some nice clothes that disappeared shortly after I got there. The most upsetting thing about it was that the rooms were locked during the day, and only the staff could have gotten in there. That made me angry, but there was nothing I could do about it. At another time, I was physically assaulted by another patient who wanted to use the dryer I was using to dry my clothes. I never knew what to expect.
While in the hospital there, I refused to take the Lithium. I believed that my fiancé was right, and I didn’t need to take it. So instead, I was given forced injections of Thorazine. I had an allergic reaction to it. It made me feel so restless that I could not sit still. I paced the floor and felt like I was jumping out of my skin. I was put into an isolation room several times because I was so hyper. While going through this horrible experience, I relied on God and prayed without ceasing. I memorized the 23rd Psalm and said it over and over again, and through it God gave me the strength I needed to go on, and the knowledge to know what to do to stop this abuse. One day, I wrote down all of the symptoms I was having from the Thorazine and gave it to the head nurse. That was the last time I was given Thorazine. Eventually, I agreed to take the Lithium, and within a month, I was released. The day before I was to be married, my fiancé called off the wedding citing his lack of feelings toward my children as the reason for our breakup. I learned that it would be close to impossible to find a man who could love all of us. So I let that dream die. My children became the core of my existence along with my faith in God. I dated a few men afterward, but it only ended in disappointment.
I became toxic from the Lithium in 1987, and was sent to University Hospital in Pensacola. During that time I suffered terribly. I couldn’t sleep at night because I was manic, and on the first night I was put in two point restraints, one wrist and one ankle held down at the top and the foot of the bed, and held together by leather bands that were locked in place. I was lying on my back and the overhead light was left on. I cried out to God in despair, and after fighting my restraints I was somehow able to free myself. I turned over and eventually fell asleep. When the staff member who had applied the restraints’ came in to check on me, he found me free from them. For some reason this made him angry, and he put me in four point restraints, both wrists and ankles. This time I was forced to lay my head resting on the middle of the headboard, and again the light was left on. I spent several more days at that hospital, and on the nights when this particular employee worked, I was put into restraints in this same manner. I couldn’t understand why. I was not causing any problems. I was quiet and never left my room. Finally, the day came that I was brought before a judge, and I was court-ordered to go back to the State Hospital. That is where I received care for the next couple of months. It was a four hour drive for my parents, and because they were taking care of my children it was difficult for them to have to drive so far to visit me. Even so, they were faithful and brought my children to see me as often as they could.
I spent Christmas there that year and participated in singing Christmas songs with the other patients. I played a guitar and wrote some songs I referred to as Christian folk. I worked on a song and sang and played my guitar for the other patients. We had a local band that came to entertain us as well. It was a Christmas I will never forget. I was in a good mood because it was Christ birthday, and Christmas was always my favorite holiday. My parents always made it a special time for us kids, and because they were so clever, we believed in Santa Claus until we were quite old. I missed my family terribly, especially my children, but many of the other patients didn’t have a supportive family like I had. So instead of feeling sorry for myself, I gave 100% to the party to make sure the other patients had a good time for Christmas too. That same year, I was put on SSI disability. One day I had a lawyer come to visit me on the wing of the hospital where I was staying. He asked me if I had any legal matters that needed attention. I told him I wanted to take my maiden name back. It was important to me because I was so hurt by the divorce, and I felt that I had been abandoned by my husband. The day before I came home, I was taken before a judge on campus, and my request was granted. It was a new start for me. I had my name back, and I felt that true freedom came with it. I felt my heart begin to heal.
I became manic in 1989, and that night I got up in the middle of the night and turned all the lights on in the house. There were times when I needed to go for treatment and I did not want to cooperate. This was one of those times. I was feeling so good and didn’t think that I needed any help. My family had to intervene for me. That night I was admitted into The Baptist Hospital Stress Center in Pensacola. At the time, I had been taking Xanex that my doctor had prescribed. The doctor at the Stress Center took me off of it. He didn’t wean me off of it gradually or give me medication until it was out of my system. He just stopped giving it to me. Within a few days, I felt deathly ill from withdraws. I was vomiting, and I could barely get out of bed. When I tried to walk it felt like the floor and the walls were moving. I could not even eat I was so sick. This went on for a number of days. After I got better, I was released from the hospital against my will. I knew I was still sick, but the doctor wouldn’t listen to me. Within a few days, I was readmitted but this time I was put into the locked down unit. The first day I was there I began having trouble breathing, and the nurse had to give me a shot to calm me down. For 3 days I was put in an isolation room. This left me devastated because I felt so lonely being away from the other patients and staff members. I wasn’t given anything to do to make time pass more quickly. On top of that I was manic, and that made it difficult for me to sleep. My meals and my medicine were delivered to me in my room. It felt like I was in a night mare. I spent a lot of my time praying and pacing the floor. I was in complete despair, but I remembered the scripture Hebrews 13:5 “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” I hung onto that promise and my faith carried me through.
Because I needed more care, and my parents pleaded that I not be sent back to The State Hospital because of hardship, I was sent to West Florida Community Care Center in Milton, Florida. I soon discovered that most of the staff were Christians, and that meant the world to me. This facility offered sessions during the day that taught us how to deal with our illnesses. We also had biofeedback sessions that helped us learn how to relax when we became overwhelmed, and an exercise program that we participated in everyday during the week. The entire week consisted of a program that gave us structure, and helped us learn how to deal with our individual problems. On the weekends we were free to participate in various activities for fun and relaxation. When we improved, we were allowed to go home for the weekends. After a while, I was able to take the Lithium again. I responded well to the Lithium and the therapy and was home in six weeks. That year, I moved out of my parents’ home with my children and moved into a little house about six miles away. My daughter could not adjust to the change and decided to move back home with my parents. We still maintained a good relationship. I loved being out on my own, and the boys had a lot of friends in the neighborhood.
I was readmitted into University Hospital in 1993 where I stayed for about 10 days. The staff member that had been so terrible to me the last time I was there was no longer working there, and I was treated well this time. After I was released, I was sent back to West Florida Community Care Center. For months before this breakdown I had been experiencing extreme pain in my lower back, hips, legs, and feet, and I had been under the care of a neurologist. He had put me on Elavil for pain and depression, a muscle relaxer, and an anti- inflammatory. I used a wheel chair for about eight months. While I was at Milton, I was sent to some specialist and had some test done. My neurologist diagnosed me as having Chronic Pain Syndrome. My doctor at Milton prescribed Risperdal and Tegretol. During my treatment, because of personal reasons, I requested to change psychiatrists and became the patient of Dr. Rajadoral Calnaido at the Lakeview Center. We have grown very close over the years. We share the same belief in God, so he has been able to reach out to me in ways my other doctors couldn’t. When I was going through hard times, he would talk to me about Jesus. He would quote scripture to me to reassure me that I was in God’s hands. He called me a winner all the time. I thank God for him, and I am blessed every time I visit him for my three month appointments. He is a wonderful counselor and a close friend. After I was released, I went through six weeks of physical therapy in a pool at West Florida Rehabilitation Center and slowly recuperated. Later that year, my medical doctor diagnosed me with arthritis and after taking several medications that did not work, he put me on Celebrex and that medicine helped me much more than any other medicine that I had taken in the past. Afterward, I was able to live a normal life on my own raising my boys. Since our divorce, John had the children with him every other weekend and that gave me some time to myself. I had been an expert seamstress since I was a girl and made most of my own clothes by using a pattern. When I got older, I was able to make things on my own without instructions. I made curtains, drapes, bedding and other things. I also did a lot of needlepoint, macramé and crocheting as well.
My last hospitalization was in 1997. I was admitted into The Pavilion at West Florida Hospital. I was treated well. The staff was friendly and helpful. However, there were many nights that I could not sleep. After a week, I was readmitted into West Florida Community Care Center. At that time, Dr. Calnaido took me off Tegretol, and put me Klonopin to relax me, and to help me sleep at night. He kept me on Elavil, and gave me Depakote and Risperdal. I still take these prescribed medications, and I have made a marked improvement. I have not been hospitalized for 9 years. In 2000-2001, I went to a vocational school and obtained a certificate as a Computer Support Specialist. After an automobile accident in February 2001, I suffered from back problems and became depressed. I was having trouble sleeping, and I was afraid that I was headed for another breakdown. I went to see Dr. Calnaido, and he prescribed medication to keep me calm. In March, I decided to move back in with my parents for their loving support, and I finished school. I have been home for 5 years now, and I am happy. Because of my parents, I have been blessed with a good life, a great car, and I attend a wonderful church. I have remained close to my children. They all live near by in Florida. My daughter, now 31, is married to a wonderful Christian man, and they have given me a precious grandson who is 3 years old, and are expecting a little girl in a few months. My oldest son who is 29 lives in an apartment close by, and I spend as much time as I can with him. My youngest son who is 26 lives in Gulf Breeze close to the ocean that he loves, and he is an incredibly giving and loving person.
Dr. Calnaido has been praising me about my progress. He feels that I am well enough to set an example, and give other people with mental illness hope. He has asked me to speak at some treatment facilities. I have been asked by some people close to me what it feels like to have bipolar disorder. A manic phase is like having many thoughts going through my mind at one time, causing confusion. It is hard to tell fact from fiction. For an example, one time when I was manic I went shopping and bought bags full of clothes. I felt that I was on top of the world, and I could be or do anything I wanted. On another occasion while I was in the hospital, I decided I wanted to be a painter. I asked my uncle to bring the supplies I needed so that I could paint pictures. My uncle never said a word against that idea, and he brought me all the supplies I had asked for. I made several paintings, but of course I really couldn’t paint so I gave up that idea after a while. I was on the go mentally and physically, and I could not rest. Sleeping became impossible for days on end. Depression is just the opposite. It was a feeling of guilt, sadness, and despair. I felt as though things would never get better. I wanted to sleep all the time to escape the symptoms.
During the years, I have prayed for healing from my mental illness, and instead I have learned to rely on God for my sanity. 2 Corinthians 12 “And He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” God teaches us through trials and tribulation. I have learned that I can always turn to God whenever I need Him, and He will always be there for me. He has shown me that I am never alone, and that He has been with me my entire life. He is more than my Savior, He is my best friend, and I have learned to trust Him. Isaiah 48:10 “Behold, I have refined you but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” I may not have gotten the exact things that I have prayed for, but I was never abandoned by God. He has taught me to be patient while going through difficult times, such as trying to fit back into society after a breakdown. He has been there for me during times of extreme loneliness while living without my husband. He has soothed me while I was sick and away from my children for weeks or even months at a time. Hebrews 13:5 says “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” I have always had a strong faith that God deeply cares for me. I always took my Bible and my guitar with me every time I went into a treatment facility. I cried out to Him, and He gave me His love and protection. Isaiah 54:14 “In righteousness you will be established: You will be far from oppression, for you will not fear: and from terror, for it will not come near you.” Psalm 139:5-6 “You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me; Such knowledge is too wonderful to me.” I have received strength in the times of weakness, hope in the times of despair, and love that gave me perfect peace. This is the example I have tried to live in front of my children. There were times while I was sick that I did things they could not understand. I have apologized to them for anything I may have done to hurt them. They have told me they have forgiven me. God has brought healing into our lives, and I would not go back and change anything that I have been through because the things I have learned about myself have given my life purpose. Maybe helping others is my calling. Philippians 4:11 “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”
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Dearest Constance, how brave and wonderful you are. your story touched me very deeply. I love the scriptures in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 about the overcomers who are promised so many things. Truly you exemplify overcoming for all of us. Your story is so clearly written and will be immense help to many. May God richly bless the testimony.