Life Sentence – Living with Mental Illness


I need to preface this story by assuring my friends and family that I am OK.  I am in no immediate danger, to myself or others.  To those that know me personally a lot of this story may be a hard read, it has certainly been a hard write.  It’s sad at points, but understand that it has been my love for you and your love in return that has kept me strong.

A second preface (post preface i guess), I started out this story as a Facebook post but while digging to put it together I’ve come to realize that it’s far too long of a story to tell in one post, so I’m going to have to put it out in chapters or as the kids say, a blog.  the web address is

The TLDR version of the story and why I feel the need to tell it now is this:  I deal with mental health issues but I’m pretty sure I’ve got it under control.  However, when I hear news stories about  “seemingly normal guys” who shoot ….a lot…. of other people I wonder that if 20 years ago, when he was the age that I am now, if he was fighting the same fight i am fighting now.  Then i look at how my issues haven’t gotten any better, but worse, ,and I wonder what my fight will look like 20 years from now. Let me tell you, it scares the ever living hell out of me.

So I am sharing my life of living with mental issues while remaining a functional citizen in the hopes that others will do the same and we, as a nation, can take a long hard look about an important issue we universally agree about but are still uncomfortable talking about.  The following is the start of that post.


Every time there is a mass shooting in this country not only is there an outcry for gun control but there is also plea from many that goes unheard.  That plea is for a national conversation on Mental Health.  I understand why that plea goes unheard even though every one agrees that that it is a serious issue.  The reason is that it is a very complex and very uncomfortable subject to talk about.    So I’m willing to put myself out there to start it off but it’s up to all of us to continue it. So if any of my story resonates with you,  please share it with others.  (breathe deep) Here it goes,

My name is Ryan and I’m crazy.  Functional crazy, but crazy none the less.  Now I know i may get a lot of folks criticizing me for saying “crazy” instead of “mentally ill”,  “clinically depressed” or “anxious” or any of the other medical terms for what ever it is I am but crazy is how I feel and how most people still view folks with mental illness.

I hallucinate rooms filled with smoke and smell the stench of a wood fire about once a week.  This all stems from an apartment fire a few years ago.   My downstairs neighbor’s apartment had a slow fire burning in  it, some boxes left on a stove burner. Her place was filled with smoke, that smoke started to leak into my apartment.  When I went downstairs to check on her, knocking at her front door.  I heard a weak moan.   I opened the door, all I could see was black.  The thickest darkest smoke I have ever seen from floor to ceiling.  Long story short,  I called 9-1-1 and while waiting for help I  decided to go into the apartment myself and pull my neighbor out of the smoke.  The fire chief said it was the worst case of smoke inhallation he had ever seen where the person lived.   That should have been a good day and in many ways it was, I mean I saved someones life, that’s an awesome feeling I draw on when things look there bleakest.  But it was also a traumatic experience that somehow chipped away at my sanity and caused me to hallucinate on a weekly basis.

The smoke in my hallucinations is light and whispy most of the time but some times when I wake up in the middle of the night it is the black thick smoke from the night of the fire. At first it would fill me with a panic when i saw the smoke.  I would get my dogs out of the house and then search the place top to bottom to make sure that there wasn’t an actual fire.  After it happened a few times I was able to rationally deduce it was just a hallucination but if I am alone I still have to check because I’m afraid that some day there may be another fire and if I ignore it people could get hurt.  When i am out in public and I hallucinate  I have to rely on the fact that no one else seems to notice the smoke ( what if it’s just too light for them to see it?) but I keep a sharp eye out just in case(what if it’s a cook in the back, slipped, knocking himself out and starting a grease fire?). This can be distracting.  When I am with close family with whom I’ve shared this with before I still ask, “There’s no smoke in here….right?”.  Even though I can read their  faces it makes me feel better to get an objective answer.

Now, the hallucinations weren’t my first foray into mental illness, it’s just the first I mention because most folks can agree that seeing shit that isn’t there is kinda crazy.

At 13  I started getting what I have always called “mind aches”.  A mind ache isn’t a physical headache like migraines, it’s an emotional headache.  The closest thing I can compare it to is the headache you get when some one close to you dies.  Not the crying headache, that comes later, the initial emotional shock that makes the headache feel larger then your actual head and all reality too much to bear.    I thought these were normal.  “Everybody gets sad sometimes.”

The mind aches would last anywhere from 15 min to 4 hours.  The first few big ones were accomponied by “visions”.  They weren’t like the hallucinations I get now, they never felt “real”, but more like the film of a waking dream being played over reality. After a couple of years of this I started to suspect maybe this wasn’t normal, none of my friends had mentioned crippling headaches but then again I never told them about mine.

I told my girlfriend at the time, but I didn’t tell anyone else and I certainly didn’t even think about getting “professional help” because I  wasn’t crazy.  “Psychologists are for crazy people”.

I wasn’t going to give in and “be crazy”, I was going to beat crazy.  I was nerd, before it was cool, and my plan was to out smart  my own crazy with logic.  That’s why i was able to handle the hallucinations as well as I did.  I had been practicing how to distinguish reality from delusion with logic since my teens.

The mindaches started to precede a cycle of depression.  I get three to four cycles of severe depression a year with each cycle lasting about a month to a 45 days.  They started out minor but quickly got worse.

When I was 15 I wrote a page long suicide note, with my own blood, while in first period study hall.  I gave it to my girlfriend in between classes.  She, thankfully,  gave it to a guidance counselor who called my parents.   I was eating lunch when a teacher told me they wanted to talk to me in the office, I saw my parents through the lunch room windows walking quickly towards the office.  That was the first time I saw fear in my Dad’s eye’s

We briefly talked to the guidance counselor, i assured them that I wasn’t going to kill myself and they let me go home.  I was exhausted and went to take a nap.  My Dad laid down on the floor next to my bed as i slept.  That was the day I promised myself that I could never commit suicide because it would hurt the ones i loved too much.  I thought of it, and still do a times, as a “Life Sentence” instead of a “Death Sentence” and some how, I find that tragically hopeful…..but tragic.


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