This I Believe

Joanne - Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Entered on October 22, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: illness

I believe in butterflies. Yes, I believe that my life has come full circle from the egg-to-caterpillar-to chrysalis-to butterfly in the past 40 years. You see,

I learned that I had bipolar, that I could get help, and that I could heal.

When I was an adolescent seeking to become a nun, in part to escape my life as much as to offer it to God and humanity, I entered the convent to become a teaching nun. But, God had a secret calling for me which I have come to express in the last two years. I’ve joined NAMI (the Nation’s Voice on Mental Illness) to speak out about how my life has changed and how others can seek healing and hope.

When I had been in the convent in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, for 11 years (two of which were in fulltime teaching), the formation directress of the convent revealed to me that I should leave that life to find my “bliss,” as Joseph Campbell would have said, outside of the nunnery. Although the psychological tests which we had taken in the academy and postulancy projected that community life was not for me, I stayed in that convent life, though really living in much isolation from the other sisters.

I was a work-aholic and perfectionist, which didn’t leave much time for friendships. My silence in letting others speak left out my piece of the human puzzle in community.

My belief in butterflies, as I was brought to the psychiatric unit mere days after leaving the convent, showed how captivity in security room and my relentless anger in that stage, expressed itself in the years following my initial hospitalization and recovery. In the security room as I received the medications which were to transform me, I had as much of a metamorphosis as the caterpillar-become-butterfly.

In the 1980s I joined the Depressive and Manic Depressive Association (now DBSA or Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance). That step helped to train me in expressing my feelings, becoming a peer facilitator myself, newsletter editor and program director. Then as I met Roseann who was to become my friend at the national DBSA conference in Boston, she invited me to come out of my chrysalis and speak out to other mental health consumers in that organization. She also invited me into NAMI, the organization in which I was trained to speak “In Our Own Voice.” I enjoy telling my story of healing and hope, meeting many wonderful people along the route.

My signature, as an artist and mental health advocate, is the butterfly, once a lowly caterpillar, now ready to soar in the vicissitudes of life. The encasement in the days of my security room, singing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” while dragging a mattress around the room in my psychotic mania, was fulfilled days later as I departed from the hospital ready to get back to library work and back into the fullness of life.