Tools for Elul | Carolyn Terner: My Road Back from Mental Illness
When I was 19 in 1980, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I managed to get a degree in art from Carnegie Mellon, but my life was fraught with turbulence and disappointment. I was medicated heavily and didn't have the social skills I needed to survive in life.
I was hospitalized many times, but because of mania, I thought I could stop taking my medicine. Also, the side effects of some of the drugs were very unpleasant. However, I struggled on. When I was fired from my first art teaching job, I was devastated. How was I going to support myself?
Fortunately, my father and mother were always there for me. I got a real estate license, a paralegal certificate, and a Masters in Public Management from CMU. But employment seemed to elude me. I lived many years with feelings of shame and embarrassment.
One year, I had a very public episode on a trip to Washington, D.C. The entire Jewish contingent from Pittsburgh was there. My medication had failed; I was so ashamed and devastated. I vowed never to miss a dose of lithium again.
After I got my Masters, I was still heavily medicated, and lacked a lot of the social skills I needed to survive in the world. I tried finding work in my field, but no one in Pittsburgh would hire me. I lived with a lot of rejection and loneliness. I had friends, but I somehow couldn't connect in society.
Finally, in 2015, things began to change for me. I was taken off lithium, because it had caused kidney damage. The heavy sedation it caused was partially ameliorated, and I now could think better, and was able to lose some weight, and felt a lot better.
This Rosh Hashanah, I will seek to create a happier, more spiritual life. I want to devote myself to helping others with mental illness and other challenges to become more fulfilled. I also want to go back to my roots as a Jew and find spiritual fulfillment through learning, practice and dedication to my religion, and being a part of the community.
-Carolyn Terner, Congregant