A former Saddleback College student’s journey from victim to victor while living with bipolar disorder.
Michael has a smile on his face but is speaking low. Dressed in a plaid shirt and khakis, he looks like any other middle-aged dad. Laugh lines and frown marks paired with the missing tip of a finger tell as much of a story as anybody’s face. Pressing on a soundboard with headphones on he begins to speak.
“Radio, if you were to go way back to my childhood, at the age of 5 I first encountered a radio set…That very moment I heard that song, it brought a smile to my face. It was the only thing to make me smile that I enjoyed,” he said.
When Michael was released from jail in early 2000 he was low on life. Desperate for any type of direction his probation officer mentioned for him to visit the Mental Health Association (MHA) in Santa Ana. This would be the first time Michael is diagnosed with bipolar disorder A and received treatment. This would also be the first time Michael got a fighting chance for control over his mood swings, addiction, and rage.
“ I was really devastated. I didn’t have a job. I couldn’t get a job. I couldn’t do nothing. I became homeless. I was homeless and I saw my probation officer and told her I don’t want to live anymore and she referred me to Orange County Mental Health. They said ‘Michael you have Bipolar.’ I started crying because I understood maybe there is something more to this. I’m not just inherently evil. Maybe there is some hope for me. So I started on medications,” he said.
“From the birth to the age of 5 I was kept in a crib. I didn’t have any human interaction. I did not have any external stimulation, such as Television or radio,” he said.
Being taken from his crib by a social worker his first car ride ended in Azusa City with his new foster parents. His new life was about to get much worse under the guise of becoming better.
“My foster parents had their own set of problems. Number one they were alcoholics and number two my mom was extremely angry. My dad was extremely non-emotional. Back in the 60’s there weren’t as many restrictions to becoming foster parents. There was more of a financial incentive and not as much of a background check. My parents priorities were very off.”
Through Michael’s time there he said he endured abuse, humiliation, neglect, and the new found love of music. He would listen to the radio at night connecting with the music in a way he couldn’t with anyone else.
Michael said he had poor grades, low social skills and was neglected and abused by his family. He was deemed by his teachers a trouble-maker and uncontrollable high energy. He made no connections with anyone from his classes that he called friends.
“The only comforts to me back then were the radio and the television. They could do something that no person could do. They could make me laugh, make me smile, make me cry. They brought out the emotions. No person could do that,” he said.
The Mayo Clinic describes bipolar disorder, “Instead of clear-cut depression and mania or hypomania, the most prominent signs of bipolar disorder in children and adolescents can include: explosive temper, rapid mood shifts, reckless behavior and aggression.”
In some cases, these shifts occur within hours or less — for example, a child may have intense periods of giddiness and silliness, long bouts of crying and outbursts of explosive anger all in one day.”
Michael would sit in his room by himself night after night listening to the music and as the years went by he had amassed a record collection, a drug addiction, and a girlfriend.
“In sixth grade I started smoking weed. Started smoking cigarettes. I was smoking weed and listening to music and self-medicating. It was really cool because it really covered up the anger. It covered up everything. I didn’t feel anymore pain.”
At the age of 20 Michael had become a father. He knew he was incapable of being a responsible father and was falling back into his cycle of drug use and anger. Unable to deal with his emotions or overcome his past he was arrested.
Michael said he had carried the pattern of parental abuse into his own family and it would become a major responsibility for his downfalls. Michael’s mood swings, rage, impulsive decisions and lack of coping habits were going to consume him.
Studies show this happens too many people.
According to http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/bipolar-disorder, “A history of childhood traumatic experience has been associated with increased vulnerability to multiple mental disorders, including mood disorders and personality disorders.3-5 Studies have found that a high proportion (around 50%) of patients with bipolar disorder endorse histories of childhood trauma, with a high incidence of emotional abuse.”
“I had tried to kill myself before, when I left my daughter and her mother, but I didn’t want to die. I started self-medicating again,” he said.
According to http://bit.ly/1iqn1Uj , “Suicide is the number one cause of premature death among people with bipolar disorder, with 15 percent to 17 percent taking their own lives as a result of negative symptoms that come from untreated illness.”
By this time Michael had already displayed symptoms of Bipolar Disorder but they were not diagnosed.
Bipolar disorder is not easy to spot when it starts. The symptoms may seem like separate problems, not recognized as parts of a larger problem.
“According to the National Health Institute “Some people suffer for years before they are properly diagnosed and treated. Like diabetes or heart disease, bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that must be carefully managed throughout a person’s life.”
Michael had fallen in love and got married in 1988. He had another baby girl to celebrate but his circumstances changed for the worse and again he was unable to be a fit parent. The thread of abuse lingered in Michael’s life promoting him into fits of rage. During this turbulent time he was seperated from his family and then arrested.
“Studies have found that just under 50% of people with bipolar disorder have some history of violent behavior,” according to http://www.psychiatrictimes.com. “Bipolar patients are prone to agitation that may result in impulsive aggression during manic and mixed episodes. However, depressed states, which can involve intense dysphoria with agitation and irritability, may also carry a risk of violent behavior.”
“As a Christian you feel like a monster because you hurt people, but God is forgiving. He knows you’re heart, he knows you want to do good,” he said. “I had that innocence of a child. I had that trust. I trusted adults. I trusted everybody around me. That’s what I really appreciated. You get abused, you’re always looking up, you’re always hoping that this next day is going to be a better day. I had that innocence. That hope. I never lost it.”
A few years had gone by and he had gotten out of jail and the restraining order keeping him away from his family was lifted. He was able to see his children and be with his wife. On March 7th his family had decided to move in with him. On March 9th he was in jail as a result of an argument with his son.
He recalls the incident grimly. He had been a victim of his past when in the present he was finally doing right. He had worked hard to overcome his anger and addictions. His son had tried to become physical and Michael had fallen on top of him, appearing as though he had charged him. Later in court the judge would closer examine the incident and give him time served. Michael said he has no self-pity.
“I haven’t been there for my kids when they needed me during those years.” Michael reflects in his somber tone. He swivels in his chair and looks at the floor. This is the first time he has turned away from the conversation.
Out of jail in the dead-of-night with no mode of transportation Michael’s luck looked up when he went to a Denny’s to wait out the night and meets a minister from Calvary Chapel. The minister directed him to Salvation Army and Michael took his advice. During this time he continues to go to Calvary Chapel. Through his first interactions with the ministry he had started to develop social skills and eventually found a roommate. Michael credits his roommate’s bird with breaking him out of his shell.
“My roommate had a parrot. An African Grey parrot and I fell in love with it. I started training her and I would take her on my bike to Starbucks,” he said. “ I didn’t have a radio voice or a radio personality and since my birds brought me to starbucks I’ve had to learn how to be a communicator. I credit it to those birds.”
Michael was in treatment and taking medication. He had stabilized his life and had landed a job that had influenced him his whole life. He became the new KWave radio live-call screener. Michael pursued radio relentlessly. He asked his co-workers where they got their experience and many had said they had gone to big expensive schools. A few of his co-workers told him to go to KSBR radio at Saddleback College.
“The dream was to get into radio and I was asked to do call screening for a live show on KWave. I did a couple of shows and that door has closed at KWave and this door at KSBR has opened. I couldn’t pay for the training I get Saddleback. It’s priceless! ”
Michael’s story of success is one of many for those living with bipolar disorder.
According to National Advisory Mental Health Council, ”the treatment success rate for bipolar disorder is a remarkable 80 percent. The recovery rates for other serious mental illnesses follow suit: major depression (65‐80 percent), schizophrenia (60 percent) and addiction (70 percent).”
Now on the air at KSBR and in charge of the music calendar he finishes his story in the same low voice that he started in.
“People ask me why are you in radio? What do you want? I tell them I want to reach out. Take my life and talk to people who are shaking their babies, or taking drugs, who are about to commit suicide, who have no future, who have no hope. That’s all I want,” Michael said.
“I don’t want money. I don’t want fame. If I can’t make somebody’s life better then I shouldn’t be doing this,’ he said. “KSBR allows me to live a dream. Fulfill a dream at the age of 50 when society, doctors, parents, everything wrote me off. By the grace of God I’m living this dream.”