AJ Peterson, DBSA Ambassador


Many Thanks to My DBSA Ambassador Network

Ever since I was a teenager I have struggled with the mental illness of bipolar disorder. I would cycle through high-energy manic phases where I would feel energized, powerful and creative and often go several weeks with only one or two hours of sleep per night and often several days in a row with no sleep at all. This would be followed by many weeks to months of severe dark depression where I would totally lose the will to live. I would completely withdraw from friends, family, work and responsibility and slowly watch my world collapse around me. This would eventually be followed by another manic phase where I would "kick it in gear" and work round-the-clock to try to fix all the problems I caused during my dark depression.
In high school I went from being an honor roll student with leadership positions and a three sport athlete to becoming a drop out my junior year. Despite my self-destructive behavior, I managed to pull myself together - well sort of - After six years and five different colleges, I finally earned my bachelors degree. From there I served as an army officer, earned an MBA from a top ranked school and had a successful, decade-long career in the pharmaceutical industry.
As time passed however, my mental illness grew progressively worse. Manic episodes were no longer euphoric. They were governed by stress, anxiety and irrational behavior that cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars and destruction of several interpersonal relationships. This combined with my severe depression eventually cost me my career, my home and almost my marriage. Depression got so bad that I was no longer able to work. I couldn't think or concentrate on the simplest of tasks like making a basic grocery list. I would stay in bed for days, often sleeping 20 or more hours per day without eating.
During this entire time, not only was I undiagnosed, I was in denial that there was anything wrong with me. When I found myself in a psychiatric ward of a hospital after almost taking my own life, God finally got my attention and brought me to my knees. I finally received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder which was the beginning of self understanding, but far from the end of my journey. In many ways, things became more difficult. In less than two years time I was hospitalized two more times and partially hospitalized another two times while going through more than a dozen psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists as well as over a dozen different medications, most of which left me worse off than if I taken no medication.
All this was going on while I was an active member of my church, serving in the junior high ministry and involved in two small group Bible studies. I didn't talk to anyone about what I was going through. I felt embarrassed, alone and ashamed. I felt like I was a bad Christian for letting fear, depression and anxiety rule my life. I felt like a failure as a husband and father for not being able to take care of my family. I couldn't even take care of myself. When I finally got the courage to reach out to my closest Christian friends, I was met with the bewilderment and confusion. Even those who wanted to help admitted that they didn't understand. It felt like they all looked at me differently after I told them about my mental illness. Some friends asked a lot of questions. I'm sure it was well-intentioned, but it felt like an inquisition where I felt I needed to justify and defend myself.
I have prayed for years now that God heal me and make me whole... that he remove this thorn from my flesh. Despite best efforts from myself and my support team, I have not been made well, but I've learned to accept, at least for now, that God's grace will be sufficient for me.
My daily struggle won't let me forget about that 18.8+ million Americans making up 9.5% of the US population who are currently suffering from depression. 15% of them will successfully commit suicide. Many people fail to realize the devastating impact of depression on our community. Depression is the number one cause of disability in the world for persons five or older and will be the second largest killer after heart disease by 2020. Depression also contributes to heart disease. A depressed person is four times more likely to have a heart attack.
Most standard treatments for depression are not adequate. Antidepressant medications work only about 30% of the time which is equal or less than placebo. Cognitive behavioral therapy recommended by most mental health professionals, has a long-term relapse rate of 80%. Recovery from depression ultimately requires addressing the underlying relationship causes of depression, not simply symptoms such as chemical in balance and depressive thoughts. This is why healing both the relationship environment and the whole person is vital in preventing relapse. Studies show the most effective ways to combat depression are: Maintain good relationships, have a safe supportive nonjudgmental group environment, create a supportive social network, meditation and prayer, and fostering spiritual beliefs and a sense of purpose and sharing them with others.


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