This is another addition to my series of “feature interviews” of my fellow bloggers in the mental illness community. You can find the entire series here.
Tony Robert’s Interview Feature
It can be the best and the worst of times when dealing with a mental illness. In this life, we often don’t get to see the long-term effects of a diagnosis of Bipolar One. The stigma of the label “mental illness” hasn’t always been good, but the more we voice our stories, the better. The battles with depression waged over a long period of time can take its toll. Since starting to write The Bipolar Writer blog, I have seen stories that reflect short small samples of time living with a mental illness.
Tony Roberts of Columbus, Indiana, gives us a glimpse of the long-term effects of a diagnosis. It was in 1995 when Tony received his diagnosis Bipolar One with psychotic features. He was thirty-years-old.
It only takes one manic episode for psychiatrists to add psychosis to a diagnosis. The various factors in Tony’s mental health and present symptoms became what his doctors gave him for a diagnosis.
“I had a medication-induced manic episode and admitted myself to a psych ward.”
At the age of thirty, Tony was an accomplished man. In his life, he was a successful scholar-athlete. Tony graduated with a dual Bachelor’s Degree in English and Theology. He then got a Master’s of Divinity. Tony was also successful in his personal and professional life. Bipolar One disorder can creep up on you because a mental illness rarely comes out of the blue.
“I married a beautiful woman,” he recalls. “We had two adorable children. I served as a pastor and published some spiritual writings.”
Tony began his battle with depression with anti-depressants. When his symptoms got worse, Tony’s mood would rapidly shift. He would go from the darkest pits of depression to the high energy and glorious euphoric feeling of a manic episode.
“I compensated for my paralyzing lows by catching up and getting ahead when I was high (manic). It was like balancing on a teeter-totter.”
The struggle to get through a single day when you first open your eyes can seem impossible. Tony has found solace in his writing, which in his eyes is the most effective form of therapy. Tony has written a spiritual memoir, Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission.
His blog Delight in Disorder reflects his memoir. On his blog, Tony talks about subjects like anxiety through the lens of his faith. Posts like Anxious Affliction describe some of his struggles with anxiety. Tony admits that he has only had a couple dozen panic attacks in his life, but offers what he has experienced to reflect the advice he gives.
Tony’s other works that have been very therapeutic to write are short stories and poems. Tony is working with another member of the mental illness community to start a podcast—Revealing Voices.
It has been a tough journey for Tony in his twenty plus years since his diagnosis. Over the years his illness has gotten progressively worse. It has led to major life changes that came as a result of his illness.
“I am no longer in pastoral ministry. I am divorced,” Tony explains about his present situation. “I live in my sister’s basement. My goal is to maintain some semblance of emotional balance, which has become my life’s pursuit.”
Having a mental illness is a major part of Tony’s life. It consumes every aspect of his existence. Within this existence, there is both good and bad in his life. Tony knows he has limitations that others with the same illness don’t deal with. At the same time, his faith is what guides his life. Tony has gained empathy. He knows that God is using his experiences to reach others that deal with mental illnesses.
Tony would like to share this piece of wisdom with the mental illness community.
“The best way to break the stigma is through sharing our stories,” Tony explains. I have the opportunity to tell my story in public forums, mental health clinics, workshops, and conferences. Most importantly, I have shared my story in writing. I find there is no better therapy and advocacy than to share our stories.”
Writing in his mental health blog Delight in Disorder has helped Tony in so many ways. It has helped him understand himself and others with a mental illness more fully. Tony’s life has greater meaning and purpose on his blog. The people that Tony has met encourage him when he is down and celebrates with him when life is good.
It is his faith in Jesus Christ that shapes who Tony is and what he does. It is also what makes life worth living.
“I don’t see this faith as something that makes me better than anyone else. In fact, because I’ve I have my faith, I have a greater responsibility to do something with it.”
There are other things that Tony counts in life as essential parts of who he is and what makes life worth living. Tony counts his roles as a father and grandfather as his most important role. What Tony wants most in this world is to be there for his children and grandchildren as they grow.
Suicide and suicidal thoughts often happen with a diagnosis of Bipolar One. In 2008, Tony attempted suicide with an overdose of psychotropics. “Oddly, I had not been suicidal at that moment and haven’t since,” he explains. “It was an isolated attack. I know it could happen again, but I am grateful it hasn’t since.”
It is important that I share the stories of everyone that I can on my blog. All walks of life on a mental illness journey are different. We can learn so much from one another. Some of us like Tony turn to faith to get through the tough times. A family is a common theme I have found in writing these features on mental illness.
What Tony says I agree with. We need more voices to end the stigma that surrounds mental illness. It has been a pleasure to sare Tony Robert’s unique journey.
If you would like to find out more about Tony Roberts, you can find him on his blog.
Interviewee: Tony Roberts
Author: James Edgar Skye
Photo Credits: The Photos of Tony are from his private collection. All Others are found here: