Kirk, age 48
“I'm no different. It can happen to anybody. It's not always easy to see somebody with mental illness, it can be invisible, almost a hidden disease.” A quiet man, an observer, a thinker—these were my first impressions of Kirk. After interviewing him, also a positive man. He has been a mentor to another person living with mental illness, plans to get his G.E.D., and is learning to play the harmonica.
“Don't give up. You're not alone,” Kirk tells others with mental illness.
He guessed that he was about eight years old when his mental illness began. Kirk remembers a few years earlier when his dad intentionally poured a pot of hot coffee over him. His dad wasn't around much, being gone in the military. His brothers abused him both physically (they beat him severely) and emotionally. His grade school years were rough—his family moved frequently, leaving him with few friends. He was bullied by fellow students because of his short height and glasses. Yet Kirk did his share of fighting back, to survive. His brothers forced him to drink alcohol and by age eight, they were forcing him to do cocaine and use pot, which eventually led to addiction.
In seventh grade, Kirk recognized that something wasn't right emotionally. This was the first time he tried to kill himself. Kirk's depression hit him hard when his dad died. At 16 he left home. Permanently. He also attempted suicide a few times during his adult years.
Kirk's sobriety and treatment of his mental illness happened after turning 40. He had almost died after drinking alcohol and smoking pot to such excess that he went into convulsions and stopped breathing. If his buddy hadn’t revived him, Kirk wouldn’t have lived. He voluntarily sought treatment for his addictions because of this experience. It was also the first time he got help with his mental illness. Kirk found additional therapy in a group home setting. He just wanted a better life.
Kirk lives with PTSD, depression, psychosis (which he describes as sometimes seeing and hearing things that aren't real), anxiety, and a short-term memory learning disability. He told a story about when he'd hitchhike in the dessert and not get picked up—a real life metaphor for his occasional feelings of being “stranded, lost, alone, and confused.” Kirk says life is easier now, but still a struggle. He has a good relationship with his mom today and his life is better than he thought it would be; he honestly thought he'd be dead by now.
To people who don't live with mental illness, Kirk says, “I'm no different than you are. I just have a few more issues. Sometimes you don't know you have problems too, because you don't notice.” He added, “And it's not contagious.”