News 12 at 6, May 19, 2008
AUGUSTA--Having a mental illness is something tens of millions of American deal with every single day. It's a staggering figure and ever more staggering is the thought that you probably see several of them every day and don't know the difference.
Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, suicide, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, autism. It can sound like a pretty scary list. But for many its reality and it's a liveable reality at that.
Meet Gareth Fenley.
"I have a real unusual job being a mental patient." she said.
Yes, you heard that right. Gareth helps to show doctors what it's like to be their patient. And she has plenty of experience to draw upon. You see, Gareth is one of nearly 6 million Americans who have what's called bipolar disorder. Normally, it comes with severe mood swings, but Gareth has a version that can make her lose touch with reality.
"I believed I was the angel of peace. I was meeting Jesus. I believed I was in Heaven and we were having councils of angels. I later learned that was group therapy." she said.
That was more than 10 years ago. Today, she says things are much different. She's a got a life, a job and control over her illness because she had no other choice.
"I didn't want to be locked away forever." she said.
Kathy Ringel helps people with mental illness cope with theirs.
She has a different form of bipolar disorder than Gareth, but she's also been through her fair share trauma.
"I was raped at an early age. I lost a child at 3 and a half months old. I was held up at gun point." she said.
It's those experiences and her own illness that helps her help others.
But she wasn't always at this point in her life.
"I knew for a long time, something wasn't right." Carole said.
But for years, this mother of 4 didn't know what it was exactly. And while she was having children and raising a family, she was unknowingly struggling with bipolar disorder.
"I thought it was my own personality. I had a character flaws, wasn't a cool person." she said.
But finally she was diagnosed and, to the surprise of many, was actually happy to hear the news.
"It helped me to realize there was a reason for those things." she said.
And with the help of her doctor, her medicine and her family, she's managing and helping others.
Gareth and Kathy will probably struggle with their illnesses for the rest of their lives. Today, like millions of others, they live their lives just like you. It just sometimes takes a little bit more work. They are not living in asylums, they are living as you do and for most, you don't have any clue. Which is exactly what many of them want.
"Most people who have mental illness are ordinary people and you wouldn't know." Gareth said.
"I have my goals, I have my dreams. I am not my illness." Carole said.