We all have more in common than we realize
Your life is changed after diagnosis—with stigma all around you, you can either live in fear and you’re a victim, or you tackle it and say, ‘I’ll do this.’ At that moment, fear goes away and turns into motivation.
In 1967, David was 16 and in the blink of an eye, his life was changed forever after he was the victim of a hit-and-run accident.
Suffering from a traumatic brain injury from the event, he struggled with neurological difficulties surrounding memory recall, word retrieval, processing speed, and organizational skills. These would affect his quality of life at home and school, from childhood through adulthood.
These soft signs continued throughout college … they even impacted my ability to find my way to class. Later, I was diagnosed with absence seizures and temporal lobe epilepsy that explained what had been happening for years.
David married his wife in 1975, had two children, and became what he describes as a “garden-variety family man.” Despite his worsening symptoms, he became a school social worker and learned to balance his health concerns and the emotionally challenging coursework.
In 2001, at 50 years old, David’s world was once again rocked when he experienced his first manic episode.
After taking an antihistamine for seasonal allergies, he began engaging in uncharacteristic behavior, such as piercing his ears, dying his hair blonde, staying up later than usual, telling inappropriate jokes, and having an extramarital affair—which ultimately led to divorce.
My neurologist confirmed that the damaged scar tissue in my brain from the accident was dormant until taking that allergy medicine. This was the origin of living with bipolar disorder.
Following the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, David began treatment for his mental health and seizures concurrently.
He approached treatment as an opportunity to harness his internal strength and willingness to lead a healthy life.
It took a while to stabilize after getting medication, but after that, I grew from an amoeba to a paramecium—medication and therapy helped me to go from a position where I was not able to work to holding down a job.
With the support of his clinical team, David began pursuing a doctorate in disability studies while simultaneously coming to terms with his own identity within the community.
I suddenly realized I was a part of the disabled community. In school, we always discussed physical and congenital disabilities. I had only one class in my doctoral program about mental health conditions and it was very cursory—there is still active stigma in the disabled community against those with mental health challenges.
He practiced as a social worker, but his worsening neurological symptoms forced him to leave the profession 10 years ago. He has since channeled his passion for accessibility and mental health awareness by writing a book on stigma, creating an online art gallery for artists with mental illness, and making art pieces evoked by his own experience of emotion.
David also understands firsthand what it has felt like to be excluded and stereotyped by others. He utilized his lived experience to support platforms where others can freely share their mental health journeys.
He has also created artwork representing the mental health challenges of others.
I take people’s personal stories, make art out of it, and have it framed for them as a keepsake. There is so much wisdom that comes out of people—so much we can teach other people if they look past stigma.
David is now 72 years old and lives in Highland Park, Illinois. When not occupied with book writing, or transforming narratives into art as mementos for others, he reflects on the importance of prioritizing one’s health—especially later in life—and the universality behind the shared human experience.
People may not understand it, but underlying us all, we have more in common than we don’t. Everyone is special.
I’m more aware of life passing now—I have chronic kidney disease—but I’ve realized that if I can successfully live with and navigate bipolar disorder, I can use the same strength to get through this too.