Stories of Hope: An Interview with Allison Williford
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked author, blogger and advocate Allison Williford about her own mental health challenges and what’s she up to now. Here’s our interview:
DS: Tell us about when you first started becoming aware of concerns related to your mental health. How did these issues continue to affect you and those around you before you sought treatment?
AW: I was 16, in my sophomore year of high school, when I was originally misdiagnosed with major depression. After getting into therapy and on antidepressants, which I stayed on through the rest of high school, I thought I was doing better.
College, however, was a completely different story. I shot into a severe manic episode, including grandiose delusions about saving the world, heavy binge drinking and drugs, and many sleepless nights.
By the end of my junior year, my drinking had escalated to binging every night, and my mania had morphed into a mixed episode — I was severely depressed and manic at the same time.
It was like my mind had become complete chaos, and I was no longer in control of anything. Many of my friends didn’t know how to handle me. Two had later confessed they were planning an intervention of some sort. A few told me later on that they were just about done putting up with me.
DS: What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help?
AW: My rapid downward spiral ended in August of 2008. I hit bottom with a suicide attempt on August 19th.
DS: What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
AW: After my overdose, I spent a week in a psychiatric hospital, where I was diagnosed with Type I Bipolar Disorder and placed on Lithium and Risperdal, then moved on to outpatient drug and alcohol rehab and joined AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings.
After about 6 years on Lithium and what seems a laundry list of antipsychotic and antidepressant medications, I began to experience severe physical side effects from Lithium. I developed hypothyroidism and my kidney function began declining, among other, more minor side effects. I still had my ups and downs, but nothing nearly as severe as my mania in college.
In Spring of 2014, I went through rTMS treatments — Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. While somewhat helpful for a few months, I quickly relapsed into a depressive episode once my body could no longer handle any Lithium, and I was hospitalized that fall.
Just six months later, I was doing even worse. I was in the worst depressive episode I had ever experienced. I had even told my psychiatrist, “What’s the point in living if I have to constantly watch over my shoulder, waiting for the next episode? I don’t want to be alive if I have to live like this for my whole life.”
March 20th, 2015, I hit another bottom. I found myself at my kitchen table, a handful of pills in my left hand and my page-long suicide note in front of me. Once again, I was ready to give up. I had no hope left. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to suffer any longer. But then it was as though my dog, Wilson, knew something was wrong. He came to my side and quietly sat down. At the same moment, my phone buzzed with a text message — it was my husband, simply saying, “I love you.” I broke down in tears, dumped the pills back into the bottle, and called my husband, begging him to come home immediately.
Within two days, I had checked myself into the ER, and was admitted to the psychiatric inpatient unit again. That was the two-week hospital stay that has changed my entire treatment for the better. I began my acute series of electroconvulsive therapy — ECT, or “shock” therapy. After 9 treatments in my acute series, I went right into maintenance treatments, which I still receive. I have been through 26 treatments now. While I do have some minor short-term memory issues, these treatments have saved my life. This is the longest period of time I’ve been completely stable — no hint of mania or depression.
DS:How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
AW: After several months of medical leave during the beginning of my ECT, I was able to return to work this past August. Nearly everyone says they’ve noticed how happy I am now, how much brighter my smile is, and how good it is to hear me laugh. My husband and my parents have been so amazing through all of it. Between all of them, they have always made sure I had a way to get to my treatments, and they all tell me how proud they are of everything I do.
I’ve learned to take pride in the small, daily victories and successes — even simple things, like stopping to enjoy the stars on a clear, crisp night, or deep belly-laughing at a good joke, or spending time with family and friends. I used to be hard on myself for never having finished my Bachelor’s degree or having a big, fancy career, but I’ve learned to be proud of everything I have overcome with my illness.
I’ve also found a new calling — fighting back against mental health stigma and showing the world that there’s no shame in having a mental illness. It always touches me when people at work or strangers online open up to me about their experiences with mental illness.
Oh, and one more shoutout — I am 7 1/2 years sober! Wahoo!
DS: Tell us about your blog and social media activities.
AW: I’m most active on Twitter and on my blog, both on which I talk about mental health and my writing. Shameless self-promotion time! I have a Women’s Fiction/Romance novel available on Amazon and iBooks — Waiting for You. I hope you’ll check it out!
DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
AW: Don’t give up. No matter how horrible, how hopeless, or how dark life seems right now, never, ever stop fighting. You are a beautiful person, inside and out. Even if you don’t think anyone cares — I do. We may never meet, but I do care. I know your pain and your chaos. I know how awful it feels, how much you wish you could just go to sleep and never wake up. But take it one day at a time, one hour, one minute, one second — whatever it takes to get through. Just promise me you won’t give up, okay? Your battle is worth fighting, and your life is worth fighting for. There are wonderful things ahead of you, but you have to be alive for them. Stay strong.
Allison Williford is 28 years old; she lives in coastal North Carolina with her husband and their dog, Wilson. She is a novelist and stigma fighter who moonlights as a retail associate. Her hobbies include spending ample time at the beach, boogie boarding, reading, and drinking copious amounts of coffee. You can reach Allison through her blog, Facebook page, or on Twitter.
Thanks so much to Allison for sharing her remarkable story of hope!
Here’s a question: Would you like to share your story of hope? I plan to feature more personal accounts like this from time to time on my blog. If you are interested in sharing your story, please notify me via my contact page. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!