Stories of Hope: An Interview with Jim Buchanan
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked mental health advocate Jim Buchanan about his history of mental health challenges and about some of his current advocacy work. 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?
JB: I first became aware of depression at a very young age, before kindergarten. I remember asking my parents for help, that things weren’t like they used to be and that I was not happy anymore. This led to two trips to a psychologist. I’m not sure what he told my parents, but we never went back. Although I planned suicide about the age of 13, and started having mania at the age of 19, I never considered that it might be mental illness. That was just something that was foreign to me. I thought my manias were “normal” and my other problem was a character flaw.
DS: What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help?
JB: At the age of 39, my employer sent me to the local Community Mental Health Center for an evaluation. I had been acting erratic at work. When I was diagnosed with bipolar, it was as if a light bulb went off. There was a name for the problem. There was a solution. I took it really well, not knowing the struggle to get the illness under control that lay ahead.
DS: What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
JB: I am a great believer in meds for mental illness. They have, possibly literally, saved my life. I also see a therapist for one on one therapy, I have learned many useful skills and solved many problems this way. I have also gone through two programs, DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) and CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy). DBT teaches a set of skills that can be used throughout life. I feel that anyone can benefit from DBT, whether they have a mental illness or not. CBT teaches one how to deal with “thought distortions” which can then be countered, relieving distress.
DS: How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
JB: There are some bumps in the road, but overall, things are going well. I eventually had to leave my job when I was 44 years old, but now, 10 years later, I’m looking for another job, and am enthusiastic about it. I have learned to reduce stress; this eliminates some triggers and helps with stability. In light of this, I’m looking for a less stressful job, nothing like the professional job at a Fortune 50 company I used to have. Most important is that I’m happy and satisfied most of the time.
DS: You’ve been active in mental health advocacy and social media. Tell us about your involvement in those activities.
JB: I was fortunate enough to find NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) not too long after I was diagnosed. The support group meetings helped greatly, and I met many mental health advocates, and eventually moved into advocacy as well. I am a NAMI Connection peer support facilitator, a past Connection facilitator trainer for Indiana, and past president of NAMI Kokomo, Indiana. I regularly speak for NAMI in the In Our Own Voice program, where two people with a mental illness talk about living well with mental illness. I feel that this is one of NAMI’s most valuable programs.
I was a founder and president of DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) North Central Indiana, but this local chapter is now sadly defunct.
I discovered Twitter and Facebook around 2009. I post links to articles I find about mental health on Twitter, and to a lesser extent, on Facebook and Pinterest. People seem to like these, as I keep getting more followers.
In early 2015, I started a blog, featuring mostly, but not entirely posts about mental health and mental illness. I only post on average, about two articles a month.
DS: Tell us about Project Semicolon.
JB: On April 16th, 2013, Amy Bleuel started Project Semicolon. It was to honor her father, who was lost to suicide, as well as herself and all the other people out there who were suicidal, self-harming, or otherwise suffering. She asked people to draw a semicolon on themselves and share on social media.
The semicolon was chosen because, “A semicolon is a place where an author could have ended his/her sentence, but chose to continue instead. The author is you, and the sentence is your life.” I and many other people did so. In the years since, many of us have chosen to get semicolon tattoos. I’ve included a picture of mine. Also, semicolon t-shirts, jewelry, and other items have been produced. A Google search will find many images of semicolons.
DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
JB: There is hope. Keep working on recovery, it is a journey, not a destination.
Jim Buchanan was born in 1962 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and lived in several states and cities, eventually winding up in Kokomo, Indiana. He worked as an electronic technician until he went to college and got an Electrical Engineering Technology degree from Purdue University. He then worked at a very large automotive company where he did electronic circuit design and IT (Information Technology) support. During this time, he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Since then he has become a mental health advocate and teaches people about mental illness and that people with a mental illness are just ordinary people who happen to have an illness, much like diabetes or high blood pressure. You can connect with Jim on his webpage, Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.
Thanks so much to Jim Buchanan for sharing his terrific story of hope!
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!