Stories of Hope: An Interview with Dave Wise
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked mental health advocate Dave Wise 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 before you sought treatment?
DW: I first became aware of my mental health problems in 2004. I was visiting Guatemala on a college class trip, and had my first thoughts of suicide. I did not feel depressed, or anxious, but I felt existential and began pondering death a lot. Throughout the second semester of college that year, I would begin to feel more irritable, angry, depressed, and fear abandonment.
Those around me such as my family did not know what to think or how to help me. A close friend suggested I go with him to a community mental health center for an assessment. I was hospitalized in psych following that assessment, but released a few days later. A week later, in November of 2004 after the break up of a romantic relationship, I decided to end my life. My first suicide attempt lead to me getting help and treatment for my mental illness.
DS: What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help?
DW: The turning point that lead me to seek help was my first suicide attempt. It made everything real to me. I hit rock bottom. I voluntarily started attending DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) with a psychologist, and started being treated by a psychiatrist including psychiatric medications. I was hopeful these treatments and the support of family and friends could help me.
DS: What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
DW: My treatment consisted of over 10 years of DBT therapy which included learning skills and better coping techniques. I also eventually found a psychiatric medication regimen that worked for me. For a period of a year, I underwent many series of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) treatments, which also helped pull me out of some deep dark depression episodes.
My greatest support was my family. They encouraged me, visited me in the hospital, helped me with day to day needs, and assisted where they could. They took a class at NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) to learn about my mental illness and how to support me. My friends were also helpful and loyal during this time.
As I grew older into my early 30’s, I was able to reach out to community mental health supports. I utilized clubhouses, community support workers, crisis mental health phone lines, and other resources. I found support in spirituality and faith. I also utilized the WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) to help me identify my triggers and what I must do daily to maintain wellness.
For me I have found regular healthy sleep habits, eating regular healthy meals, and exercise has been helpful for my mental health. I also have found being creative such as playing guitar, drawing, or crocheting has been beneficial in my mental health recovery.
For the last year and a half, blogging about my mental health journey and my life has been very therapeutic and helpful. I have used my blog to encourage others in their mental health recovery journeys.
I cannot point to one thing that solved everything or that I know is the key to maintaining stability and mental health for me. It’s been many combinations of things, treatments, people, and time that has aided me to be at a point in my life where I am married, I am able to work part-time even though I am disabled because of my mental illness, and maintain healthy boundaries and relationships. I’m a parent, a husband, a son, and a friend while living with bipolar disorder and anxiety.
DS: How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
DW: It has been over three years since I was hospitalized last for mental health reasons. I am married, I’m a parent, and I am able to work a little bit, while finding purpose and meaning in life even though I am disabled due to my mental health conditions. I work daily to maintain my mental health recovery and wellness, and still encounter difficulties, hardships, and loss in my life.
What I have learned that helps me remain positive is that I must have gratitude for the things I have. Even when life is dark and things are hard, I can still find things to be grateful for. My positivity and hope also come from my faith in God, and the love from my wife and family.
But ultimately, my greatest strength comes from within myself, as I remember that each day I can start over, and even in the midst of suffering that I can find meaning and remember it too shall pass.
DS: You’ve been active in mental health advocacy and social media. Tell us about your involvement in those activities.
DW: I started a blog in 2015 called #DaveWiseMatters. Its purpose was to share my struggles and triumphs on my mental health journey, and become a place where others could share their stories and find hope and hear the truth that people matter. As a result I have become very active on Twitter and have a Facebook page.
I use social media to the best of my ability to encourage others, share positive stories or words of encouragement, and also remind people there is more to life than a mental health diagnosis. Many of my tweets or posts will be about mental health blogs or advocacy, but I also try to balance them with posts or tweets about my personal life, friends, or fun activities such as board games or pug dogs so that we can be reminded that a mental health diagnosis is just a small part of who we are.
DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
DW: Recovery is possible. Don’t give up on your dreams, or think your life is over if you are struggling with mental illness or adversity. You can live a meaningful life with purpose of your choosing. It takes time, effort, and hope, but you can live a life of mental health recovery. Remember every day is another chance to start over and begin again. Don’t define yourself by your diagnosis, your failures, or your challenges, but look deep inside yourself for the things that make you unique, beautiful, and worthy to be loved and let those things shine.
Dave Wise lives in St. Louis, Missouri with his wife. He lives with bipolar disorder. Dave is a blogger and blogs regularly at davewisematters.com and bphope.com. He enjoys reading, crocheting, listening to music, and playing board games. He believes mental health recovery is possible, and that it is important to share stories of hope and recovery to help destroy the stigma surrounding mental health conditions. You can connect with Dave on Twitter.
Thanks so much to Dave for sharing his inspiring 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!