You Can Thrive in Your Recovery

Stories of Hope: An Interview with Rob Houston

This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked Rob Houston about his history of mental health challenges and about some of his current activities. 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?

RH: It was 1998. I had lost my job of 9 years; I had a young family and a mortgage to pay. I qualified for unemployment benefits and job retraining. I had also received a severance package for my years of service. I decided to go back to school for 10 months and try to learn something different and get a better job.

When I finished the program, I was able to get a job in the field for which I trained. I was under a lot of stress to succeed doing something I really didn’t want to do and working shift work and 12 hour shifts. I began to lose sleep, I had difficulty eating properly and I began to feel overwhelmed, anxious and depressed. In the meantime I was unable to work due to my breakdown so this began to place extra stress on my marriage and my home life.

DS: What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help? 

RH: Four months later I had a breakdown and presented at the ER asking for help. A family history was taken and I was put on my first antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication and I was also given medication to help me sleep better. I was told to seek help so I went to see a counsellor a few times until I was able to see a psychiatrist.

I began to see a psychiatrist for psychotherapy and my meds were changed numerous times while we tried to find the correct one for me. My meds began to work and I began to understand what had happened to me and most likely why. My mother was classic bipolar who drank with her meds and my father was an alcoholic.

I struggled very much with my therapy and refused to believe that my parents could have affected my life in this way. My wife became scared that I was going to be just like my Mom and our communication began to really suffer as a result.

After my breakdown our marriage and my life were never the same again. I got well enough to go back to work full-time but my mental illness was hard on my wife and me despite treatment.

Four years later my wife left me for another man and I had a second breakdown. Only this time my depression/anxiety was much worse. My meds were increased to maximum for an outpatient as I struggled to deal with everything: possible sale of the house, custody of my daughters and of course finances. This equaled lots of stress to which I responded with lots of alcohol and drugs.

I drank and drugged my way through 6 years until finally I realised I was going to die if I didn’t find recovery. I have not had a drink or drug since June 24, 2011!

DS: What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?

RH: I went to a twelve-step program and leveled with my psychiatrist that I was a mess and basically began to live my truth for the first time in my life. My treatment has consisted of being treated for co-occurring disorder, adverse childhood experiences, post-traumatic stress disorder and ADHD.

Extensive group therapy for trauma and childhood neglect and proper medication, sleep, exercise and one-on-one sessions with my psychiatrist have all contributed to my new life. I have studied extensively myself and my family history to uncover what was buried inside me for so long.

I have learned CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) and all about my ADHD, generational trauma and how genetics helped to form me as a person. I am now healthy enough to practice mindfulness and daily meditation to add to my growing toolbox of coping skills.

DS: How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?

RH: Today I am the most stable and mentally healthy I have ever been in my life! My relationship with my two daughters has never been better. I have shared my whole experience of recovery with them to help them understand and really know their Dad. It has not been easy for my girls to watch their Dad change in front of their eyes believe me.

I want people to understand how important it is to receive treatment for their mental health concerns and understand how things can really begin to spin out of control when we begin to self-medicate our problems away.

I have developed a deep sense of spirituality in my life as a result of “my lived experiences.” Every day I wake up wanting to be a better person than I was yesterday. I want to watch my daughters have children and grow up. I offer my experience and how I’ve learned to cope with life and my challenges to anyone I can assist.

I’m very grateful to be present and aware for the first time in my life. I have come to realize just how precious this life is after losing three friends to mental illness and addiction since this journey began.

DS: You’ve been active in mental health advocacy and social media. Tell us about your involvement in those activities. 

RH: Basically I have two social media accounts that I use, Twitter and Instagram, to re-tweet articles and post my thoughts about recovery from co-occurring disorder. I also share my story whenever I’m asked to do so.

DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?

RH: So many people have helped me grow and face challenges in the middle of my life. To directly confront and treat and move forward daily has shown me just how strong we can be when faced with what seem like insurmountable challenges: mental illness, ADHD, trauma, PTSD, childhood emotional neglect, sexual molestation and addictions.

Treatment has helped me to open up and unlock parts of me that I never knew even existed. Slowly understanding what I needed to release in order to feel free and live mostly in the present. Today I am able to forgive myself and others for what has taken place in my life.

I am so grateful for everyone who has shown me how to manage my experiences and to just work on today. I could not have accomplished this alone. Take the time to learn about your diagnosis, understand your medication or whatever your treatment plan calls for. And follow it! Continually educate yourself and stay committed to growing, so you can thrive in your recovery!

About Rob

I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I am a person in long-term recovery. I’m an advocate for greater awareness of addiction, mental health issues and recovery. I’m currently employed at a provincial mental health center. I have two beautiful daughters, ages 25 and 21. I love to be in the sunshine whether it’s outside in summer or in the long cold winters that we have in Manitoba. I’m a lover of music, photography, gardening and the four seasons. You can reach me on Twitter and Instagram.

Thanks so much to Rob 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. Finally, if you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend. Thanks!

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