Thriving on the Other Side of Illness

Stories of Hope: An Interview with Mark Hattas

This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked entrepreneur Mark Hattas about his history of mental health challenges and about the recent launch of his new mental health organization. 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?

MH: In 2011, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder but my symptoms began in 2006 when I was running my own company, Geneca. It was stressful, with an unsustainable pace. Regularly up early and out late, I knew I couldn’t keep up with the pace of work. That is when my behavior started to change. I wanted to get out of the business, but I was unsure how. After a very successful period of growth I sold the business in 2010.

After the sale, in 2011, I began experiencing symptoms that I would later find out were associated with bipolar. For example, I went off a ski jump full speed though I had never done that before. I fell so hard I could barely get off the mountain. The pain was intense but I didn’t do anything about it except rest a bit. A few weeks later, I got a new phone and perceived that it was shooting electricity through my arms and into my face whenever I touched it, or even came near it.  I returned it and got a different brand – which helped – but I was still unable to be around certain types of frequencies.

Months later, new symptoms emerged. I began speaking to spirits, hearing from God, seeing images and being transformed with many physical sensations and awarenesses that seemed to illuminate my understanding of life. It felt quite spectacular. After sharing my insights with friends and eventually my family, it was apparent they didn’t all have the same appreciation for the changes I was experiencing.

My wife became nervous and a friend suggested I might be possessed. This triggered fear in me and I began to worry that this “cool” stuff was something to fear. I quickly ran from things I would have embraced days earlier and feared this process unfolding was not what it seemed. I hadn’t eaten for five or so days, and on the last day the walls began to move. I was experiencing dynamic and incredible changes in the physical world that only I could see.

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

MH: September 11, 2011 was a turning point for me. My wife, Liz, invited a priest, our family, and a neighbor over for an intervention. Liz wanted me to get help. The room was tense. There was a lot of compassion and concern for me and my family. Liz and the others were hoping I would listen and when they realized I would not, our priest, Father Jim, said a prayer.

With that I agreed to go to the hospital and yet when they all left, I stalled and delayed. I never intended to actually go. Later that night, I began growling like a lion. I was under the impression I was healing and transforming into something powerful. My wife finally had enough and called the paramedics. After some conversation and resistance, I was grabbed by the arms and dragged from my home.

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

MH: For nearly three years, my treatment consisted almost exclusively of taking several different medications. Even while on the medication, I was hospitalized three times and finally after a suicide attempt I decided it was time to find a doctor who could care for me differently. I didn’t find just one; I found two.

The first doctor focused on healing my gut, which new research shows has profound interaction with the brain. The second doctor helped me detox and ensure that my body had the right balance of nutrients. Additionally, I learned some cognitive-behavioral techniques to control negative, racing thoughts, change unhelpful belief systems, and support the integration of a divided self. These approaches were so effective that my whole system healed.  Soon I was off all medications and I now teach these techniques to others.

This is what we do at Journey’s Dream: We provide those struggling with mental illness with the tools, support and hope they need to improve their lives. For instance, our Optimal Being program is a 13-week program that can be completed anywhere there is an internet connection.

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

MH: Fabulous!!! My marriage is intact and my children are doing well. We went through quite a transformation as a family and are thriving on the other side of the illness. I have my confidence and my strength and health, and I have several new skills I did not have prior to this experience, including insights into health and a story-telling gift that is surprising still to me.

My life is a joyous one and I am blessed and thankful to all who helped. I am so appreciative that true wellness is possible. For over three years now, I have been off all medications and have now dedicated my time to serving and supporting transformation in others. Journey’s Dream seeks to provide those who are struggling with mental illness with access to the kind of practitioners and practices that facilitated my transformation.

DS: What inspired you to co-found the organization Journey’s Dream? What are the organization’s goals and how is it different from other mental health organizations?

MH: Interestingly enough, during one of my mania episodes, I saw a vision of a planet healed. After getting well, I surrendered and asked for divine guidance. I was inspired to share what I learned about healing and collaborate with others  who believe, as I do, that all people can get well.

I co-founded Journey’s Dream with Rex and Mitzi Montague-Bauer and Breaha Wallin, whose son and brother Journey struggled with mental illness. While on six medications, Journey walked off a six-story parking garage, ending his life. Journey’s family had searched for resources to help their son but could not find them in time.

They had a vision just like mine: to remove the barriers and shame that prevent healing.  We want to connect those who are struggling and/or their families and loved ones with mental health resources quickly. Journey’s Dream embraces all and supports many as they search for optimal outcomes and find the path to optimal health.

DS: Tell us about the Journey’s Dream kickoff celebration held recently in Chicago.

MH: Journey’s Dream’s kickoff celebration at Soldier Field in Chicago was a huge success. Our goal was to raise awareness of and support for our vision and organization. Over two hundred people gathered in the Midway Room to celebrate a vision that all people can find paths to healthy and joyous lives. So many people shared how they had lost hope and now have it again.

The practitioners who shared their vision and their insights were breathtaking. Representatives from NAMI Metro Suburban, NAMI DuPage, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), and the Illinois Joining Forces (IJF) were all present and very excited by the launch.

We had a terrific speaker lineup including Frank Shankwitz, co-founder of Make-A-Wish foundation, and David Stanley and Tim Ryan whose personal stories inspired the audience. We played a breathtaking video on the jumbotrons outside in the stadium, which brought many to tears. Cathy Richardson, lead singer for Jefferson Starship, told her own story of struggle, and played her song “I am what I am” to a standing ovation.

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

MH: It is important to listen to people who are inspired from love and question those who are coming from hostility or fear. It is important to look beyond what they are saying, and understand why.  It is equally important to analyze their results: how are their patients doing? When I was ready to actually get well, I said, “I’m willing….” willing to do what is optimal for my best care and allow people in my life who support and are truly invested in my health and well-being. It was then that I had the courage to engage practitioners and find other mental health professionals who believe what I believe: recovery and transformation is possible. If it can happen for me, it can happen for anyone.

About Mark

Mark Hattas has started, built and sold a $20M/yr tech company. He was later diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder and told there was no cure. Mark didn’t believe the prognosis and through study, faith, and practice, Mark lived into his faith that he could be well. He is so thankful to all who have helped, and to God. He is committed to help others and give them hope and paths to success as well. This inspiration in 2012 led him to pursue and eventually co-found HSI and Journey’s Dream. The dream will be realized when all people can find hope and well-being. You can connect with Mark via Facebook, Twitter or through Journey’s Dream.  

Thanks so much to Mark for his encouraging 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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