I'm Ryan Christman. I'm a peer group facilitator at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. I teach expressive writing to disabled veterans like myself.
I have bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed back in 2000. I was in the Air Force and I was serving in Saudi Arabia and in about January of 2000, my first I started experiencing manic symptoms.
I didn't know what it was at first. I just had a racing thoughts and an incredible energy. I didn't know where it came from and I attributed.
I thought it was some sort of a religious or spiritual experience but when I got home it became apparent there was something wrong and I went in for a treatment and they
prescribed me an anti-depressive medication that turned my high mood into a psychotically high mood and that's when it became apparent that I was manic, that I had bipolar disorder.
So I went into the hospital for roughly 10 days and during that very first hospitalization, they diagnosed me with bipolar disorder type I with psychotic features.
They had a very, very hard time treating my illness. It's an extremely severe case of bipolar disorder and they had a hard time finding the proper medication for me.
I was diagnosed in 2000 and it took until probably 2005 before they really found a stable medication regimen for me. So during that time I'd bounced around. I was hospitalized several times.
I had several different therapists. I lived in several different states, different relationships, different jobs, just all over the place. But the last few years, it has really turned around for me.
What's really turned it around for me has been my stable medication regimen, a regular therapeutic relationship with the psychologist and a treatment from a psychiatrist.
And then, I participate in several groups and peer support groups, any sort of community outreach that I can get involved in.
I've learned so much from every one of you guys, giving the wisdom and the storytelling. The recovery movement that I became a part of has really changed my life.
It's really giving me a new sense of purpose. I've had an opportunity at the VA Hospital in Arbor to get involved in all sorts of new programs.
The expressive writing group that I lead came out of that recovery movement and it just opened up a ton of different new possibilities of my life.
The community mental health system is linked up to the VA system that I'm a part of and people are getting training as peer professionals to go back
and start working with their peers because who knows a mental illness better than somebody who has actually experienced it.
I had two psychotic episodes in my life and I've lost my family over it and I overcame it.
I had a therapist who is a psychology intern at the hospital. And I went in one day and I had been very down and I'm living at my mom's house and I didn't really see a lot of prospects for the future.
I wasn't anywhere close to making the strides of recovery that I had hoped to make. Back then, I don't even know that I had that much hope. I was just kind of going through the motions.
And I sat across from her and she's like, Ryan, what are you going to do with your life? And I was like, I don't know. I had no idea what I was going to do next.
I've been a writer for a long time, but I had never really been a creative writer and she said, Well, why not? You know, you have all this time.
You have nothing else to do and it could be therapeutic for you start writing. So, I did and it has grown from there.
And it's giving me an opportunity to go back and look at some of the experiences that I've had, especially the psychotic experiences where I didn't always necessarily
understand what was happening to me. And I've been able to go back and look at those experiences and wrestle with them and reflect and that's what the expressive
writing ds for me and so when I sit down and I have a chance to work through these complex emotions and sometimes I'll be crying. Sometimes, I'll be energized.
It just really allows me to get in touch with who I am and I never really did that before. Yeah the expressive writing that I have done in the past four or five years is really,
I think the key to my recovery.