I had the privilege of living near Stephen’s wife, Pam a few years back and I am so glad I met them. They were the ones to introduce me to NAMI, and it is really nice/refreshing to talk to other people who really truly understand your struggles.
I can personally attest to how helpful it is to read about others struggles, strategies, and recovery etc.. We need to get mental illnesses out in the open, and eliminate the stigma that makes people feel like they have to hide. I just found out from a friend that her college professor recently committed suicide. Who knows if such a heartbreaking tragedy could have been prevented if maybe she felt she could be more open, that it was okay to seek help, that she wouldn’t be judged.
Being depressed is an illness that needs to be treated, just like the flu or cancer.
I hope I can make a difference in this fight, even if it is just a small one.
I asked Stephen if he would be willing to share his story and here it is 🙂
If you would like to share your own story, please feel free to e-mail it to me and I would be more than happy to share it!
Stephen Piorkowski July 2, 2014
Running from the Past to Run to a Brighter Future
Years go by and your memories of the past are shaded by what seemed to be great, and memories that were bad. I was around 17 when I was caught in a whirlwind of events that changed my life forever. My brother was in the army and stationed around Boston. Our family received a call that he was A.W.O.L. I thought that going up to find him would help and get him to safety. Little did I know that my safety was in jeopardy. I found my brother and convinced him to return to his base. I was still up in Boston and staying with people who offered me a place. One night, I came back home without any knowledge of a curfew. I left the subway train and, as soon as I left the station I was caught in the middle of a riot between the Boston police and the Black Panthers and the Weathermen Underground. I was surrounded by police and was battered with clubs on my head that resulted in me receiving a traumatic brain injury (T.B.I.) I could only see blood around me and was taken to a hospital. I could not get out of bed and I could not speak, no words left my mouth. I could not remember things. My parents brought me home from Boston in mid-August and my Senior Year in High School was going to start. I could not bring myself to even thinking of going to school in the shape I was in. My parents argued with me about this, they found out by going my doctor I could get home nurse care. The nurse that I had, helped me by getting me out and found me a job with the County. It was a job that I shared with others and it was not challenging for me and motivated me to move on to better places to work. I still was suffering from the Brain Injury:I started having Grand Mal seizures, and on top of that I became depressed. I just existed by working different jobs and going out with friends. I had no plans and was just caught in a whirlwind of depression and epilepsy .
I started to see my life and independence was declining. I wanted to find a way to become healthy and change my life. I went to the library and researched epilepsy. No internet at that time every piece of information was found in libraries. I found that there were people who saw improvement by running. I started to run and I was a smoker at the time. I stopped because my breathing was so affected. I remember running a 5 mile race and I saw black and stars. I decided to stop. I also changed my friends. I could not be around people who used drugs. I stopped taking drugs and I started running about 5 miles a day and running races on weekends by 3 to 4 months I was running 50 miles a week and I decided to run my first marathon. It was the 1982 Jersey Shore Marathon and I finished under 4 hours. That was a great time for a first time marathon. I worked and trained for the New Your Marathon in 1983 and I ran 10 consecutive New York Marathons and did not miss a running workout for years. The decision to change my friends and choose a healthy lifestyle was my decision based on research that I discovered. I also found that my depression was not an issue. My seizures were controlled. I had a couple in those 10 years but I believe running gave me strength to handle stress by me controlling stress (long distance running) and going to great distances to become strong.
I was married in New York and I lived in Brooklyn. I worked at Columbia University as a Production coordinator for the College. I also worked for the New York Road Runners Club as a race event coordinator. I received money from people who ran races but as soon as that was finished I was able to run all races for free. I became the Prospect Track Club runner of the year by finishing over 400 miles of races and I am not even saying how many training miles that I ran.
Eventually after being married we decided to have children. We tried to have children but miscarriages happened and we decided to adopt. We traveled to Hungary to adopt our twins and we came back home after 5 weeks. We had plans to have a nanny to take care of our children but that fell apart. With not many options we decided that I would take care of the children. Twins from an orphanage was very challenging but I did well. I found programs that they could belong to that would address the issues children from orphanages face. Physical therapy, speech therapy and head start programs to give them extra care. After 6 months of taking care of my twins I decided it was time to return to work. I decided to change my career from a production coordinator of printing to a chef. I was hired to work for the prestigious Whitney family of Saratoga. I worked from 7 in the morning to about 7 at night and loved the job and did well. I wanted to continue but my former wife had no interest in taking care of the children and decided that I should not work those hours. Well I was hired to work those hours and even more because they wanted me to travel to Saratoga, Georgia , England to cook for the Whitney’s and their staff. Eventually I left not felling happy and depressed. I also did not mention that I was not supported by my former wife to even get a break. I stopped running when we adopted the children. I also stopped taking my epilepsy medication because during the time that I ran. Running and exercise made me strong both mentally and physically. I took care of my twin sons at home and participated in school events and activities. My former wife did not but after 8 years of taking great care of our sons she decided that she wanted me to leave. I searched for work but it was hard because over those years I was a stay home dad. No one wanted to hire me and I became depressed. Suicidal thoughts started to emerge I felt lost and without support more than ever my former wife threatened to throw me out and the more I heard that the more depressed I became. I felt trapped and I had to think quickly. I was weakened by my former wife by her way of making me feel useless. My moral sunk, my confidence was gone and the only thoughts I had were how I was going to survive. We had a home in Brooklyn and a home in Ocean Grove NJ. I took my sons to the Jersey Shore home in Ocean Grove all summer long and on holidays and weekends. My former wife argued with me about moving out and one weekend she said she was going to her mothers with the boys. I decided that this was the time for me to leave I packed everything I could in a van. Moved to Ocean Grove and that was my freedom returning. But at a cost I moved in with hardly any money and had to find work. I turned manic and started losing sleep maybe lucky if I could get a couple hours in. I wasn’t eating well and started to feel freedom from my depression that held me captive when I was abused by my former wife. I did so much but did not have a stable concrete foundation and never felt any comfort.
I started having seizures during my depression just before I left my former wife I just did not know what were the causes. Then I found out because during the years that I ran I was not depressed or having seizures. I was healthy because I trained and worked out. I ate well and slept well.
I left the Jersey Shore and my former wife in Brooklyn and moved up to Albany eventually settling in Delmar NY. I had started my routine again running every day and training for races. I became strong and seizures stopped. I started to work at RPI after working as a customer service representative. The hours in the kitchen were sometimes 60 hours and even when they were 40 hour weeks I was too tired to run. I worked hard to become a good baker and chef but had a supervisor who just was terrible to me and other staff members. I had my hours reduced and was in such bad shape because of the worry of my finances. This set me in another depression. I was not sleeping worrying about work and money. I was worried because of my lack of sleep that I was going to have a seizure. I was getting better because I was prescribe medication that helped after going through some trial and error. I asked Pam to marry me and we set the date for June 9th 2012 and got married in Providence RI and left to Iceland on our honeymoon. Well everything caught up to me and when we landed in Iceland I had two seizures, one out on the street and then when I was sent to our hotel, I had one in the room. After 30 hours on intravenous valium and resting we were able to go on. We came home back to Delmar and I had two more. One at home with my wife Pam calling the first aid and the ambulance taking me to Albany Med. When in Albany Med I had another and it was a severe one. One that had the doctors hospitalize me. I was released and was told to not drive and I was noticing some mania. I was so upset that I was unable to drive that I biked over 40 miles every day to Troy NY from Delmar. I also wanted to be independent, so I walked biked everywhere. When I was out sick from the seizures and had a lot of time so I set a room up in my house that connected a complete stereo system, TV, computer, tape player, record player CD player, DVD player and desk with art work in one night. I did not sleep again. I seems the seizures that I have and the bipolar symptoms are related. I sometimes are fearful of their return.
I considered therapies to become healthy again and I decided that it was time to go to a outpatient treatment center at Four Winds at Saratoga. . I went for 8 weeks and I believe it improved my mental health but I had to make things better. It took me time to find a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist. The Psychologist helped Pam and me work out our problems and the Psychiatrist eventually prescribe Lithium that was so vital for my recovery. I started going to Schenectady College last September and since then I have been on the Presidents List for the Fall and Spring Terms. I also was awarded a scholarship. I have been seizure free for over a year and my doctor said I can drive again. I started running again and I feel better than ever.
Healthy Minds and healthy bodies are both as important to enjoy life. I will go on sharing my stories and look forward to brighter days.
My wife Pam
She has been through a lot . Having to witness and help me when I had a seizure on our honeymoon I shared the trauma that she experienced. I feel that it’s just as hard for a person to see as it is a person having a seizure. I wanted to get help for her and the epilepsy foundation gave her counseling. I received counseling also. I started putting my life together and Pams thanks to them. Pam worked extra hard to go to workshops at NAMI and get support for caregivers of people with mental illness. I still struggle with the stigma of mental illness and epilepsy and hope education and awareness will free those of us mislabeled.
Thank you Stephen