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This NAMI Linn County supporter is a Steve, a 60 year old NAMI Linn County Board Member and Mental Health Speaker. Here is his story…

“My name is Steve Miller, like the band. I was 8 or 9 years old in my parents basement and I realized that there’s something in me that will someday be severe. I knew that it would be hard to believe, but I did have that kind of feeling. My way of dealing with it was not to think about it and go out into athletics. I played football and baseball at Washington High School. Baseball was more fun and I ended up playing a year at college until I got sick (I attended college down in Kirksville, Missouri). My freshman year of college, I would have a good hour and a bad hour or I would have a good day and bad day. It would become less good as I went along. I started having hallucinations and I went home to my parents’ house after my freshman year. I was pretty much flat on my back trying to hold it together, taking out my energy and I became stiff. I started having auditory hallucinations and I was staying up late at night and slept through the day. Before this, my family had no experience with mental health. We didn’t know what was going on and I got to a point where there were no good days.  It’s hard to describe how you feel but you’re not yourself. You’re not in the reality you are used to.

My parents told my brother, Paul, that he needed to take me to the emergency room.  So we went to St. Luke’s Hospital. I was incoherent and was not making a lot of sense. I was in a psych unit for about a week and a half. They put me on a medication called Haldol which was the most recent medication they had. This was happening in 1979 so there weren’t a lot of medication options. I got home using Haldol but it couldn’t do a darn thing. For me, it was a horrible medication. People on the outside look at you and think you’re doing better. But on the inside you’re really worse.

I was sick, lost track of friends and family, had no work, and no school. I was just terrible. I was able to get in two years at Kirkwood and then spent a semester at the University of Iowa. At Iowa, I got too sick and had to pull out halfway through my junior year. In 1989, my doctor told me there was a new medication called Clozapine and he wondered if I wanted to give it a try. He wasn’t forcing me to try it, he simply asked if I wanted to. I tried the medication and I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. I’d been sick for so long, I forgot what it was like to not feel sick. I was so nervous, so psychotic, and was just horrible. Two hours later, my nervousness went away and after a week, my thinking cleared up. I have faith but to me, this was a miracle. I couldn’t believe what happened to me. I felt like the most fortunate guy there ever was.” 

Was your family supportive?

“My parents (Jim and Bonnie Miller, who are also NAMI supporters) were so supportive and never turned their backs on me. They are very understanding people. They didn’t have mental health issues, themselves, nor did my brother. I was the only one that got it in the family. My parents were supportive and they came to events I was part of for NAMI. I was fortunate to have them as my parents.”

If you could go back in time to improve the situation what would you do differently? 

“This is a good question but I don’t see how I could change it. I just had to accept the cards I was dealt with and tried to make the best of it. I felt like it was inevitable, it was going to happen to matter what. These diseases run in families; it’s a genetic thing. It’s a no-fault health issue. It’s just something you have to deal with and try to make the best of it.”

Any advice for people dealing with mental illness? 

“Hang in there; things can and will get better.  New medications are coming out all the time. Be persistent and try to make your life as comfortable as you can. There is hope and it can get better. Don’t give up on yourself, you’re just as good as anybody else. Remember you can have a good life, too.”

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