I am a 65-year old husband, father, grandfather, combat veteran, and a proud, thankful bipolar survivor. A qualified Airborne-Ranger-Engineer and strategist, I served globally, from my West Point graduation in 1979, until my removal from command of the National Defense University (NDU) in 2014 by then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.
Unbeknownst to everyone, my genetic predisposition for bipolar disorder was triggered by the intense stress of the Iraq War in 2003, where I commanded a combat engineer brigade of thousands of soldiers. My brain responded to the stress by producing and distributing excessive amounts of dopamine and endorphins, sending me into a euphoric, high-performing mania that made me feel fearless, like I was Superman.
My bipolar remained unknown and undetected from 2003 to 2014. My manic highs grew higher and my depressive lows sank lower, until I reached a state of acute mania in the Spring of 2014. As I rocketed into full-blown mania and became terribly disruptive and erratic, my 4-star boss was compelled to remove me from command in July 2014. He made the right decision; and also directed me to get a mental health exam.
Over the next four months I spiraled, then crashed, into crippling, hopeless depression, which was accompanied by terrifying psychotic delusions. For the next two years I was in a fight for my life as morbid, vivid imagery of my own violent death filled my mind. Psychiatrists call these ‘passive suicidal ideations,’ but they were anything but passive for me.
Fortunately, an Army comrade helped me get into the excellent VA hospital in White River Junction, VT. My wife’s love and persistence was crucial, and the support of family and friends helped keep me from falling into the abyss.
But it was the element Lithium, a natural salt, that led to my mood stabilization in September 2016, and subsequent recovery. I have not had a bad day since. My wife Maggie and I are enjoying a wonderful life, happy and healthy, in warm, sunny Cocoa Beach, Florida.
I never wanted bipolar, but it wanted me. It nearly destroyed everything I value – marriage, family, health, friends, career, and life itself. In response, I have taken my ‘bipolar gift’ and transformed it into my calling and mission: ‘sharing my bipolar story to help stop the stigma and save lives.’
I speak and write on my experiences, providing hope and knowledge to others. In addition to helping stop the stigma that unfortunately surrounds mental illness, I hope to help save lives, marriages, families, friendships and careers.
Over the coming months, I’ll be writing a column that tackles some aspect of “Battling bipolar and my ‘forever war’ with mental illness.”
This painful yet victorious journey, will include my pre-bipolar service and success; mental health disaster; fight to recover; and new life, and how I built it.
I invite you, your family, friends, and colleagues to join me on this journey.
For more information, see my web site at www.generalgreggmartin.com .