By: Keith O'Neil
This past winter I moved from Arizona back to Buffalo, NY leaving behind the beautiful sunshine and scenery of Arizona for the harsh winter of Western New York. The combined stresses of a cross-country move, a punishing Buffalo winter, and the challenges of finding and acclimating to new doctors have been a real test on my mental health. I am also returning home, a place that I left the way I did, sick, unstable and looking for something new.
My decision to move to Arizona is as much about geography, weather, and life, as it is about my mental states. After retiring from the NFL my wife and I initially moved to Buffalo. It was my home and we wanted to be around family and friends after years of football related moves. Unfortunately, this homecoming was not to be enjoyed for long as it is when I experienced my first true bipolar episode. The symptoms of it lasted on and off for about three years. Trying to figure out the right medication while experiencing these altered states all while attempting to come to terms with living with a mental illness was very difficult. My wife and I went through a lot together which drove us to isolate ourselves from everyone we knew. I was sick and my mind ruminated on the fact that I wasn’t getting healthy in Buffalo, I wasn’t getting healthy with my doctors, and I wasn’t getting healthy around my family and friends. It is a very complicated issue to explain but believe me when I say it was very difficult. I needed out, I needed something different, and Arizona was the only answer I came up with. So we decided to move. Just like that, we had an estate sale, sold our dream home, and left.
We rented a small townhouse outside of Phoenix and planned on buying a house once we got settled. It seemed great at first. I ran almost every day and my energy levels were through the roof. I felt amazing but I was self-destructing in many other areas of my life. I was hypomanic for about six months. I barely slept and I lost about fifty pounds. I was still sick and even though I thought I was on the correct medication, I wasn’t. It was yet another trying time for both Jill and I.
I finally found a new psychiatrist and therapist, something I should have done right when we moved to Arizona. The doctors made a significant difference. My new psychiatrist made a small adjustment to my medication “cocktail” which helped my mania subside. I found a new therapist and Jill and I spent hundreds of hours with her both alone and together to further understand how to live with and understand bipolar disorder. We became very close with our doctors; they became our support system and at times they were all we had. We had no family and no friends. It was just us, stuck in a small townhouse in the middle of the desert. We had to figure it out on our own.
Hopes of starting over and putting our roots down in Arizona eventually faded. Once I began to get healthy, reality set in. We were all alone! Frequent trips back to Buffalo made us realize how much we wanted to live somewhere that made sense. Even though the time we spent in Arizona was beyond necessary moving back to Buffalo was what we wanted. We both felt we were strong and healthy enough to make the move and start over … again.
Arizona will always have a place in my heart not only because I went to college there, I met Jill there, but it’s also where I eventually found wellness; it’s where I found peace. I was fortunate enough to explore some of the most beautiful places in the world during our two-year stay there. The Grand Canyon, Sedona, and The Superstition Mountains were frequent places I would visit to reflect. It was very therapeutic.
So here I am, back home. I’m writing this blog in my new home outside of Buffalo, NY. Jill is doing a great job decorating the new house and she is back at work full time. Our son Connor is a happy little three-year-old and he is enjoying the time he spends with his grandparents and his cousins. As for me, I have found new doctors that I really like and I have been working on a few projects that keep me busy. It’s been a challenging five years learning to live with my illness. It took me to Arizona and back. Despite or perhaps because of these ups and downs things are looking bright and we are enjoying being back home.