By: Keith O'Neil
Everything was perfect. I had recently retired from the NFL with a Super Bowl ring. I was working in a great industry as a medical device representative. Jill and I had recently settled into our dream home located in a beautiful suburb outside of my hometown of Buffalo, NY. We were back around family and friends on a regular basis for the first time in many years - we were enjoying life! Thoughts of having a family of our own were on the horizon. Life was good, even great.
It was October 2010 when Jill called me into the bathroom to share with me the results of the pregnancy test; we were pregnant with our first child! It was one of the best days of my life. I had never felt anything like that feeling before. I was going to be a dad. It was everything I ever wanted; we were happy, in love and we were going to have a child.
We shared the news with everyone. Family and friends were almost as excited as we were. We were in the initial stages of preparing for the baby’s arrival when Jill miscarried. It’s hard to explain the range of emotions I felt. I was sad and down and although I wasn’t very outwardly emotional I felt a vast emptiness. I didn’t know what to do. I was lost. The miscarriage was my trigger.
I had gone from as happy as I had ever been to as low as I had experienced. Yet, in the week following the emotional fallout of the miscarriage my emotions sprang back and I was very high. I had shifted quickly. I thought everything in life was great, I felt very euphoric. - I was on cloud nine. Not only did I feel great I was very motivated and goal-oriented. I worked eighteen-hour days and spent countless hours in my office working instead of comforting my wife and grieving the loss of our unborn child. Everywhere I went, whether to work or the grocery store, I felt invincible. My confidence was soaring. I began to do very well at work. I was selling to surgeons like I never had before. I was charming, happy and confident. My speech was fast and my thoughts raced. I couldn’t stop. It wasn’t too long before I began to make very poor decisions. I emailed my boss’ boss stating how great of a rep I was going to be. I emailed top executives during the wee hours of the morning absurd ideas I had for the company. I began calling top donors and administrators at my Alma Mater to share with them my outlandish thoughts on how the football program should be run. I was spinning out of control with increasingly bad decisions but felt invincible. It was self- destruction; I was manic but didn’t yet know it.
During this initial stage of mania I made a visit to the jewelry store, bad idea. I walked out with not one but two watches (a Rolex, and a Tag Heuer) and two pair of diamond earrings for Jill. The following day I bought a very expensive shotgun safe; I didn’t even own a gun. The following day I bought a hot tub along and a new wardrobe too for good measure. The buying continued with my purchase of two snowboards and all the requisite accessories. In less than a week I spent around $30K on things I typically never would have purchased. I was normally very conservative and I would later learn that spending sprees are common during a manic episode.
I began to realize something was very wrong with me so I researched my symptoms with all the intensity I was bringing to other facers of my life. I quickly self-diagnosed myself with Cyclothymia, a mild form of bipolar disorder. That night I emailed my friend’s mother, a doctor of psychology and made an appointment for the following day. When I arrived at the appointment I was still in a somewhat stable condition. We collectively agreed that I needed to see a psychiatrist who could properly diagnose me and prescribe medication if necessary. The first doctor the psychologist recommended didn’t have availability for a month, time I didn’t have. Our second choice could see me in under a week. I made the appointment not knowing what was going to transpire over the next few days.
The euphoria, motivation, and the like was quickly replaced with extreme paranoia and anxiety. I began doing things and believing things I never would have in a stable condition. I can’t even begin to accurately describe the hellish turn things took. Because of some other major incidents that took place in my life during this time period my paranoia went off the charts. I began to think my phone and computer were bugged. Next, I began to believe my brain and thoughts were bugged. I believed they were bugged by the powers above, the airwaves, an extreme being, whoever they are, they were listening. I was scared to death, pacing, sweating profusely, and filled with anxiety. I followed Jill everywhere while I talked her ear off, rambling on and on - scared. Jill remained calm and strong, her training as a nurse took over but she didn’t know exactly what to do. How could she?
It’s a blur but I recall a few extreme things I did during that time. For instance one night I was running around my street in the freezing Buffalo cold trying to get the yet undefined forces bugging my brain to stop when a good friend called me. I answered but thought he was “them”. I looked at my phone and then threw it in a bush. I was fighting the thoughts of this altered state and reality, clearly not convinced of anything, because before I knew it I was on my hands and knees combing through the snow searching for my phone. Later, I decided I should listen to a meditation podcast to help my mind relax. I was sweating profusely, my clothes were soaked, I was shaking and my heart was racing. Though I tried my best to concentrate on the meditation hoping it would help me relax when I began to hallucinate. I was in psychosis.
I vaguely remember the drive to the psychiatrist but I remember arguing with Jill what seemed like the entire way. I thought she was going the wrong way but in reality I had no idea where we were. Despite my confusion we arrived at the office. I remember walking through the snow to the office door and walking in. I began to panic once inside as I walked into different evaluation rooms until Jill grabbed me and brought me into the correct room. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 1 – and in a mixed state. I was then prescribed medication. My nightmare was just beginning.