So how do you start a story of your life with mental illness?

Here is my best guess!

This year we are focusing on suicide as yep, I deal with chronic thoughts: this is very unbearable at times.

Going back to middle school I always felt like I was on the outside looking in.  I didn’t have many friends; one may think that I was choosing to be alone but I only wish that was true.  I made average grades and had a few people that would talk to me but it wasn’t enough. My mom worked hard during the days and often in the nights to give us all the nice things she could. This continued through high school but we are not quite there yet.

At night I lay in bed an often felt like I was going crazy on the inside. I would be sitting there and a feeling would come over me, I could not escape it and I could not make it go away. It felt like the world was falling on top of me and there was nothing I could do about it. I willed it away so bad but it was there in every moment, every second. I wanted out of life so bad but was stuck here instead. It was like having an anxiety attach every time. This still continues today and the feeling is the same like I have to do something but I do not know what.

I started to see therapist growing up and tried some meds but I never really knew why I was going there or whose idea that was.

I didn’t need help with my life in Christ. I always attended youth group and all the activities there. I was raised to know Jesus Christ and that is how it’s always been and something I have always appreciated about my mom and her faith. I came to appreciate that because God became a constant in my life.

My mom and dad were divorced early on, i do not remember much but I know I was mad at him for what he did to my mom. This went on for some time and I was just mad. During this time my mom was in a relationship with another, I never felt really close to him.  I know I said I was mad at my dad but I still cared and worried about him.

I have always been the opposite of my sister. She seemed to have people gravitate towards her all during school. She was always gone and I was at home trying to do things on my own. This is not pity talking it’s just how I lived my life. The few friends I had would play after school and often stay at each other’s houses.

 Now school was another thing. From the beginning I did not like school and do not know If I ever tried all that hard. In high school I ran away for a week with a friend. I just had to go out and do something drastic.

There was a time that I remember sitting behind the black desk during science and was always looking at the cool kids, they were thinner and more outgoing but that did not stop me from wishing I could be like them. I wished I could be in a gang because then I would be on the inside and be cool like the other kids. I just wanted someone there for me. I wanted to be one of them. I was not, so I went and played with our troll dolls. Then came one night I was tired of life, me and my sister were in gymnastics and I thought the one way to make things right would be to break my neck. I tried so hard that night. But nothing became of it and I started cutting instead. I do not know where I learned cutting from? It was just something that I knew I had to do. I would break glass and rake it on my left arm. Over and over until there were trails of blood. Sometimes it was worse than other times but there was sweet relief and that’s when I knew this was something that must be done.  I would cut and cut then blot the blood and wear long sleeves. It made for a lot of hot days in gym but I did not want anyone to know what I was doing. I question if my mother even knew what I was doing? When the cuts would heal it would turn all white so I would use lotion and it would be fine until the times I would do that again, it was a cycle that I got trapped into. (More about this later on.)

In class we had read a book called the Outsiders and I remember this very well. A group of kids living on the outside, they were shunned for being different but that was their life. We had to write papers and take test about the book and I always did really well on this, even wrote my own version of this book and pretended I was them. I always wish I had a jean jacket but I did not and this phase would soon pass.

Middle school was also the time that I would be in bed at night and try to break my bones.

The cutting and suicide attempt would only grow and turn into what it is now. I remember one other time I took a lot of pills and wrote a note which I placed on my bed. I do not know what the note said now, but I was tired of how life was going and wanted It to end. I was scared of my step dad at the time because I was not good at school especially math. He made me sit there not letting my mom help me and would not let me go to youth group until I figured it out. Or the times when I did not pronunciation my words and he had me read from a literal clock book. Then there was the time he poured cold coffee on my newly washed hair. I swore and my mom yelled at me then. Going back to what I was saying, I woke up that morning and threw up. All the medication stayed in my stomach and waited until I woke up. A lot of good that did me. I did not try again for some time.  This picked up again sophomore and junior year of high school and I ended up in the hospital. I am not proud of this but this is a story that has to be told, to try and help those who may be facing the same things and the same demons. There was a time in high school that I took a bunch of pills and found myself at Souled out and scared to tell anyone. I survived that night.

I don’t mean to say I never had friends; in high school I had many but in the end that might not have been the best friends. I think I was popular with them because I was the first to have a car. The things that went on were not right. Between smoking cigarettes which did not end until my husband said he would not kiss me on my wedding day. That addiction ended in a week and a lot of suckers went missing. Smoking became the normal and I did it quite a lot. It made me feel cool and I did belong in those days. My friends were not the best but they were my friends and was enough for me until one tried to make love to me and that was not so fun. Things tapered off during that time and when Souled out got involved my friends would soon leave me. I started Souled out in high school because there was a group, I was part of in school called Heaven Bound. I would get up early and walk to school just to be in this group. They are who introduced me. I like this group a lot. They had concerts every week and learned to ska. They talked about God and I really liked all the songs, a hundred people singing to the loud songs but praising God how we deemed fit. Some danced, lifted hands or got down on their knees on the altar(step) and loved him with all we had. The messages were good and the time there was one of a kind. I stayed there all through the last of my school years and would often help during the week vacuuming. I was a strong part of something and that was how I got through the years. Coming to senior year my time was almost gone but they gave me a task and that would change my life forever.

After high school I went to Iowa to visit the Magpie coffee house. The first time was to just to see where it was and the second and third time was to move in. I cannot say that my mother was really gunning for this but I felt it was something I needed to do because my life was going nowhere fast and I had to do something. So out to Iowa for three years living with gals my age(ish) and adults that would fast become friends. I remember one night I was asked to write out the night that Jesus was betrayed, it took me a long time but I had written something that I thought was good and shared it that night as we were doing communion. Things went fine for a few years but then doubt came. I started feeling that my time was getting to its finish. I did not know what I was going to do but something had to be done. I also felt the era of Souled Out in Decorah Iowa was coming to a close. Things were happening that marked the end. It was not a great end but I was rallied as the one to tell the pastor and staff that we felt like we were not producing fruit anymore and that if a plant is not producing fruit, it should be picked and burned.   My time was done and they had a hard time coming to see it my way.

The last couple months I had been talking to a man who came in for coffee in the afternoon. He was not looking nor was I for a relationship. I had prayed some time ago that if God wanted me in a relationship he would have to come down and tell me. This person also felt the same way, they were not looking for a relationship since he was divorced many years back and had three kids. After sometime we started dating.  I knew what the kids were going through and started to meet them. I was only 21 when we married and closer to the kids ages. We kept dating and this person (Mike Peterson) showed me all the sights around town that no one had shown me. Yep, that’s right the person was to be my husband. He had endured phone calls, swearing and yelling because of my choice to leave. Looking at it now I am glad that I left and found that the pastor was not really a pastor as I had thought all the years of being at Souled Out Mt. Prospect and Souled Out Iowa. They were not ordained and told us that if we did not speak in tongues, we were not Christians. This is what I had given up years for and I was ever so glad to let it be now. Me and Mike started to get to know each other in the winter of 2002 and were married in summer 2003. We did not take long because we knew this was a God thing. He called and we listened. I cannot say my parents were thrilled! Things went on and we were very happy together.

Things were fine until I went down the rabbit hole. I started seeing things that were not going how they should. I started thinking about death and cutting. I remember telling Mike I did not want to go to therapy but he realized that something had to be done before they got worse. So, I went to our local hospital and saw the “family” doctor Gregory Tjossem. He was very kind and patient. I quietly told him that I was feeling down and even thinking about death!  I was started on a medication citalopram. This went for a week or two. then I was at my mother’s house without Mike and called the doctor because things were not going right. He upped the medication and suggested that I see a psychologist named Ron Hougen at the Winneshiek medical center. It took me a good two years to be comfortable enough to really talk about what was going on in my life. I went through everything that happened growing up and about my dad my mom and how things were. I had to explain about the cutting since I had started that up again with using glass (between 12 and this time I had cut a couple hundred times. At 26 years old I started cutting with razors another 156 times, most requiring stitches until my leg what it is now. It’s scarred and the needle will not go through the close them,) and I had to explain about the thoughts of death. This was not easy and it took so long to open up. He was another person that wanted me to talk about the past and what was going on now. A few months in and Doctor Tjossem felt I needed more with the medication. He advised me to see Doctor Jason Maret, a psychiatrist at the Gundersen clinic here in town. I remember the first visit he asked why are you here? At the time I took it as I did not belong there but, in the end, it worked out right. Now I was seeing Doctor Hougen and Doctor Maret. Things started slow but opened year after year. This was back in 2008. I have been on so many medications now that they are being recycled. The list now stands 21 antidepressants,12 mood stabilizers, and 4 anxiety meds.  More than once I have said the heck with and wanted to stop but stayed on except one time, I did start going off them and things turned bad quick and I went back on. This has been my life, appointment after appointment, medication to medication, anger and frustration. There was a lot going on and I did not know if I could take it. I was still cutting and it was getting worse from a piece of glass to a razor blade. Now when I cut, I end up in the emergency room with gaping wounds that they have trouble stitching because of all the scar tissue. My leg will never look the same. I have gone through seven suicide attempts I remember and 10 times went into psych units, one time unwillingly. things are hard for me as I hold onto things long after they are done.  The one attempt that frightened me was on alprazolam (Xanax) for anxiety, I took five more than I should have and cannot remember five days after. I woke up at home and mike was worried sick. I wanted to sleep and he let me sleep and forget everything for those days. I have gone through cycles and cycles and still so some of the same behavior that I know does not help. Oh ya I have borderline personality disorder also.

I have gone through so many facets of therapy including: mindfulness, anti-hopelessness memo,E.A.R. (empathy,assertiveness,respect) a way of communication,distress tolerance. I have filled out impulse logs, done time schedules and many more things to try and cope with this. The one that was not my favorite and is still not is E.M.D.R.(eye movement desensitization reprogramming) it’s a way of focusing on something stuck in the past like a memory and the psychologist using his hand has you follow his fingers back and forth. This may sound crazy and that’s what I thought but now I have seen it work many times and it still is as I used it my last session.

 I have had appointments weekly since 2008 with Doctor Hougen and bi weekly with Doctor Maret since 2009. A few months ago, this really was getting me down, I could not believe I had been seeing them this long and I am still going through what I am going through. There has to be something wrong with me. We decided to go through one goal at a time and I am off the fence. My father once told me that people who go to therapist over a long time are weak.

 My dad is in heaven now and all the hard feelings I had are gone. I wish I had been there more to see him, would have called him more when he lived in Spain but the time has passed and I saw him the month before he passes. It was time to give that up and just love my dad for who he was. That was a very tearful time but we still message our step mom in Turkey.

I go to church, the same church from when we were married and feel on the outside. Me and Mike have no children ourselves since I just was not able and the medications would be too harmful.

This is my story and thought it seems bad in some places my story it is and I cannot lie if this could help someone going through this or depression or anxiety or cutting or suicide. If this helps one person it will have done its job. I know how crazy this is for me and the thoughts and actions and feeling, and what they can do to you. This is my half but Mikes is another.

Mike has really changed through this whole process. He started with me not knowing what was going on and he did not do very well. I remember one night I was really depressed and crying and said I want to kill myself just do it and get it over with. These were rocky times for both of us. He has stepped up and become the man God has called him to be. He is the sole provider in the family since I cannot hold down a full-time job. Places do not like you cutting in the bathrooms and getting depressed and not doing your work. He has gone through everything with me. There were many rocky times in our marriage and he has pushed through and is my rock. He has gone to appointments with me and asked questions and has learned why I am doing what I am doing. Through the good and the bad he has been there. He makes sure I am taking my medications and no more than I should. What husband should have to go through that! A husband should not be worried to the point of not knowing what he is going to come home to at times. There have been times where he comes home and we have to go back into town because Doctor Hougen called the emergency room since I overdosed.  Most of the time in the recent past he has come home to go back the E.R. And find I had cut. It is not easy being him, my wild mood swings, break down moments, scared and frustrating times he is still there. He understands where many may not and that’s good enough for us. Sometimes the best thing is for him to leave me alone and let happen what is going to happen.

Every time I get a call from him or about him, I instantly panic and think the worst. This is a part of his life, if he is late or something happens, I worry. There have been times like the month after we were married, he got dehydrated at a bike ride and passed out.

All in all, life is hard, we are always looking out for the things could cause me to crash and burn. Life in general is hard then you add borderline personality disorder/major depressive disorder and anxiety and life goes from hard to impossible at times.  I do not know day to day what is going to happen or what is going to be said and it will cause me to want to take pills. But my doctors have really stepped up for me in new therapy ways and medications. I owe Doctor Hougen and Doctor Maret my life along with those at the emergency room.

The silent person here has been God/Jesus. He has blessed us so richly in love and life. Through all the times I yelled at him or tried to stop believing in him he was still there. There has never been a time that he is not there. Every cut I make, every attempt I make and show my bad thing he was there and still is. Our marriage is based upon this but instead of being quiet we are vocal about what has gone on for us during these times. Mike has really endured a lot and does not complain about it he stands with me and we keep going through life together.

(The person in this story that I had a hard time with is not my father Rob now, this was someone else)


Brief history: let me introduce myself to those who don’t know me. My name is Mike peterson and my wife of 16 years struggles with a mental illness. Her diagnosis is borderline personality disorder, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder.
With these illness she also deals with self injury in the form of cutting and chronic suicidal thoughts. (that is not the actual term I think it is suicide idealization).
She has been struggling with this most of her life but the symptoms started coming more to the surface in her teens. Amanda finally came to see her doctors for treatment 9 years ago.
Jump forward to the present: watching from the sidelines has been incredibly difficult for me. I did my best to support her in any way I could. But finally during one of her crisis sitting with her in our home holding her crying and in such a dark place, (she had earlier
this week had been voluntarily committed to keep her safe and had been home for 2 days) I asked her what I could do more or pray about. Her response through the darkness in her mind was just to “calm her thoughts , PEACE”.)
later the next week while sitting out in the waiting room for her to come out from doctor Hougen’s appointment there at W.M.C. It came to me, bicycling has always been important to me and amanda so it just seemed natural to use that somehow. As we talked this through it was always clear that it would be a little easier if mental illness didn’t havesuch a bad stigma attached to it. Our church family and of our family always asked how
they could help or pray for us but we found it hard to explain what she goes through. So amanda decided then and there that she wanted to be more transparent, to be blunt and to the point with people to BREAK DOWN THE STIGMA so people didn’t feel it was unapproachable, or she was unapproachable. And this is where PEACE BE THE JOURNEY awareness ride for mental health. Our goal is to bring awareness to mental illness and break down the stigma that accompanies these illness and hopefully help the
managing of these illness.
All that being said, I did not realize the flood gate I opened from day one when I started organizing P.B.J. There truly hasn’t been a 2 week period and I cautiously say even a week period that doesn’t go by without some one walking up to me and also amanda asking about some aspect of PBJ or her struggles of mental illness or me as her husband helping and supporting her. Also people with mental illness reach out to us out of the blue just so they have contact and don’t feel alone. Here or just a few of these occurrences. So you have idea of the need and weight that PBJ has developed in just the 2 events so far.

I’d like to start with this in mind. I am typing this as my memory brings them to me so they are not in any given order. And these are just a few. Also I won’t give names to people, we understand that not everyone with mental illness’s are not at the same

place we are.
● The first year of planning PEACE BE THE JOURNEY I was riding my bike home,
(i commute 10 miles from our home on Canoe Ridge rd. to Deco manufacturing and
back each day). I had stopped at Casey's store to grab some water when I came out
to my bike a man was standing there looking at it. (My bike for future knowledge
has on its top tube the words PEACE BE THE JOURNEY) he had received a flier
earlier that week that I had been placing on bikes and also handing out. His
comment to me was that he was a happy an event for this was in the works, he told
me “ bicycling is an important part of his therapy” and he's right many of the
therapy techniques: mindfulness and meditation, breathing etc. cyclist use every
time we ride.
● At a rotary presentation after talking about PBJ ,toward the end of cleaning up an
older gentleman walked up to me (most everyone had left) he quietly said to me
with wet eyes that he was glad that we had the courage to do this and he wished that
the negative stigma wasn't there. He told me had a younger brother that early on his
life had developed a mental illness and at that time the practiced treatment was to
send people away to asylums. His family did that and he had never seen his brother
until he passed just a few years back. This man told me I was the first person he had
ever told this to ever. And he was glad to be able to unburden this memory and guilt
even though at the time his brother was sent away he wasn't the one to make the
decision he felt the guilt because the stigma was so ingrained in him he never took
opportunity to visit his brother. I have to add right here, that this was the first time
I realized the responsibility that I have to make sure that we stay with our
This mans story sticks with me and weighs on me heavily. In a good way.
● Amanda and I have many stories just like the above stories. Even this year one week
before the ride amanda and I were placing PEACE BE THE JOURNEY sign at the dug road portion of the trail and as a runner passed by she turned and said that she
had registered for the ride. I thanked her as she walked over to us to tell her life with
a mental illness and how she had just moved to town last year at the same time that
we had launched PBJ. She was to busy with settling in she didn't have a chance to
come. but during the next year leading up to our second annual event she had heard
about it from several people around town and look forward to attending.
● Even though this years PEACE BE THE JOURNEY was rained out. We have still
reached a lot of people. The following week while sitting outside the Coop after a
ride six different people stopped to make positive comments about PBJ and thanked
me for starting it. But one of the most positive things was an invitation to sheriff
Dan Marx meeting with health care and legal professionals about the injustice to
mental illness patients. It was a honor to be able to give our perspective. And the
second positive thing is this opportunity with WMC.
thank you so much, and I hope you can see that through these stories that my
thought to start PEACE BE THE JOURNEY went from a singular selfish idea to
what it is just 2 years later to something that is needed in the community and with
your help has lots of room to grow and reach many many more!