Troubled minds: One man’s struggle

Posted in the Windber Forum

“Be the example...spread hope!”

Since: Sep 08

Windber, PA

#1 Sep 24, 2008
By RANDY GRIFFITH
The Tribune-Democrat
Andrew Turman takes another drink of coffee, sets down the paper cup and looks at his friend.

“I just feel like crying,” the 42-year-old Windber man says, matter-of-factly.

Turman is not having his best day. His car ran out of gas a block away from the National Alliance on Mental Illness drop in center, 240 Vine St. in Johnstown.

But the artist and former teacher has had a lot of bad days. Diagnosed at age 12 with bipolar disorder, Turman struggles daily with his mental illness.

“I can’t hold down a job,” Turman says.“I have a master’s degree in special education. The longest I’ve held a job is two years with Somerset County Head Start.”

His success at developing a special education program for Head Start got him a better job in the same field with Appalacia Intermediate Unit 8.

“I couldn’t handle it,” Turman says.“They fired me.”

Psychiatrists say many people with mental illness also develop drug abuse problems. Dr. Larry Nulton of Nulton Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Richland said doctors aren’t always sure if mental illness leads to drug abuse or if the drug abuse created the mental illness.

Turman does not dwell on the distinction.

“I’m also a junkie and a pothead,” he said, but is quick to add he’s been clean for five months.

“It’s really hard. I have the suicide prevention hotline on my speed dial,” he says, holding out his cell phone.

He has been in and out of Allegheny General Hospital’s psychiatric unit several times as doctors try to help get him on an even keel.

“I call it Agony General. I am going back to the hospital as soon as I get someone to feed my cats,” he said.

Doctors have tried several different medicines and treatments. He is currently on lithium, the most common drug for bipolar disorder. He says it’s not working very well.

“I am still manic depressive,” he says. Today it’s the depressive end of the scale. He doesn’t like it.

He can live with the rush of the manic state. When he becomes manic, he can go for days without sleep and can be very creative. He recently sold a painting for $1,500.

But he also can be explosive and has had run-ins with police.

When he crashes, he tries to get himself back into the manic state by staying up, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.

“Sleep deprivation is a drug I use a lot,” he said.

But he’d like to get better.

This year he made more than 30 weekly trips to Pittsburgh for electroshock treatment, which is used as a last resort for patients who are suicidal, psychotic, or dangerous to others, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

“It worked for a while,” Turman says.

“They improve my mood; keep me stable. I have a hard time being stable.”

He would like to be able to work so he doesn’t have to depend so much on his father, who pays his rent and makes sure he gets to his appointments in Pittsburgh. He lived out of his car for a while.

“I don’t do anything with my time,” he admits “I just sit at my computer all day or hang out at the Boulevard Grille.”

After decades of keeping his mental issues private, Turman says he’s ready to help others understand.

“They don’t know how hard it is to live,” he said.

He will read his poem about electroshock,“Electric Pulse number 23,” during NAMI’s National Mental Health Week candlelight ceremony at 6 p.m. on Oct. 6 in the Heritage Discovery Center courtyard.

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