What a Year... It has been a very eventful 2018/2019 for the Fugates! Since publishing BryanIsMyHero.com last May, we have had many wonderful opportunities to learn more about mental health initiatives in Washington State, speak about Bryan's lived experience with Schizophrenia, and connect with a few wonderful local nonprofits who are working to improve the quality of life for people living with mental illness through education and advocacy. We also faced some monumental challenges. Starting January 1st 2019, Bryan underwent a very difficult medication change which greatly interrupted his life for about 6 weeks. We worked in partnership with Bryan’s doctor and decided a change in medication would increase his quality of life. We are grateful for the outcomes we have seen so far but it was one of the darkest times of our lives. We made this site to help de-stigmatize mental illness by sharing about our real life experiences. Let me walk you through some of the milestones from the past year.
May We were interviewed by the Everett Herald and had a story in the May 23rd issue. Our story was picked up by over 30 news outlets including US News and World Report, The Associated Press, The Washington Times, and shared across the country! Give it a read here.
June Bryan was the keynote speaker at the Washington NAMI Walk and shared his story of hope with hundreds of people. 30 of our close friends and family walked with us and we raised over $4,000 for NAMI programs.
July Bryan traveled to Yakima and completed training to become a certified NAMI counselor and support group facilitator.
August Bryan worked with leadership at the new Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital to start a new NAMI Connections support group for people living with serious mental illness. This was much needed as the closest support groups were in Lynnwood and Bellingham. His first group had a great turnout of 10 people and is still going strong. Spread the word and learn what other support groups are happening in Snohomish County here.
September Bryan and April attended the NAMI Washington Conference in Yakima and learned about some of the hot topics in the field of mental health in Washington State and at the National level. While there, Bryan was awarded the John Freeburg Consumer Advocate award, recognizing his advocacy and hard work supporting those living with mental illness.
April connected with Chad’s Legacy Project, a nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of mental illness research and treatment. CLP was founded after Chad, 21, died by suicide after battling Schizophrenia. April attended their annual gala and formed a relationship with founders and parents of Chad, Todd and Laura Crooks.
April connected with Jordan Binion Project, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing mental health literacy in students and teachers and decreasing stigma. JBP provides mental health education training to educators in Washington State and across the nation. JBP was founded after Jordan, 17, died by suicide after developing symptoms of Schizophrenia. April worked with founders Deb and Willie Binion to complete her Master's practicum and provided them with key documents and recommendations to increase their fundraising efforts and improve strategic planning.
2018 was amazing. We have so much momentum and excitement about our future involvement in mental health initiatives in our community and we are just getting started.
And The Downs…
January 2019 Starting January 1st 2019, Bryan started transitioning to a different anti-psychotic medication. We discussed this change with Bryan’s doctor for a few months and decided it was the best move for his quality of life. Medications for mental illness can be very effective for treating psychotic symptoms but can come with a long list of negative side effects. Bryan was battling constant nausea, always feeling exhausted, and developed chronic pancreatitis at the end of 2017. Changing his medications was going to help eliminate those side effects and improve his overall health.
The first 36 days of 2019 were some of the most challenging days he had faced with his illness. Luckily he doesn’t remember a lot of the days, but I would argue they were harder than his time at Fairfax back in 2012. Bryan was having up to 5 psychotic episodes each day, taking up to 30 pills each day to keep the negative symptoms away, and often slept up to 8 hours during the day. Bryan was not alone at any point for those 36 days because it was unsafe. Between myself and his incredible family, we supported Bryan through that emotional and turbulent time. Bryan’s family, other than me, had never witnessed his episodes. This was a very eye opening experience for everyone that ultimately brought us all closer. A silver lining during a very dark time.
On February 6th something clicked and his medications started working. Bryan started to gain back his independence and live his life again. His pain was decreasing, his nausea was mostly gone, his episodes started to lessen, and he says he feels better on these medications than any of the other five he has taken before. He is still struggling through difficult symptoms as he undergoes a trial and error period with balancing his new mix of medications. Some days remind us of January whereas others give us hope.
Although this was a very traumatic experience, we realized that Bryan had the best case scenario to get him through this. Words cannot describe how grateful we feel to have the support we do. An incredible network of family and friends, an exceptional doctor we trust, and a home we love and feel comfortable in. This is rare and we recognize how fortunate we are to be so well-equipped.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The reason I created BryanIsMyHero.com is to show the real life struggles and successes of living with a severe mental illness like Schizophrenia. The past 12 months have been nothing short of a roller coaster. We have celebrated, grieved, worried, wondered, and dreamed. We have so many questions about his illness: How will it progress? Will there ever be a cure or a miracle drug to relieve the suffering? When will he have to change medications again? How many people can we help? Once again we are pausing and sharing a big piece of our lives with hope that as you consider both sides of Bryan’s life, you think about all of the people around you who might be going through something similar. As Bryan tells me all the time, “Be kind, but be fierce” – Winston Churchill.
This is our 4th year raising money for NAMI Washington. We have had the opportunity to be more involved with NAMI this past year have seen first hand the transformational effects of support groups, educational opportunities for professionals, and the sense of community and hope NAMI provides. Please join us in supporting this organization as they continue to support individuals and families like us. To see what NAMI Washington has been up to lately, check out their latest newsletter here.