Thursday, December 14, 2017

Guest Post - My First Break by Vukasin Milenkovic

At the time of my first break I was 19 years old. I was worked nights as a bartender at an upscale hotel lounge bar. I would do last call at 11:30 pm and be home by 1:00 am. I’d eat, unwind and get as much sleep as possible before I’d have to drive my mom to work in the morning. That was my routine. One night, I decided to go a friend’s house warming party. I ended up seeing some old friends, before I knew it, it was almost 5:00 am. Being that I had to drive my mom to work in a few hours, I figured I might as well stay awake until then and go to sleep after I dropped her off.

I dropped my mom off at work as usual and I was feeling pretty good considering I pulled an all-nighter.  I didn’t feel like going to sleep so I thought I’d go visit a friend who let me borrow some money the week before who lived a half hour away. I got on the highway and started my drive, a drive that I would never forget.

About 5 minutes into the drive I began to feel extremely happy. I’m going to use textbook psychological terms, that I learned later in life, to better describe the way I began to feel. I started to experience an overwhelming joy. I was so happy that a few minutes into feeling this way I began to cry. I was crying tears of joy. I could not understand why I was feeling so happy. It sure as hell wasn’t the weed I had smoked earlier, I knew that much for sure. 

I had never cried tears of joy. As the tears of joy were streaming down my face, I began to think of all the different things in my life that brought me happiness. My thoughts were revved up, I could barely keep up with my own train of thought. I began to pose questions in my mind, why am I so happy? Why is this happening to me? I immediately began to think of other questions like why don’t I feel like this more often? Do other people feel this way? Is that why they cry tears of joy? 

As I thought of more questions, it was as if the answers started being given to me, and like a chain reaction of questions, answers, questions, answers, my thoughts took off faster and faster. Every question I thought of I was given the answer too. I knew that this must have been what people describe as enlightenment. I began to think to myself, why me, a random nobody, why was I chosen, why was I being given the answers to every question I posed in my mind’s eye?? Why was I being enlightened?! I began to imagine what would come of this experience, the endless opportunity, the pressure to fix what’s wrong in the world, the impact I’d have on humanity and that is when I began to panic. Why me? Why am I being enlightened, I thought. This feeling of panic was familiar. I had panic attacks before, they were the reason I dropped out of high school and again college. 

Although I didn’t know that’s what they were at the time, I learned that later in life. As the panic attack set in, I tried to focus on the road because I was still driving on the highway and the exit must have been coming up soon. Then the feeling of panic slowly faded and was replaced with Euphoria. I began to feel better than high, that was the only way I could think of it at the time, I started feeling great again.

A calm came over me, I had never imagined feeling this good. I was no longer concerned with how or why I was feeling the way I did. I was simply just feeling, I began to feel better and better. A feeling so raw, so pure, it was far better than euphoria, it was blissful. I had begun to feel so amazing that I began to cry again. Tears of joy were again streaming down my face.

I was feeling heavenly. I began to experience what I can’t even describe adequately with words. It was not as much of a feeling as it was something that I had sensed. I began to feel and sense as if I knew everything. Everything that there was to know, I knew.                                                                                                                                                                                                  I sensed I was all-knowing. This is when I had begun to feel Godlike. Again, these are terms I learned later in life, long after this episode, long after struggling with acceptance and bouts of suicidal depression, of which my first episode was soon to follow. In all the textbooks I would come to read to try to learn about what happened to me in that car ride, the only term left in language to describe how I was feeling in that moment is Godlike. I had just been enlightened and I was feeling godlike. I was also approaching my exit and I had to navigate my way through the tollbooth. Wiping back tears of joy with a smile beaming from ear to ear, I pulled up to the tollbooth, I fumbled for the ticket and handed it to the toll person. “60 cents” he replied. I could only imagine what I looked like fumbling for the changed, crying and smiling. I gave him the money and as soon as he said thank you, I pulled off.

I made it, I was feeling A-MAZING.  I began to drive towards my friend’s house.  I glanced in the rear-view mirror and noticed a car with two girls in it pulling out of the tollbooth. I looked again to see if I could get a glimpse of the girls, as most teenage boys do, and I saw that we were close in age and then…CRAAASSSHHHH. I rear-ended a pick-up truck that was at a red light while I was going 30mph.

I got out and stepped away from the car. It was totaled. Jay Z’s song Song Cry was blaring. I walked up to the car behind me and the driver rolled down the window. I said, “I crashed because I was checking you out, can you help me get out of here?” she replied “no” I took out the money I had and started throwing $20 bills in her window. After about $300 she said, “get in”. That is where part one ends.

I can’t even begin to tell of the next 7 years of chaos and dysfunction spent trying to live in a perpetual state of hypomania, until I chose to engage in recovery in hopes of securing a better quality of life.

After a dozen involuntary hospitalizations, 20-30 arrests for symptomatic behavior (I lost count) and forced treatment under Kendra’s Law by the state of New York, I was able to recover. I still have my moments, fewer and farther in between. I have been fortunate enough to have been able to start a family with my significant other and we have 3 daughters, my 20-year-old step daughter that I adopted and 2 girls of my very own, 2 ½ and 1 year old.

At my worst, I never imagined that I would make it to where I am now, nor did most people that met me throughout those times. Although I can’t remember what it’s like to live free of mental illness, I can honestly say, I no longer “suffer” from mental illness. I co-founded a not-for-profit and am the sole proprietor of PM&BHC a behavioral health consulting agency at I go by the Twitter handle Mindful Of Illness @SoulfulOfWealth where I release daily quotes from my upcoming book and I offer free peer support to anyone in need that wants to DM me.

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