John S.

John Shivers could read the newspaper at the tender age of three. He was a bright, smart child, able to quickly deliver facts to anyone who would listen. However, his age difference showed in his social skills with older classmates. The incessant bullying led him to counseling sessions with the school psychologist by the age of six.

By age nine, he was becoming an alcoholic.

Middle school and high school were no easier, with John describing the years as brutal.  “By the time I got to high school, I hung out with the hippies because no one liked them either,” he said. “I ended up quitting school to get my GED.”

John’s life has swung a very wide pendulum. He is highly functional at times, he says, and points to his journalism career with Isthmus and the Milwaukee Shepherd Express. Today, he is a Wisconsin Broadcasters Association award-winning radio host with 98.7 WVMO – Monona.

Yet he has also been chronically homeless and has been admitted into Journey’s Crisis Intervention program five times since 1990.

“When you are highly functional, people want you to keep being functional. If I could do that, I would. My illness just manifested itself at times to where I couldn’t work, couldn’t cover an event, deal with people … It had an effect on my career,” John said. “I didn’t advance when I could have. It’s a tough thing when they see the addictions and not the illness. They see the drinking and drugs but they don’t see me treating my illness to where I can function.”

John, 60, was diagnosed with chronic depression years ago, but recently was re-diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.

“And that was the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle. I knew I was bi-polar, but this GAD diagnosis explained so much of the illness I’ve had thru my childhood and not knowing what it was. I’ve been very lucky with my therapists,” John said.

“To finally have a correct diagnosis has made all the difference. I can now take some preventative steps. If I’m having an anxiety attack then I need to take a step back. We blame ourselves for not being functional, because it implies we are weak and that we don’t try hard enough or we don’t appreciate help from others.  When you can’t make it to something you’ve planned, because your mental illness won’t let you do it, your first reaction becomes self-loathing: I’m such a lousy person to be this helpless. Yet, if you had the flu you wouldn’t blame yourself.  You’d blame the lousy flu.

“My recovery story is picking up the bits and pieces of my life while finding mindfulness in everyday things like planning next year’s garden. It might seem mundane and trivial but if you’ve spent a lifetime in and out of Crisis Intervention clinics, making future plans is a big deal.”