Mental health and mental illness are topics that will remain relevant for years to come. Nearly 20 percent of the adult population suffers from mental illness, and that number steadily increases with each coming year.
Michelle Cuttino sat down with Dwon Moss Johnson, a Marine Corps Veteran, who suffers from Bipolar disorder and suicidal ideation. Cuttino’s goal was to shed some light on these menacing conditions, and seek advice from someone who suffers with both on a daily basis.
Michelle: Tell us a little about yourself.
Dwon: I am a Marine Corps Veteran. Lover of life, love and laughter. I am more than just an author, I’m a story teller. I currently am a co-author of two anthologies, The Ex-Chronicles and soon to be released, Baby Mama Dating Drama: No Gender Trashing Allowed. In the mid 2000’s, I started my own soy bath and beauty line, SassiSoulSoy. Everything I make is handmade by me. I am also a motivational speaker and mentor. I believe we were all put on earth to help others. Maya Angelou said it best, “You can’t go through life with catcher mitts on both hands. You have to be able to throw something back.”
Michelle: How has being a Marine Corps Veteran shaped you as a woman?
Dwon: Being a Female in the Marine Corps has definitely taught me discipline. Outside of a few negative experiences, it taught me how to be a team player. I learned how to get along with people I would normally not come into contact, or want to come in contact, with. The comradery being a Marine brings is what I miss most. What I’m really proud of, and will always be proud of, is I became a Marine when others said I wouldn’t make it. Intestinal fortitude and the Lord got me through the time I served. It lives on in me today.
Michelle: While in the service, you experienced military sexual trauma. Can you elaborate on what you went through?
Dwon: The military sexual trauma is one of those negative experiences I was talking about before. I experienced it once in Okinawa, Japan by my commanding officer. I was the only female Marine in my work place. During lunch duty one day, he asked me to come into his office. Once inside, he pulled me close, kissed on me, and stuck his hands in my pants. A few hours later, I told my boyfriend about it, and my commanding officer was on the other side of the door. Needless to say, my life on base was hell. I ended up being sent to another base. I went home on leave, because I had a nervous breakdown. I never went back to Okinawa. I ended up at Parris Island as a Service Record Book Marine. It was at Parris Island I had a Marine Corps noncommissioned officer repeatedly force me to have sex with him in a restroom on the days I had to lock up. I was too afraid to tell anybody, because nothing was done about my prior abuse.
Michelle: What became of the person(s) involved in the abuse?
Dwon: Until recently, I did not report my abusers. I was too ashamed and embarrassed to tell anyone from fear of the repercussion I would face.
Michelle: You are also a survivor of domestic violence. What was that situation like?
Dwon: The saying women pick mates just like their father was definitely not true in my case. My father is the most sweetest and supportive man in the world. He showers me with love. For some reason, I picked the opposite. I’m still trying to figure that out. I was caught up in a relationship for eleven years. We had a great friendship for years before we became a couple. He told me he thought men who put their hands on women were cowards, and all that other stuff that sounded good. At the same time, he was keeping me away from my family and friends. I had no idea all of that was a part of him gaining control of my life. One day, we had an argument. He got up, and put me in a chokehold. When he walked me to the porch in the chokehold, he let me go. He then kicked me in the chest, and knocked me off the porch. Of course, he apologized, but nothing changed. The abuse got worse.
Michelle: How did you get away from your abuser?
Dwon: I had left and gone back several times. The first time, when I washed clothes, I would start dividing me and my son’s clothes from his. I knew I would have to make a fast getaway since my father and uncles were coming to move me. My abuser went to his baseball game, and my family and I moved me into another apartment. We got back together, and each time got worse. The breaking point was him throwing me into a wall one night, and breaking my printer and computer while I was doing work. He had a strange look in his eyes, and the only thing I could think was he was going to kill me if I stayed. I packed some clothes for me and my son, left, and never looked back.
Michelle: You also suffer from Bipolar disorder and suicidal ideation. How have both of these conditions affected you in your day to day living, and relationships?
Dwon: Living with Bipolar disorder and suicidal ideation can be a challenge with medication, and it’s absolutely worse when I’m not on medication. Either way, it’s a struggle every day. Some days I have to talk myself out of bed, and sometimes I’m on such a high I’m up for days and feeling invincible. The thing with being in a manic frame of mind is I take huge risks. Risks that could end my life. Sometimes, I drive my own self crazy with my mood swings. I can go from the highest high to the lowest low in seconds. The suicide ideation scares me more than anything. I am fascinated with playing Russian roulette when I’m in that particular frame of mind. I also obsess over finding painless ways to die. Relationship-wise, I’ve been blessed with loving men who have loved me through it.
Michelle: I know with treatment, both conditions can be somewhat controlled. However, in your opinion, does one ever overcome Bipolar disorder and/or suicidal ideation?
Dwon: I don’t think Bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation, or any other mental conditions can disappear. The problem comes in when I take medicine and start to feel good, I think I don’t need the medicine, and won’t take it. At some point, I fall to pieces. A lot of people who deal with these kinds of illness are non-compliant patients. It’s good to have a support group with others who have gone through the same thing. NO ONE else knows this kind of struggle unless they’ve been through it. BUT GOD. I serve a mighty God and I can and will do all things through him, which includes winning the battle over how I deal with mental illness without allowing it to consume me.
Michelle: With all you’ve suffered in life, what made you move from victim to survivor?
Dwon: What made me a victor over victim, is keeping my mind on the person God created me to be, and keeping my mind on the fact that others who were dealing with my situations or illness were watching me. My need to be a role model and witness was more important than wallowing in pain. It feels good to testify to someone who is walking in the shoes I’ve walked in.
Michelle: What advice can you give to someone going through the same issues you’ve faced?
Dwon: The advice I would give someone going through the same thing I’ve gone through is TALK TO SOMEONE. Get counseling. Take your medicine, and stay in prayer. Become aware of your triggers and become aware of the “tools” that’s in your “tool box.” As far as leaving an abusive relationship, plan an escape route. Be quiet and secretive about it, and don’t leave a trace of where you are going. Most domestic deaths occur after the woman leaves the relationship. You may have to leave everything behind, but nothing compares to the feeling of freedom. You can buy material things. You can’t buy another life.
Michelle: Why did you decide to share your story, and move into the public speaking arena?
Dwon: I decided to become transparent with my struggles about three years ago. My motto is “Tell Your Story, Save a Life.” God did not allow me to go through all of this just so I could just “sit” on it. The Lord wants me to testify about overcoming my tests. He wants me to help women and young girls to be survivors.
Michelle: What are some of the topics you cover during your motivational speaking engagements?
Dwon: Some of the topics I discuss during my motivational speaking are:
Loving yourself when you don’t feel like you deserve to be loved.
Loving yourself enough to become a survivor.
Bending, but never breaking.
Using your negative experiences as stepping stones to get you on the path to being the person you are created to be.
Getting rid of emotional hostage holders.
Michelle: What is the key to moving past one’s pain, and ridding oneself of emotional baggage?
Dwon: The key to moving past one’s pain and ridding oneself of emotional baggage is prayer, learning to release, and recognizing that you are NOT what you’ve been through. If you need medication, take it. If you need therapy, get it. Erykah Badu says it best, “Bag Lady, you gon’ miss your bus, dragging all those bags like that.”
Michelle: What’s next for Dwon Moss Johnson?
Dwon: What’s next for me? I will continue to write fiction dealing with mental illness in a REAL way. I want to expand my bath and body line, SassiSoul. Most importantly, I want to be a walking example of what a survivor of domestic abuse, military sexual trauma, and mental illness looks like. “Tell your story. Save a Life.”
Michelle: How can readers contact and/or follow you?
Dwon: My wonderful readers can reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DwonMoss. Facebook: Dwon D. Moss. My story, ”I Will Love You So For Always,” is a part of the anthology, The Ex-Chronicles. My story, “A Heart For A Heart,” is a part of the anthology, Single Mama Dating Drama. For an autographed copy of both books, contact me at email@example.com. Thank you again.
Dwon, thank you for sharing your story with all of us.
If you or someone you know are dealing with mental health issues, know that help is right around the corner. Below are resources to help you cope.
National Alliance on Mental Illness - 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or http://www.nami.org/
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1‑800‑273‑TALK (8255) or http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline – 1‑877‑SAMHSA7 (1‑877‑726‑4727) or http://www.samhsa.gov/
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance - 800-826-3632 or http://www.dbsalliance.org/
National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs - 800-273-8255 or http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/where-to-get-help.asp
Mental Health America – 800-969-NMHA (6642) or http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/