Help Dennis Conrad Recover
Organized by: Kristen Conrad
Kristen Conrad via Crowdrise
September 01, 2015
My dad, Dennis, is one of my best friends. He is funny, caring, and hard-working, and is the type of person who has always helped others in their times of need. He has had a very severe struggle with bipolar disorder that intensified over the past year, creating a dire financial situation for my parents. Our family and friends have banded together to plan a benefit for him, hoping to raise money that will help pay his past and current medical bills and prevent foreclosure on my parents' home of 30 years while his permanent disability application is in process. I am hoping that this CrowdRise campaign will help with that effort as well as raise awareness of how a mental disorder can truly impact a family.
I never saw any signs of mental illness in my dad when I was growing up - in fact, I was blessed to have two amazing parents who were a great example of a strong work ethic, charity and humility. He worked as a diesel mechanic for many years, mostly working night shifts and taking on extra small jobs during the day. He was never too busy, however, to lend a hand to neighbors or volunteer as a youth hockey coach.
In the early 2000s, he switched to a teaching position at his alma mater, which had been a dream of his. I had the pleasure of shadowing one of his classes when I went home to visit during my college years - his students seemed to love his class and teaching style. The job seemed to cause some stress for him, as he felt completely responsible when a student wasn't performing well in the class.
In 2007, his stress and anxiety triggered a breakdown. He was committed temporarily and diagnosed with major depressive disorder. There is a history of mental disorders in his family, especially in his father, but the diagnosis was surprising to everyone since it seemed to appear so suddenly.
Over the next few years, medication seemed to stabilize him and he was able to return to work, though he decided to switch jobs and go back to a non-teaching position. Following the death of his mother a few years ago, he had another major breakdown. Since that point, the right combination of medications seemed to be hard to find, and he had a series of episodes that seemed to be only months apart. Leaves of absence from his job were necessary, and despite insurance, large medical bills accumulated.
In October 2014, he was again committed after a severe breakdown. He was then diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which seemed to better fit the pattern of behavior we had seen over the years. Unfortunately, as with most mental illnesses, there is no easy way to determine what medications will be a perfect fit for an individual's brain. My dad and his doctors struggled to find the right combination to no avail.
In March 2015, he attempted suicide via overdose, and was lucky to have a fairly speedy recovery. In April 2015, he attempted suicide again by slitting his wrist with a circular saw. No one predicted his survival - including the first responder who called in a likely DOA - but somehow he pulled through. I can't speak for anyone else in my family, but the worst, scariest moment of my life was waiting by the phone to get the confirmation that my dad was dead. Thankfully, that call didn't come.
We are so lucky that he survived, and perhaps just as lucky that his new doctor has found a combination of medications that seems to work for him. He is participating in physical therapy to regain movement in his left wrist and hand. When I talk to him now, I can see his "old self" starting to re-emerge, and I'm so grateful for that. We are all trying to help his emotional recovery, and we have a great support system.
What we can't directly help with is the financial burden this situation has caused. Medical bills total over $50,000, and my parents can't survive on my mom's salary alone while the disability application is in process (which could potentially take an entire year or more). Despite my mom's severe Crohn's disease, she is committed to continuing to work to support them as much as possible. They refuse to take money from my brother and me, so I'm extremely grateful to friends and family who are helping us to raise money in addition to providing emotional support along the way.
What is important for me to clarify is that the person who attempted suicide is not who I know my dad to be. This disease and others like it take over every aspect of the victim's life - their thoughts, actions, speech, etc. It not only tears apart that person, but is painful for everyone who loves them as they are relatively powerless to help. About a year ago, we saw an example of that in Robin Williams - a seemingly happy-go-lucky man who struggled on the inside with severe depression, whose loved ones experienced terrible heartache when he took his life. My sincere hope is that we reach a point when mental illnesses cannot cause such anguish for anyone.
As a way to progress toward that ideal, my family and I are pledging that any funds raised that are above and beyond what is needed for my dad's financial and medical recovery will be donated to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. This foundation awards scientific grants to those working to make discoveries in understanding the causes and improving the treatments of mental disorders, and has been rated as a highly impactful organization.
Thank you so much for reading our story, and for donating or sharing with your friends and family.