As She Fought Mental Illness, She Found Love Along The Way

Aug 2, 2019
Originally published on August 2, 2019 12:01 pm

Amanda Farrell struggled with mental illness for much of her life.

When she was 18, she jumped in a lake because a voice in her head told her to. EMTs pulled her out and treated her for hypothermia. She was later placed in a psychiatric ward and committed by the state.

"Living in a cemented room with nothing but a pad on the floor, there was absolutely no hope," she said. "I was told that I was a lifer."

Today, Amanda, 38, lives in Appleton, Wisc., with her husband Craig, 46, and daughter Elorah, 8. She works for a local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

It was a long road, however, from the psychiatric ward to her loving family.

The psychotic break came the summer after she graduated from high school. Voices in her head brought her to Weyauwega Lake in Wisconsin.

"I can just remember, like, the TV was talking to me personally," Amanda told Craig in a StoryCorps interview in July. "And then I felt this pull to go outside. I went out in my pajamas. It was raining. And there was a church that was across the lake and I saw a big cross and I felt like God was calling me. And the best way to get there was to swim "

Eventually, Amanda was placed in various group homes, where she received treatment and antipsychotic medication. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, medical records show she was on as many as six heavily sedating drugs at once.

In 2004, Amanda was allowed to live on her own. She met Craig six years later through a dating service and they immediately connected.

"Your smile just seemed so sincere," Amanda said. "I could just see the teddy bear in you from the very beginning."

Craig and Amanda Farrell with their daughter Elorah in July 2019.
Courtesy of the Farrell family

Amanda felt herself falling in love but was nervous. She wanted to warn Craig that a life with her would require work.

"When you told me about that I didn't give it a second thought," Craig said.

They've been married for eight years.

Living with mental illness has brought its difficulties. There have been skipped doses of medication, nights spent crying and visits to the hospital.

"But even though we went through those hard times I truly believe that the things that we've been through together have made our relationship stronger," Amanda said. "And as long as I'm going through this life, I just wanna go through it with you."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Aisha Turner.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And it's time for StoryCorps this morning. Today, a story about mental illness and recovery from Amanda Farrell in Appleton, Wis. She sat down at StoryCorps with her husband, Craig.

AMANDA FARRELL: The summer after I graduated from high school, I started thinking that people were out to get me. I was spending the night over at my brother's house. I can just remember, like, the TV was talking to me personally. And then I felt this pull to go outside. I went out in my pajamas. It was raining. And there was a church that was across the lake. And I saw a big cross, and I felt like God was calling me. And the best way to get there was to swim. And I remember swimming until I got cold, and I remember just getting on my back and floating. And the next thing I remember, the EMTs were pulling me up on a boat.

Just knowing that my brain could do something without me controlling it was extremely scary. I was put into the psych ward, and things continued to get worse. Living in a cemented room with nothing but a pad on the floor, there was absolutely no hope. I was told that I was a lifer. I would lie there in bed, and I would imagine myself doing my own dishes. Just having a sink where I could do my own dishes was a dream to me. I was finally able to have my own place, and it was (laughter) a shack. But to me, it was the greatest thing ever.

I had just started dating when I found you. Your smile just seemed so sincere. I could just see the teddy bear in you from the very beginning.

CRAIG FARRELL: In our conversations on the phone - was just nonstop for hours. I just felt comfortable.

FARRELL: That's what I lived for, was that call from you. And kissing you was just one of the most natural things I'd ever done. But I was scared. And I said, Craig, I'm starting to fall in love with you. And I need you to know I carry all of this baggage. And if you stay with me, it's going to be some work.

FARRELL: When you told me about that, I didn't give it a second thought.

FARRELL: You said, Amanda, I will take care of you, and you have. But I think I tested your patience a few times (laughter).

FARRELL: There were nights that you would cry a lot. You didn't take your meds, and I can tell that you wasn't right.

FARRELL: I remember you being on the floor and just crying and scared.

FARRELL: That was a rough time.

FARRELL: But even though we went through those hard times, I truly believe that the things that we've been through together have made our relationship stronger. And as long as I'm going through this life, I just want to go through it with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIENNA TENG, ALEX WONG ET. AL.'S "ANTEBELLUM")

GREENE: Amanda and Craig Farrell. They've been married for eight years. Their StoryCorps interview will be archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.