Author writes about her struggle with bipolar disorder
By William K. Alcorn
Nancy McCurdy Montagna is bipolar — a nice word, she says, for manic depression.
Diagnosed at 18, the Warren woman said she has been in the psychiatric hospital for treatment more times than she cares to count.
Bipolar disorder is associated with mood swings that range from the lows of depression to the highs of mania, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“I’ve been in a straitjacket; I was homeless for a couple of months. ... I would go for six months in the worst negative, black, depression. It was relentless.
“My goal in life was to die by suicide ... but my sisters stuck by me and made me promise I would not commit suicide,” McCurdy Montagna said.
She moved to Rhode Island to be near her sisters. She moved to Colorado with a man.
She found she couldn’t run away from the illness.
Finally, at 29, she came back to Ohio and began to get her life back.
McCurdy Montagna chronicles her struggle with mental illness in a self-published book, “What’s Behind the Smile? My Journey with Bipolar Disorder.”
She said she wrote the book to help clinicians and law-enforcement personnel understand mental illness and to help people who are mentally ill to understand themselves.
“I know exactly what happened when my life changed. I gave my life to the Lord,” said McCurdy Montagna when she returned to Ohio.
“When I realized God made my brain and He doesn’t make mistakes, I decided to be the best mentally ill person I could be. I found love and hope and support, and I’ve been involved in a church ever since,” said McCurdy Montagna.
She is a member of two congregations: Victory Christian Center — Warren Campus and Seeking God’s Glory — Mahoning Valley Hope Center, which meets Thursdays and Saturdays at the Baptist church at Eastland Avenue and Surrey Road Southeast in Warren.
McCurdy Montagna, a 1980 graduate of Lakeview High School in Cortland, was a high-school senior when she started feeling depressed. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was a freshmen at Kent State University where, after six years, she received an associate degree in business.
She credits her parents, Joan and Stewart McCurdy of Cortland, and her sisters (she is the youngest of four), Chris Brown of Hudson, Virginia Stevenson of Port Clinton, and Linda Leibermann of Maryland, with literally saving her life.
“Without them, I wouldn’t be here today,” she said.
McCurdy Montagna once asked her mother: “Why didn’t you ever give up on me.”
She said her mother answered: “The thought never entered our minds.”
A huge step in moving her life forward occurred in December 2000 when McCurdy Montagna landed a job at Help Hotline Crisis Center as recovery-program coordinator for the mentally ill. She is now program coordinator of recovery services.
Married to Garrett Montagna, she trains facilitators for the Trumbull and Mahoning County BRIDGES (Building Recovery of Individual Dreams and Goals Through Education and Support) and WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) programs.
BRIDGES is a free, 10-week educational course offered at Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren, and WRAP is a free, two-day mental-health workshop to assist individuals who may have a diagnosis of mental illness or substance-abuse addiction.
McCurdy Montagna also teaches “MASTERMINDS: Be the Master of Your Own,” an educational workshop for participants and family caregivers, said Duane Piccirilli, Help Hotline chief executive officer.
“Nancy has a great passion for and commitment to individuals who are recovering from mental illnesses, and that passion shows in the ways she teaches the classes and workshops for participants and family caregivers and presents issues about mental health to the community,” said Cathy Grizinski, Help Hotline associate director.
“Duane and Cathy Grizinski were instrumental in teaching me professionalism,” McCurdy Montagna said.
“They hired me because I was bipolar,” she said with a laugh, something she does a lot of these days.
“I love the people at Help Hotline, and I love the job. It is the most awesome place to work,” she said.
“The truth is, I love people with mental illnesses and drug and alcohol addiction. I have a kinship with them. They are different, and I know what it’s like,” McCurdy Montagna said.
In the epilogue of her book, she said, “The grip of depression no longer haunts me, nor do I embrace it. I have made my decision to live. If you or anyone in your family is thinking of ending your life, please remember: The thoughts are temporary, the act of suicide is permanent.
“Get help from a professional, take medication if you need to, but never, never, never give in to those negative thoughts or voices. Invariably, there is something wonderful in store for you right around the corner.”
McCurdy Montagna’s book was self-published through CreateSpace and is being marketed by her sister Chris’ firm, Marketing Resources & Results.
“What’s Behind the Smile” can be purchased through McCurdy Montagna’s website, www.whatsbehindthesmile.com, and also is available for the Kindle and through Amazon.