A Bipolar Life: 50 Years of Battling Manic-Depressive Illness Did Not Stop Me From Building a 60 Million Dollar Business

A Bipolar Life: 50 Years of Battling Manic-Depressive Illness Did Not Stop Me From Building a 60 Million Dollar Business

by Steve Millard


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For more than 45 years, Steve Millard has struggled with bi-polar disorder. At his lowest, he was on the absolute brink of suicide, looking down into the abyss.  Through his own methods of dealing with this disease, arrived at by trial and error, and the generous help of friends, and the teachings of a wonderful support group called Recovery Inc., he not only survived, he prospered, founding one of the most successful and profitable businesses in the direct marketing industry. "A Bipolar Life" is the story of his struggle.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781600378164
Publisher: Morgan James Publishing
Publication date: 03/01/2011
Pages: 232
Sales rank: 1,130,608
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Steve Millard was one of he first direct mail market professionals to form a list brokerage and management company. His knowledge and insight have guided Millard Group since it's inception twenty-five years ago. Although Steve is no longer active with the company on a daily basis, he continues to be an important advisor for the Millard Group management team.
In 1998, Steve Millard was honored by Direct Magazine as one of industry's most influential marketers, celebrated as one of "25 People Who Changed the Catalog Business." Steve was on the board of the DMA Catalog Council for ten years and was an annual speaker at national DMA meetings. He served as National Chairman of the Business Mailers Association, was Trustee of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation, and was on the Advisory Board for the Boston University Direct Marketing Program.  Author lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire

Read an Excerpt


Start at the beginning. The beginning of my struggles with bipolar disorder, that is. For most patients, the disease appears when they are in their 20s and I hit it right about on the money. I was 27 and if you'd asked me, I would have told you I didn't have a care in the world. I was living in Hawaii, making good money, and doing challenging work that I liked. I was single and I went out almost every night and I met a lot of women.

I found myself living this life through a series of accidents and lucky breaks and a certain element of hard work and determination on my part. When I was in college at the University of Vermont, I was in Air Force ROTC and it kept me in school. The courses that were part of the program were the only elements in the curriculum that genuinely interested me and that I really did well in. For the rest of it, I did what I needed to do to get by and I enjoyed the college life. A friend of mine at UVM named Alan Yassky, who later helped pull me out of the depths, once told someone that the way he remembered me from those days was as "the life of the party, a guy who was always singing or tap dancing or somehow on stage."

I can't argue with him.

But I was serious about Air Force ROTC. I was going to be a fighter pilot. It was something I had wanted since I was a boy and I was determined to make it happen. So I worked hard on the ROTC classes and I performed well at summer camp and I was sure, when I graduated and got my commission as a 2 lieutenant, that I would be going to flight school and on to an operational fighter squadron. This was 1957, in between Korea and Vietnam and the Air Force could afford to be very selective. But I wasn't worried. I knew I would do whatever it took.

But I had not factored in a very minor defect in my vision. It came up in the first time I took something called the "red lens" test. I had passed a flight physical when I was still in college so this caught me completely by surprise when I was tested again, after I'd been commissioned. I couldn't believe it and asked for a re-test. I failed this one, too. Failure meant that I was disqualified from going to flight school. So I asked for yet another re-test. And then another, until I had taken — and failed — the test 9 times. That's when the flight surgeon called me into his office and said, "Lieutenant, I don't want to hear about you requesting another re-test and, in fact, if a plane flies over and I even see you look up, I'll have you court martialed."

It was the end of my dream of becoming a fighter pilot and I still think about that with a certain regret.

Well, if I couldn't fly fighters, I would do the next best thing. I went to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida to fighter control school. It was demanding and on a couple of occasions, I found the stress almost too much. But it was also exhilarating to be at the radar screen, watching those blips and knowing that they were real airplanes being flown by real pilots at what seemed like unbelievable speeds. If you made a mistake, some of the planes on your scope might collide with each other or fly into the ground or not make it back to base because you'd sent them too far out and they didn't have the fuel it took to get back. You had to make very quick decisions and they had to be right. You had to be confident in your decisions and that had to come through over the radio to the guy who was in the cockpit.

It was pressure-cooker work and once I got the hang of it, I became very good at it and I came to love it.

My first real duty assignment as a fighter controller was to a forlorn little island about one mile by two miles that sat halfway between Korea and Japan. It was called Mishimi and it was bleak and inhospitable in the extreme. But the work was very challenging and exciting. This was, in a way, the very front line of the cold war. Like Berlin, only on the other side of the world. We'd send up our planes — mostly F-86Ds — and we could look at the scope and see the Migs coming up from Korea to tease them without taking it to the point of an actual engagement.

On one occasion, when we were training Japanese pilots we had a flight of three F-86s that were being flown by Japanese pilots and the rockets in the nose of the lead plane malfunctioned and it just blew up. The pilot ejected and we were able to calculate the speed and direction of the winds aloft and calculate the drift and get the boats out to rescue the guy. But the other two pilots just came unglued and were screaming in Japanese over the radio and flying further apart, on courses that could make real trouble both for getting them back and also getting them into the wrong airspace.

I started talking to them, as patiently as I could, using the one or two words of Japanese that I knew and slowly getting them back into the little bit of English that they knew. I also got some help from my Japanese supervisor, who had been so excited, at first, that he lost his command of English. But I got him settled down. Then we got the pilots settled down and eventually, and everyone started responding to my directions and we got those planes back to base. But it had been some very harrowing minutes that seemed like hours.

I got a commendation for that.

I bring all that up, not so much to blow my own horn (even though that is always fun) but to make the point that while I was only a couple of years from the onset of a severe, clinical mental illness, I was not merely functional but highly functional. I was not someone who sat in a room, fearful and anxious and unable to go out and make it in the world. I was not that, at all. I was an Air Force officer doing important work in a high-pressure environment and doing it very well, if I do say so. Furthermore, I loved it. If you'd asked me, back then, if I considered myself distressed or disturbed, I would have thought that you were the one who was crazy.

Me? Depressed? Disturbed? Hell no. I was fine. Top of the world.

And I was still feeling that way after three years of active duty, when I went on reserve status and took a job with the National Guard in Hawaii. I was still a fighter director but was being paid as a civilian government employee. As a GS 14, I was making something like $15,000 a year which was actually great money for a single man in those days. In Hawaii, I was assigned to the northern island of Kuai and I was training the Guardsmen there to control fighters. I worked about 10 days out of every month. It was a very sweet deal.

And I was still on top of my game as a fighter director. There was one incident that I'll never forget when a Marine Corps pilot in what was called an F- 8-U, or a Crusader, ran into trouble out over the ocean. The plane had gas tanks in each wing and when one tank ran out, the pilot switched over the other. But in this case there was an equipment malfunction and the pilot couldn't get fuel over to the tank that was running dry from the one that was still full. He radioed in a "Mayday," and we went to work trying to figure something out.

The pilot was, understandably, nervous. Maybe even a little worse than that. He didn't want to bail out if he didn't have to, but he didn't want to flame- out on approach when he might be too low and have too little airspeed to make the end of a runway. I started talking to him while I looked for the closest airstrip and made the calculations about how long he could keep flying. I found an old strip that had been built in World War II and had been abandoned. It was just barely long enough, I thought, for him to land the plane and get it stopped. So I called the pilot and told him I thought I could get him in there.

"Are you sure?" he said. His voice sounded like it had gone up a full octave.

"I'm sure," I said, "trust me." I was trying to get him calmed down so I made myself sound calm and utterly in control. But I wasn't actually all that sure. It was going to be close.

Well, I kept talking to him and talking to him and keeping him on the right heading and he made it onto final and landed safely. By now, that one gas tank was just about bone dry. It was a near thing. So near, in fact, that he flamed out just after his wheels hit the ground. The pilot was incredibly grateful and thought I was a hero. It was obvious that he had peed in his flight suit ... but who wouldn't have.

So I got a letter of commendation from the Air Force for my coolness and professionalism and all that. The truth is ... it could just as easily have been a court martial if that Marine pilot hadn't gotten that plane to the airstrip and had crashed into the ocean instead.

But I'd never thought that way. Never considered it. Like most young men, I thought I was invulnerable. Bulletproof. So I did my job at a high level of performance and when I wasn't doing my job, I was having fun.

Then I met — and fell in love with — an Hawaiian woman named Myrtle. She was both lovely and a good person and I could not believe my good fortune when, after I'd asked her to marry me, she said, "Yes."

The next morning, I woke up feeling frightened beyond words. It was a profound fear. The kind that makes your insides feel cold. Like the fear you feel when a vicious dog jumps out from somewhere, unexpectedly, and attacks you. Except that this fear would not go away or even fade a little. It was constant.

It had lasted for several days before I finally decided that I had to go to the hospital. I had no medical knowledge but for some reason — perhaps because of stories I'd heard military men tell — I thought I might have syphilis. The extent of what I knew about that disease was a) how you got it and b) that it could rot your brain. I'd lived a fairly wild life in Japan and Hawaii so there wasn't any question about having done what you did to get it. And, if I couldn't say that my brain was rotting, it was pretty clear that something was very badly wrong and the symptoms were not physical.

I needed help. If someone couldn't do something to help make things better then I wanted, at the very least, to know what was wrong. Why was I feeling this way? I was an optimistic person and a problem solver and I just wanted someone to tell me what was wrong and what do about it.

I had no idea how long I would have to wait for answers to those questions

I began looking for an answer — or answers — when I had that first attack, while I was still in my 20's, working in Hawaii, making what seemed like great money doing work I loved. I had a wonderful life that I had been enjoying to the fullest and then ... this unrelenting sense of alarm bordering on panic. It was a feeling that was probably described best by the novelist, William Styron, who suffered from depression and came out of it long enough to write a brilliant book before sinking back and never recovering. In Darkness Visible: Styron describes the physical symptoms of depression this way: ... gloom crowding in on me, a sense of dread and alienation and ... stifling anxiety.

I felt something like that, and what made it worse, if anything could, was that there was no widespread therapeutic language for my condition. People did not talk about "depression," as a clinical condition and the term "bi-polar illness" was not part of the psychological vocabulary.

So I was flying blind, so to speak. And more than anything, I craved relief from the pain and distress I was experiencing. If that wasn't possible, I wanted — at the very least — to know what was causing this terrible sense of fear and anxiety. I hoped for a cure and would have been satisfied, I suppose, with an explanation.

So I went to the hospital where I described my symptoms. After a checkup and some routine tests, the diagnosis was ... there was nothing physically wrong with me. I did not have syphilis or any other disease that would have accounted for my distress. I couldn't believe it. I knew that I wasn't imagining my own symptoms and, plainly, the people in the hospital agreed because they suggested, very strongly, that I visit the hospital in Honolulu where they had an outpatient psychiatric facility.

At first, I didn't want to go. Or, rather, I didn't want to believe that it was even possible that I needed to go. I was in complete denial when it came to mental illness. Not me, I thought. It couldn't be. I was an officer in the Air Force; a skilled fighter controller with commendations to prove it. I had performed under stress, again and again. How could I possibly need to see a psychiatrist?

But eventually I went to Honolulu and the hospital there and that was, I think, clear evidence of just how severely distressed I was and now desperate I was for some help.

I couldn't accept that I was ill in that way ... but I went just the same.

Since I was on outpatient status at the hospital, I stayed in downtown Honolulu at a cheap and depressing little hotel. My room had no window and to get away, I would go to a movie theatre and sit through two or three showings of the same film. Then I would go to a bar and drink alone. In the morning, I would get up and go to the hospital where I was seen by a psychiatrist, a man who was trained in the Freudian theories that were prevalent at the time.

He asked me what I thought were inane questions and I barely paid attention to them or to the answers I gave him. I had no confidence in the man, perhaps because early in our conversations, I noticed that he always seemed to be wearing one brown and one black sock. Those mismatched socks are just about all that I remember from those sessions. And they were, I think, the only thing that made any real impression on me. I was confused and in denial and taking some very strong drugs that the psychiatrist had prescribed. It was as though I was sleepwalking through the entire experience, unaware of almost everything that was going on around me except for those mismatched socks.

Finally, after more than a week of this, I told the man that I had an important job and that I needed to get back to it. Which was true. But it was also true that I wanted to get away from him and the depressing routine I had fallen into.

The psychiatrist said that he didn't think it was a good idea for me to leave; that I needed more help. I wasn't interested but I did ask him for his diagnosis.

He told me I was schizophrenic.

I'm not sure I had ever heard that term before. If I had, it hadn't made an impression. When that doctor used that word to account for what was wrong with me, I certainly did not know what it meant or the terrible condition it described. But I wanted to find out, so when I was back at my job, I went to the library and did some research. I looked up the word in the encyclopedia and what I learned was truly terrifying. I read the entry in the encyclopedia and I was stunned. My insides felt like they had turned to water. If that psychiatrist's diagnosis was correct, then I was lost. There was no cure, no hope, no prospect of anything other than madness and dementia and an end in some grim asylum.

At this point I did two things: I went into a deeper kind of denial and concealment. I couldn't bear to think about what I believed to be my condition and what it meant for my future and I was petrified by the prospect that someone — anyone — might find out.

And ... I tearfully broke off the engagement to Myrtle. I couldn't imagine asking anyone to share what I thought of as my fate. And I tried to bury the knowledge of my condition as deep as possible. As a way of doing this, I went back to instructing the Hawaii National Guard crews in fighter control techniques. I threw myself into my work, and I gradually began to feel better. As I learned much later, the mind will eventually mend itself and that knowledge has been priceless.

But that was much later in my life. When I was healing after that first episode, I deliberately avoided thinking very much about my illness. Denial was my only strategy and the healing made it easier to pretend that nothing had happened or, if it had, that it was some kind of accident that wouldn't happen again. Better not to think about it. Better to get on with life.

So that is what I did ... keeping my secret from others as well as from myself.

Things were not the same after that first episode. But, then, how could they be? I was in denial, as I say, but no matter how deeply I buried my secret, I still knew. I not only carried with me the memory of the experience itself, but I had heard that terrible word, schizophrenia, applied to me and my condition. And after that session in the library, I knew, indelibly, what that word meant.

So everything was different. My whole world had come apart.

Still, here I was. Alive. With a job to do. Responsibilities. People who depended on me. Friends.

Like they say, life goes on, so I got on with my life. I went back to work and I did my job. Then, even though I was offered a chance to stay on, at the end of my one-year contract with the Hawaii Air National Guard, I decided to pack it up and go back home.

All these years later, when I look back on that decision, I am of two minds about it. The decision seems both perfectly understandable and completely inexplicable.

Until my breakdown (if that is the right word), I was having the time of my life. I was being paid more, I'm certain, than I could have expected to make if I'd quit and looked for a job in the civilian world.


Excerpted from "A Bipolar Life"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Steve Millard.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 - In the Beginning
Chapter 2- Looking for Answers
Chapter 3 - After the First Episode
Chapter 4 - Don't Look Back
Chapter 5 - My Next Move
Chapter 6 - Hired by Reader's Digest
Chapter 7 - Dealing With My Illness
Chapter 8 - Had Enough
Chapter 9 - A Good Move
Chapter 10 - Arriving in Pleasantville
Chapter 11 - Life Was Going Well
Chapter 12 - Hopeless, Helpless and Worthless
Chapter 13 - Fighting the Disease
Chapter 14 - Simply Doing Something
Chapter 15 - Trip Back to Ross Pond
Chapter 16 - Not My Last Job
Chapter 17 - Things Are Moving Fast
Chapter 18 - I Had Come Back
Chapter 19 - Going Out On My Own
Chapter 20 - Starting My Own Business
Chapter 21 - Succeeding as an Entrepreneur
Chapter 22 - Making the Business Grow
Chapter 23 - Was it all worth it?
Chapter 24 - Business is Succeeding
Chapter 25 - Cognitive Therapy
Chapter 26 - Diagnosed My Condition

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